Jakarta steeped in tradition and culture

Indonesian market

What is there to do in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital? This metropolis, made up of over 300 diverse ethnic and cultural groups, is an ever present reminder of the national motto Bhinneka tunggal ika (unity in diversity).
Located on the northwest coast of Java Island, and currently the 11th largest city in the world, Jakarta’s origins go back to the early 16th century when the harbour town of Sunda Kelapa was re named Jayakarta.
The Dutch East Indies Company (DEIC), which captured the town and destroyed it in 1619, changed its name into Batavia and made it the centre for the expansion of their power in the East Indies. Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, Batavia fell into the hands of the invading Japanese forces who changed the name of the city to Jakarta and the name has been retained ever since.
One of the oldest sections of the city, known as Old Batavia, has been lovingly restored over the past four decades to its former glory under the Fatahillah Restoration Project. Here lies the old Portuguese Church, built between 1693 and 1696, the old Supreme Court Building, converted into a museum of fine arts which houses the  Chinese porcelain collection of the late VP Adam Malik, and the Jakarta Museum completed in 1627, and which served as the DEIC’s Town Hall. It gives the visitor a good historical background to the city through displays of old maps and antiquities.
Although Jakarta is preserving its past, it is also developing for the future. Skyscrapers in the city centre punctuate the streets which are solid with traffic at most hours of the day and night. It is here that the Presidential Palace and many other of the most important government offices are located as well as where most international firms have their headquarters. The 137 metre tall marble obelisk National Monument is a celebration of the Proclamation of Independence in August 1945. At its base is a historical museum and a meditation hall. The monument is open to the public and from its top you will get the best views over the city to the sea.
The Central Museum dating back to 1778 offers historical, archaeological and ethnographic aspects of Indonesia through an extensive collection of artefacts and relics. It also has a religious art section which is filled with sculptures salvaged from Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic sites. This museum is popularly known as Gedung Gajah or Elephant Building because of the stone elephant given by King Chulalongkorn of Thailand in 1871, which has been placed on the front lawn of the building.
Early birds should head for the fish market or Pasar Ikan, located at the mouth of the Ciliwung River. It is here that the original Sunda Kelapa was located, and where fish auctions take place.
Other markets of note include the Pasar Burung (Bird Market) on the Jalan Pramuka, where the singing of turtle doves (perkutut) and other tropical birds is a joy to behold.
There are many other museums in Jakarta, including a maritime museum (the first trading post of the DEIC), the Komodo Museum (insects and wild animals of the region), orchid gardens (some of the most exotic orchids come from Indonesia), Museum Perangko (a phenomenal stamp collection) and even a crocodile park in north Jakarta with 700 of these reptiles of all ages and sizes.
But one of the most alluring of tourist destinations, which is where you will find many of these museums, has to be the parkland setting known as Taman Mini Indonesia Indah – Beautiful Indonesia in Miniature - featuring buildings and artefacts portraying the diversity of cultures found across the 27 provinces of the 17,508 island archipelago. For those planning the rest of their trip around Indonesia, it provides a perfect curtain raiser to what they are likely to encounter on their travels.

by Pramukti Hastari