03 April 2007

Juanda Forest Reserve combines beauty, history

Enjoying fresh, cool air amid dense pine forest. (JP/Bambang Parlupi)

Bambang Parlupi, Contributor, Jakarta

West Java offers its exotic natural beauty and fresh air to those pursuing nature tourism around Bandung. The cool natural environment of Ciwidey in the Parahyangan Highlands boasts the Kawah Putih (white crater) and Lake Situ Patenggang, with the legendary Mt. Tangkuban Perahu (literally, upside-down boat) in Lembang.

A fascinating natural zone serves as yet another alternative in the environs of the West Java capital. It is Ir. H. Juanda Forest Reserve -- formerly the Curug Dago nature tourism destination and Mt. Pulosari protected forest and known locally as Tahura Juanda -- which is situated only five kilometers from the municipal center of Gedung Sate. The reserve is operated and maintained by the West Java forestry office.

Cruising along the montane Cicadas and Lembang districts of Bandung regency, and through the steep hills surrounded by the region's Sundanese tropical rainforest, is an exciting experience. The mountain ecosystem lies at varying heights from 770 meters to 1,330 meters above sea level.

The aroma and coolness of the rainforest that fill the mountain air as one treks upwards are attributable to the local humidity and a temperature of around 22-24 degrees Centigrade.

The melodious calls of songbirds -- orioles, grey-headed bulbuls, serpent eagles and sterlings -- can be heard from among the hundreds of tree species dominated by pines, calliandra, bamboo and hedges like the teklan, a species of Euphatorium.

The diversity of vegetation provides habitat for a wide variety of wildlife species in the 526.99-hectare montane environment. Among the notable mammals are civets and squirrels, in addition to a host of reptiles and insects.

According to Tata, 55, a tourist guide from Mekarwangi village, Lembang, visitors can also watch groups of long-tailed macaques.

"Some 50-60 macaques can be seen around the Dutch and Japanese caves. The wild monkeys are afraid of men," said Tata, who has worked there since 1985.

With its scenic beauty and biological diversity, Juanda Forest Reserve is also known as a nature reserve, where the flora and fauna of West Java are protected as stipulated in Presidential Decree No. 3/1985.

According to Irawan, an information staffer at the reserve, Tahura Juanda has 11 attractive tourist spots, including an arboretum, waterfalls and historic caves.

The reserve's diverse plants are due to a type of secondary vegetation. The 30-hectare arboretum has been established here presenting rare plant species from Indonesia and abroad.

Based on an inventory provided by its management, the garden has a collection of 250 trees representing 40 plant families and 112 species. Some of them are rare and endangered ones like Ugandan mahogany (Khaya anthotheca), Sosis (Kigelia aetheiopia), Mexican pines (Pinus montecumae), Sulawesi Bayur (Pterospermum celebicum) and Sumatran casuarina (Casuarinas sumatrana).

Around the reserve, tourists will also find a 1.1-hectare reservoir drawing its water from the Cikapundung River and serving as a source for the local community's hydropower generator.

Meanwhile, an information center and museum not far from the lake keeps records of national hero and engineer Juanda, and has examples of plant specimens as well as taxidermic displays of animals that live in the reserve. Unfortunately, the center only opens on work days, against the tide of thousands who visit at weekends.

Other enchanting views in the forest are three waterfalls called Curug Dago, Curug Omas and Curug Lalay. According to Irawan, each fall has a unique feature.

Curug Lalay, lying between Pakar and Maribaya, also hosts a natural cave that is home to thousands of bats, while 35-meter-high Curug Oma, located near Maribaya, is the tallest waterfall in Juanda.

Curug Dago, at 10 meters high and outside Juanda's gates, offers a thrilling adventure. To reach this fall, visitors frequently take the route that starts in front of Dago Terminal. After trekking a quarter of an hour along steep paths through village farms, visitors will reach a guards' station and a bridge over Cikapundung River. Following signposts, they will arrive at the waterfall, but are warned to keep a tight grip on railings as they descend because of the wet and slippery access.

Curug Dago is also very close to the site of a Thai inscription marking the 1896 visit of Thai King Chulalongkorn II (Rama V) to Bandung. This heritage site is protected by the reserve management in view of its historic value and symbol of past friendship between the two nations. A structure has been erected to prevent the inscription from vandalism and water erosion.

A sightseeing tour of villages along the Cikapundung' s tributaries is also a good way to wind up the waterfall hike. Several neatly arranged rural settlements are still found within the forest preserve, with villagers still seen tending to their daily chores in the fields.

Exploring historic caves is another popular activity among Juanda's visitors. The Japanese cave is not far from the first gate in the Dago area. Its mouth has four main doors embedded in rock walls. Three meters wide and two meters high, the cave is 350 meters deep.

"During the independence war of 1942-1945, this cave was used by Japanese troops as a hideout and defense," said Acil, 32, a guide from Cimenyan, adding that it was built mostly by Indonesians through forced labor (romusha).

The Dutch cave, which is less than a kilometer away, was built in 1918 to provide access to the water tunnel leading to the Bengkok hydropower generator.

Acil, who has three years' experience as a cave guide, said Dutch colonial troops had once used it as an intelligence communication center. As Indonesia gained independence, the cave served as a weapons arsenal. The Dutch cave also has a number of fairly large hidden rooms flanking its main artery, concealed by small doors.

Neither cave is illuminated. Tata, who waits to guide visitors in front of the Japanese cave, indicated that after the tourist spot was officially opened, lamps were installed but they only lasted some time.

"Previously, torches had been used to explore the cave but they were dangerous and later banned. Since 1990, local guides provide flashlights, " said the man, who has often taken Japanese guests to the dark corners of this cave. A flashlight can be rented at Rp 3,000 per entry.

Visitors who choose to explore the two caves are put to a mental test amid a darkness shot through with basic lighting, while the cave walls seem to puff cold air over their bodies. It is certainly not for those who are claustrophobic nor those who fear the dark.

Tahura Juanda is easily accessible by public or private transportation, with entrance costing only Rp3,000 per visitor including accident insurance.

The reserve can be reached by city transportation from Kebun Kelapa Terminal to Dago, or from Hall Station to Dago, covering a distance of seven kilometers. If traveling through Lembang, visitors can go to Maribaya to reach the reserve.

Source: www.thejakartapost.com