Rabu, 14 Januari 2015

Travel Diaries: Nusa Penida - Palembang

Candi Bentar gate at 18th Century Semeruah temple
Nusa Penida - Palembang
The island of Nusa Penida, the largest of the three-island Nusa group off Bali’s south coast, was once known as Bandit Island (Claire Holt, 1936) because of its use as a penal colony during the early decades of Dutch colonial rule.
In reality, it is a bit like Australia — a fascinating mix of tribal and introduced cultures — immigrants from Bali having established settlements there for the last thousand years, blending in with the existing Bali Mula (ancient Bali villages).
It is now easy to reach from North Sanur harbour via cabin cruiser — I took Semaya Cruise, which was excellent.
The trip takes only 45 minutes, but you go back 40 years in time. The island is still delightfully pre-‘villa people’ and pre-tourism, and packed with unspoiled scenic and cultural attractions.

Cute grafix on Karangsari beach sampan canoe
The main harbour Semaya One is very near the best hotel, Semeton Inn, which is run by the family of the descendents from a Pejeng palace (Central Bali) family who fled to Nusa in the 19th century.
Ibu Ucik, the owner’s sister, is the charming manager of the property, which consists of 15 upscale losmen type rooms and a large pool and excellent restaurant. The hotel is in the village of Ped (Pedjeng?) home to the temple of the Demon King Ratu Dalem Ped which I visited shortly after arriving.
Heavenly afternoon at Nusa Penida: Arrived at scenic Semata Onebeach, visited the beautiful Pura Dalem Ped temple and now 
enjoying the hospitality of Ibu Ucik at Semeton Inn, Br. Bodong, Ped
The seaside temple has some fine examples of Klungkung-Majapahit architecture set in three spacious courts. The shrines to Ratu Dalem Ped are particularly beautiful carved in the Klungkung style by local craftsmen I was told.
On my first day I set off to visit the village of Pelilit on the island’s south coast, home to a legendary Baris Guak (Crow) dance troupe — filmed by the Swedish ethno-cinematographer Rolf de Maré in 1936 — to see the old Nusa Penida style architecture  photographed  by Carole Muller and Rio Helmi in 1990 for Muller’s book on Nusa Penida.

Traditional cottage in Pelilit villages Nusa Penida
As we were driving along the island’s scenic north coast road towards the east, it quickly became apparent that nearly all of the island’s temples have been renovated to within an inch of their lives — all with ornate andesite or limestone appliqué.  Approaching Karangsari Beach I found one 18th temple, Pura Semeruah still in mint condition, exhibiting the charming ‘naif-fantastic’ Majapahit-Klungkung style one associates with Nusa Penida (see photo).
Unusual Candi Bentar gate at 18th Century Semeruah temple near Karangsari, Nusa Penida
From Karangsari we drove south through some sublime semi-rural valleys towards Pelilit village and the stunning Pura Atuh Temple Bay nearby (soon to be an Hawaiian-style hotel if the local authorities don’t act). 
We did find one old Nusa village hamlet with limestone rubble walls in the old style (see photo this page). The farmers’ wives were weaving the Rang-Rang ikat cloth for which the area is famous.

Atuh Temple beach on the South coast of Nusa Penida
Along the way the locals were incredibly helpful and charming:  it seems that the 21st century Nusa lifestyle is still ‘santai to the max’ with ample opportunities for tuak breaks on roadside siesta platforms.
I vow to return one day soon and retrace Carole Muller’s footsteps and try to discover more Old Nusa architecture in the Jurassic Park-like hinterland.

Fisherman on siesta platform, Karangsari Beach, Nusa Penida

The farmers’ wives were weaving the Rang-Rang

Sea-weed farmer at work on Karangsari beach
On the drive back I spent a fantastic afternoon in the midst of sea-weed farmers. The ‘Be Pasih’ warung west of Karangsari Beach sells amazing grilled fish with tomato relish. See my video: http://youtu.be/HFK1sshRMfI
On my second evening, back at the hotel, I met the local bupati (mayor) of the three Nusa islands, a brother of Ibu Ucik. We discussed the proposed tourism mega-projects on the drawing boards of investors. I advised the mayor to follow the Nusa Lembongan examples, not the Nusa Dua example. The tourism of Bali, and of Nusa Lembongan for that matter, grew from humble starts — catering to the needs of surfers, hippies and travellers. Over 50 years of experience the product was honed. One can’t just slam-dunk 500 room five star hotels in virgin territory: the locals may end up disenfranchised and robbed of their idyllic lifestyle.
20 December 2014: To Palembang to visit museums, tombs and floating villages
Palembang, in South Sumatra, is one of South Asian’s oldest still-functioning trade entrepôts. Sitting on a broad meander of the Musi River it has enjoyed a strategic advantage over trade through the Java Straits — from India, Yemen, China and the Riau Peninsula — for almost 2000 years. It shows, in the faces of today’s population and in the architecture — a mix of Malaya stilt-houses, Chinese roofs and Majapahit-Islam era carving.

The brutalist Novotel hotel ballroom, Palembang
On arrival I went straight to the Sriwijaya Museum — which sits on the site of the presumed 8th century palace, once centre of the great maritime empire — to view their collection of ancient boat hulls (8th century) and statues from the Hindu Buddhist era, and the textiles for which Palembang has been famous through the ages. The museum was educational, but disappointing — underfunded and poorly managed.
Decorative element from 13th century Hindu shrine in Sriwijaya Museum, Palembang
On the way back to the Novotel I stopped at Toko Kreasi in the traditional textile-making district. I discovered a veritable cornucopia of Palembang batik, songket,  and jembutan (tie-dye) fabric and shopped up a storm for Christmas presents.
Stylish Palembang grannie at Toko Kreasi textile shop, Palembang
In the kampong around the textile shops, and driving home — stopping riverside to document all the activity (see my video http://youtu.be/u-iR8dbmCwU) — I registered the energy and happiness amongst the Palembangis — a legacy, no doubt, from centuries of racial harmony and prosperity.

Local sweetie in front of Majapahit-Palembang era carving at the Bala Putra Dewa Museum, Palembang
The next day this impression was enforced as I visited the fabulous Bala Putra Dewa Museum with its outstanding collection of Megalithic Age statues. I then visited the enchanting water-garden tomb of a Majapahit-Islam era, West Javanese prince at Sabokinking.   Here I discovered the link between Palembang and the Majapahit era Hindu prince Arya Damar/Arya Dillah, founder of Denpasar’s mighty Pemecutan Dynasty. The role of Palembang royal families during both the Hindu and Islamic Majapahit eras was quite important — Arya Damar being the son of the Vietnamese wife of Brawijaya V, the last king of Majapahit, according to some accounts, who was exiled to Palembang.
Megalithic era statues from Pasemah plateau region west of Palembang in Bala Putra Dewa Museum
Palembang also enjoyed extensive relations with the Kingdom of Malaya in nearby Riau, during both the Hindu and Islamic eras.
The last palace of the Islamic era and the old great mosque still stand near the iconic Ampera bridge which connects the two banks of the city.

The Ampera bridge

Fabulous floating warung near Kampung Kapitan
In the evening I visited Kampung Kapitan, the ‘floating village’, where many fine examples of traditional Palembang style homes and timber mosques can still be found.
Nearby, in Chinatown, I had one of the best seafood meals I have ever had, at the back alley ‘Tokyo’ Restaurant.
Garuda now flies twice weekly from Denpasar — using a fast, small Bombardier jet — and there are many flights daily from Jakarta.
I can strongly recommend the Novotel with its large rooms and excellent food. Palembang is, after all, one of Indonesia’s culinary capitals.

The diarist on the Musi River, on the way to Kampung Kapitan (Ampera bridge in back ground)

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