Friday, July 12, 2013

Sketches of Minangkabau part 2: The challenge to your senses

Having traveled to Minangkabau before, I’m amazed at how little my memory actually keeps of my past travels to this land!. This time, I was awed by so many things. Let me just try to jot down, one by one.

The beauty of nature at every corner. Of course, Indonesia is dangerously beautiful. West Sumatra, offers quite a spectacular view of Bukit Barisan surrounding this beautiful land. Where ever your head turns, you’ll find something that will make your jaw drops a little.

The famous Sianok Canyon and Mt. Singgalang

Sungai Landia - otw to Maninjau Lake

Not sure where this was - imagine going to school here. Cip said, "No distractions, all these kids must all be very focused in their studies!".

Maninjau Lake from one of the bend at Kelok 44 (or literally as 44 Bends - the route going towards the lake)

Inside Sianok Canyon
Harau Valley

The beautiful rock formation in Harau Valley
One of the water falls in Harau Valley. Pity we came in dry season. Otherwise the water is said to be splattered all around you

A point near my mother's home land, Suliki
Sungai Pinang

The beautiful, clean, pristine beach of Sungai Pinang

Food!, wonderful, rich and spicy food of Minangkabau. Who never tasted Minang’s food, hasn’t tasted the taste of heaven. OK I may be exaggerating, but it’s true!. From dendeng batokok, rendang, various versions of balado (or anything cooked with ground chili), various fried fish, various snacks – whatever, you name it!. Each is great. And what’s best is this: no matter how ugly a warung makan (or a small local restaurant) may look, the food will never fail to delight you. Oh of course I should warn you if you can’t stand spicy food, get those medicines ready. Because different from Minang food (or people usually call it masakan Padang) we find in Jakarta, what you’ll find in Minang has that real kick of the chili!.

Oh and if you are not turned off by the smell – eat Durian!. I love this fruit (sometimes I don’t think it’s a fruit, too rich to be called a fruit). And in this trip, WHEREVER WE WENT, we smelled it!. So, why avoiding it?, you can’t anyway!.

  • While in Maninjau, try the local delicacy called Pensi. These are freshwater mussels, taken from somewhere in the lake, cooked with some spices. They are not big so one needs some effort to open it (though when we watched the locals, it appeared to be easy for them to do so!).

    The musels pre-cooked

    The cooked musels. They're not just boiled, they cooked this with spices and stuff. Seriously, this taste really good!
    What other ways to best enjoy a lake's view if not accompanied by fruit from heaven?

    The wonders of Rumah Bagonjong. One of the characteristic of Minangkabau is its houses with the buffalo-horns-shaped roofs. It has its legend too. It is often related with two versions. One version is the Minang people’s victory in a buffalo match with people from Java; and to celebrate that vistory and to honour the buffalo, people use the shape of the horns to shape their houses’ roofs.

    Another version is related with the ancestors of Minang people. The story has it that the shape of the roof resembles the shape of the boats used by the ancestors. Regardless which story is true – that is really the cream on the cake!.

    The house itself is beautiful to look at. What is unique also is that the carved ornaments on the exterior of the house (and sometimes also in the interior if the owner of the house is very rich) – usually it is in the form of tendrils, fruits and flowers. There also geometrical shapes like triangles, squares and trapesium. These ornaments will cover the exteriors – walls, doors, windows and its pillars. A bendi (or horse carriage) driver told us that a wood panel carved with these ornaments, will cost IDR 200K per meter. So those who can still build rumah bagonjong complete with its ornaments, are likely to be rich people

    And the existence of this traditional house also depends on the commitment of the local municipalities. So there are areas of Minangkabau where you won’t see a lot of these houses. The best places to enjoy these houses, is along the route of Padang Panjang to Bukittinggi, around Maninjau, Batusangkar, and Solok. 

  • I love these intricate details...a feast to the eyes...

    There are simple ones too. But still charming to see

Mosques. If you’re in Rome, you must visit churches and cathedrals. When you’re in Minangkabau, try visiting mosques. There are many mosques with a touch of local architecture – which makes them very different from those you’ll find in Java with the boring so-called Arabic domes dominating the buildings.

In Minangkabau, it is very common to find 'surau' - or a place where people learn Quran recitals, and the boys sleep in there too. I found this behind a mosque. This is called Surau Payung because the shape of the tower's roof resembles an umbrella. And this is a part of an old Islamic school or Pesantren

We fell in love this this mosque at Rao Rao - near Maninjau. We love its roof and towers

One thing to see when you visit these mosques is these 'Mimbar', used for the Ulema to give sermons in Friday prayers. Different mosques have different style of these mimbars
A more modern looking mosque, still they adapt local architecture into it

Another mosque in Maninjau

Pillars of faith..

Blue mimbar
Aaaahhh a mosque with that typical roof shape :)

Now this, I really love. Always love stained glasses

This was once an energy converter from coal to electricity in Sawahlunto. Turned into a mosque. That tall tower behind was once a chimney

History. Hatta – who alongside Soekarno declared the independence of Indonesia, was born in Bukittinggi. You can find the home where he was born in this city. And you must visit Sawahlunto – where you can find THE ONLY preserved coal mining tunnel in Indonesia. You’ll also find stories of coal mining by the Dutch in this city. The city itself is nice: you’ll feel like you travel back in time. And in general what I personally enjoy is there are still a lot of colonial houses in most parts of Minangkabau.

The house where Hatta was born

The first level of the house

The second level

A cute house, and authentic Vespa scooter, at Pandai Sikek

An old mushola, or a small mosque at Maninjau

Charming view

An interesting blend of a colonial house and atap bagonjong, Minang's way of adopting the western 'feel'

A lovely old wooden house in Koto Gadang

Charming old house in Maninjau

A corner at Sawahlunto

The Art and Culture centre - feels like an old European town, Sawahlunto

The history of coal mining by the Dutch at Sawahlunto can be found in their museum

The office of Bukit Asam, Sawahlunto

The well preserved tunnels at Sawahlunto  - the only one of its kind in Indonesia

Friendly, charming, people. Of course Indonesians are well-known for being friendly. But what I find most charming about people we’ve met in this trip, is how ready they are to share with one another. 

Everytime I went to buy something in the local markets, and I asked questions of where I could find this and that, they would always scream to the next person. Like when I needed to find a kitchen knife in Payakumbuh market, I asked a lady about it. She immediately screamed, “Oi, dima nan jua pisau dapue?” (hey, where’s the place that sells a kitchen knife?). The next lady, “Toko si Acuang jak nyo ndak?” (at Acung’s store, right?) – to another guy. The guy, “Oi Acuang, jua pisau ndak?” (hey Acung, do you sell knives?) – to someone sitting in front of a store. “Iyo ado, sa nan mancari?” (yes I have, who’s looking for it?). And the lady who I first talked to, “Iko ibuk ko. Nah sanalah buk, ado pisau di sinan” (This lady is looking for it. There you go, there’s knife there) – talking to me. And all that conversation happened about 5-6 meters long, perhaps. So it was like watching a Chinese whispers game, but in the form of a continuous screams. 

And while all that happened, I couldn’t help watching them with a big smile and wide opened eyes. I understood all that but I could not speak Minang very well due to never having to say it at all in my life!. So I very wanted to join the conversation, but did not really know how to jump in.

And that did not only happen once. At every place we went to, if we asked for something, that would happen. They were very eager to help, and not only that, they seem to be open about encouraging other people’s business to thrive!. I love the spirit, and I certainly love the warmth that spirit makes me feel. 

Local boys at Sianok Canyon

A lady we met at Solok, when we went around to take a look at all the beautiful Rumah Bagonjong. She's the 4th generation living in this house. She was very amused when I told her my mom came from Minang, asking us to stay and have a meal, and also, saying her blessings as we welcome the month of Ramadhan

The boys at Solok. They told me which house I should take picture of, and of course, they asked me to take a picture of them, too :) In my broken Minang dialect, I managed to talk to them! :D

A girl selling various kinds of porridge we met at Sungai Pinang. We told Tara, that other kids her age have to work sometimes, so she should be grateful at her life

Rada, a girl who befriended Tara soonest we arrived at Sungai Pinang. She told us of her terrifying moment when the earthquake hit her house. The whole family had to flee, her house was ruined, but luckily nobody was hurt

Bang Madi, one of the staff at Ricky's Beach House, where we stayed at Sungai Pinang. A very friendly, funny guy. Eager to learn English from me but alas time was short. So I guess I should be back one day :)

You probably want to smack my head now since I didn’t jot down a thousand things on that list. And you may also say all that I have told you about, you can find anywhere else in Indonesia. But if you’ve been there, which I hope if you haven't you'll make time to visit this beautiful land one day!, I think (I hope) you’ll know what I meant.

I am grateful that my mother has painted a beautiful picture of her native land to me. To see all her stories came to life, once again after all these years of not visiting Minangkabau, has made me once again realised how wonderful life once was in my mother’s growing up time. A memory that I never had as a child growing up in Jakarta (although, the Jakarta that I knew then was also a lot more beautiful than it is now!).

I am now hoping my impression of Minangkabau has done justice to her stories and history. And that I’ve also done justice to the half part of my blood – as urang awak. 

(R I R I)
Also read Sketches of Minangkabau, part 1: Childhood memories

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