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Travelling to West Java

Garut’s Hidden Waterfalls

South Garut is full of lovely waterfalls; three of them are rarely visited.

When I read a backpacker's report of a trip to Garut, which stated that Curug Orok (curug = waterfall, orok = newborn baby) was too far to reach, I was immediately fascinated. Could it really be that difficult to get to this famously beautiful waterfall? So as soon as I finished covering the story on silkworm cultivation in Garut, I made a point of stopping off at the Garut Regency Tourism Service and talking with Ibu Pepy, one of their tourism promotion staff. "No, it's not that difficult," she said. "There's another waterfall that is further and harder to get to, but even more beautiful, called Sanghyang Taraje."

She showed me the Garut tourism map, and I noticed that the two waterfalls were along the same route, which heads toward Bungbulang on the south coast of Java. The map was not very detailed, but it looked as if the distance from Garut to Curug Orok was only around two-thirds of the distance from Garut to Sanghyang Taraje. "But if you want to get to Sanghyang Taraje, you need a powerful motorbike, because the road is rocky, with steep ups and downs. Cars can't go that way," she added. Hmm, this was a bigger problem. Where was I going to find a strong motorbike with a driver who would be willing to take me to Sanghyang Taraje?

When all doors are closed, God will open a window. That afternoon, as I sat savoring wedang jahe (hot ginger drink) and pisang bakar keju (roasted banana with cheese) at Warung Daweng at the corner of the Kampung Sumber Alam Resort in Cipanas, I asked the waiter, Dani, where I could hire a motorcycle taxi to the waterfalls. "I can take you if you want, Sir. Tomorrow's my day off." So that problem was quickly taken care of.

The next morning at seven, Dani was waiting in the lobby, wearing a black waterproof leather jacket and carrying two large helmets. The day before, I'd been reluctant to ask whether his bike was strong enough to climb the rocky, unpaved roads. But when I saw his motorbike, I wanted to jump for joy. This was no scooter or 75 cc midget, but a big, sturdy 250 cc Suzuki Thunder! "I happen to be a member of Mowicc, the Cipanas Motorbike Touring Club. I often go touring to various places on this bike," Dani smiled. And as we set off, people stared in admiration.

We drove for nearly an hour; my gloveless hands were nearly frozen by the chill mountain air. It was overcast, and thick fog blanketed the tea plantations along both sides of the road. The summit of Gunung Cikurai, on our left, was swathed in fog. When we got to the Cikajang junction, we turned right. About 17 kilometers later, we arrived at the Curug Orok entry gate, hidden in the PT Perkebunan Nusantara VIII Papandayan tea plantation, about 200 meters to the left of the main road.

It was not too difficult to get to this waterfall, because steps have been provided, some carved out of the soil and some reinforced with concrete. It was quite nice, with several falls, but they were not very big. We only idled there a short time, because according to one of the vendors there, it was still quite a ways to Sanghyang Taraje.

The weather gradually got warmer as we approached the Pakenjeng junction. From here, following directions from a motorcycle taxi driver, we turned right for 10 km, and were drenched in rain before we finally arrived at the Pamulihan District office. As soon as we passed through the village portal, the good road was suddenly nothing but rocks, and only wide enough for two motorbikes. And at the end of the village, it became worse, a slippery, rising-falling dirt road, with steep forested cliffs on either side. My heart palpitated; I prayed that Dani really knew how to control this big bike.

We had safely passed three steep ascents and a sharp decline, when I heard rushing water on the right. Hidden behind the foliage and nestled between two hills, around 100 meters below us, there it was – the Sanghyang Taraje waterfall!

There was a ticket window and a few small tourist huts on the path down to the waterfall, but all were dilapidated; it seemed as if no one had been here for ages. But as we approached the falls, we were surprised to find a woman there gathering grass, Ibu Ikah, a local resident, who lives on the other side of the hill by the stream that becomes the waterfall.

Ikah told us that the falls are named Sanghyang Taraje (taraje = steps) because the waterfall comprises two separate but parallel streams, and the stone wall between them is layered like stairs. But since it was the rainy season and there was so much water passing over the falls, these stones could not be seen. "Someone once measured the falls; they're about 75 meters high," Ikah told us in Sundanese. "No one dares to swim beneath the falls, because the pond is 30 meters deep and there's a giant serpent living in it." I wasn't sure whether this was true, but it certainly deterred me from any idea of swimming there.

Perhaps because the pond is so deep, it has been dammed'– which ruins the view somewhat – and water channels have been constructed. It was interesting to see several species of plants and animals with unusual coloring, which I'd never seen before, near the waterfall. There were long-bodied beetles with golden backs, blue dragonflies, red dragonflies, banana leaves with black stripes, and shrubs with pink spots on the leaves. There were also vegetable fields near the falls, planted with eggplants and fiery small green peppers.

It started to rain heavily, so we took shelter in a hut, and when the weather began to clear, we set off for home. But as soon as we rounded the very first bend, I happened to see three parallel waterfalls in the hills far off behind the bamboo trees.

Ibu Oneng, who was tending her rice field, told us that there are two falls, which the local people call Curug Utang and Sanghyang Santen. One is called utang (debt) because someone was once killed near that waterfall over a financial problem; the other is called santen (placenta) because once, when someone was disposing of a newborn's placenta at the waterfall, a flash flood suddenly inundated the village below. Since then, it has been taboo to abandon or bury placentas anywhere near the watershed.

We tried to find a road to these falls, which Ibu Oneng told us should follow the ditch, but we couldn't see any path to the ditch, so we looked for some other access along the road. On one ascent, we found a footpath, but it turned into a very sharp descent, almost vertical. Then we went further upstream and came to a small village. A woman there indicated the same route, along the water channel behind her house – which seemed to head toward where we'd been talking with Ibu Oneng. But since the bushes were so thick beside the ditch, I wasn't convinced that was the way.

The overcast turned into a drizzle, so we finally headed home. And all the way home, till we reached the Garut city limits, we got soaked.

But I was still plagued with curiosity; I really wanted to find out how to get to those two falls. So a few weeks ago, when I was in Cipanas again, I contacted Dani. The next morning, after a soak in the hot springs, we sped to Pakenjeng. I later calculated that it took an hour and a half from Cipanas to where we had been before, looking for the falls.

An old farmer collecting water from the river again indicated the same route – along the little water channel. "All three of those waterfalls are Curug Utang. If you get to the base of those falls, you're standing above Sanghyang Santen, because the water of Sanghyang Santen comes from Curug Utang, and then drops into the gorge below." He also told us that the waterfalls come from the river that passes by the village – the river he was standing by.

So we set out through the bushes by the ditch, on a path only wide enough for one person. I quickly realized that the path to this curug was far more challenging than the one to Sanghyang Taraje. Even the local people probably never went there. I should have brought a machete to clear the branches blocking the trail. The steep ravines by the side of the trail also made me very nervous; we had to step very cautiously, since there was nothing to grab on to. If you slipped and fell …

About a kilometer later, we came into a forest. We could hear the falls clearly, but the ravines were so steep and the forest so dense that there was no obvious way to go down. The hardest part was where we had to hang from the roots of a giant tree to slip down in front of it, which seemed to lead to the falls. And then – yes, we started to see the top of the waterfall, but to get there, Dani had to find a long bamboo for me to hold on to, since the path down was so steep.

Clutching the small trees next to us, we finally made our way down to the riverbank. A pale green snake slid down a tree next to me; luckily, we didn't seem to have disturbed it.
My heart was filled with joy and relief when I arrived at a rock in the river below the falls. Of the three parallel falls, the biggest was the one on the right, directly in front of us. The weather was clear, and the river water was flowing cold and clear.

Dani went over to a large rock on the left, and shouted to me. I immediately became dizzy when I realized that the rock I was standing on was right next to a huge cliff, maybe a hundred meters down. Next to the big rock, the water was cascading down; this was the top of Sanghyang Santen….

2 Komentar:

ATTIRILY said...

Your blog is sooo nice! It is an useful pages for those who are going to visit Indonesia like me. Merry X'mas and Happy new year!

Indoman said...

Attirily : Thanks. I welcome you to visit Indonesia... Just let me know if you need any information.

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