Indonesia is said to be melting point of cultures, something we used to define America as. The similarity doesn’t end here. Just as New York is called as ‘Big Apple’, Indonesian capital Jakarta is termed as ‘Big Durian’. I don’t know whether Americans like apple that much or not, but I can say for sure that Indonesians love their durian or Jack fruit, as we know it. Its a tropical fruit enjoyed perhaps equally in the whole southeast Asia region.
So what’s Jakarta all about! Is it just the capital city of country with biggest Muslim population in the world? Contrary to that, Jakarta and for that matter Indonesia as a whole defies every stereotype attached with any Islamic country. It has got all positives one can associate any country with.
So, here is my collection of Jakarta’s 13 representative images from my recent visit to Indonesia:
1. Fatahillah Square has ‘Sepeda Onthels’ or old colonial bikes lined up on all sides for tourists to rent and have a city tour. Colourful bikes are reminders of Dutch colonial past. Jakarta was the capital of the Dutch East Indies, known as Batavia. Jakarta still has lot of Dutch heritage preserved and these bright neon coloured bikes are one of them.
2. Sunda Kelapa port was once the gateway to the island. Actually, this was the name of the city for the longest period- for almost 1150 years, named for kingdom of Sunda. Today, Jakarta has a new modern harbour for commercial and passenger operations, but Sunda Kelapa port still works as a major hub for small scale transportation within different islands.
3. Mime artists at Fatahillah Square remind again of the colonial heritage. This art probably travelled here from Europe as it is found only in this part of Indonesia. But obviously, artists have found local heroes to represent. An interesting sight though.
4. Talking about colonial heritage, this is perhaps the most beautiful place to remind that- Cafe Batavia. Jakarta was known as Batavia for almost 325 years during Dutch occupation. Cafe Batavia at Fatahillah Square is one of the most preserved colonial buildings of Batavia Castle (as it was known those days) with authentic decor, ambience and taste. Well this (image below) is the men’s loo. Doesn’t look like! But its quite Dutch for sure!
5. National Monument or the ‘Monas’ (Monumen Nasional) is the testimony of nation’s glory and its resolve. This 132 metre tall tower with an observation deck at the top is located at Merdeka Square. Flame on the top is covered with gold foil. This monument was built to commemorate the struggle for Indonesian Independence. Do we have any for ours?
6. Indonesians love their heroes. And have their statues at prominent places in the Jakarta city. Sukarno and Hatta, Sudiraman and Thamrin, Diponegoro and Kartini. All of them had been Indonesia’s great leaders in fight against colonialism or spirit of building a new nation.
7. Indonesians love their heritage. National Museum of Indonesia (also known as Gedung Gajah or Gajah Museum because of an elephant statue in the front courtyard of the building, Gajah is elephant in sanskrit) is one of the most complete museum about nations’s history, art, culture, heritage, music, sociology, anthropology, architecture, and perhaps everything else. Visit all sections of the museum at leisure and you will be an expert on Indonesia.
8. Indonesians also preserve their culture, whether it is in different forms of art, music or else. They preserve it and preserve proudly. Such as this statue of ondel-ondel puppets from Betawi. This is a form of folk performance.
9. Indonesia has almost hundred percent literacy and there is a sense of gender equality at work places. Women folk are free and respected, thus reducing incident of violence a lot. With a very healthy sex ratio, women work in all type of industries with respect and dignity. They have equal participation in the economy.
10. Indonesia has adopted all cultures with open hands. With more than 85% of the population being Muslim, Indonesia barely looks like one. It is so liberal in approach, you will find Muslims with Hindu and Buddhist as well as Catholic names. This sculpture in Jakarta is a scene from Hindu epic Mahabharata with Krishna in control of the chariot and Arjuna on his back fighting the war.
11. Jakarta loves its food. Its heaven for non-vegetarians, but even vegetarians will not starve and actually they have good local foods to choose from. You might not find Indian taste, but then you have it in India, isn’t it! When in Indonesia, go for Indonesian cuisine- Betawi cuisine in Jakarta. Although, it certainly has a lot of influence of Indian, Arabic and European cuisines. Sate and Gado-Gado are dishes to try for.
12. Jakarta has a wonderful local transport network. It is said that TrasnJakarta has the world’s longest bus rapid transit routes. This scene below quickly reminds us of the hopeless way we implemented our own BRT in Delhi. Will talk about it later. Jakarta also has local train network with more developed MRT and Light rail transit under construction.
13. Jakarta is a rich, modern and developed city, like most other cities of the western world. Its development can be understood by few facts- it has the largest floor area for shopping malls in world in any city. Jakarta has 88 skyscrapers of more than 150 metres in height. It is also claimed that it has more buildings higher than 500 feet than any city in southern hemisphere. Tall claim!
There are perhaps lot many things to say. A lot more experiences. But may be sometime later.