Sumatra:: The high hills of Bukittinggi

West Sumatra, Bukittinggi. Sianok canyon (Ngarai Sianok) is a steep valley (ravine) located in Bukittinggi, about 15 km long. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

West Sumatra, Bukittinggi. Sianok canyon (Ngarai Sianok) is a steep valley (ravine) located in Bukittinggi, about 15 km long. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

Bukittinggi, north of Padang in the Minangkabau highlands, sits at an altitude of approx. 920 m. The name Bukittinggi means high hill or top. This is a charming city with a cooler climate than Padang, and is one of the most important cities of the Minang people, greatly influenced by their traditional culture. The name “Minangkabau” is put together by “menang” (victory) and “kerbau” (ox or water buffalo).

West Sumatra. Bukittinggi means high hills, and is a popular destination for travellers. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

West Sumatra. Bukittinggi means high hills, and is a popular destination for travellers. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

According to legends there was a fight over West Sumatra between two bulls, one from Sumatra and one from Java. The Sumatra bull, a young calf, was victorious, and the bull is today the symbol of the Minang people. Traditionally the people lived in a longhouse with several families, ruled by the unique adat-laws. For example a man or woman can only get the influence they inherit from their mother, and the children are supposed to be raised in their mothers longhouse. Even if the Minang’s today are strong believers in Islam they will often follow traditional adat-laws before Islamic laws. These traditions are weakening today, but are still strong in many areas.

West Sumatra, Bukittinggi. Jam Gadang, the characteristic clock tower, a landmark in Bukittinggi. The structure was built in 1926 during the Dutch colonial era. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

West Sumatra, Bukittinggi. Jam Gadang, the characteristic clock tower, a landmark in Bukittinggi. The structure was built in 1926 during the Dutch colonial era. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

In the center of Bukittinggi there is a famous, characteristic clock tower which is the symbol of the city. Bukittinggi is sometimes referred to as “Kota Jam Gadang”, the big clock town. Another name of the city is “Tri Arga” after the three mountains that surrounds it; Merapi, Singgalang and Sago. The clock tower is built in the traditional Minangkabau style. Close by is a market where you can buy local art, handicraft and souvenirs for a reasonable price.

West Sumatra, Bukittinggi. Rumah gadang (Minangkabau: big house with horn-like roof). Traditional Minangkabau home at the museum. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

West Sumatra, Bukittinggi. Rumah gadang (Minangkabau: big house with horn-like roof). Traditional Minangkabau home at the museum. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

There is a museum at the highest point of the city which contain an impressing, traditional Rumah Adat (clan house), more than 140 years old. Inside the house there are exhibitions of traditional art and handicraft. The museum was built in 1934 by a Dutch governor, and is the oldest museum in the province. Next to the museum is a zoo with some interesting species from Sumatra, unfortunately the conditions for the animals are not optimal to put it mildly.

West Sumatra, Bukittinggi. Rumah gadang (Minangkabau: big house with horn-like roof). Traditional Minangkabau home at the museum. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

West Sumatra, Bukittinggi. Rumah gadang (Minangkabau: big house with horn-like roof). Traditional Minangkabau home at the museum. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

Bukittinggi was a Dutch headquarter during the Padri wars between 1821 and 1837 (see Facts about Sumatra), and it was here that a group of rebels from Sumatra declared a rival government in 1958. The Dutch built a fort, Benteng de Kock, on a hill not far from the museum. It was built in 1825, and is overlooking the city and the surrounding mountains.

West Sumatra, Bukittinggi. Lobang Jepang (Japanese Caves) is a network of underground bunkers & tunnels built by the Japanese during World War II. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

West Sumatra, Bukittinggi. Lobang Jepang (Japanese Caves) is a network of underground bunkers & tunnels built by the Japanese during World War II. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

Also the Japanese left a memorial; underneath the city they built several kilometers of tunnels by using prisoners as labor. Parts of the tunnels are open for tourists.

The Taman Panorama park on the south side of the city is overlooking another large attraction; Ngarai Sianok, a long and deep valley popularly called the Indonesian equivalent to Grand Canyon. It is located to the west of the city, is 4 km long and has steep walls.

West Sumatra, Bukittinggi. Sianok canyon (Ngarai Sianok) is a steep valley (ravine) located in Bukittinggi, about 15 km long. Houses at the valley floor. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

West Sumatra, Bukittinggi. Sianok canyon (Ngarai Sianok) is a steep valley (ravine) located in Bukittinggi, about 15 km long. Houses at the valley floor. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

At the end of the canyon is the Kota Gadang village, known for it’s skilled silver- and goldsmiths. Also textiles and other handicrafts are produced here and sold on the market in Bukittinggi. You can walk to the village in about one hour if you follow the valley.

West Sumatra, Bukittinggi. The Limpapeh Bridge leads from the Benteng de Kock fort to the museum and the nearby zoo. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

West Sumatra, Bukittinggi. The Limpapeh Bridge leads from the Benteng de Kock fort to the museum and the nearby zoo. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

A close neighbor to Bukittinggi is the large Gunung Merapi volcano, 2.891 m. This is one of the most active volcanoes on Sumatra and for periods considered too dangerous to climb, the last eruption took place in 1979. If it’s open for tourists you can start from Kota Baru, the trek to the top will take about five hours. Most people prefer to walk in the night to be able to see the sunrise. Several people have disappeared on Merapi, and it is not recommended to walk without a guide.

West Sumatra, Bukittinggi. Krupuk or kerupuk are crackers made from starch and other ingredients that usually give the taste. A local variant of crackers, Karupuak sanjai, is very popular in Bukittinggi. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

West Sumatra, Bukittinggi. Krupuk or kerupuk are crackers made from starch and other ingredients that usually give the taste. A local variant of crackers, Karupuak sanjai, is very popular in Bukittinggi. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

West of Bukittinggi is the great crater lake Danau Maninjau, the descent to the lake on the road from Bukittinggi is full of twists and turns and hairpin bends, the reward is a fantastic view over the blue lake and the surrounding mountains.

West Sumatra, Bukittinggi-Padang. Along the road between Bukittinggi and Padang. Steep terrain, humid and green. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

West Sumatra, Bukittinggi-Padang. Along the road between Bukittinggi and Padang. Steep terrain, humid and green. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

It is easy to travel to Bukittinggi from Padang, you can go by bus or rent a car. The drive will take about two hours one way and is about 90 km long. The road itself is an attraction, it passes through fertile agricultural landscapes and dense jungle, with the view of the great volcanoes as a mighty background. The Lembah Anai nature reserve is located along this road, known for it’s waterfalls and beautiful orchids, if you are lucky you might also see the enormous Rafflesia flower here, it will normally bloom between August and November.

 

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