There is more to Indonesia than just Jakarta, Bali and Komodo! There are islands and islands and there are diverse cultures but united by a country, Indonesia. West Sumatra, third largest of the ten provinces of Sumatra, the largest Island of Indonesia is also known as the land of Minangkabau.
In ancient times Sumatra (Sumatera) was called Swarna Dwipa, Sanskrit for Island of Gold and sometimes Swarna Bhumi (Land of Gold), owing to the fact that there were a lot of gold deposits in this region. Later it was called Samudra Pasai, a kingdom in North of the Island. Again, a Sanskrit word where Samudra means Sea.
Sumatra is probably the corrupted version of Samudra. Another name was Sumatra Bhoomi. Whew! It is not clear if there are still a lot of gold here but I grabbed this golden opportunity to know what West Sumatra or (Sumatera Barat) had to offer. 🙂
I landed at Padang Airport, which is fondly called BIM (Bandar Udara Internasional Minangkabau) which had a distinct influence of Minangkabau architecture. Padang is the capital of West Sumatra and the entry point for travellers to this region. Later I drove down to Bukittinggi, the second largest city of W Sumatra and is often the base for several day journeys in and around here.
This list is curated from my awesome travel to West Sumatra.
Adityawarman Museum is housed in a Rumah Gadang (Big House) with its typical Minangkabau architecture. I am not a die-hard fan of museums, but I found this quite interesting with its collection of historical artefacts which gives an insight into the ways of Minangkabau.
Lembah Anai is a waterfall on the way to Bukittinggi. While it may not be the highest or the biggest, it gave us respite from the travel tiredness. There are steps that lead to the pool under the waterfalls. While people were found dipping their tired feet in the water, I am not sure if bathing is allowed. The air was cooler as we had gained some height and were at a very green part of the region. This was the foothills of Mt. Singgalang, an extinct Volcano.
Padang Panjang: While we ascended further on way to Bukittinggi, we reached the Long Field or Padang Panjang. We were now at the flat area formed between Mt Singgalang and Mt Marapi, the most active volcano in Sumatra, which last erupted in 2001! The Rumah Gandang here has seven horns and four rice barns. This house is also a museum of sorts and is home to Minangkabau Cultural Documentation and Information Centre.
If you are a smoker you better do your smoking before entering Padang Pajang, because this is almost a No Smoking City, the only one in Indonesia.
Pandai Sikek is about 10KM North of Padang Pajang on way to Bukittinggi. The hand-woven cloth called Songket has its origins here. When I asked one of the weavers about where he learnt the skill, with a combination of English and gestures, 🙂 he said this skill, involving shining gold and silver threads, have been passed generations to generations. There are a few stores collecting these clothes from the weavers and selling them to the locals for special occasions or to the tourists.
Pandai Sikek is also known for its intricate wood carving skills and we saw them making grills and other carvings in local designs and as per needs and customs of the Minangkabau people.
Jam Gadang: Jam means hour or time and we already know that Gadang means big. 🙂 Jam Gadang is a tall clock Tower in the main square of Bukittinggi. How simple it is to translate! This is almost 100 years old and the square around is the venue for a lot of public functions too.
It is said that the internal mechanisms of this clock are similar to that of Clock on Elizabeth Tower. Yes, I am talking about the clock whose bell is called the Big Ben!
It is interesting to stroll around the Pasar Ateh market and street market which come to life during evenings.
On a Sunday morning, I saw a lot of Citizens congregated here for a free mass Zumba session! For me this was a very surprising moment, to learn that the modern Minangkabaus place as much, if not more, importance on their health as preserving their culture.
Great wall of Koto Gadang was built a few years back to provide pedestrian connection between Koto Gadang and the main city of Bukittinggi. It is fun going down the multitude of steps but not at all coming up. 🙂 However we did not have the time to go the whole way.
After the Great Wall can Grand Canyon be far behind? The beautiful views of the Sianok Canyon apparently come to view if you walk the whole of the Great Wall.
While at Koto Gadang we visited a silver workshop. It was a fantastic experience the artisans drawing fine silver wires and making exquisite jewellery.
Lake Maninjau: There are two ways of experiencing this lake. One is to go the lake level and do fishing and the other is to get to a high vantage point and view the grand lake. This is a crater lake and is about 20km long by 6 km wide.
The visuals were a treat for our tired eyes and I wished I could sit here forever with a drink in hand. 🙂
The vertical cliffs of Harau Valley are not to be missed. I am told that sometimes people do rock climbing in the rock formations, but no one was there when we went. The sheer rock face looked quite intimidating to me. Stock up on food and drink before coming here as there may not be too many roadside shops in these parts.
Kelok 9 Bridge, is a modern architectural wonder that shaves a couple of hours when you are on road when getting from Riau province to West Sumatra or the other way around. The almost century old road, Kelok 9, was too narrow for the increasing traffic between the two provinces hence this modern road bridge came into being. It is such a popular place with a lot of photo opportunities that many kiosks have sprung up along the roadside selling drinks and food to the tourists.
Pagaruyung King’s Palace (Istano Basa Pagaruyung). Pagaruyung was once the seat of the Minangkabau king. This building has been rebuilt a few times because of destruction due to fire and ravages of time. Last time it was struck by lightning and almost 85% of all the artifacts were destroyed. Care has been taken to use similar materials like wood, fronds and wooden nails to build this beautiful three-storeyed palace.
While on the road if you are thirsty or hungry you could do what we did. The pancakes cooked in terracotta ovens were just out of the world. The spicy tapioca chips were quite to my taste 😉 and I washed it down with a drink brewed with coffee leaves. Kawa Daun is prepared like tea but using coffee leaves. It was so good that I bought a few packets to take home.
Tour de Singkarak is a bicycle long distance race, fashioned over Tour de France is one of the most important events of West Sumatra. The almost 500KM race takes the racer all over West Sumatra and takes almost a week to finish. Winner gets USD100,000!
TDS, as it is called, will be held in October 2017. Don’t miss it if you are in this part of the world that time. Have you been to Sumatera Barat (West Sumatra)?
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