(Published in the NOW! Jakarta Magazine, August 2015)


Bogor Cipicong - Sumatran Architecture


The ‘Constable’ snap of the Kebun Raya Bogor’s main lake

Last month I wrote in this column of the untimely death of Jakarta’s great designer Jaya Ibrahim. This month I travelled to Cipicong, Bogor, for his 40 days ceremony and a wake of sorts.
Arranging a trip to Cipicong for a Saturday evening event requires a bit of planning: I had a ticket for a 15:00-Cengkareng-arrival (we were invited for 6pm). There was no way my Jakarta friends wanted to be on the Jagorawi highway after four, so I took an earlier flight and decided once landed in Bogor, to kill time by visiting the Kebun Raya Bogor (Bogor Botanical Gardens).
Denpasar-Jakarta flights are all jam-packed these days, so I had to upgrade to business class to get on the 11:50 flight.

On the way to the airport I made a startling discovery: some disfiguring brickwork. Below was my response, posted in Facebook:
“Breaking news: Authorities brick off view to obscene natural planting roundabout at airport (at start of the new elevated highway over Benoa Bay). Possibly the last piece of virgin land in South Bali, the large grassy island has long been an embarrassment to municipal officials — a green belt devoid of budget hotel, Ramayana monument or fibreglass frog waste bins. Soon balihos (billboards) will obliterate the nasty views to sea and domestic tourists will be able to proceed to Joger and Beachwalk without unseemly distraction.”

Once on board I found a host of Jakarta businessmen in batik shirts scraping and bowing to a countryman in 6E. I did not recognize the man from the papers. Could this be the legendary businessman Tommy Winata, I wondered.
“Thank you for coming,” everyone kept saying to him. I fantasized that this was the board of directors of the Benoa Bay reclamation project! (my Trotskyite tendencies emerge once surrounded by batik shirts in Executive Class).
“Who is that?” I asked a hostie.
“The CEO of Garuda,” she replied.
Then there was an odd announcement that a passenger had not turned up and that there would be a 20-minute delay while they reconfigured the ‘load list’.
“But I can’t stand 20 more minutes of this Addie M.S. Dutch pensioner music,” I screamed and the CEO laughed. I hope my ploy works, and that the ghastly jingoistic cabin music is finally retired.

•    •    •


The Istana Bogor as seen from Kebun Raya

Arriving in Jakarta I found that the traffic was mercifully light — we were at the Kebun Raya in no time. I found the gardens rather unkempt and full of picnickers (nice, but in Indonesia picnickers leave their bodyweight in plastic, so the gardens were messy).
The sky was grey, the giant Victoria regia water lilies looked unhappy (kiddies now lob ‘Aqua’ bottles onto the broad leaves) and the tempayan pots in the Istana Bogor gardens broken. No mouse deer roamed.

Lady Raffles memorial and Saturday picnickers

Rather half-heartedly, I took a few snaps that caused quite a stir on Facebook. ‘Like a Constable’ venerable photographer Tim Street-Porter commented on Facebook from LA (see photo this page).
I always visit the Lady Raffles Memorial rotunda and lay a flower; her husband, Sir Stamford, is my all-time hero. Sadly, there is now rather a lot of lime green orientational signage surrounding the rotunda, but it’s still handsome and atmospheric.
The gardens remain wonderful. My advice? Only go there during the week. And have a helicopter on hand. We spent the next four hours circling Batutulis Train-Station-of-the-Damned in the most horrific bumper-to-bumper packed bemo traffic, thanks to reliance on GPS!
NEVER RELY ON GPS in Indonesia. In Jakarta, always insist that one’s host sends a luxury car to the airport.

•    •    •


Asmoro Damais Arifin and friend at Jaya Ibrahim’s Cipicong house

Finally at 8:30 pm I reach Jaya’s amazing Cipicong estate, announced by candlelit lanterns rising into the sky across the rice fields.
It is a beautiful beautiful night at the Cipicong Villa. I find Jaya’s partner, John sending up the amber lanterns — the palace itself is glowing amber in the dark.

After seven hours on the road my head is spinning, and the house – filled to the gills with beautiful people in white — seems like a labyrinth at a gay sauna (whatever that is), a sort of hall of mirrors where one keeps getting lost, and then bumps into the same queen. Nephews give great speeches, people cry. Agung, my assistant, sees Jaya smiling in the kitchen in a Javanese version of Balinese dress. Agung sees dead people and green goddesses. The local villagers and their grandchildren frolic in the vast kitchen.

•    •    •

Sumatra Architecture Tour

Last month I promised to do a special feature on visiting Sumatra’s architecturally rich areas. I’ll start this month with West Sumatra (ran out of space for photos last month) and Lake Toba. I have just started a Facebook page too: Traditional Architecture of Sumatra (photos, videos, essays).


View to Lake Maninjau near Bukittinggi, West Sumatra

Trip One (2 days): West Sumatra
Fly into Padang and drive towards Bukitinggi.
Bukittinggi, Payakumbuh, Pagaruyung, and Batusangkar are all worth seeing. Those are the best areas for Minangkabau architecture. Another place to visit is Pandai Sikek (=Sikat), a small town on the road between Padang Panjang and Bukittinggi. It is best known for its songket weaving, but it is also the place where the best Minangkabau house carvings panels are made.

Rumah Gadang Minangkabau houses in Solok, West Sumatra

Return to Padang via Solok which has a lot of interesting rumah gadang traditional houses and, halfway between Solok and Padang at Jorong Kayu Jao, an exceptional early 15th century timber mosque.


Along the road from Tongging to Silalahi, Lake Toba, North Sumatra

Trip Two: Lake Toba, North Sumatra (5 days)
Fly into Medan. Rent an Innova or Avanza car and driver to pick you up at airport and drive (3 hours) to Tongging via the heritage Batak Karo village of Dokan (5 min. detour) on the crater lake’s edge. Stay Toba lakeside at Tongging (losmen).

View of Lake Toba from outside Silalahi

Day 2: Drive to Silalahi Village after breakfast; very scenic lakeside road, then up the caldera edge (good road) and along excellent road south and down again to Samosir Island from Tele (there is a causeway). Best to Google and plan itinerary, as there are waterfalls, hot springs, and culture shows (good), and so to explore the island and its amazing architecture over two days. There are some good Batak house bungalow hotels.


Silalahi Village, Lake Toba

Day 4: Take ferry from Tuk Tuk to Prapat and visit museum at Balige and a few of the villages nearby. There’s great traditional architecture in every direction! Fly Susi Air from Silangit near Balige (15:00 hours) back to Medan, and connect on to Jakarta.

•    •    •


Detail of Batak Toba house front on Samosir Island

Traditional Batak great house near Manurung, Porsea, Lake Toba

Alternatively, one could combine both trips by driving or by taking bus from Bukittinggi to Prapat on Lake Toba (about 17 hours); very scenic but exhausting. Take ferry across to Tuk Tuk (tourist trip) on Samosir Island.

Batak Tobak Samosir house

Be warned:
Hotel accommodation in any category is basic at best in the Lake Toba area. Tongging losmen and Samosir Island bungalows/losmen are fine. In Bukittinggi and Padang there are some decent hotels.


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