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Sumatera
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The 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.

Attractions

Rivers that 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.

Cuisine

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.

Leisure Activities

Shopping
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.

Festivals & Events
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 eyes.

Adventure
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.

Accessible from 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.


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