In just three hours by express train from Jakarta, you can visit Cirebon, which I consider a historical and cultural tourism heavyweight because of its myriad sightseeing and shopping opportunities.
The city offers the culturally curious a variety of experiences: a look into a pivotal moment in Indonesian history; a study of Megalithic culture; an appreciation of Javanese philosophy, its princely state and way of life; an escape from the city into nature’s playgrounds; and retail therapy for all budgets, specially for women who love batik and Indonesian handicrafts.
When I joined a group of ladies on a packed and diverse two day, one night trip, I had one thing in mind: to add to my batik collection. I did and experienced so much more. The Cirebon trip not only increased my batik hoard threefold, it added knowledge, understanding and new sights into my collection of happy and interesting Indonesia memories.
The comfortable three hour train ride from Jakarta to Cirebon passed pleasantly and immediately after arrival at 9am we were whisked to Hotel Santika for a leisurely breakfast of local dishes. I liked the flavors of the Nasi Jamblang (rice with several side dishes), the shrimp crackers and salted fish.
Feeling relaxed and nourished, we embarked on our cultural adventure. The first stop, the Kraton Kasepuhan (Palace of the Senior Sultan), is the oldest Islamic palace in Java, and is one of three royal palaces of Cirebon. It continues to be used as the official residence of the Sultan of Kasepuhan. Built in the the 1500s, the imposing red brick Balinese-style outer gate and the white walls inside the palace halls were embedded with antique Delft tiles. We were not able to venture inside the palace because of preparations for a wedding party but we did visit the museum, which displayed keris, wayang, antique furniture, paintings, several chairs used for carrying the royals during official functions and ceremonies and a gilded coach. From the Kraton Kasepuhan we walked to the oldest Mosque in Java.
The road to the history of Indonesia’s independence took us to the foothills of Mt Ciremai, West Java’s highest peak. The refreshing mountain air and scenery energized us and injected a dose of adventure. Instead of entering the Museum Linggadjati after our 25km drive, we walked up a narrow road on a gentle slope. This road led to the summit of Mt Ciremai which can be reached in eight hours. Houses, plants, trees and election banners line the alleyway. We caught glimpses of the locals carrying on with their daily lives: young children playing, moms carrying the little ones on their hips, men and even young teenagers riding motorbikes, an old man herding two cows, a man tending to his garden, and women doing household chores. Delighting in the moment, we smiled, stopped and said hello to a few folks who were chatting on the roadside.
After our invigorating walk, we entered a Dutch mansion to peer into a chapter of Indonesian history.
The Linggadjati Museum, a black and white Dutch colonial house, is the site where representatives of the Dutch and Indonesian governments drafted and concluded the Linggadjati Agreement on 15 November 1946. The terms of the accord stated that the Netherlands Government recognized the Republic of Indonesia as the political ruler of Java, Sumatra and Madura. The museum’s clean, immaculately maintained and authentic interiors depict the formalities and signing thru dioramas and the original Dutch furniture that were used by the politicians of the time. They kept the furniture in all the rooms intact, down to the home accessories. Black and white photos of the historical events linked to the accord lined the walls, with English language descriptions and a narrative of the Linggadjati Agreement labels on the dioramas and rooms. Located on a beautiful park at the foothills of Mt Ciremai, the historical Linggadjati Museum should not be missed during a Cirebon visit.
When we reached the top of the Cipari Archeological Park in Cipari, Kuningan, West Java, I felt tranquility and restfulness. Surrounded by greenery and sitting on a hill, this megalithic park shows the arrangements of stone structures that were used by prehistoric men for offering, prayer and burial. A small museum that displays relics and fossils provides explanations on their tools and way of life.
After a busy day of sightseeing, we rested and slept at Resort Prima a spacious resort with a beautiful view of a volcano and an area of tranquil greenery. I enjoyed our overnight stay because we were able to stroll in the late afternoon and brisk walk the next morning.
Our first stop after breakfast is the Sunyaragi Water Castle Cave, made of stone and sculpted in Megamendung fashion. The Sultan and his family rested, prayed and meditated in these caves. Unfortunately the place has fallen into a state of disrepair. However, I think it’s still an interesting place to visit because of its structural design and stone sculptures. It would have been a serene yet sparkly beauty during its heyday.
We skipped a planned look at the famously Cirebon picturesque scene of colorful boats by the estuary to spend more time batik shopping at the Batik Village Trusmi. And we shopped until we dropped, budget permitting. Cirebon delivered on its promise – thousands of batik in different price and quality ranges are sold in every shop. I bought Megamendung batik prints for 30,000 rupiah per metre, and combinasi batik for 50,000 and 75,000. I purchased six simple but colorful cotton fabrics for a total price of 200,000. My most expensive pieces are my four pretty silk fabrics that I paid 600,000 for (or 150,000 each). Silk scarves went for 40-50,000 depending on the size. A woman will go crazy in Cirebon if she does not curb her enthusiasm because all boutiques sell fabrics, clothes, jewelry, shoes, curtains, bags, towels, blankets, runners, covers and many more items at reasonable prices. My friends and I shared many fun shopping moments cross checking our purchases with each other. We all boarded the bus with ear to ear grins and shining eyes knowing that we shopped to our hearts’ delight.
And the retail therapy didn’t end in Batik Trusmi Village. While waiting for our take-away food from the Chinese Restaurant Jumbo, we shopped for “Oleh-Oleh” to take back home. I bought crackers, terasi, biscuits, nuts, salted fish and sweets for my family and for my helpers to try.
Speaking of sweets, food lovers who prefer their food sweet will savor Cirebon’s cuisine. Most of the dishes I tasted catered to folks who like their meals flavored with kecap manis and palm sugar. Cirebon has many reasonably priced restaurants that serve good food. My favourite restaurants are the Cilimus Restaurant in Kuningan for its vegetable and fish dishes; Chinese restaurant Jumbo for its take-away food; and the four storey Klapa Manis for its Ayam Bakar, and its gorgeous view, architecture and beautiful antique furniture and decorations.
My overnight trip to Cirebon yielded diverse experiences, fun memories and increased my batik hoard threefold. It is a fun place to visit with like-minded girlfriends who enjoy nature, walking, culture and shopping. My collection of Cirebon memories is as colorful as the batik that I bought.