Saturday, August 16, 2008

Up up & away to Bukit Tinggi, Sumatra

Jam Gadang - icon of Bukit Tinggi
Sianox Canyon

Rain. Usually not welcome when travelling but it was a blessing this trip. It somehow did the trick when we left Singapore for a one hr flight to Padang, Sumatra. Largely blues skies. Little haze. Upon landing at the newly completed Minang Intl Airport, we made our way 70km up to Bukit Tinggi, the cool hill resort of Western Sumatra via a shared taxi at 60,000 rp each.

Leaving the humidity to be 950m above sea level, it was like arriving in natural aircon, set at 22c. Nice! No wonder the Dutch made this their base and so did the Japanese during WW2. This busy market centre of the Minang Highlands is where the produce of the lush green fertile valleys are gathered and traded. For a smallish town, it boasts of large markets especially near Jam Gadang (Clock Tower), built by the Dutch in 1920s as a gift to their Queen. After independence, its roof was changed to the Minangkabau style - sharp pointed bull horn style. All sorts of crafts, clothes, jewellery, shoes, food, spices on sale make for a shopper's paradise.

We checked into Hotel Sumatera, an old Dutch style house which has seen better days. 175,000rp was the going rate for a European style spacious room with a stunning view of the still active Singgalang Volcano. For such little $, the early morning calls to prayer from competing mosques and regular power failures were easily overlooked. Alan and I hopped on a Bendi (horse drawn carriage) to the Sianok Canyon for glorious sunset views. Panorama Park was where the Japanese army through forced labour dugged a series of impressive tunnels in the hills. 150 steps down into the tunnel was easy but going up wasn't.

It was nice to meet Ira Ramawati, a warm Minang lady who I befriended on Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, for dinner. She and her friends were travelling the region and graciously invited us along. My first taste of the world renown Padang food was delightfully memorable. More than ten spicy dishes were laid out before us and indeed, variety IS the spice of life.

Being in the midst of clouds high up in Bt Tinggi was the perfect start to a Minangkabau adventure. Rain or no rain...
Majestic Singgalang Volcano
*The Minangkabaus are a most interesting cultural group in Western Sumatra. Matrilineal as a society, property and wealth are passed down through the female kin. At 7, a boy leaves his home to spend time in a Surau and to learn independence and life skills. This tradition of "Merantau" has helped the Minangkabau men to be extremely successful, shrewed & skilled people. No wonder many are famous poets, thinkers, novelists, educators & politicians. The first President of Singapore, Yusof Ishak, was Minangkabau.

1 comment:

ChrisW said...

Welcome back from 'mrrantau-ing'