Tired of the hectic culinary or shopping tourism in northern Bandung? Visit the montane area in the south, and you can enjoy the exotic panorama and the fresh, cold mountain air.
The forests and tea plantations are more lush than those in the north, and offer an opportunity for natural adventures that will relieve your fatigue. Cellular signals are generally absent in the area, so you can rest assured that nobody will disturb your holiday.
The southern tourist area of Ciwidey is located about 35 kilometers from downtown Bandung, and is quite accessible. From Jakarta, head to Bandung and get on the road toward Cileunyi at the Padalarang toll gate. Exit at the Kopo toll gate and turn right, then head straight until you pass Soreang on your way to Ciwidey.
Along the Ciwidey road leading to the area's tourist hub, you can stop briefly on the way to pick strawberries at one of a dozen strawberry orchards. At a price of Rp 20,000 to Rp 40,000 per kilogram, you can pick your fill of fresh, ripe strawberries. Roadside vendors selling strawberry jam and syrup also line the route.
The first interesting site -- and the favorite among visitors -- is the Kawah Putih (White Crater), which looks like a lake surrounded by mountains. The water is warm and has a high sulfur content, and the sun's rays frequently change the color of the water from milky white into bluish green.
The Kawah Putih is formed by the active volcano of Mount Patuha, situated 2,343 meters above sea level. This crater is more famous than Kawah Saat to the west of Patuha. Both craters were formed between the 10th to 12th centuries by the eruption of Mount Patuha.
Locals living around the crater once thought it to be haunted because of the many ancestral graves in the area, which was formerly called Gunung Sepuh (Mountain of the Elders). Patuha comes from the Sundanese word Patua, meaning ""very old man"".
The beauty of the crater was brought to light by Dutchman Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn, who exposed it to the public in 1837.
History also records that the Dutch built Zwavel Otgining Kawah Putih, a sulfur factory, in the area. During the Japanese occupation of 1942-45, the factory assumed its Japanese name, the Kawah Putih Kenzanka Gokoya Ciwidey.
Today, visitors to Kawah Putih can wade in the waters of Kawah Putih to cure minor dermatological diseases.
Gunadi Priyogo, 29, for example, entered the lake to get rid of the itchiness and bad odor of his feet.
""It is said the water here can heal rashes, even eczema and ringworm,"" said Gunadi, who came from north Bandung along with his wife and his daughter.
To visit Kawah Putih, make sure that you get there before 10 a.m., because a mist descends in late morning, especially during the rainy season. The thick mist can obscure the beautiful panorama around the crater lake, the banks of which resembles a sandy beach.
Here, strawberries can be bought for less than if you picked them yourself. Half a kilogram of strawberries costs between Rp 5,000 and Rp 10,000. In addition, you can also buy pepino fruit for Rp 5,000 per kilogram. This fruit, which resembles a pear or an eggplant in shape, tastes like a melon. The vendors usually tell you that a pepino is good for lowering high blood pressure or high blood sugar.
At Kawah Putih, you can also find a number of stalls selling bandrek, a traditional Sundanese beverage made of ginger and brown palm sugar. This beverage is highly suitable for cold weather, as drinking bandrek will warm your body. The most famous bandrek is the Abah bandrek, made by an old man who is a Ciwidey native.
To the side of the entrance to Kawah Putih is a track for All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs), which you can drive for Rp 25,000 a person.
Leaving Kawah Putih, you can visit Rancaupas where deer are bred in captivity. Rancaupas, also a camp site, is located about 1 kilometer from the crater.
The captive breeding of Sambar deer (Cervus unicolor), which can usually be called by whistling to them, was begun in 1980 by the area's tourism management, the West Java-Banten Forestry Unit III. The deer live on a plot of some 3.6 hectares, and visitors can watch them from beyond the property's wire fence in special huts.
After the deer, visitors can head to Cimanggu and Rancawalini -- the latter also known as Ciwalini -- which have public hot-water pools to relieve fatigue.
An entrance ticket to a tourist site in Ciwidey costs on average Rp 5,000 per person and an added fee of Rp 10,000 per vehicle if you go by car.
The public pools at Cimanggu and Ciwalini, which both draw their hot water from Mount Patuha have an entrance fee of Rp 5,000. Private pools are available for another Rp 5,000.
A common sight at the hot-water pools are women and men massaging their bodies in the water. Just like the water in Kawah Putih, the sulfur in the hot-water pools is believed to be effective in curing rashes.
Further down the road from the pools is the tea plantation owned by PTPN VIII, which spans a vast area -- a lush, green panorama to enjoy all day, and free of charge. Hundreds of local workers can be seen picking tea leaves here from morning to early afternoon.
You can then proceed on your journey to Situ Patengan, which is known to many Sundanese as Patenggang. Situ is a Sundanese word meaning lake.
The local legend of star-crossed lovers Prabu Ki Santang and Dewi Rengganis adds another level of attraction to the lake. Legend has it that the two lovers were separated and sought each other for many, many years. This ""seeking"" is called pateang-teang in Sundanese, and Patengan is though to derive from this word.
It is said the tears that flowed from the lovers pooled to form the lake, and the spot where Santang and Rengganis were finally reunited is marked by a ""love stone"". The stone has raised many a visitor's curiosity, as it is rarely visible.
Boats are available at Rp 5,000 per person for visitors to sail to the center of the lake, while others enjoy water-biking at Rp 10,000 an hour for one.
The lake, which is relatively clean and well maintained, faces the problem of sedimentation during the dry season, which can cause the lake to decrease in depth by 10 meters. The sedimentation is caused by upstream damage to the Cirengganis River, which has loosed dirt and is carried downstream as mud to be deposited on the shores of the lake.
Situ Pateng, which measures about 45,000 hectares, is part of a nature reserve spanning 123,000 hectares.
While northern Bandung attracts over 20 million tourists a year, the south is not yet popular. Due to the lack of promotion, the Bandung municipal tourism office records only 3.2 million tourists annually to the natural tourism destinations in Ciwidey and its surrounding area -- considered an economic engine for the people of southern Bandung.
Rudy Sukarno, 39, a visitor, offered another reason for the low number of visitors: the area was rather difficult to reach.
""You can get (to Ciwidey) from three places: Buah Batu, Mohammad Toha and Kopo. These areas are usually heavily congested,"" said the father of two from Cigadung in the Dago area of Bandung. ""We usually feel reluctant to go through traffic jams, as it consumes a lot of time and gasoline.""
In the meantime, the municipal administration is still waiting for investors for the Soreang-Pasirkoja (Soroja) toll road, the construction of which is expected to open access to the Ciwidey tourism area.
-- Yuli Tri Suwarni