- Posted January 10, 2014 by
Western Cape, South Africa
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A Cup of Java: Why Bandung is Still Charmed
On a river basin enclosed by volcanic mountains, lies an old West Javanese city, once considered the most European city outside of Europe.
Bandung, also known as the City of Flowers (Kota Kembang), became famous for its European character during the time of Dutch colonisation in the early 20th century. Bandung lost a lot of its small town quirkiness when Indonesia gained independence in 1945. Urbanisation and development transformed the city into a densely populated area with all the problems associated with overcrowding.
The city is no longer the resort town where wealthy foreign tea plantation owners once played on dreary days. Nevertheless, weekend and holiday travellers still make their way to Bandung. The city’s cooler year-round temperatures and its reputation as a shopping mecca appeals to many Indonesians and immigrants.
A recent visit to Bandung revealed sides of Indonesia’s third largest city that has gone mostly unnoticed by the international traveller.
Asia-Afrika Street (formerly De Groote Postweg, constructed between1808 and 1811) exhibits some fine examples of Dutch colonial architecture. In 1955 the first international conference of people of color, the Asian-African Conference, was held in Bandung, hence the name of the street.
A Karreweg, or Pedatiweg, as the residents preferred to call it, was built to connect De Groote Postweg with a coffee warehouse in the early 19th century. Karreweg became famous in the 1920’s after a theatre group, the Toneel Braga, started evening performances on the street. Subsequently the street was renamed to Jalan Braga (Braga Street). Jalan Braga became lined with fashionable boutiques, cafes and restaurants, thus giving Bandung the nickname, the Parijs van Java.
Evidence of Jalan Braga’s European ambiance is still visible today as western style pubs with indie rock music, restaurants, and patisseries light up more colonial architectural gems during the night time.
Bandung, however, becomes really interesting once one start exploring the ethereal uniqueness of its countryside.
Located in the central highlands, the city is a very short drive, in any direction, from ancient volcanic mounts, tea plantations, hot water springs and lakes.
Making use of angkots (public minibuses), hitchhiking and partly hiking, a friend and I took the road down south of Bandung to see what’s cooking in the Javanese wild.
Roughly 40 kilometres from Bandung lays the old volcanic crater lake of Kawah Putih (White Crater). Situated 2430 meters above sea level, temperatures at the high sulphur content lake often plummet below 10 degrees Celsius. The low temperatures, combined with the smelly sulphuric fumes hovering like fallen clouds over the lake, bestow on the lake an eerie quality.
This crater, at the summit of Gunung Patuha (Patuha Mountain), was for a long time alleged to be haunted. Stories of birds flying over the lake and dropping dead without apparent reason were rife. It wasn’t until German botanist, Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn, went to unravel the mystery of the lake in 1837, that villagers became confident to explore the area themselves.
Gunung Patuha is today still considered a sacred ancestral mountain where the ancestors meet to discuss the preservation and sustainability of the forest.
Kawah Putih was first opened to visitors in 1987. With its whitish blue-green water and distinct location in the forested hills, many Indonesians nowadays consider Kawah Putih as the ideal wedding venue or music video backdrop.
Not very far from Kawah Putih, also at the foot of Gunung Patuha, another lake has a story of its own to tell.
Surrounded by lush tea plantations and a forest on one side, Situ Patenggang is a beautifully charming lake where Indonesians, from as far as Jakarta, spend off days picnicking, boating and fishing.
The 45 hectare lake, located 1600 meters above sea level, is mostly shrouded in a cold mystifying fog.
Nearby the small Pulau Asmara (Love Island) in the middle of the lake is a stone dubbed CintaYang (or Stone Love). The legend of Stone Love is an old West Javanese tale of passion and hardship. The story goes that a young man and a princess, Ki Santang and Goddess Rengganis, fell in love, but circumstances kept them apart. Being very sad, Ki Santang and Goddess Rengganis, shed many tears that eventually led to the formation of the lake. Stone Love came to represent the place where the lovers were finally reunited again.
It is believed that couples who visit Stone Love, and write their names on the rock, will be rewarded with everlasting love. The lake is often also called Situ Penganten or Bride Lake by the locals.
Malabar Tea Estate
Indonesia only became a tea region after its introduction to tea by Dutch colonialists in the 18th century. Today Indonesia is the 5th largest tea producing country in the world.
Close to Gunung Malabar (48 kilometres south of Bandung) is the mountain village of Pangalengan. Pangalengan played a noteworthy role in the harbouring of refugees after the West Java earthquake of 2009.
Pangalengan, however, is maybe better known for the old tea estates adorning its outskirts.
One of the most significant tea estates in the area is the Malabar Tea Estate, founded and once managed by Dutch philanthropist, K.A.R. Bosscha. Bosscha managed the estate from 1896 to 1928 and left behind a big colonial mansion that has been turned into a guest house christened Malabar Mess.
The still functioning tea estate is a panoramic landscape of lush green rolling hills as far as the eye can see. Visitors are free to stroll among the plantations and soak up the fresh mountain air. On the estate is a shaded spot where Bosscha used to take a rest after inspecting his plantations. Bosscha’s tomb can be found there.
Not very far from the estate is a natural hot spring, the perfect respite after hours of walking up and down mounds of tea plantations. The Malabar tea factory and the traditional Sundanese style homes of the plantation workers are also well worth a visit.
Guests at Malabar Mess can expect a quiet stay in an absolute tranquil atmosphere.
Bandung and the surrounding landscape exhibit some of the finest examples of social, culinary and natural diversity.
Sundanese make up the majority of the population in West Java while other minorities include Javanese, Minangkabau, Chinese Indonesians and Batak. Similarly, a multitude of religions exist. Besides Islam (the principal religion in the area) Protestantism, Catholicism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Animism can also be observed.
Likewise, the area has a very rich culinary tradition. West Java is naturally the best place to try traditional Sundanese food. Chinese influenced Indonesian cuisine is also popular in Bandung.
“If you have not eaten rice, then you have not eaten.” is a popular Sundanese saying. I’d like to add that “If you have not been to Bandung, you have not been to Java”.
Whether it’s the uncle at the town’s pasar besar (market) selling you tempe goreng (fried soybean cake) or the little barefoot girl in the countryside who’s never been to Bandung, but like to try out her limited amount of English, one is struck by the generosity and curiosity of the people of the land.