Last November I was headed to Benaras to witness the spectacular Dev Diwali but then life had other plans. Instead of Benaras, I landed up at Jakarta with AirAisa, to be a part their annual event with travel bloggers across Asia. Now imagine – a great location, an amazing hotel, a super efficient team Air Asia, fifty travel bloggers from various Asian countries and a couple of days to explore a new destination – I could not have asked for more!
Hot Jakarta welcomed us with a bout of rain and everything fell into it’s right place from here on. Jakarta seemed like a friendly and accommodating city and we could not wait to start exploring. While we were aware of the sinking Indonesian Rupiah, we hadn’t imagined that a cab ride from the Airport to our hotel, Double Tree by Hilton would cost almost 2 lakh Indonesian Rupiah. But then we got used to dealing in lakhs and millions pretty soon! It was kind of funny and sad at the same time.
Exploring the city began with a metro ride to the old town, called Kota Tua. A rickety train arrived, and it’s sleepy weekend trance was broken by a sudden energy as fifty bloggers, all dressed in red boarded it’s various coaches. A few locals helped us identify the stops and gave tips on what to expect of Kota Tua, comprising the original downtown area of Jakarta. We came to know that Kota Tua is a remainder of Oud Batavia, the first walled settlement of the Dutch in Jakarta area. A reminder of Indonesia’s Dutch colonial past, Kota Tua is a very interesting contrast to today’s high-rise Jakarta. It reinforces the belief that the old and the new always co-exist, blurring the boundaries most of the times.
With an image of Old Delhi playing around in my head, I stepped out of that train and almost got lost in the sea of people at the huge Kota Tua station. I silently thanked AirAsia for making us wear similar tees, which made it easier to actually not lose my way and get back with the rest of the bloggers. On second thoughts, I think it would have been equal fun to get lost.
Kota Tua warmed up to us, with its street-markets, eateries and crowded lanes. We were headed towards the City Museum, but these shops distracted me. Everything under the sun was at sale here in these make-shift stalls. The one that caught my attention was this shop which was selling human organs that were actually pen-drives and key-chains.
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A round of impulsive shopping and enjoying some street food later, we reached the city square which was a hub of all activity. With a staccato of museums scattered around, this place was buzzing with tourists eager to satisfy their travel hungry souls. If you really want to experience Jakarta, I say skip the skyscrapers and malls and give it’s old town a chance. At Kota Tua, history peeks from the decaying European buildings, displaying how old towns embrace a charm that’s hard to find elsewhere.
Indonesia has a rich history of puppeteering which can be explored at the Museum Wayang or Puppet Museum. Though a small one, it is worth your time because there is just so much to see here. At Museum Wayang, I realised that India and Indonesia have intertwined histories, and what we think are our tales form an important aspect of Indonesia’s heritage as well.
The epic of Mahabharata is fondly remembered and cherished here. Wayang Museum hosts many exhibits of Pandavas and of the Hindu God Krishna. A little surprised at first, it slowly sank in that once we all were part of what today is called Greater India and that’s why we have shared histories.
After spending considerable amount of time exploring the puppets on display, we came out to an unexpected sight. The square was now transformed into a sports arena where these little men were being taught martial arts. They performed with a great zeal, paying no heed to the sun’s unforgiving rays.
Since the City Square is always buzzing with tourists, one can find a lot of street-performers in this area. I caught up with a few of them but the pictures don’t really do justice to their art.
Kota Tua is much more than what meets the eye at first. It is a wonderful example of how the city is embracing it’s tourists with open hearts. With a decaying heritage that is not very well preserved, Kota Tua still manages to be very fascinating for a first time visitor.
My day that began with exploring the old town came to an end with a visit to Monas, the National Monument of Indonesia. Monas signifies the independence struggle of the country and is considered as a symbol of the Republic of Indonesia. At Monas, suddenly everything made perfect sense and I realised how this was a fairytale ending that I hadn’t even planned. Perfect, because the day that began with exploring the romanticized colonial past ended at the place that signifies its end.