Blessed with a serene natural ambience, Garut, the Switzerland of Indonesia, holds the charm of a land meant for indolent lotus eaters, says PRIYA GANAPATHY
With Javanese love songs lulling us to sleep on the drive from Bandung to Garut, we reached the gorgeous Kampung Sumber Alam, an exclusive hot springs spa resort. The ‘Garden of Water’ was a virtual floating island of wooden cottages in a lotus-riddled aquatic Eden. A fine example of Sundanese architecture, the roofing was done with the hairy aren palm and shaped like a birdwing! Under a moonlit starry night, it didn’t take us long to immerse ourselves in the thermal swimming pool partly covered by a large sail-like marquee.
Garut’s high altitude ensures year-round cold weather and its gorgeous misty natural surroundings have earned it the tag ‘Switzerland of Java’. The presence of healing thermal baths offering rejuvenative spa treatments give it the air of a European spa town. The chill weather contrasts the novelty of the pools that remain permanently hot with water channelled directly from the volcanic Mount Guntur nearby.
The thermal waters are also piped directly to your bathtub, so you can soak in the personal comfort of your own room. At the private deck I put my feet up, watching lotuses bloom and river reeds sway in the breeze. Blessed with a serene natural ambience, Garut holds the charm of a land meant for indolent lotus-eaters.
There’s much to see and do here. Our young guide Dede Sunandar recounted how the Papandayan volcano was West Java’s biggest draw besides the Cipanas hot springs and the 8th century Shaivite shrine of Candi Cangkuan. Adventure seekers head to the mountainous tracts of Papandayan, Haruman and Guntur for trekking trails.
The Papandayan volcano has the largest caldera in South East Asia after Bromo, which along with Tangkuban Perahu are counted amont the most famous volcanoes in Java. The numerous craters in Papandayan are fascinating. Some spit out hot mud, some are hissing noisy gas craters, there are golden craters that resemble gold… its rocks covered in golden yellow sulphurous emissions.
With a population of almost 3 million, most people in Garut Regency practice farming. “People say that the population is high because the weather is so cold. Couples are forced to keep themselves warm in this climate, hence the baby boom,” Dede winked.
Jawa Barat (West Java) was once a Portuguese trading outpost and Garut has a charming colonial legacy called Delman. The quaint horse wagons, locally called dokar, andong or sado, are named after a Dutchman called Dellemann, who introduced this cart to the people. Over time, his name got corrupted to Delman and became a popular, fun means of transport!
We drove past the river Chi Aren which empties into the sea. Our guide revealed that another popular local tradition is ram fights, organised in the villages on holidays. “So popular is this sport, you think the men look after their rams better than their wives and children,” he quipped.
Batik is an Indonesian heritage, designated by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. And Garut is a great place to learn more about it. Garut’s batik has been world famous since the time of Dutch rule. Characterized by earthy hues like white in combination with purple, dark blue, brown and other colors, the technique of resist painting uses wax on the fabric.
Part of the fabric is covered with malam (beeswax) and a bamboo spout or nib called canting is used to ‘paint’ hot wax with lines or dots onto the cloth which creates a resist pattern. The other method is to use a designed copper block or dye stamp called “cap” and “print” the resist on the fabric. The fabric is then coloured in various shades using this method and the portions with the wax can be melted off by dipping in hot water.
At Pajagan Rasya Batik Garutan, a batik expert was busy at work, dipping her bamboo canting, blowing it gently and drawing flawless designs on a large ream of cloth. Inside the workshop, we saw them dunk and dye the cloth and boil it to melt the wax before letting it dry in the open. At the shop, we all ended up buying the lovely batik items on display – shawls and stoles, shirts and tunics, even fabric to stitch later! The hand-painted ones were pricier but the printed ones were very reasonable.
The Batik Museum in Yogyakarta outlines how various cultures have influenced Batik designs. The status of batik grew in 17th century when Sultan Agung of Mataram chose to dress in batik clothes and accorded it importance in ceremonial use. Traditional batik used a lot of browns, yellows and reds or dark earthy hues. Whereas, batik in the coast especially North Java has more vibrant, brighter, tropical colours. A framed panel displayed how every design motif and colour was attributed to a distinct region or theme!
Leather is the other trademark in Garut, and Sukaregang is the place to pick up the finest leather products. Rows of shops and boutiques display a wide range of leather goods made from the soft hide of local sheep.
From wallets and bracelets to handbags, satchels and jackets in every shade, the exclusive designs sell at outrageous prices in fashion capitals. A prominent silk-producing area, Garut is also known for traditional Ikat weaving where strands of dyed weft and warp threads are handwoven on a loom.
Garut’s Good ol’ Dodol
Indonesians have a sweet tooth and you get a taste of it at the sprawling Picnic factory in Garut. Dodol, a brown chewy caramel sweet, is Indonesia’s signature confection, and the brand Picnic has been synonymous with it for decades. For generations, dodol was prepared in homes, but Iton Damiri began manufacturing Dodol in 1949 on a commercial scale.
When Damiri tried to sell his homemade dodol under its original name Halima and later Fatimah at a popular elite store named Picnic in Bandung, the owner wasn’t interested. Damiri rebranded his product as Picnic to woo the shop owner and the rest is history! In 1979, the Picnic Dodol factory was established with only five people. Right now, they have 250 workers who churn out four to six tons of Dodol per day!
The main ingredient is sticky or glutinous rice (badvas katang) or rice powder which is used in combination with brown sugar, coconut milk and grated coconut. It takes 9-10 hours to cook with constant stirring before it is cooled and allowed to set for a couple of hours. Initially, dodol had only one flavour, but market innovation and the need to keep up with changing trends, has seen dodol acquire a range of assorted flavours. Today there are fruit-based and nut-based dodol along with flavours like chocolate or coffee, garnishes like sesame and dodol brownies, pies and cookies.
After a quick guided tour around the factory and a short historical film on Dodol, we headed straight to the shop to tuck in, literally like kids in a candy store! They don’t export it… so we picked up assorted flavours as sweet Indonesian food souvenirs called ‘olah oleh’! We returned to Bandung and picked up some bamboo souvenirs and angklungs, the sweet taste of dodol still on our lips.
Getting there: Fly from Bangalore via Kuala Lumpur to Bandung on Malindo Air. From Bandung, drive 130km south/4hrs to Garut.
Where to Stay
Sumber Alam, Garden of Water
Jln. Raya Cipanas 122 Garut, Jawa Barat, Indonesia
Ph: +0262 237700 W: www.sumberalamresort.com
What to buy
Batik – Rasya Batik in Garut
JI, Otto Iskandardinata, Komplek PLN No. 1, Garut, Jawa Barat
Ph: 0262 232824 email: email@example.com
Dodol – Picnic Dodol Garut Factory
JI, Pasundan 102, Garut 1, Garut Kota, Jawa Barat
Ph: 0262 240717 W: www.picnicdodolgarut.com
Bamboo souvenirs & angklungs – Saung Angklung Udjo
Jl. Padasuka No.118, Cibeunying Kidul, Kota Bandung, Jawa Barat, Indonesia
Ph: 0262 227271714 W: http://www.angklung-udjo.co.id
For more info, visit https://www.indonesia.travel/
Author: Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 4 January, 2019 in Indulge, the Friday supplement of The New Indian Express newspaper.