The Jakarta Post
The view from Stone Garden Geopark in West Bandung regency, West Java. (JP/Ni Nyoman Wira)
Nestled on a rocky hilltop in Gunungmasigit village, West Bandung regency, West Java, Stone Garden Geopark is an oasis among chalk mining sites spread across the regency.
Part of Cipatat district's karst landscape, the geopark was founded in 2000 by Kelompok Riset Cekungan Bandung research team from the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB).
In addition to the Stone Garden, the team also discovered a cave site named Pawon in a nearby lower area.
Visitors have to hike for 10 to 20 minutes from the entrance to reach the top of the Stone Garden. (JP/Ni Nyoman Wira)
Later in 2007, prehistoric human fossils were unearthed at Pawon cave and since then, the geopark has been recognized as a cultural heritage. In 2015, the West Bandung Culture and Tourism Agency designated the 2-hectare area as a tourist site and allowed locals to manage it under the Tourism Awareness Group (Pokdarwis).
When we recently arrived at the geopark’s parking area, the weather was dry and hot, but the various vegetation planted there helped shade a stone path that led us to the entrance. The locals, accompanied by local community Forum Pemuda Peduli Karst Citatah (Citatah Karst Lover Youth Forum or FP2KC), are said to have been planting thousands of trees in the area.
Up to 600 trembesi trees have been added to the lush forest as part of a tree-planting event on Nov. 22 initiated by diversified business group PT Astra International.
Head of Forum Pemuda Peduli Karst Citatah, Deden Syarif Hidayat (middle) poses with West Bandung Culture and Tourism Agency head Sri Dustirawati (left) and PT Astra International's head of corporate communications, Boy Kelana Soebroto, during a tree-planting event on Nov. 22 at Stone Garden Geopark, West Java. (PT Astra International/File)
FP2KC head Deden Syarif Hidayat told The Jakarta Post during the event that the trembesi trees had been chosen for their ability to grow fast as the area lacks water. Other than trembesi, other types of trees that can be found there are bamboo, jackfruit and mahogany.
Visitors can also expect to marvel at wild long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis), which we did as we were approaching the geopark’s entrance.
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From the entrance, we had to hike for 10 to 20 minutes to reach the geopark’s top. Visitors who want to continue their journey can opt to climb for another 15 minutes to reach Panyawangan Peak. Hiking boots are necessary as the track features uneven chunks of limestone.
Several gazebos are prepared along the path for those needing to take a short break. They can rest while marveling at the surrounding stones and the panoramic view of nearby hills and paddy fields.
Black smoke rises during our visit to the geopark. (JP/Ni Nyoman Wira)
However, as we were captivated by the breathtaking scenery, black smoke slowly rose on our left side.
“It’s from the burning process of the chalk,” said Deden, adding that burning the chalk was part of the long process required to turn it into other materials, such as cement.
FP2KC community has been struggling since 2009 to save their hometown from being exploited by the aforementioned activities.
“[The chalk mining sites] have changed the natural landscape, damaged the biodiversity and eliminated water sources,” Deden said.
The community faces many challenges, especially since a number of locals work at the mining sites.
They also continue to pressure the local administration to take action by establishing a zoning system to designate locations that can be used as mining sites and tighten the issuance of mining permits.
One of the gazebos provided at the geopark with Panyawangan Peak in the background. (JP/Ni Nyoman Wira)
“We cannot completely stop the mining activities,” Deden said. “But at least there’s conservation [action] from the administration.”
Open to the public from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Stone Garden is quite challenging to access as it mostly consists of a rough, rocky trail.
“Certain parts of the trail are still owned by the locals. Therefore, the administration cannot build anything [to repair them]. It’s still used for mining activities as well,” Deden said.
The geopark is around one and a half hours away by land from the Bandung city center. Entrance fees for visitors start at Rp 8,000 (US$0.57) per person. (kes)
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