Halimun-Salak National Park- Part 2
The sunlight was over my head, when we were taking off Rumah Gedong. Our car exited the house yard and immediately ascended to a constricted, curvy road while at the same time a motorcycle was coming from the opposite direction. In the turn, its throttle collided with the right door of our car. The three young boys on the motorcycle got off. Our car was on the slope, I was concerned that it would slip down. Erik needed to struggle behind his seat for a couple of minutes before the car could slide and finally escape the friction. As we were moving on, we found other narrow zig-zag roads where only a professional driver could race on.
“We will take a longer route,” Erik said. Before we left, he and Pak Ade had discussed the road condition to the National Park. Pak Ade said that the nearest roadway from Kampung Urug to the National Park had been severely broken and it was impossible to be crossed. We ended up making a big circle to reach the artery to the Park. The damaged roads slowed down our ride.
We were relieved to enter the buffer area of Gunung Halimun Salak National Park where the plants on the right and left hands of the roads gradually changed to lush, tall trees. On the way, we occasionally crossed big trucks and motorcycles. After a while, we spotted a gate signing Selamat Datang di Desa Wisata Malasari (Welcome to Desa Malasari, a tourist destination). Not far from the gate, I saw a small vendor having a freezer of an ice cream brand that I was familiar with. On that sunny day, I needed an ice cream treat. Thinking it was the last ice cream vendor in the buffer zone, I asked Erik to pull over to the side of the road and then I got off.
A House of Raising Independence
Covering 6,470 hectares of land, Malasari is the biggest village in the National Park. The view by the village entrance was completely different from the bushes that we just passed by. On both sides of the roads, I saw some houses in small clusters and terraced paddy fields where some big rocks spreaded over them. Only for a few kilometers, the wheels of our car enjoyed the smooth road before they stumbled on the rugged road again.
After more than a two-hour drive from Kampung Urug, we stopped at a quarters where a one-story office of the village head, a mosque, and a school stood. In comparison with other villages that we went past, the center of Malasari Village looked alive. Some children were playing soccer in the quarters.
The stoned residential houses were neatly ordered, some of them were sidelined by the green paddy fields. The alley connecting the residential houses was asphalted. The entire rural area was verdant and calm. For the first time in my life, I saw the composite flowers of the durian tree that were hanging down in the front yard of a residential house.
Erik introduced us to his friend, Kang Unang–a native of Malasari. Kang Unang would show us a historical, old house that the villagers were proud of. The house was located in the corner of the asphalt alley. I looked at a green painted house which was entirely made of wood. The clay tile roofed house had a typical tropical architecture. It was stilted about 40 cm above the land. As I was entering the simple house, I noticed that it had one living room, one central room that was used for the office, and two bedrooms. Like any other old house in Indonesia, the bathroom and toilet were located in the back and were separated from the main house.
Being in the house, my imagination regressed to the year 1949, when Indonesia was under the second military aggression of the Dutch colonial government. On January 20th of the year, the first Regent of Bogor District, Ipik Gandama, and his entourage, secretly traveled to Malasari after having moved his office from one town to another to avoid the impromptu attack of the Dutch. At the time, Malasari was considered a safe haven since it was well protected by the hills and was hidden from potential ambush of the Dutch troops. Gandama was instructed to establish an emergency governance of the Bogor District. For about five months, the house had served as his residence and the emergency office, where several important political decisions were made.
I imagined the condition of the road to Malasari at the time. How did it look like? Did Regent Gandama and his men ride on horse carts through the dense forest or did they walk on foot? The answers were not disclosed.
Kang Unang tried to create a museum out of the house. Some pictures of the previous West Java’s prominent figures such as former Governors and Regents were displayed, including some items that Regent Gandama had used during his stay at the house.
Regent Gandama became the Governor of West Java in 1956-1959. Later on, he was appointed as Indonesian Minister of Home Affairs from 1959-1964. Ipik Gandama did play a critical role in the early years of Indonesia’s independence.
Nirmala Tea Plantation Estate
We said goodbye to Kang Unang and left the historical house. In the late afternoon, our car arrived at the entrance gate of Gunung Halimun Salak National Park. “Why don’t you guys take a picture on the gate,” Erik said to me and Setyo. We stepped out of the car and took some pictures with a big sign of Malasari in the background. Few hundred meters from the entrance gate, we made another stop to take some shots of an expansive beautiful terraced paddy field, which was a signature of Malasari.
The road condition to Gandama’s house had eventually been a warming-up for both Setyo and me before we moved on to more potholed roads to reach Citalahab Kampong. As we rode further, we saw a sedan slipped on the road side and a pick-up car was trying to withdraw it using a big rope. Erik turned off the engine and got out of the car. We stopped a while until the sedan could be pulled and returned to the track. The pick-up car which was loaded with furniture made it successfully. The sedan driver was smiling when his car was back on the road. “I have ropes in the back just in case,” Erik, who was a mountain climber, told us. It was clear that any car riding on the road to the heart of the National Park needed to prepare for the worst case scenario and to bring the necessary tools.
Our car gradually climbed to an elevation that brought fresh air to our cabin. We decided to open up the car windows, inhaling non-air conditioned air. We also saw many big forest ferns on both sides of the roads. Then, we got into the road sheltered by trees’ canopies, which barred the blue sky from our sight. In the middle of our drive, we noticed roofs of houses from a distance. “It is Ciwalen Kampong, only eight families live there and they manage their own electricity from a self-developed turbine,” Erik explained. I could not believe there was a community living in the middle of the forest.
We saw a standing board notifying the travelers that the area was for the training field of Indonesian Mobile Brigade Police. By the roadside, we hit upon their field camp along with some trucks and big modified cars. Another same board was also found, as we were going further off. The nature of the forest was unarguably an excellent site for the Police training.
Meanwhile, the road was getting worse, some holed road segments were flooded with muddy waters as their asphalted layers had been dismantled. Inside the cabin, we felt the turbulence caused by the undulating roads. Since leaving Kampung Urug many times our bodies have been tense to sustain the jiggling. Travelers need to be fit to take this journey. I do not recommend those who have back pains or those who expect comfort to take this journey because the path is not easy.
The canopied road led to an open space. To our surprise, we were welcomed by an extraordinary view: a wavy, green tea plantation that stretched on both sides of the beaten path. Witnessing a lovely vista, I abruptly forgot the discomfort of riding throughout the rough roads. We took a break.
At an elevation of above 1000 meters, as soon as we got out of the car, my skin was sensing the chilly air while my nostrils were promptly breathing in the fresh air. It was really a luxury for me to inhale the clean air in the middle of this extensive tea plantation. Nirmala tea plantation estate was established in the Dutch colonial period. The plantation covered about eleven percent of Malasari Village.
My eyes made a 360-degree scan, and as far as my sight could reach was the tea plantation. There, silence was so deadly, only the sounds of chirping birds were heard once in a while. I just took some photos of the panorama, the rest of the time I stood up enjoying the air, the scenery, and the stillness. In the distance, I saw the slow moving fogs hovering over parts of the plantation. The whole landscape brought about a true serenity.
I could have stayed for hours just observing the first-rate live picture. Pointing his finger, Erik suddenly said,“ Citalahab is behind that hill.” Looking up at the cloudy sky we assumed it would rain soon. Getting back to the car, we needed to move on as our ride would be difficult in the rain. It was disheartening to leave the tranquility that we had just cherished for some moments.
As we were near the heart of the Park, the asphalted roads were completely torn down leaving only stony and earthen roads. We were lucky that the rain didn’t fall. From the high land, we could see some kampong, one of them is Dusun (hamlet) Mulani–a complex of 32 wooden houses. “It is a residential area for the tea plantation workers,” Erik explained. “The dusun is called kampung rumah Tokyo since the houses looked like Japanese wooden houses,” he added.
The sky was getting darker and there were no lamps lighting the path. “We are close to our destination,” Erik was opening the window by his seat and we saw a cluster of houses far below.
Our car entered the gate of Citalahab Kampong when the call of prayer was just starting.
To be continued