Garut and Tasikmalaya:
Jades of tropics near Jakarta

Kuntarini Rahsilawati, Contributor, Jakarta

Whew! The burdening task had just been completed, so I and my friends decided to go someplace where we could escape from life in the metropolis.

It was a must that the destination did not require us to spend a lot of time on the road, thus the ideal place was West Java province. In West Java, we decided to choose Garut as our first stop, and Tasikmalaya's Kampong Naga for the second.

Garut is around a 3.5-hour drive from Jakarta. Not yet as popular as Bali or Yogyakarta, it caters to the passions of the adventurous person as well as those a bit of an at-home person who prefers to stay at resorts and spas.

The Garut area includes valleys surrounded by volcanoes with streams of frozen lava on their slopes.

In general, Garut has cool tropical climate with an average temperature of 24.3 degrees Celsius, while rainfall averages 2,589 millimeters per year.

We left from Senayan, South Jakarta, at 8 o'clock to Garut via Cipularang Highway. We stopped by one of the rest areas on the highway for refreshment, not forgetting to take pictures of the hilly scenery along the road.

Finally, at 12 o'clock, we arrived at Candi Cangkuang, our first destination in Garut.

Even though the main gate of Candi Cangkuang Tourism Resort can be reached by car or bus, we could also take a delman, a fun and safe two-wheeled horse-drawn carriage, from Leles subdistrict.

Candi Cangkuang is the only Hindu temple ever found in West Java. It is situated in the small island in the middle of Lake Cangkuang, where beautiful lotus flowers covered part of the shallow lake. To reach the temple compound, we must take a comfortable bamboo raft called a rakit.

The breeze blew when I stepped onto the stairs leading up to Candi Cangkuang, which is situated on a small hill. The island is covered with big, tall trees.

Close to the temple, there is a graveyard of the Mataram Kingdom in Central Java, the people of which attacked the Dutch in Batavia in the 17th century. The attack failed, and the king didn't return to his domain but instead settled at Cangkuang to spread Islam among the surrounding community.

The descendants of this community live in a traditional compound consisting of six houses next to Candi Cangkuang, and is called Kampong Pulo. Kampong Pulo may not expand or diminish, and only six families can live there.

What amazed me most was a rooster at the temple grounds: a big, full-feathered handsome red rooster without a single tail feather. The tail feathers were not plucked by the owner -- the rooster simply doesn't have one. The locals call this species of rooster Ayam Tukung.

From Candi Cangkuang, we traveled to Cipanas, a resort area lying on the slopes of Mount Guntur in Tarogong subdistrict. In Sumber Alam, a resort with an Olympic-size heated swimming pool open to the public, my friends swam while I strolled through the resort.

All the bungalows here have been built according to traditional architecture, and around a typical Sundanese pond full of carp. Tourists who stay here can fish directly off the bungalows' verandah.

When the sun went down beneath the horizon, we went to downtown Garut and had a dinner at Ceplak Market, next to alun-alun. Alun-alun are wide fields found in the center of every town in Indonesia, where people gather to enjoy the evenings and children play games.

Ceplak Market is actually a promenade where hawkers offer various foods and the people of Garut flock for their reasonably priced evening meals.

Garut is a cool, windy, hassle-free romantic old town.

In the laid-back atmosphere of Garut in the evening, I sat on the ground next to one of the stalls with my friends, chatting and enjoying a hot glass of ginger tea with milk.

On the morning of day two, we headed to Mount Papandayan, which stands 2,622 meters tall.

From the parking are, we were presented with a breathtaking view of Papandayan and its crater, which was spewing up white smoke.

Hiking up for two hours, we arrived at a field of edelweiss. The colors of the scenery on the way to the field is dynamic: the ground is white, the bush green and black from the eruption in 2002, the slopes are golden yellow and the sky is dark blue with feathered white clouds... In a word, it is simply awesome.

Going down the mountain, we took a detour to see the Blue Crater. Along the way, we could hear swooshes and roars from the earth producing heat and a cloud of sulfur. We had to cover our noses to prevent breathing in the sulfur and walked quickly.

Oh, what a lively volcano! And when I arrived at the rim of the crater, the walls of which still produce sulfur and smoke, with a crater lake of turquoise, I couldn't help but let my jaw drop wide open.

It seems that every inch of Mount Papandayan is made for hobbyist photographers like us. So instead of taking only four hours to explore the mountain as planned, we spent a whole day there.

As a consequence, though, we had to give up our plans to visit Curug Orog, or Baby Waterfall, near the mountain.

I don't know whether I should be sorry for the great time I spent on the mountain, considering that Curug Orog might have been another miracle.

Curug Orog is the name for group of waterfalls. The biggest one is called Mother, and the other two are called Babies, or Orog. The names are drawn from a legend: Once upon a time, a woman threw her baby into the waterfall, and then a smaller waterfall formed afterward.

The next morning, after driving out from Garut about an hour, we arrived at Kampong Naga, a traditional kampong situated in a lush valley. Administratively, Kampong Naga is part of Tasikmalaya, West Java.

To get to Kampong Naga, we need to climb down 450 cement stairs to descend almost 500 meters.

Once burned down by insurgents of Kartosuwiryo, the kampong was then rebuilt. The first building to be rebuilt was Bumi Ageng, a house that is only used once a year for a visit by the kuncen (kampong head), who transits there before heading to an annual ceremony at a separate location. The kuncen is then ""escorted"" by the kampong's community to the ceremonial grounds, the residents tagging along behind their head representative.

No bathrooms or toilets are allowed within the kampong, as the houses stand closely next to one another. Thus, all of the bathrooms and toilets are located outside of the kampong.

Each house is split into two distinct parts, with two doors connecting to the outside world. The door opening from the living room is made from massive timber, while the other door to the kitchen is made from woven rattan with peep holes.

During the day, this door enables the inhabitants to see those who approach from outside without detection. But at night, the people outside can see in to the kitchen, while the inhabitants cannot see out. This door functions at night as a neighborhood-watch system to prevent fires: neighbors can see when a stove hasn't been turned off.

Perhaps those of us living in big cities can learn from this humble kampong.

When I walked back through the kampong, passing the paddy fields, a woman with a bundle on her back greeted me and offered green tea leaves she had just picked and processed. Even without bargaining, I bought it for a song.

Sipping hot green tea in the office would be a perfect way to release the stresses of city life, rekindling the good memories of vacationing in the jades of Garut and Tasikmalaya.

Travel tips

* For information on Garut, visit www.garut.go.id; for information on Tasikmalaya, visit www.tasikmalaya.go.id and http://come.to/tasikmalaya.

* It is advisable to hire a local guide when trekking on Mount Papandayan, as there are some winding trails that might get you lost.

* The residents of Kampong Naga are friendly and welcoming, but it is still advisable to be accompanied by a guide to tour the kampong as a gesture of respect.

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