Travel Notes

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The Charm of West Java

Nature’s most beautiful places are mostly hidden. Some are far away and some pose a bit of a challenge to access. The curiosity to see them itself increases their beauty multi-fold in our minds. However, talking about West Java, natural beauties are aplenty and they are not too far away from cities and towns to reach. West Java is a mountainous region, replete with rainforests and lakes and volcanoes. Nature abounds in these geographical formations and spreads their visibility to nearby towns with the swell of mountains and the spiralling of pine trees. I usually reach my workplace early morning, and on days with clear skies, the twin mountains, Gede-Pangrango’s outline in the orange horizon catches my eyes for minutes before I settle down on my desk with a cuppa coffee.

Like any Jakartan who would love to get out of the foul air that taints eyes, ears and nostrils, I used to drive toward Bandung and Puncak during my early days in Indonesia. The lines of cars got long steadily and these two green spots were ridden with Jakarta number plates. As options varied year by year, Sukabumi started taking a prominent place in the weekend getaway radar. Less renowned than its summer-retreat famed neighbour, Puncak, and less opted for because of its remoteness and trafficky route, it has not been able to woo weekend travellers.

Lake Situ Gunung. That’s where crowds do not flock. If you had a chance to view it from up above, it would look like a small bowl of water held between forested mountains and a symmetry of pine trees. The air around the lake is very silent at any time of the day. When the occasional grumblings from the crickets and the cicadas rise up, there is a mingling of the fauna and the flora.

Though the lake and its surroundings look pristinely beautiful at any time of the day, the best time to take in the atmospheric views is just before and during sunrise. When rains pour down overnight, early mornings can be very misty and it creates layers of white sheets just above the water. Once the first rays of the sun descend on the valley, they mingle with the mist to transform the entire nature into a spectacular scenery.

I reached here around 4.30 to witness a ghostly form of the trees, the mountains beyond and the lake itself. Up above, the moon was still pretty bright though getting ready to give up the spacial realm to a mightier force. Its reflection on the still water was a spectral sight. The landscape in front of me wore a dark shroud reflected by the lake in clinical precision. The outline looked like a giant bowtie stretching from left to right with the twin mountains in the background.

Come 5 am, the sky was slowly getting bright, revealing the greenery in front of me little by little. The mist was pronouncedly clear among the trees. It seemed to flow in a milky white formation, blending in with the darkness to produce a contrast. Another 15 minutes, the first rays got reflected by the clouds above, brightening the air around the lake even more. That revealed a small island in the midst of the lake with beautiful plants. The mist got even thicker beyond the island where the trees are, uncovering the outlines of men. There were two, or three, near a makeshift tent, sitting on their haunches. I wasn’t sure what they were doing, but then, all of a sudden, one got up excitedly with a rod, trying to lift something from the water hurriedly.

The fishermen had been there all night. They were both patient and persistent to get a bounty that would fetch some wherewithal for the week. These fishermen come from remote Sundanese villages around Sukabumi and some as far away as Pelabuhan Ratu. Some lakes and rivers are indentified by certain fishing communities as ‘their own’. That’s deemed to be more of a nature’s rule than having anything to do with legalities.

The sun got up in the sky, but being cloudy, I only got the brightness, not the light itself. The dark shroud was now metamorphosed into a green livery. The mist continued to play the background music and the moon started to fade into the sky to return later at night. Behind me, the tall pine trees were still silent, standing majestically, dwarfing me by a mile skywards. They were symmetrical, and when I turned around to them from a distance, I could see their brilliant texture reflected in the lake. The boats anchored near the banks had not come to life yet.

An elderly gentleman, who was one of the fishermen on the island, walked toward the bank. I smiled at him, hoping to catch a conversation. I asked him if he were happy with the catch. ‘Lumayan’, a smile flashed and off he went as he told me he still had to check a trap somewhere beside the lake.

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