From the time of the Java Man millions of years ago to the Srivijaya Kingdom in the 7th century to the Majapahit Empire in the 13th century, Indonesia is one country in the Southeast Asian region that has a colorful past and rich history.
Notwithstanding its vibrant heritage, Indonesia is also a tourist’s haven because of its dazzling biodiversity. Bali is one of the most popular destinations in the country. But beyond this piece of paradise, there is plenty to see around the over 17,000 islands and the waters around it.
A recent trip to this ASEAN neighbor brought me to four cities in the major islands of both Sumatra and Java to see up close the amazing details of its history and cultural heritage. What’s even more interesting is that theirs is so close to what we have in the Philippines that you can instantly spot the connection. Get familiar with our Indonesian brothers and sisters through these cities.
Little is read or heard about Palembang, the capital of the province of South Sumatra. But did you know that it was also the capital of the Srivijaya Kingdom? It is the oldest Indonesian city and the second oldest city in Southeast Asia, next only to Hanoi.
Just 4 kilometers from the city proper is the Srivijaya Kingdom Archaeological Park, found along the banks of the Musi River. It has the remnants of the 7th century kingdom, which include artifacts, canals, and potteries. There are no ruins in sight, though. One explanation is that any structure that dates back to the time of the kingdom’s existence must have been made of wood and other decomposable materials.
The Musi River, which is about 750 kilometers long, pass through Palembang. And, as in earlier days, civilization springs in bodies of water. Life evolves along the banks of Musi and it is a major waterway for ships carrying goods. One of the major attractions along the Musi River is the Ampera Bridge. Inaugurated in 1965, it is a major landmark in Palembang.
Near Ampera Bridge is the Kuto Besak Fort. It used to be the seat of the Palembang sultanate. Just outside the fort is a huge area where locals hang around, especially at night. Water taxis are docked by the river banks and guests can have some light snacks aboard the boat.
But a good place to revisit history is the Museum Balaputradewa, where the traditional Palembangnese house featured in the IDR10,000 note, called Rumah Limas, is found. Materials used since prehistoric days are also put on display inside the museum.
Another landmark that is located in a small village just outside the city center is the Al-Qur’an Al-Akbar, which is the biggest Qur’an carved on wood. We also made a side trip at the Jakabaring Sport City, the venue of the Asian Games that will take place in August 2018, hosted by Palembang and Jakarta.
Bandar Lampung, the provincial capital, is the gateway to Lampung province and the entry point to Sumatra. The city is marked by the siger, a traditional bride’s crown, which is present in every building, several public places, and majority of its souvenir items.
While the city is overlooking the breathtaking Lampung Bay, the historical sights are found outside the city. If there is anything that is worth knowing about Lampung province, it is that it is the home of Krakatoa or Krakatau, the famous volcano that had a major eruption in 1883. Further volcanic activities and eruptions gave birth to Anak Karakatau island, which means Child of Krakatoa.
We also headed to the East Lampung Regency Kencana Lepus Traditional House, raised from the ground on carved stilts. Inside, stone carvings and other cultural items are available for visitors to view. But what really got us in awe was the Taman Purbakala Pugung Raharjo.
After walking through corn fields, what welcomed us were megalithic stones arranged like a ceremonial site. Not far away was Punden Berundak, a mound that was also used for ceremonial rites. A short walk downwards was the royal pool where a clear body of water is surrounded by trees.
Lampung is also rich in biodiversity, whether you head to its jungles, or under the sea. Other attractions we visited in the province was the Way Kambas National Park, home of the Sumatran elephants and other species, and Tangkil Island in Lampung Bay.
A mere mention of Yogyakarta and Borobudur, Prambanan and Kraton comes to mind. Yogyakarta is an artist’s and heritage lover’s haven. City walls and old worship places are found within the city and its vicinities.
Borobudur is probably the most popular landmark in Yogyakarta. It is located outside the city. Still, a great number of people flock to this largest Buddhist temple where one has to climb layers of bricks, wander around its alleys to marvel at the bas-relief carvings, until the stupas are reached at the top.
The Hindu counterpart is Prambanan. It is a cluster of temples with chambers inside. The spires reflect the sacred mountain of Meru where the Hindu gods are believed to inhabit. They are somewhat similar to the spires of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
Yogyakarta is also the home of the royalty of the Yogyakarta Sultanate. The Kraton, or the palace, is open to the public until two in the afternoon. A few blocks from the palace is the Taman Sari Water Castle, which is the Sultan’s garden, and where his princesses take a bath. Batik factories, art galleries, various shops, and old buildings also abound in Yogyakarta.
As Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta is a bustling metropolis where old structures and modern buildings are built side by side. But if you want to see Indonesia’s traditional houses and various historical, cultural, and natural attractions in one theme park, then the huge Taman Mini Indonesia Indah can offer you a lot of interesting displays and edifices.
Kota Tua, which features colonial Dutch buildings, is another destination in the city. The Jakarta History Museum is located here, which used to be Jakarta’s downtown area during the time of the Dutch East Indies.
At the Merdeka Square and its surroundings are iconic landmarks like the National Monument called Monas and symbolized by a golden flame, the National Museum of Indonesia, Istiqlal Mosque, the Jakarta Cathedral, and Pasar Baru.
As Indonesia moves from being the seat of past kingdoms and empires, the largest archipelago in the world with the biggest Muslim population finds its place in this fast-changing world. It is the home of the ASEAN Secretariat, a vital regional group that binds several countries in Southeast Asia. So, if you want to dig deep into our region’s history, make a visit to Indonesia. Who knows, you might stumble into great finds and interesting cultural connections.
Editor’s Note: The author owns First-time Travels. She is one of the 30 winners of the Kerala Blog Express Season 4, representing the Philippines.