The Gaya Travellers have been coming to the city of Bandung many times, probably the most recent one being our seventh trip. However this time, we have decided to explore the road less travelled, some 70 kilometers away from Bandung. What prompted this trip was because our Indonesian friend Akmal hails from Garut and managed to convince us to check out the destination based on the fantastic photos of Garut from the internet. This hidden gem of a destination is replete with volcanoes, pine forests and lush countryside. Travel further down to the south coast and you will be greeted with some fine, deserted beaches. To discover Garut, it is best covered to spend at least one day and night. When we were there, we did not get to spend the night, which was rather unfortunate.
The journey from Bandung to Garut took approximately three hours, as it was Indonesia’s school holiday. This brings us to The Gaya Travellers’ travelling tip #1: Check beforehand if your intended trip coincides with the Indonesian school holidays, or even public holidays for that matter – traffic jams in Indonesia can negatively affect your travel plans. The journey made outside school holidays would normally take less than two hours.
When not sleeping during the journey, we keep ourselves occupied by gazing at the scenery on either side of the road. The Indonesian telecommunications companies found an ingenious way of advertising their brand – the paint their advertisements on the houses, whose owners do not seem to mind at all, most probably they are compensated well for it. We also witnessed locals going about their daily routines and chores, which made interesting photographs.
There were five other fellow travellers who joined us in this journey – Phic, Berg, Azura, Noriza and Rose. There were many interesting photographic angles waiting to be shot, especially those with colonial history. The shutterbugs were happy, especially Berg, when a train passed by unexpectedly while he was shooting the railway tracks. He managed to get some nice close-up shots of the moving train. Once done, there was a satisfied look on his face, which was priceless.
During colonial times, Garut was the favoured hill station for the colonial rulers to take refuge from the sweltering heat. It was called the Switzerland of Java due to the town’s hilly nature. The view of the endless surrounding mountains as you approach Garut was breathtaking – the town seemed to be guarded by mountains. No matter where you look, you will see a mountain as the permanent backdrop.
Garut’s claim to fame was that Charlie Chaplin had visited it twice. Yes, you read this correctly: Charlie Chaplin, the legendary comedian. That shows how famous Garut was in the olden days. Modern-day famous visitors included Anthony Bourdain.
The countryside of Garut is verdant. With its moderate climate and incredibly fertile volcanic soil, it is a Garden of Eden, producing everything from potatoes and carrots to beef and dairy cattle. There are also many paddy fields and paddy terraces in Garut. We made many stops when possible just to enjoy the fantastic views, especially the paddy terraces, almost similar to the ones you see in Tegallalang, Bali. However, unlike Bali, Garut is not swarmed with tourists.
We did not see local buses in Garut, only charming horse-drawn carriages. Perhaps it was not to pollute the air. Dear Garut, please do not change.
Garut is the perfect getaway for city-dwellers, especially those who badly need to tear themselves away from work and seek a place to unwind. Accommodations are aplenty and many offer fantastic views at reasonable prices.
WHERE TO VISIT
A must-visit is the Chandi Cangkuang, the only Hindu temple that can be found in West Java. The temple is located on a small island in the middle of Cangkuang Lake in a village called Kampung Pulo. One must ride a bamboo raft for about five minutes to reach the site. This is a very unique experience not to be missed. The temple has been in existence since the 8th century and is still standing strong. What is unique about this small island is that just next to the temple is the grave of the Muslim leader Arief Muhammad, the Muslim missionary who introduced Islam to the area in the 17th century. Kampung Pulo itself is also unique: there are only six houses and a small mosque on the entire island. The villagers are not allowed to build more houses there, probably due to their cultural beliefs. The grounds of the village is well kept, almost looked like a movie set, or even a living museum. There are some shops selling souvenir items and snacks along the narrow pathway leading back to the place where we boarded the raft. The island is very serene and calming; visitors are bound to enjoy the scenery, which somewhat reminded us of our travel to Kashmir, minus the snow-capped mountains.
WHERE TO EAT
SAUNG BUMBU RACIK DESA
Akmal took us for lunch at a restaurant situated right next to a paddy field. The restaurant is called Saung Bumbu Racik Desa located at Jl. Raya Bandung Tasikmalaya KM46.6. For an interesting dining experience, opt to sit in one of the many huts available to enjoy the view. He introduced us to a local rice dish called Nasi Liwet, which is basically rice cooked with onions, bay leaves and sautéed garnishing of baby anchovies and chilies. The rice is best eaten with other dishes such as deep fried fish or chicken and sambal (side dish made out of chilli). Eating good lunch while sitting on the floor was a good way to rest our tired legs after being cooped up in the van for several hours during the journey from Bandung to Garut, plus after exploring Kampung Pulo.
WHERE TO STAY
Most tourists come to Garut to visit the Cipanas area, just to the northwest of the city at the foot of Mt. Guntur. Cipanas is very famous for its hot springs. The area offers a selection of four-and five-star hotels, all with swimming pools filled with steaming water from the springs. We dropped by at Tirtagangga Hotel for a quick dip in the pool. The hotel opens the pool to the public for a minimal fee of IDR25,000 (approximately RM7) per person. Hotel guests are welcome to use the facilities for free, 24 hours a day. Private cabanas are available if guests prefer privacy while enjoying the water. It can get very crowded at the hot springs, so going there on a weekday would be best. For those who prefer to stay the night, there are 40 rooms available at the hotel. Booking the rooms in advance is advisable since Cipanas is popular among tourists and locals alike.
MULIH K’ DESA
However, if the bustling Cipanas is a bit too crowded for your liking, you can always opt to stay at Mulih k’ Desa, which is about 30 minutes’ drive away from Cipanas. The resort houses 25 traditional bamboo bungalows surrounded by paddy fields and lake. Mulih k’ Desa is suitable for MICE, weddings or a unique group getaway. There is even a flying fox facility available here. Mulih k’ Desa is located on Jl. Raya Semarang – Kamojang.
We were treated with authentic traditional Sundanese farmers’ fare for dinner and the highlights include Bandrek and boiled bananas served on traditional dining ware. Bandrek is the local drink, made from ginger, coconut milk infused with cinnamon, star anise, cloves and cardamom, then added with palm sugar to sweeten the drink. This concoction is perfect to keep the body warm on cold nights. If the cool weather does not put you to sleep, the Bandrek might!
SOUVENIRS TO BUY
The most important souvenir of all is Dodol, a traditional snack made from glutinous rice flour, coconut milk and palm sugar. Garut is also known as the Dodol City, due to it being the main Dodol production centre of Indonesia. The Dodol are wrapped individually to imitate toffee candy so as to appeal to the mass market. The pioneer and most famous brand would be Picnic, which comes in many flavours.
Another Dodol innovation would be Chocodot, which is dodol covered with chocolate and also comes in various flavours. We visited the Chocodot boutique on Jl. Otto Iskandardinata No. 2 and were totally impressed with their innovative Dodol products that were packaged in quirky designs. Besides Dodol-based products, the boutique also sells clothing merchandise bearing the Chocodot brand.
Leather products also make good souvenir items when visitors visit Garut. The leather is made from cow, goat and sheep skin, all processed in Garut. High quality leather goods are available at low prices, which many visitors find tempting. You can even customise a leather jacket and have it ready in two days!
Batik is another important craft in Garut. Most of the batik-makers in Garut are still using the handrawn and block batik printing method, a tradition kept for generations. Garut batik can be identified by its distinctive colours: gumading (yellowish ivory), indigo, dark red, dark green, yellowish brown and purple. Garut batik uses lighter and brighter colors compared to the Javanese court batik.
THIS IS CERTAINLY NOT GOODBYE
Should we have had more time in our hands, we would have loved to explore Garut even further. We have read about the amazing volcanoes of Telaga Bodas and the still active Mount Papandayan. Gaya Travellers vowed that we shall come back to Garut soon for the volcanoes and beaches, perhaps including the nearby traditional Sundanese village Kampungnaga. We have heard that a person needs at least ten years to fully explore the whole of Indonesia, unfortunately that is a luxury that we simply cannot afford. So multiple visits to this neighbouring grand country is the only way for us to learn about Indonesia.