Art n Life

Sumatra : A Tourists' Paradise

May 09, 2017 04:49 PM
Cultural Melting Pot

A visit to Bukittinggi in West Sumatra was a feast to the eyes and also an eye-opener of sorts

Ajay Kumar
It was a beeline of beautifully decked-up women in traditional Indonesian attire, with fruit-laden baskets on their heads, with a drummer in the tow, that caught our attention in the hinterland of Bukittinggi, the second largest city in West Sumatra, where we were travelling as a group a few months ago.
Some local festival I asked my guide. ? "No, no. It is bridegroom's family heading to bride's place with gifts and sweets. In our society?,? bride does not go to bridegroom's place to settle down. It is the other way round?," he said, and started explaining how the family set-up is so different here being a matriarchal society. "All property rights are given to daughters, not to sons", my guide explained.

As we drove past the city, a big shopping arcade, interestingly named Ramayana, caught my attention. Isn't Sumatra an Islamic state? But there's is no cultural bigotry. "Though we follow Islam , you can still see influence of Hinduism in our names", said Matahari, the local tour manager.

The Ring of Fire, as West Sumatra is popularly known as, owing to a large number of active and non-active volcanoes atop the surrounding hills, Bukittinggi is an enchanting place, not just culturally, but also for the sights it offers. The ocean at the backdrop provides for some scenic beauty, while the foothills make for exotic environs. It's about two hours' pleasant drive from Padang, capital of Western Sumatra.

As soon as you get down at Padang airport, the capital city's architecture is a big attraction. All buildings tend to have high rising horn roof-tops. Timber longhouses on stilts, with steep sloping roofs and heavy gables. No clear explanation how did this peculiar architecture evolve. One view hovers around bullock horns. Since bullock is the main animal of the region and is part of ethnic and cultural life of the people, it is said the roofs are a look-alike of bullock horns. The other view links it more to breezy winds that sweep across the island and the frequent recurrence of earthquakes.

The folks in Bukittinggi look affable and pleasant to talk to, even though language may be a major hurdle. Not many were conversant in English. I soon realised that visiting Indonesia is a rediscovery of the times gone-by, yet realising the charm of being amidst nature's paradise. Unlike other popular tourist destinations in Indonesia like Bali and Java, Bukittingi is more of a cultural tourist spot, where one observes confluence of a number of cultural streams that touched its shores over the last centuries.

A drive through a former colony of French residents was a journey into the past times when the French occupied sprawling mansions, far away from the populace. Though it is a god-forsaken place now with practically no habitation. Yet in a corner, it was interesting to see some of the artisans working on silver wares. Splendid traditional Sumatra jewellery is displayed, much of it is no more in vogue today.

A visit to Bukittingi is ,in fact,  a very enriching introduction to the Indonesian past. The museums take you back in the history of the royal families and wooden replicas of their castles affording you a glimpse into the past times. For instance, the Pagaruyung King palace, about an hour's drive from the city centre, depicts how the royal families used to conduct themselves. Interestingly, boys in the royal families would not stay within the main palace. Instead they would have a separate mansion, where they would be tutored and trained in warfare.

You don't encounter sky-high buildings here. Instead, the sprawling inhabitation looks more like colonies nestled in the nature's abundance. Surely a paradise for those looking for something new and unexplored.
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