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Preserving heritage with locals

A. Kurniawan Ulung and Asila Jalil
A. Kurniawan Ulung and Asila Jalil

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Tue, February 21, 2017 | 10:58 am
Preserving heritage with locals

Hold on tight: A couple rides a bicycle in front of Fatahillah Museum in Kota Tua. (JP/A. Kurniawan Ulung)

Teacher Ibnu Fahmi has been living in the capital city for more than five years and his favorite hangout is the historic Kota Tua in West Jakarta.

He visited the area on a Sunday as the sun beat down from the sky. He rented a bicycle to explore interesting cycling routes that connected one site to another.

He discovered those routes through travel app iDiscover Java City Walks, which he downloaded for free from an app store.

“This app is interesting because it also informs us about recommended places to shop, eat and drink,” said Ibnu, who hails from Bondowoso, East Java.

iDiscover Java City Walks is the product of Urban Discovery, a Hong Kong-based social enterprise that specializes in fostering cultural preservation and urban generation in Asia.

“iDiscover was developed to meet tourists’ growing interest in seeing and feeling the real pulse of the city,” said Dutch urban economist Ester van Steekelenburg, who founded Urban Discovery in August 2010.

Unlike other travel apps, iDiscover, which offers walking and cycling routes and maps for travelers, engages with locals as they are perceived as reliable sources with vast knowledge of local cultures.

Where is Dora?: A route to a site is shown on the iDiscover Java City Walk app.(JP/A. Kurniawan Ulung)

Van Steekelenburg chose Jakarta-based graphic designer Astrid Prasetianti to create the maps and Indonesian Heritage Trust, an NGO that promotes heritage conservation in Indonesia, to curate the routes and stopping points.

By exploring those routes, travelers will not only find historical sites such as Fatahillah Museum but also discover hidden gems like creative entrepreneurs and unique shops in Kota Tua.

The routes will also prevent travelers from entering big busy streets in the city with the worst traffic by directing them to pass back alleys without having to worry about expensive roaming costs.

If the users are tired and want to try Indonesian culinary delights, they can go to dining spots handpicked by food expert Bondan Winarno.

(Read also: Kota Tua river to become Jakarta's Cheonggyecheon)

“We never work alone. We are only the facilitator. We always work with local partners to get knowledge and stories. We organize workshops and we go fact-finding, crosschecking and interviewing. Together, we hit the streets,” Van Steekelenburg said.

“We are just the packager. We edit photos and text. We make it sexy,” she added.

Although the app, which uses English and Indonesian, is free, a user must pay US US$1.99 for each route.

Urban Discovery will donate all proceeds to the Indonesian Heritage Trust as the curator, according to Van Steekelenburg.

Exploring the city: Women use the iDiscover Java City Walk app to explore Sunda Kelapa Harbor in North Jakarta.(JP/A. Kurniawan Ulung)

“There are tons of travel apps out there. We are not definitely the best, latest and trendiest, but we truly celebrate localities and give back,” she said, calling iDiscover a “socially responsible travel app.”

iDiscover Java City Walks also provides information about walking routes in Glodok, known as Jakarta’s Chinatown, in West Jakarta. For this feature, the app guides travelers to visit Dharma Bhakti Temple, known as the mother of all Chinese temples in Java. If the users are thirsty, the app recommends Pantjoran Tea House, a quaint teahouse in a renovated old Chinese pharmacy, and legendary coffee shop Tak Kie, which specializes in iced coffee. If they want to eat, the app will propose Gang Kalimati, home to Glodok’s best culinary secrets, including nasi ulam, which boasts Chinese-Indonesian influences with a touch of Dutch.

“We also propose Gado Gado Direksi. Although it is located in a narrow alley, it is always crowded with buyers and you have to wait in line,” Indonesian Heritage Trust chairperson Catrini Pratihari Kubontubuh said, referring to a local dish consisting of mixed vegetables with rice and peanut sauce.

“In this app, we also inform users about the best time to go there. Otherwise, the gado gado might run out,” she added.

(Read also: Five tasty 'gado-gado' lunch joints)

Catrini said the curation process for iDiscover Java City Walks took three months.

While for the maps, Astrid, who previously created Bali maps for magazine Hello Bali, needed three months.

“It was a delight working on these two maps. I am glad to be part of the process in presenting the other side of the neighborhoods where I hold strong connections to,” she said.

Before Kota Tua and Glodok, the Indonesian Heritage Trust collaborated with Urban Discovery on a similar project in Bali. The app helps tourists discover areas such as Nyuh Kuning, Bali, a charming eco-friendly village in Ubud, and Sanur, known for its sheltered coral lagoon, white sandy beaches and perfect sunrise in Denpasar.

For the Bali project, the team also worked with other local partners, including the Bali Kuna Heritage Society, an NGO that celebrates and preserves Balinese cultural heritage, and Sanur Community, which develops Sanur into a cultural, social and environmentally friendly village based on Balinese philosophy.

“We look forward to expanding the apps across Indonesian cities, empowering local heritage groups and helping to keep Indonesian heritage alive,” Catrini of the Indonesian Heritage Trust said.

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