Travelling allows people to see the world differently and newly. After staying over three months in Indonesia, Md Talebur Islam Rupom writes about their incredible foods, mosques, temples, culture, language, beaches and people
Last year, I have been to Indonesia and stayed there for three and half months. It was different than my previous foreign tours because it was for a longer period unlike other trips. Those 100 days allowed me to saturate myself completely in the country with highest number of islands in the world and its diversities and natural beauties.
I went there as a scholarship awardee of Indonesian arts and culture which actually helped me to go in depth and being local. The actual taste of immersion can come through the way of being local, I believe. Simultaneously, my journey consisted of four major parts of Indonesia — starting in Jakarta for 10 days, then in Bogor for 2 days, Yogyakarta for 3 months, in Banyuwangi for 10 days and finally ending my tour in Jakarta.
Outwardly, as per common scenario of the most capitals in the world, Jakarta always keeps moving with crowd, lots of skyscrapers, shopping malls, traffic jam, street food and other shops, and many more which have many similarities with Dhaka. But transportations, not only in Jakarta but also in entire Indonesia, are cheaper than Dhaka, in fact, living expenses in Indonesia are cheap to some extent than Bangladesh.
Shopping malls are extremely posh but yet I find things are quite economical in Jakarta comparing to our capital including the food. As my tour in Jakarta was organised by the foreign ministry of Indonesia, I got to visit many places, museums, religious centres et cetera.
The old Jakarta is known as Kota Tua; it resembles a Dutch city since Indonesia was colonised by the Dutch for more than 350 years. Even though Indonesia got its independence more than 75 years ago, but the old city is still glittering with white buildings like the Dutch have just left.
A big museum in Kota Tua keeps the nation’s history and diverse cultures alive. It is similar to other museums in Indonesia as far as I visited. I found the harmony among people in Jakarta when I visit Istiqlal Mosque, the largest mosque in southeast Asia and Cathedral Church-Jakarta. They are situated just in front of each other, at the centre of the capital.
After completing my first phase in Jakarta, I went to Bogor which is very well known for its tropical weather.
Thereafter, I headed to Yogyakarta or Jogjakarta, renown as a city of arts, culture and education. I lived there for three months and finally let myself immerse with the local people. It is a small city without any skyscraper but full of humble and friendly people. Language could be a barrier as most of the common people do not know English.
Only Bahasa Indonesia is used as the official language though different provinces have their own language with written form but not used in any official work. So, Google translator would be an efficient helper. In fact, the common people of Yogyakarta have tendency to talk with foreigners and if foreigners approach them first they appreciate it. When I showed interest to talk and they used Google translator almost in every case including while using transportations, visiting to restaurants and shopping malls.
Ostensive, reading between the lines in a conversation is essential in Indonesia as people tend to answer — yes, mostly. It could be different in other places but specially in Yogyakarta region under Central Java, and Jakarta and Banyuwangi to some extent.
It is interesting to experience that there are more than one meaning for a word. For example, yes can be meant as ‘yes’, ‘may be’ or even ‘no’. It was a cultural and linguistic experience for me when I came to Yogyakarta first. Even staying for a couple of months, I could not figure out what is the actual meaning of ‘yes’. I have found this context interesting compared to South Asia’s straightforwardness.
On top of everything, the primary aspect that would come up when someone talks about travelling in Indonesia is beaches. This south-east Asian country has more than seventeen thousand islands so it is obvious that there are beaches almost everywhere. I have never seen sea before going to Indonesia. As mountains always fascinates me than beaches do, I am more close to mountains than seas.
But the moment I saw Wohkudu beach on the bank of the Indian Ocean, the sound of the wave filled my heart with tranquillity. It was a very tiny beach with only a few people I went with. Australia is on the other side of that beach. The beaches of Indonesia showed me the impressiveness of blue water of the Indian and the Pacific Ocean and the Java Sea.
Actually, I can write a mini book on the beaches of Indonesia. I still can recollect the majestic moments in Timang beach and having my lunch where the wildness of the wave kept my mind serene. The spontaneous sound of the ocean made me thoughtful of my life. Except Bali, beaches are not much crowded and are rather clean. It was easy to converse with the ocean.
Red Island, also known as Pulau Merah beach, is the best to me. It is absolutely fantastic and surreal when the island turns into reddish in colour while the sun is setting in the crystal clear water. I think beaches are more marvellous when there is not much crowd around.
I was amazed by the archaeological places in Yogyakarta but religious architectures took it to another level. Borobudur, Prambanan and Plaosan have some of the most magnificent architectures which are also listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Borobudur was the largest Buddhist temple in the world which was built in 9th century. It is massive in size but made me serene. Three parts of it were covered by hills where echo can be heard after shouting. It is one of the finest religious architectures I have ever seen. Everything inside it was constructed perfectly and even after more than thousand years, it remained as it was.
Similarly, Prambanan temple, the largest Hindu temple in southeast Asia was also built in similar period of Borobudur. It is also eye-catching. Despite being a Muslim majority country, the Indonesian administration keeps these places top-notch considering maintenance, facilities and cleanliness. In fact, Borobudur and Prambanan temples are the most touristy archaeological spots in Indonesia.
Talking about clothes, Indonesians are very sensitive about preserving their art and culture including clothes. Actually, each province has their traditional clothes because of cultural diversity. I wore the traditional clothes of Yogyakarta called as Surjan and Beskap.
Surjan is usually for attending wedding or other traditional events whereas Beskap is for formal meeting with the sultan or the royal family. For everyday use, they wear batik. Batik is considered as formal clothes for each gender. So, it would be abnormal if someone wears tie and suit in a formal event there.
It was also another cultural experience for me. In fact, wearing suit and tie which are considered as formal in most part of the world including Bangladesh, made me alienated from others over there.
Last but not the least, food is so different than other south Asian countries. Rice, peanut and peanut sauce and Indomie noodles are the most common and popular items in most of the meals. In Yogyakarta, people do not eat spices much, rather they add sugar in most of the dishes. I like to eat Nasi Goreng (fried rice) which has similar spices like our food.
The closest dish to our cuisine I found was Moghlai paratha which they call it ‘Martabak’. The food of Padang province is very similar to a lot of south Asian food because of the use of a lots of spices.
Overall, it was an excellent, enlightening and engrossing experience for me. The common people are very friendly with incredible hospitality whereas the nature is splendid. I can still hear the serene noise of the waves of different beaches.
Md Talebur Islam Rupom graduated from the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh
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