The Jakarta Post
Two hundred kilometers’ drive from Jakarta, the dusty roads dried out by the scorching sun will suddenly bring you into dramatic greenery where mountains feel close, suggesting heaven may not be too far from the city hell.
Welcome to Garut, the sign placed on two columns resembling a gate says. And after that, brace yourself for endless panoramic views of mountains that seem to astonishingly encircle the region popularly known as the Switzerland of Java.
This area’s magnificent beauty has been widely recognized around the world since colonial times.
Even legend Charlie Chaplin visited Garut twice to embrace the serene beauty of the region, which is guarded by three mountains — Papandayan, Guntur and Cikuray.
The comedian first came here in 1927, then came back in 1935, staying at Grand Hotel Ngamplang in Cilawu region, a nice hilly resort around 3.4-kilometer from the city center.
No one knows what brought Chaplin twice to the area, which lies about 60 kilometers southwest of Bandung, the capital of West Java.
But as soon as you touch down in Garut, you will know there are a myriad of great spots to visit near the small town.
Green street signs indicating interesting sites which surely cannot be missed while in town can easily be found.
But before that, why not just enjoy nature’s free treat and feel the fresh breeze blowing through the never-ending paddy fields on either side of the roads.
You can just pull up your car and make a sweet stop, to embrace the glorious greenery beneath the far blue mountain, a view you will recall from children’s drawings, while sipping a coconut ice drink from ubiquitous street vendors.
Enjoying this luxurious moment down by the road, people may think: Who needs Bali when you have Garut near you?
After feeling recharged, you can hop to your next destination, Cipanas, a resort area offering hot streaming waters directly from the mountain.
The area, located in the northwest of the city at the foot of Mount Guntur is packed with a number of villas and hotels. However, make sure you book a room in advance before arriving in Cipanas, as this place is jammed with visitors coming from Jakarta for the weekend.
If you want privacy and some place quieter, you can head to the north to more peaceful resorts in Samarang.
You can stay either stay at Mulih K’ Desa or Kampung Sampireun, two lovely and exclusive resorts that offer back-to-nature accommodation.
Mulih K’ Desa is a resort where each room, which resembles a hut, is separated by paddy fields. The design, as well as the food and service are also come with a traditional touch. Food is served in can plates while hot tea comes in a batik-style thermos brought by waiters in traditional outfits. This gives visitors a taste of living in traditional villages.
Kampung Sampireun isn’t too different from Mulih K’ Desa as it is also run by the same management. But the most striking difference is that paddy fields in Mulih K’ Desa have given way to a small lake in Kampung Sampireun. So every visitor must use little canoes to reach other venues in the resort.
Kampung Sampireun is famous among honeymooners seeking a sweet escapade as it offers a romantic ambiance with candles glittering in every corner of the resort. It also offers first class spa treatment for couples and romantic dinner packages.
Well, after resting to your heart’s content, it’s time to explore the city. You can visit Cangkuang temple, the only Hindu temple ever found in West Java. The temple is located on a small island in the middle of Cangkuang Lake. One must ride a bamboo raft to reach the site.
The island where the 8th century temple rests is filled with trees of all sizes, providing welcome shade for visitors exploring the site.
Unlike other Javanese temples characterized by grand architecture, Cangkuang Temple is more modest with only one structure still standing. But the most interesting part is visitors can find the grave of Muslim leader Arief Muhammad near the temple. Arief was a king from an East Java kingdom who came to the place to proselytize for Islam.
Once your thirst for history has been quenched, it’s time to go on a nature adventure in Garut. Being in the center of three mountains, Garut is a great place for hiking.
But for those who want a more relaxed vacation, the hiking tracks can easily be swapped for a journey to Kampung Naga, a Sundanese traditional village located about 25 kilometers from Garut.
The village also offers incredible beauty especially once you’ve conquered the 500 stairs to explore a wooden and thatched house complex cramped between paddy fields and the Ciwulan River.
The settlement may remind you of another ancient Sundanese village in Badui because of its modest way of life and culture.
Going back to city center, make sure you sample the local famous delicacy called dodol, a sweet snack made from coconut milk, sticky rice and palm sugar.
Given its popularity, some souvenir and gift shops have even introduced a new generation of dodol called chocodol, which is simply a chocolate dodol. Packed in a flashy and modern wrapper, this new type of dodol is aimed at young people looking for alternative snacks.
So if you’re looking for a great place that offers you great scenery and different experience not too far from Jakarta, Garut is your answer.
Tips and tricks
• You can reach Garut by car or by bus from Jakarta. The main bus terminals are in Lebak Bulus, South Jakarta or Kampung Rambutan, East Jakarta. As soon as you reach Garut, you can travel around using public transportation in the form of mini vans, which are abundant in the area and can take you to the most remote places.
• To find lodgings, visit www.pariwisata.garutkab.go.id to find a list of hotels and resorts. Remember to make a reservation before going there, especially when you are travelling during the weekend.