third biggest island in the archipelago and the fifth in the
world, Sumatera is divided into nine provinces: Nanggroe Aceh
Darussalam, North Sumatera, West Sumatera, Riau, Jambi, Bengkulu,
Bangka-Belitung, Lampung and South Sumatera. Interestingly
enough, these divisions not only represent distinct ethnic groups
and cultures, but geographically speaking each province also
displays singular physical features. The massive Bukit
Barisan mountain range which runs almost the entire length of the
island makes up Sumatera's diverse landscape of dense tropical
forests which cover almost four-fifths of the island, rugged
coastlines, expansive beaches, deep gorges and steamy swamps.
crisscross the island are fed by numerous lakes, the most famous
is Lake Toba situated at 906 m above sea level. Covering a
surface area of 1.700 km2 it is the largest in
Southeast Asia and the deepest in the world (450 m). The
lake touches the shores of sandy pine-sheltered beaches and is
encircled by mountainous slopes and steep cliffs. Located in
the middle of the lake is Samosir Island, the heartland of the
Toba Batak people and accessible by regular ferry trips.
Strongly patrilineal, the Bataks were formerly animists.
Ancient Batak stone burial urns, carved sarcophagi and traditional
houses can still be found on Samosir. Inhabited by 10 or
more families, the Batak longhouses are built on massive timber
piles and have steep saddle-backed, palm-thatched roofs. The
structure is held by rope and wooden pegs, without nails yet can
last for nearly a century. Famed for their musical
abilities, the Batak are fiercely proud of the ulos, a
cloth with significant traditional value and used during all rites
of passsage. Some of the area's interesting sights are the
Medan Botanical Garden, Sipisopiso Waterfall, the market town of
Jaranggoi and the Batak Palace in the fortified village of
Pematang Purba. The cool town of Prapat on the shores of
Lake Toba has a Batak Cultural Center. Tobacco, rubber ad
palm oil plantations are also found in the area.
Situated in the
Karo highlands is the pretty hill town of Berastagi, home to the
Karo Batak people. The town is dominated by two volcanoes,
Mount Sinagung and Mount Sibayak. The remote villages of
Kampung Peceren, Lingga, Cingkes and Barusjahe hav two dozen
traditional houses still used and in good condition. Medan,
the capital of North Sumatera, is not short of interesting sights
to visit. The Maimoon Palace and the black-domed Mesjid Raya
(Grand Mosque) are landmarks for the area.
Apart from its
ruggedly beautiful and diverse landscape, the many ethnic groups
that inhabit the island are undoubtedly an attraction in itself
with their own culture represented in dances, customs and the
architecture of traditional buildings. On the island of Nias,
a Neolithic society still keeps alive a megalithic tradition which
displays carved stone memorials and menhirs, war dances and ritual
combats called Tulotolo and Fahombe, a stone jumping
ritual in which tribesmen jump over 2.5 m of stone wall with a
sword in hand. Most of the traditional villages are in the
south of the island.
The Mentawai people
live in comparative isolation on an island of hte same name and
still retain their centuries old ways influenced by animistic
beliefs. On the island of Siberut, the Sakhai has also
retained their Neolithic hunter-gatherer culture. Their
belief that all elements in nature possess a soul has made them
naturalists with a deep respect for the environment.
One of the most
picturesque regions is the cool highlands of West Sumatera and the
spectacular view of the Anai Valley. It is the home of the
Minangkabau people. A striking feature of the region is the
design of traditional Rumah Gadang with their horned roofs.
A pretty town, Bukittinggi lies 100 km north of the provincial
capital, Padang. It has sensational views of fertile valleys
and the volcanoes, Mount Merapi and Mount Singgalang. Like
most ethnic groups in Indonesia who have an ancient cloth
tradition, the Minangkabau of West Sumeratera are guardians of the
hand-woven songket which are rich in design and interwoven
with gold threads.
The journey to the
lowlands of South Sumatera takes you to Lampung and the famed
Taman National Way Kambas, an elephant sanctuary that trains
elephants to play soccer as a tourist attraction.
The food from
Sumatera is generally very rich, spicy and hot as it uses a
liberal amount of almost all exotic spices and thick coconut milk,
creating curry-based dishes. Beef and almost all other inner
and outer parts of a cattle is used as the main ingredients.
Sumatera's diverse ethnic groups make shopping in the
region an exciting experience. The best bargains would be
the variety of hand-woven cloths from different regions; the Batak
ulos cloth from Medan and its surroundings, the colorful,
gold threaded songket from West Sumatera. Statues and
carvings are also good buys.
Being a predominantly Muslim region, most important events
are religious in nature. But local wedding are always a
grand occassion where dances and costumes are a feast for the
Sumatera is a paradise for nature lovers. National
parks cover regions from the northern until the southern tip of
the island. Taman National Gunung Leuser in Aceh, is one of
the largest national parks in the world and home to a variety of
primates, such as gibbons and orangutans, the Sumateran
rhinoceros, tigers and elephants. In North Sumatera, the Great
Bukit Barisan Forest Reserve is a must for naturalists. The
Bahorok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center at Bukit Lawang near Medan
is also worth a visit. One of the most exciting river
adventures can be found in this region. About 10 hours'
drive from Padang, the Kerinci Sablat National Park covers the
area around the active volcano, Mount Kerinci (3805 m). The
largest park in Sumatera, Kerinci-Seblat contains areas of lowland
rainforest home to rhinoceros, tigers, clouded leopards, elephants
and a wide variety of bird species. To the east of the
mountain is a botanists' haven, a high-altitude freshwater marsh
known as Lake Bentu. White water rafting down the rapids and
bends of Krueng Tripa and the River Alas is an experience that
will make you soaking wet and breathless.
Sumatera has the
distinction of being the only part of Indonesia that faces the
Indian Ocean. Along its extensive coastline, the island
offers some of the best marine activities in the country.
Banda Aceh, Weh Island at the northernmost tip boasts a rich
marine life. The Rubiah Sea Garden is a protected
environment that is a paradise for snorkeling and scuba diving
(with 25 m visibility). Coral viewing from glass bottomed
boats are also available. Explore the shallow waters between
the Sibolga & Banyak Islands where coral reefs life the
seabed. Ecologists' havens are the islands of Tuangku and
Bangkaru where a lowland tropical rainforest, a mangrove forest
and freshwater swamp forest remain undisturbed.
Facing the open
sea, the western coastline of Sumatera and the waters surrounding
Nias Island have big waves that make them one of the best surfers'
beaches in Indonesia. The Mentawai Islands off the coast of
the West Sumatera is surrounded by beautiful coral reefs that are
ideal for diving. Yet, the region's best diving site is
probably around Pieh Island. A vertical all rising from a
sandy slope at 40 m is frequented by a rich variety of fish and
other marine animals and both soft and hard corals grow in
abundance. For those who prefer night dives, the waters of
the Riau Archipelago offer a rewarding experience with crustaceans
and other marine scavengers of the darks waters. The Island
of Bintan is part of the Riau Archipelago, only 45 km from the
southeastern part of Singapore. A beautiful tropical setting
is the perfect backdrop for the range of leisure and vigorous
activities offered to visitors, from spas to pamper body and soul,
to windsurfing, wakeboarding, snorkeling and scuba diving.