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ISLANDS OF INDONESIA

Java
The capital city of Jakarta retains much from the colonial Dutch and British periods, with many fine colonial-style buildings and the recently restored ‘old quarter’. The National Monument towers 140m (450ft) above the Merdeka Square and is crowned with a ‘flame’ plated in pure gold. The Central Museum has a fine ethnological collection including statues dating from the pre-Hindu era. Worth visiting is the Portuguese Church, completed by the Dutch in 1695, which houses a magnificent and immense Dutch pump organ. The modern Istiqlal Mosque in the city center is one of the largest in the world. There is an antiques market on Jalan Surabaya and batik factories in the Karet. Throughout the island, puppet shows are staged in which traditional wayang golak and wayang kulit marionettes act out stories based on well-known legends; performances can sometimes last all night.

Around 13km (8 miles) from Yogyakarta is the Prambanan temple complex, built in honor of the Hindu gods Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu, which includes the 10th-century Temple of Loro Jonggrang and said to be the most perfectly proportioned Hindu temple in Indonesia. At the temple there are also open-air performances of Ramayana ballet which involve hundreds of dancers, singers and gamelan musicians. Perched on a hill to the west of Yogyakarta is Borobudur, probably the largest Buddhist sanctuary in the world, which contains more than 5km (3 miles) of relief carvings. The Royal Mangkunegaran Palace in Surakarta is now used as a museum and has displays of dance ornaments, jewelry and 19th-century carriages used for royal occasions. Mount Bromo in the east of Java is still very active, and horseback treks to the crater’s edge can be made from nearby Surabaya. During August and September, Madura is a venue for a series of bullock races which culminate in a 48-hour non-stop carnival celebration in the town of Pamekasan.

Sulawesi
Unofficially known as ‘Orchid Island’, Sulawesi is a land of high mountains, misty valleys and lakes. In the south is Bantimurung Nature Reserve which has thousands of exotic butterflies. The island has geysers and hot springs, the most celebrated of which are at Karumengan, Kinilow, Lahendong, Leilem and Makule. Torajaland is known as the ‘Land of the Heavenly Kings’ and its people are noted for their richly ornamented houses and custom of burying the dead in vertical cliff-side tombs. Ujung Pandang, formerly Makassar, is celebrated for the Pinsa Harbour where wooden schooners of the famous Buganese seafarers are moored. Fort Rotterdam, built by Sultan Ala in 1660 to protect the town from pirates, is now being restored. Racing is a popular island activity; there is horseracing and bullock-racing and at Ranomuut there are races with traditional horse-drawn carts (bendi).

Sumatra
Sumatra is the second-largest island in Indonesia, straddling the Equator, with a volcanic mountain range, hot springs, unexplored jungle and vast plantations. There are many reserves established to protect the indigenous wildlife from extinction. Bengkulu, Gedung Wani and Mount Loeser Reserve organize supervised safaris enabling visitors to see tigers, elephants, tapirs and rhinos at close hand. Lake Toba, once a volcanic crater, is 900m (3000ft) above sea level and has an inhabited island in the middle. Lingga village near Medan is a traditional Karonese settlement with stilted wooden houses which have changed little through the centuries. At Bukittinggi is the old fortress of Fort de Kock and nearby a zoo, market, a renovated rice barn and the Bundo Kandung Museum. The best beaches are on the east coast.

Bali
The landscape of Bali, ‘Island of the Gods’, is made up of volcanic mountains, lakes and rivers, terraced ricefields, giant banyans and palm groves and, on the coast, bays ringed with white sandy beaches. The island lies a short distance from the eastern coast of Java, across the Strait of Bali. Although its total area is only 2095 sq km (1309 sq miles), the island supports a population of approximately 2.5 million. Unlike the rest of Indonesia, the predominant religious faith is Hinduism, though in a special form known as ‘Agama-Hindu’. Stretching east to west across the island is a volcanic chain of mountains, dominated by the mighty Gunung Agung (Holy Mountain) whose conical peak soars more than 3170m (10,400ft) into the sky. North of the mountains, where the fertility of the terrain permits, is an area devoted to the production of vegetables and copra. The fertile rice-growing region lies on the central plains.

The tourist areas are in the south, around Sanur Beach and at Kuta, which lies on the other side of a narrow isthmus. Nearby Nusa Dusa is also a popular tourist area and has a number of reasonably priced resorts and hotels.

The island has thousands of temples – the exact number has never been counted – ranging from the great ‘Holy Temple’ at Besakih to small village places of worship. Of the many festivals, most are held twice a year and involve splendid processions, dances and daily offerings of food and flowers made to the gods. Cremations are also held in great style, though their cost is often almost prohibitive for the average Balinese family.

Denpasar is the island’s capital. Sights include the Museum, a new art center and the internationally recognized Konservatori Kerawitan, one of the major centers of Balinese dancing. The Sea Temple of Tanah Lot on the west coast (a short drive from Kediri) is one of the most breathtaking sights of Bali. Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave) near Bedulu is a huge cavern with an entrance carved in a fantastic design of demonical shapes, animals and plants, crowned by a monstrous gargoyle-like head. The Holy Springs of Tampaksiring are believed to possess curative properties and attract thousands of visitors each year. Serangan Island is also known as Turtle Island because of the turtles kept there in special pens. The island lies south of Sanur and can be reached by sail boat or, at low tide, on foot. Every six months, the island becomes the scene of a great thanksgiving ceremony in which tens of thousands take part.
 

The sacred monkey forest at Sangeh is a forest reserve which, as well as being the home of a variety of exotic apes, also has a temple. Penelokan is a splendid vantage point for views of the black lava streams from Mount Batur. It is also possible to sail across the nearby Lake Batur to Trunyan for a closer look at the crater. North of Kintamani, at an altitude of 1745m (5725ft), lies the highest temple on the island, Penulisan. Pura Besakih, a temple which dates back originally to the 10th century, stands high on the volcanic slopes of Gunung Agung. Nowadays, it is a massive complex of more than 30 temples, and the setting for great ceremonial splendor on festival days. Padangbai is a beautiful tropical coastal village, where lush vegetation backs a curving stretch of white, sandy beach. It is also the island’s port of call for giant cruise liners. Goa Lawah lives up to its name (‘bat cave’ in the local tongue), a safe and holy haven for thousands of bats which line every inch of space on its walls and roof. Non bat-lovers should avoid moonlight strolls in the area, as the animals leave for food sorties at night. Kusambe is a fishing village with a black sand beach. Lake Bratan is reached via a winding road from Budugul. The shimmering cool beauty of the lake and its pine-forested hillsides is an unusual sight in a tropical landscape.

The village of Ubud is the center of Bali’s considerable art colony and contains the galleries of the most successful painters, including those of artists of foreign extraction who have settled on the island. Set in a hilltop garden is the Museam Puri Lukistan (Palace of Fine Arts) with its fine display of sculpture and paintings in both old and contemporary styles. Kamasan, near Klungkung, is another center, but the painting style of the artists is predominantly wayang (highly stylised). Other artistic centers include Celuk (gold and silver working), Denpasar (woodworking and painting) and Batubulan (stone carving). Bali.... read more...

Lombok
Only a 15-minute flight (or ferry trip) away is Lombok, an unspoilt island whose name means ‘chilli pepper’. Its area is 1285 sq km (803 sq miles). The island possesses one of the highest volcanic mountains in the Indonesian archipelago, Mount Rindjani, whose cloud-piercing peak soars to 3745m (12,290ft). The population of about 750,000 is a mixture of Islamic Sasaks, Hindu Balinese and others of Malay origin. The two main towns are Mataram, the capital, and the busy port of Ampenan; both are interesting to explore. The south coast is rocky. The west, with shimmering rice terraces, banana and coconut groves and fertile plains, looks like an extension of Bali. The east is dry, barren and desert-like in appearance. The north, the region dominated by Mount Rindjani, offers thick forests and dramatic vistas. There are also some glorious beaches, some of white sand, others, such as those near Ampenan, of black sand.

At Narmada, reached by an excellent east–west highway, is a huge complex of palace dwellings, complete with a well containing ‘rejuvenating waters’, built for a former Balinese king. At Pamenang, visitors can hire a boat and go skin diving, entering a clear-water world of brilliantly colored coral and inquisitive tropical fish. Lombok..... read more....

Eastern Indonesia
The wildest and least visited of Indonesia’s 17,000 islands are in the east, gathered in two great archipelagos north and south of the treacherous Banda Sea.

Moluccan Archipelago
Also known as the Maluku Archipelago, it is made up of 1000 islands, many uninhabited and the rest so isolated from each other and (since the decline of the spice trade) from the outside world that each has its own culture and very often its own language.

Halmahera is the largest island in the Moluccan group and one of the most diverse. On the coast are relic populations of all the great powers who competed for domination of the Spice Trade – Arabs, Dutch, Gujuratis, Malays and Portuguese – whilst inland the people speak a unique language that has little or nothing in common even with other unique, but related, languages on the more remote islands. Morotai, to the north, was the site of a Japanese air base during World War II, but is now engaged in the production of copra and cocoa products.

Ternate and Tidore, tiny volcanic islands off the west coast of Halmahera, were once the world’s most important source of cloves and consequently amassed far more wealth and power than their size would seem to merit. The Sultanate of Ternate was an independent military power of considerable muscle before the arrival of the Portuguese, exerting influence over much of South-East Asia. Both islands are littered with the remains of this and the equally strident colonial era, and draw more tourists than their larger neighbor.

Further south, Ambon was another important center of the clove trade and has over 40 old Dutch fortresses dating from the early 17th century. Banda, in the middle of the Banda Sea, is often referred to as the original ‘Spice Island’ and is famous as a nutmeg-growing center.

Nusa Tengara Archipelago
Nusa Penida was at one time a penal colony but now attracts visitors to its dramatic seascapes and beaches. Komodo is home to the world’s largest and rarest species of monitor lizard, while Sumba is noted for its beautiful Ikat cloth. Mount Keli Mutu is one of Indonesia’s most spectacular natural sights, famous for its three crater lakes, whose striking colors change with the light of the day.

The islands north of Timor – including Adonara, Alor, Lembata, Pantar, Solor and Wetar – are rarely visited by tourists; there are many old fortresses on the islands and from here seafarers used to set sail on whale hunts. Timor itself is out of bounds to tourists because of the bloody and protracted war with freedom fighters in the east of the island. The cultures on Roti, Ndau and Sawu have apparently changed little since the Bronze Age, yet the islands’ inhabitants are renowned as musicians and palm weavers.

The Terawangan Islands is a small group with beautiful beaches and coral gardens. Lucipara has excellent waters for snorkeling. Bone Rate, Kangean, Tenggaya and Tukang Besi is a group of isolated atolls in the Flores and Banda seas, epitomizing a tropical paradise.

Irian Jaya
The western part of the island of New Guinea, this is one of the last great unexplored areas of the world. Even today, visiting ships are often greeted by flotillas of warriors in war canoes. All those intending to visit Irian Jaya must obtain special permits from State Police Headquarters in Jakarta. Travelers are advised to avoid this area at present.
 

Home : About Indonesia : Food & Dining : History : Society & Culture : Islands of Indonesia : Lombok : Gili Islands : Bali :
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