Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by viravira on 11 February 2014 • Destination
Harau Valley is a gem surrounded by amazing natural scenery as well as forgotten history of Indonesia. We hired a motorcycle and rode westward from Harau Valley and uphill almost to Kototinggi, a town that once was the capital city of the former Indonesia. We visited the unattended Tan Malaka museum, then u-turned after stopping by at Ikan Banyak, and passed by pick-ups and motorbikes with passengers not only humans but also dogs, a sight I thought I’d never see in a majority Moslem province. Additional activity: rock climbing!
It’s a house turned museum of a man named Ibrahim upon his birth in 1897, but more known as Tan Malaka. To a lot of Indonesians, he’s a hero, who fought for the independence of Indonesia, spawned the idea that Indonesia deserved to be an independent nation even before the founding fathers actually declared the country’s independence in 1945. But he was a threat to the Dutch because of his political maneuvers, as he was a ‘troubled past’ uto the New Order regime for being a communist and is still condemned by some people until now.
Honestly, I still need a lot more reading on the man. But the mystery of him is in fact what intrigued me to visit the Tan Malaka Museum. I wished to know more about him. Unfortunately, the museum was unattended. But it was unlocked, so we entered the house anyway. It wasn’t locked, so supposedly people are allowed to enter. Right?
The house is a typical traditional wooden stilt house of Minangkabau with pointy roofs. As we entered, we saw a number of black and white pictures of Tan Malaka on the walls. I’ve seen most of the exact pictures elsewhere because apparently there aren’t too many documentations of the man. It’s expected from a man who was on exile on much part of his life.
Glass boxes displayed books about Tan Malaka and books that he wrote. An old L-shaped sofa, coffee table, a bed and a set of talempong occupied the house, and they weren’t well-organized. I can only guess that these are things from Tan Malaka’s time, since there was no one to guide us in the museum. It was quite dark inside, the whole house was only lit by the sunshine that came through the open windows. The furniture seemed dusty but I didn’t really touch them because I don’t think you’re supposed to touch any display in a museum.
Later I found out that a relative of Tan Malaka lives nearby and takes care of the museum. I wish he were there to fill us with more information from the family’s perspective, which would be a precious knowledge on the man with such big name. But it was nice to be inside the house where Tan Malaka grew up anyway 🙂
On our way out, we signed the guest book and left an IDR 20,000 donation. And we made sure we didn’t do any damage to the furniture and stuff.
Getting to Tan Malaka museum is pretty easy. Once you’re in Payakumbuh (the biggest town near Harau Vallay), follow the road that leads to Kototinggi. About 50 km later, on Tan Malaka Road, look for a house on the left with a big green “Rumah Tan Malaka” sign on its wall and just follow the yellow arrow about 100 meters down from the main road.
Going a few kilometers to the west from Tan Malaka Museum, we arrived at Ikan Banyak. It’s a spot at a river where there’s always a lot of fish seen in such shallow water under the bridge. This Ikan Banyak spot, which literally means ‘many fishes’, is an entertainment for people around Payakumbuh. It’s one of the places where parents take their kids on weekends and where couples and friends go out and chill. We were there on a weekend, and the visiting locals helped Diyan to spot the place with no sign board.
The warungs near the habitually-made parking space sell crackers and breads for people to throw to the fishes. These mostly black fishes, of I don’t know what kind, would agressively swim for the crumbs like hungry wolves upon seeing a fat sheep.
There might be a scientific reason behind the gathering fish, which I’m not sure whether they’re always the same fish or new fishes that migrate there replacing the old ones – they’re all black and look the same. But there’s also a mystical rumor about it. They say, there was once a respected man in the neighborhood, who put a spell on the fishes so they wouldn’t swim too far. But then the old man passed away in his pilgrimage in Mecca, and the spell stays because nobody else could undo it other than him.
For me, Ikan Banyak is an alright place to chill. It wasn’t crowded, and it’s always nice to dip your feet in cool water. The surrounding is still pretty natural with trees, river stones and all, and the air is cool as it’s located pretty high up the hill. I’m just not sure whether it’s wise to feed the fishes in their natural habitat just to entertain yourself. To be honest, I fed them, too. Though I did it with doubt, I really don’t have any justification 🙁
No, we did not go boar hunting, sorry to disappoint you. But on our way to and from Harau Valley, we passed by so many men riding on motorbikes and pick-up trucks with dogs. Riding around with dogs may not sound strange to you, but it did to me because we were in West Sumatra where most of the people are relatively strict, and dogs aren’t considered kosher in Islam, so I wouldn’t think the people keep dogs as their pets.
Diyan told me that these men were going hunting for boars. At first, they hunted boars that were considered pests to their farm. Later on, they hunt to keep their farms safe and as some kind of sports. And this practice is actually common throughout West Sumatra and I just found out about it then! Forgive me, oh ancestors..
Additionally, men are also known to buy dogs in other parts of Indonesia and bring them back for the sake of this hunt. For some, this hunt is for the thrill of it. I didn’t participate in any of them, nor did I want to, ‘cos I might be too faint-hearted to see boars being hunted.
Diyan and his brother Ugit went rock climbing on their mudik trip the previous year. Rock climbing is a pretty common thing that tourists and locals do around Harau Valley. Well, I didn’t see any signage of it, but Diyan only needed to ask for information at the Echo Valley lodge’s front desk. They referred them to Alvin, a local who’s very outdoorsy, and later guided Diyan on a hiking and camping trip to Ngalau Seribu.
They climbed at two of the many climbing spots; near the echo spot and at Aka Berayun, both of which I told you about here. Ugit got pretty high up and did it like a pro, while Diyan struggled to reach 3 meters up. “But, hey, I’m a newbie,” as he would claim.
Because Diyan and Ugit’s family is rooted in Ampang Gadang, a neighboring village of Harau, Alvin couldn’t think it’d be proper to state a price for his service. He probably thought it would be unethical to put a price to your fellow villagers. That’s typical of Indonesians in many cases. So Diyan and Ugit decided to pay him IDR 600,000 for 2 climbs, including the equipment fee and each for a day long. And this was in 2011.
For more information on rock climbing in Harau Valley, you might want to check out Lonely Planet’s page here.