Bukittinggi – Sumatra

Bukittinggi skyline

Bukittinggi is a hill station town about 90km from Padang (two and a half hours drive). It lies just south of the equator at an altitude of less than 4,000 feet making the day time temperature comfortable and the nights cool. I hired a car and driver to take me there.

Observation tower at Fort de Kock, BukittinggiOld Dutch cannon at Fort de Kock, Bukittinggi

The town was established by the Dutch around a fortress, Fort de Kock, built in 1825 to withstand attacks from local rebels. A modern concrete observation tower occupies the hilltop where the fort once stood. The earthen ramparts and a few old cannons are still in evidence.

Fort de Kock in 1826
Fort de Kock in 1826 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are nice views of the surrounding area from the hill top and on a clear day two nearby volcanoes, Mt. Marapi and Mt. Singgalang can be seen (unfortunately obscured by clouds during my quick trip).

View of Bukittinggi from Fort de Kock

An unusually designed bridge (Jambatan Limpapen) takes pedestrians from Fort de Kock to the Bukittinggi Zoo, which I’ll write about in a future post.

Jambatan Limpapen, Bukittinggi

The town’s most famous landmark is Jam Gadang, a rather attractive clock tower which was built by the Dutch in 1926 but remodelled after Independence by the addition of a Minangkabau style roof.

Jam Gadang, Bukittinggi

Just a few minutes walk from here is an impressive natural feature, the Sianok Canyon, which is part of a rift valley running the entire length of Sumatra, marking the fault line which is the cause of much of the seismic activity on the island.

Sianok Canyon, Bukittinggi

The path on the right of the photo is bordered by a crenelated wall known as the Great Wall of Bukittinggi and visitors can trek down to the floor of the canyon.

Japanese Caves at Taman Panorama, BukittinggiJapanese Caves at Taman Panorama, Bukittinggi

During WWII Bukittinggi was the headquarters of the Japanese 25th Army. They built an extensive network of tunnels and underground stores which are now open to the public and known as Lobang Jepang.

Creepy Japanese Caves at Taman Panorama, BukittinggiMap Showing Network of Tunnels at Japanese Caves at Taman Panorama, Bukittinggi

Bukittinggi is an interesting town and it was a worthwhile trip with pleasant scenery along the way.

Jalan Batang Arau, Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia

Batang Arau RiverBatang Arau River

Padang, the capital of West Sumatra, was the most important city in Sumatra during the Netherlands East Indies era.

The Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) established a fortified trading post in 1665 at Muara Padang on the estuary of the Batang Arau River.

The settlement was attacked by the British in the mid-18th century and held for some time but it was later handed back to the Dutch who ruled for over two centuries until 1942.

Padang grew into an important gateway for the export of spices. Warehouses, trading offices and banks sprang up along the banks of the river around Jalan Batang Arau.

I took a walk along this street recently to see what remains of Padang’s colonial past.

Padang Heritage Building

This old building stands near the mouth of the estuary. It appears to belong to the military and judging by the crown and anchor symbols on the windows it may have been a Dutch naval office.

Padang Heritage Building

A couple of doors away (at No. 72 Jalan Batang Arau) is this Dutch heritage warehouse building which is believed to date from the 19th century and is one of the oldest buildings still standing on this street.

Padang Heritage Building

Next door is a building which could have been a bank.

Padang Heritage Building

The more impressive building nearby was the former De Javasche Bank branch, designed by the architectural firm of Fermont – Ed Cuypers of Batavia and inaugurated in 1925. From 1953 to 1977 it was used by Bank Indonesia before being designated as a heritage building in 1998. Conservation work was completed in August of 2010. The pyramid roof shape was a characteristic of colonial Dutch buildings in Indonesia and served for ventilation purposes.

Former De Javasche Bank building, Padang

The Panca Niaga Warehouse at number 58, Jalan Batang Arau  is the most Dutch looking of all the buildings on this street. It was the Padang headquarters of the Nederlandsche Handel-Maatschappij, the Dutch trade company which superseded the famous VOC (Vereenigte Oostinische Compagnie).

Former Padang headquarters of the Nederlandsche Handel-Maatschappij

This once-grand building housed offices for insurance and trading firms such as Geo Wehry & Co whose faded sign can still be seen on the wall.  (The railway line which used to run alongside the river as shown in this old photo is no longer there.)

Former Padang headquarters of the Nederlandsche Handel-MaatschappijFormer Padang headquarters of the Nederlandsche Handel-Maatschappij

Like many other buildings in Padang, it was damaged by the major earthquake which hit the city in 2009, but it is still in use. One of the staff kindly invited me inside to take a look. It appears to be used as a warehouse for toilets!Interior of the former Padang headquarters of the Nederlandsche Handel-Maatschappij

The former Padangsche Spaarbank building dated 1908.

The former Padangsche Spaarbank building dated 1908.

No. 33, Jalan Batang Arau is the former Padangsche Spaarbank building dated 1908.

An American couple converted it into the Hotel Batang Arau some years back and I was looking forward to having my lunch there until I found out that it closed down around 2009, possibly following the earthquake. The building is now abandoned and forlorn.

This area of Padang has tourist potential and many of the buildings are ripe for restoration and could be put to alternative uses such as boutique hotels, restaurants, shops or clinics. The local government has recognised this and most of the structures here are protected but that won’t stop them falling down if prompt action is not taken.

Old Building in need of TLC in Padang