Thursday, February 23, 2012

INDONESIA: A LAND OF LIMITLESS BEAUTY

“It was my maiden foreign visit. My mother came closer to me, cuddled for a while and finally hugged me saying ……. But hey... ! Don’t speak to anyone there who doesn’t know you and don’t take edibles from whom you don’t know”:-)

MAHTAB BASHIR
mahtabbashir@gmail.com
ISLAMABAD

The two prized possessions people of the Republic of Indonesia elegantly show off are - Smile on their faces and Batik on their bodies while every individual can hum “Chaiyya Chaiyya” - a Hindi song from 1998 film ‘Dil Se’ directed by Mani Ratnam, the song composed by A.R. Rahman, written by Gulzar, and sung by Sukhwinder Singh and Sapna Awasthi, filmed on a moving train starring Shahrukh Khan.


Indonesia is indeed a place like ‘Heaven on Erath’ and a land of diverse culture. It has something to offer everyone. Indonesia’s cultural mosaic is marked by many different cultures and a trip to Indonesia can become a cultural carnival for a tourist. During the ‘Familiarization Trip of Tour Operators and Travel Writers from Countries in the South & Central Asian Region to South Sulawesi & Jakarta’ from April 24 to May 2, 2011, the invitees from Pakistan, India, Iran, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan were taken to astounding naturally and man-made beautified places with the core objective to explore the vision and vistas and promote tourism for the Province of South Sulawesi and Jakarta. The Fam Trip was an endearing effort of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Indonesia in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and Provincial Government of South Sulawesi.

Indonesia - officially the Republic of Indonesia is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania. It is an archipelago comprising approximately 17,508 islands. It has 33 provinces with over 238 million people, and is the world's fourth most populous country. Indonesia is a republic, with an elected legislature and president. The nation's capital city is Jakarta. The country shares land borders with Papua New Guinea, East Timor, and Malaysia. Other neighboring countries include Singapore, Philippines, Australia, and the Indian territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Indonesia is a founding member of ASEAN and a member of the G-20 major economies.

The Indonesian economy is the world's eighteenth largest economy by nominal GDP and fifteenth largest by purchasing power parity. Comprising more than 300 ethnic groups speaking over 250 different languages, the Indonesia population exhibits marked diversity in its linguistic, cultural, and religious traditions.


On 23rd of April, 11:00 pm, I kicked off my air journey with Thai Airways via Bangkok to Jakarta. It was raining when the plane after 4:30 hours touched the runway of Suvarnabhumi Airport (Bangkok) where I joined another Islamabadite Tehmas Durrani who was also a member of Fam trip as a tour operator and travel agent. He was a balled young man with a foreigner look and hardly shared his feelings … but in no time, being an extrovert, I compelled him to speak.


At Suvarnabhumi Airport (Bangkok) we had a four hours stay and than we made our headway to (Soekarno Hatta Airport) Jakarta where we reached after 2:30 hours. It was a bright Sunday and we thought someone from Pakistani embassy or officials from host would be waiting for us but there was none. After repeatedly failed calls to Pakistani embassy and curiously waiting for any officials to meet us, we sit idle in perspiration.

Good times followed us as soon as I saw a walking young Indonesian lady- an official of Indonesian embassy working in Pakistan, who recognized me and took both of us to a nearby fast-food outlet and made quick calls to embassy officials who took us along them in a Hotel Borobudur situated in the down town Jakarta.

Steeped in a rich cultural history, Jakarta was the first destination for the tourists of Fam trip members. Jakarta has enough interesting architecture and cultural relics to keep visitors entertained and mesmerized. It offers all kinds of attractions from museums, art and antique markets, grand luxury shopping malls to accommodations, food and a wide variety of cultural activities.

On the very next day, we landed at Sultan Hassanuddin Airport, at the city of Makassar, (also spelled Macassar, Mangkasar) the provincial capital of South Sulawesi, and the largest city on Sulawesi Island.

South Sulawesi is located at the narrow southwestern peninsula of the orchid shaped island of Sulawesi also know as Celebes. Makassar is its capital. You can reach by air from other Indonesian cities like Jakarta, Bali and Monado with 114 flights daily provided by most Indonesian airlines. "Land of the Heavenly kings" South Sulawesi famous for its tremendous scenery and the quality and talent of its silk and silver work industries. The diversity of its local cultures and spectacular landscapes is an endless source of new discoveries. Sulawesi is famous for its unique flora and funa which cannot be found in other areas lying closely outside Makassar is the stunning karts outcrops as attractive as stone forest which cover about 400 sq km of land.

The Maros Karts is also a potential candidate for UNESCO world heritage. South Sulawesi, the land of Makassar and Bugis brave sailors is one of the provinces found on the main island of Sulawesi. If the Makassar and Bugis Tribe are well known as excellent seaman and predominate the south side, people of Toraja are later recognized with their unique culture which is centralized in upstate of this province.

At the dinner, after a brief introductory session, the Fam trip members of the South and Central Asian region converted into family members and in particular with Indian people including Nozer Master, Santosh Patil, Kiran Bhatt, Sanjay Sondhi, Sandip Srivastava, and Pravda Rathor, I have had a great fun and learning experience because of sharing common Sub-Continental culture. It was not the two-week relationship but these happy chirpy memories are still haunting me whenever I interact each of Fam member, on a social interactive web- portal.

‘Trans Studio World Theme Park’, the first indoor theme park in Indonesia, was our first picking spot. Trans Studio was built of 12,7 hectares with investment of IDR 1 trillion more. Facilities built in the shopping center which includes the Trans Walk and Rodeo Drive, and Studio Trans, Trans Hotel, office of Bank Mega.

Trans Studio World Theme Park has adopted the concept of Universal Studios in the United States. Contain spaces simulation program several television station, Trans TV, or events in Indonesia. The concept of a theme park in the Trans Studio World will provide the experience itself. Some of them are the Tsunami and earthquake, Magic Corner, Lost City, Terror Twister, Water Coaster, Magic Museum and more.

From Makassar we had a full day drive towards Tana Toraja through Bugis Villages and into the misty Blue Ocean and mountain along the distance of 328 kilometers. Full of fascinating sights outside and lovely company inside the red bus, we hardly shown a sign of fatigue.

With the drops of rain gradually hitting the windows of bus, we reached to Bantimurung Waterfall and butterfly resort. Bantimurung Waterfall is located in Bantimurung District Territory, Maros, South Sulawesi Province.


Bantimurung means a place for getting rid of sadness. The spectacular waterfall is located at the valley of the steep limestone hill with its fertile tropical vegetation which makes this area an ideal habitat for the types of butterflies and birds that are famous for their small number.

Before entering the waterfall location, we saw a statue of a kind of monkey (lutung), about 6 cm tall. This kind of animal can only be found in Sulawesi and Kalimantan.

Besides beautiful waterfall, Bantimurung waterfall is tourist area which is a habitat for many species of rare butterflies, that's why the invaders in the period of Netherlands colonization, in Indonesia, dubbed this place the “Kingdom of Butterfly.” Even a naturalist from the UK, Alfred Russell, lived in this region for one year (1856-1857) to examine 150 rare species of butterflies.
 
Located about 20 km from Sultan Hasanuddin Makassar Airport, 15 km from the city of Maros and 50 KM from the city of Makassar, This Tour can be achieved by using the Own Car From Makassar City About 1 Hour, And The trip can be achieved If from Hasanuddin Airport, Approximately 30 - 45 Minutes By Tourism Bus or By Car Rent.

From the waterfall, visitors can go up to see the lake on top, but there are many sharp corals on the way there. The lake is so blue with many flying butterflies around it. The drizzling shortly transformed into heavy rain and the colorful tiny butterflies hidden wherever they wanted to but my inquisitive eyes found beauty of various species of butterflies that fluttered here and there among the flowers and bath area of Bantimurung Waterfall.


I have been hearing about Tana Toraja's beauty and mystical land and finally got the chance to visit it. The center of Tourism in Tana Toraja is Rantepao 328kms northeast of Makassar sitting 700 meters above sea level. Rantepao has cool; pleasant evening. Which is almost 14hrs drive by bus from Makassar. After reaching Toraja Heritage hotel, you will impressed by the ambiance of the hotel like traditional boat-shaped style marvelous scene will make your stay a pleasant and memorable one, which Fam Delegates experienced during the visit of Toraja. A number of traditional rituals, houses and also ornaments which are still can be met in Tana Toraja sub province which is recognized as "the land of heavenly king" made this sub province became an important tourism site that you must visit. It is home of several ethnic groups. The entry to Tana Toraja is marked by a gate built in traditional Boat-shaped style Tana Toraja that is famous for the amazing architectures of traditional houses and its vibrant funeral ceremonies live at the northern high lands.

At Toraja, I have chanced to meet my ambassador in Indonesia Sanaullah, who remained a part of excursion team till the very end. While standing along a roadside, a rickshaw stopped there with a fruit named ‘Durian’- a forbidden fruit in public places. The guide Udin told me despite being costly; the strange-looking durian enjoys a fanatical following. “Many of restaurants and places not allowed public to bring long this fruit with them. With my naughty feelings I asked is it the fruit Adam ate in the Heaven and faced the consequences? He smilingly nodded his head in negative and said Durian can be eaten with a spoon, much like a firm custard. The handful of large, stone-like seeds can be easily removed. The taste is reminiscent of the smell, but much sweeter. Some first-time durian eaters claim a strong aftertaste of alcohol or turpentine, he kept on saying.

Dulan Kuruppu from Sri Lanka while grasped one Durian and offered me to eat but I plainly refused because of unpleasant odor. He smilingly said “I love this fruit because it has the potency equivalence of ‘Viagra’. “I love it but my wife hates this fruit,” Dulan said. I promptly replied it’s not the stinky smell of Durian that makes your wife dislike this fruit- it’s the ‘vigor’ she hates most that you talked about…. & everyone had a roaring laugh.

Believing that their forefathers descended from heaven in a boat some twenty generations ago, the Torajas have a unique Christian animist culture. The majority of the people still follow an ancestral cult called "Aulk Todollo" which governs all traditional ceremonies. Their ancestor worship includes elaborate death and after life ceremonies, which are essentially great feasts. A strict social hierarchy is followed in the villages, and for an important figure wedding and burial ceremonies can take days to perform. Water buffalo and pigs are sacrificed in number appropriate to social ranks and the deceased's remains are placed in a coffin and interred in caves hollowed out in high cliffs. The mouth of the cave is guarded by life like statues called "Tau Tau". Two Villages with easily accessible cliff graves are Lemo and Londa.


Toraja area coffee is grown using traditional practices of coffee cultivation. Picking and sorting of the coffee cherries is done by hand making the coffee of very high quality as only the best cherries are picked. This type of growing and harvesting is utilized due to the very mountains terrain and the haphazard planting of the coffee trees resulting in a yield of only 300 kilo per hectare of coffee. 

Soon after breakfast on Wednesday (February 27), we left Toraja and drove directly to Polopo beautiful landscape and tropical forest. Upon arrival at the museum, the government officials greeted us with open arms and massive smiles. After watching a cultural performance, we headed towards Labomba Beach. At night we have had a scrumptious dinner hosted by Mayor of Parepare- a second capital city of South Sulawesi, located on the southwest coast of Sulawesi, about 155 km (96 mi) north of the provincial capital of Makassar. A port town, it is one of the major population centers of the Bugis people.

After participating in a seminar and business meeting, our next destination was Balla Lompoa. It is a reconstruction of the palace of Gowa Kingdom which was founded in the reign of King of Gowa-31, I-mangngi Mangngi Matutu Daeng, in 1936. The architecture of the museum is typical of the Bugis-shaped house, which houses on stilts, with a ladder as high as more than two feet to get into the room terrace. In the language of Makassar, Balla Lompoa means big house or a house of greatness. The entire building is made of ironwood or wooden iron. The building is located within a one-hectare complex bounded by high walls.


This museum serves as a place to store a collection of objects Kingdom of Gowa. In the main room there are three chambers, namely: the king’s chamber as private rooms, cubicles where the historic objects, and the royal chamber. All three chambers are each measuring 6 x 5 meters. At the front of the main hall of the building, an Indonesia map displayed on the right side wall. In the main room display a family tree starting from the King of Gowa Kingdom of Gowa I, Tomanurunga in the 13th century, until the last king of Gowa Aididdin Sultan Abdulkadir A. Moch Idjo Karaeng Lalongan (1947-1957). In the main room, there is a place on the throne in a special area in the middle of the room.


Then we moved towards the tomb of Sultan Hasanuddin(1629 - 1670) king of Gowa who spent his whole life fighting against the Dutch. His cemetery is in the graveyard of the kings of Gowa. Including in his cemetery is a stone that was utilized as a place for inaugurations of the Kings of Gowa, and an old mosque. The tombs of Gowa Kings are large stones scattered among the fragrant while "Kamboja" flowers and the splenderous flaming scarlet flamboyant flowers.

Outside the cemetery borders there is a stone from "Tomanurung", on which all kings of Gowa were crowned. According to the legent of South Sulawesi Kings, they are the descendants of “Tomanurung", who were sent from the sky to become Kings. The mosque near this place was built in 1930 and restored in 1978.

Gowa is a region in the province of South Sulawesi, Indonesia. It is a "level 2 district," with an area of 1,883 km² and a population of approximately 500,000 people. The capital is Sungguminasa and the famous hill resort of Malino is within the region.


The 5 days visiting various cities of South Sulawesi went by like a blink of eye and on 29th April we flew back to the capital city Jakarta.

The 30th April was a day of city tour, when the Fam members chanced to visit various spots including Monas, Sarinath, Kota Tau-Museum, Sejarah, Ancol (Pasar Seni Ancol, Pantai Ancol).

The only problem I have had during the trip was counting of currency notes but fortunately I had not sufficient amount to spend on shopping. Having along just 100$ on a fortnight visit to a foreign country is indeed a pleasant surprise for readers but for me even big surprise I got when I reached to a counter of an exchange company at a shopping mall in Jakarta, I came to know One US$ is equivalent to over 9100 Indonesian Rupiah (ID, IDN). And after exchange it took me hours to count over 910000 Rupiah. More surprisingly, 910000 Rupiah flew away in few minutes until I purchased few shirts, t-shirts, chocolates, and a couple of souvenirs.

Not many of Indonesians know English as a secondary language but somehow they managed to have a discourse with others to make them understand. However, if you are unable to comprehend their reply or they fail to make you satisfy, do not get hyper as the timely smile of Indonesians is enough to make your temperament down and to create that crooked line (smile) on your face too.

The culture and traditions of Jakarta, especially the heritage buildings are well preserved and worth visiting. As the capital city is a melting pot representative from each of these ethnic groups. Located on the northern coast of West Java, it is the centre of trade, commerce and industry and has an extensive communication network with the rest of the country and the outside world.

Jakarta is one of the Indonesia’s designated tourist areas. It is equipped with all the means of modern transportation by air, sea, rail, or by land. As Indonesia’s main gateway, Soekarno-Hatta International Airport serves as a growing number of International airlines and domestic flights.


People of Indonesia are known as friendliest people in the world and most tolerant in their manners. They consider the head as something sacred that must be respected. Calling someone by crooking the index finger is considered impolite and giving or receiving things with the left hand is not acceptable here. In recent years, Jakarta has expanded its facilities for visitors with luxury hotels, elegant restaurants, exciting night life and modern shopping centres. The National Monument is a 433 ft (132 metre) tower in the centre of Merdeka Square, Central Jakarta, symbolizing the fight for Indonesia's independence. Construction began in 1961 under the direction of President Sukarno and the monument was opened to the public in 1975.

Monument is topped by a flame covered with gold foil. The monument and the museum is open daily from 08.00 - 15.00 Western Indonesia Time (UTC+7), everyday throughout the week, except for the last Monday of each month, when the monument is closed. Situated in the old town of Batavia, the National Museum is probably one of the most poignant witnesses to Dutch colonisation in the city. Started by a group of Dutch collectors, the museum has various compellations; prehistoric artifacts, archeology, heraldics, historical relics, geography, ethnography, and ceramics. The museum displays more than 100,000 cultural objects. Metropolitan tourism activities are shopping, sightseeing in big cities, and enjoying modern amusement parks. Ancol Dreamland with Dunia Fantasi theme park and Atlantis Water Adventure is Jakarta's answer to Disneyland-style amusement park and water park. Several similar theme parks also developed in other cities, such as Trans Studio Makassar and Trans Studio Bandung. 


The nation's capital, Jakarta, offers many places for shopping. Mal Kelapa Gading, the biggest one with 130 square kilometres (50 sq mi), Plaza Senayan, Senayan City, Grand Indonesia, EX, and Plaza Indonesiaare some of the shopping malls in the city. Next to high-end shopping centers with branded products, Indonesia is also a popular destination for handicraft shopping in the region. Certain Indonesian traditional crafts such as batik, songket, ikat weaving, embroidery, wooden statue and fashion products are popular souvenirs for visitors. Indonesian textile and fashion products are known for its good value; good quality with relatively cheap and reasonable price. Bandung is a popular shopping destination for fashion products among Malaysians and Singaporeans. Another popular tourist activity is golfing, a favorite sport among the upper class Indonesians and foreigners. Some notable golf courses in Jakarta are the Cengkareng Golf Club, located in the airport complex, and Pondok Indah Golf and Country Club.


Temperatures in Jakarta tend to be fairly uniform through most of the year, but the rainy season can cause problems, especially as far as mobility is concerned. A lot of roads get clogged with mud and water, and the constant dripping and drizzling can get on your nerves, besides being a major inconvenience. The best time to visit Jakarta is therefore during the dry season (May to September). Be prepared, however, to be surrounded by tourists- this is peak season, and much of Indonesia, especially more popular destinations like Bali are literally flooded with visitors.

Much more can be said about these amazing places, but a visit there can only estimate its real value, which it well deserves, to be seen and appreciated, and to leave it with only good memories that lay in the mind forever.

With the lyrics ‘Oh let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dream/ I am a traveler of both time and space, to be where I have been/ To sit with elders of the gentle race, this world has seldom seen/ They talk of days for which they sit and wait and all will be revealed, a song by English rock band Led Zeppelin o my lips I touched the surface of Benazir Bhutto International Airport (Islamabad) via Thai Airways, Flight No 349 on May 2nd.


It would be sheer injustice if I would not mention the names of all of my excursion colleagues especially the Indians include Nozer Master, Santosh Patil, Kiran Bhatt, Sanjay Sondhi, Sandip Srivastava, and Pravda Rathor, my country fellows Tehmas Durrani, Hamid Jinali, and ambassador Sanaullah, Sri Lankans Sonali Rodrigo, and Dulan Kuruppu, the lovely happy couple Mr and Mrs Aziz from Azerbaijan, all fellows of Central Asian States, the officials of Indonesian foreign affairs Rima, Sugiri, Haidi, Mr and Mrs Ishaq Latuconsina, the couple serving in Pakistan and Munir Akram an official of Indonesia embassy in Islamabad, for adding happy moments in my heart and brain. My massive thanks to all of you.

I am also indebted to all those to whom I met, forgot names but would remember them by faces to show me the striking face of Indonesia- where beauty intrigues!

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