Sun, 02 Feb 2003

Enjoy fresh air and a hot bath at Cipanas resort

Simon Howland, Jakarta Post, Cipanas, West Java

It's Friday afternoon and you've just finished a grueling week of work in the capital. Jakarta is sticky-hot, and the forecasts indicate little hope of a change in weather over the next few days.

In short, a weekend in the city looks bleak, and you're eager to escape to a more hospitable climate, maybe with a few more trees and even a bit of fresh air. Look no further, Cipanas holds the key.

Situated above Garut, 64 kilometers southeast of Bandung, is the picturesque mountain retreat of Cipanas. Bordered by volcanoes and luscious, forested mountains, the resort is famous for its hot springs and is renowned as a place to escape the heat and stress of Java's plains.

During the Dutch colonial era, the area was used as a hill station for colonial administrators, where government officials and their families would go to wind down.

Little evidence remains of the colonial Dutch holidaymakers, but for the history buff, there are the archaeological ruins of the nearby Cangkuang Temple dating back to the 8th century.

The ever-present peak of Gunung Guntur dominates the visage behind Cipanas. About an hour's walk up the mountain will bring you to the Curug Citi waterfall, definitely a worthwhile trek during the rainy season. For the more eager trekker, the summit of Guntur is the logical progression.

At 2,249 meters, those who brave the eight-hour return trip will be rewarded by stunning views of the surrounding plains and villages.

The crater at the top of this extinct volcano is well worth the trip alone. Ask the locals about the best routes up; heading up willy-nilly will make your quest twice as difficult.

Sticking to the mountainy theme, we come to Mount Papandayan, 28 kilometers outside Garut. This is arguably one of the most spectacular volcanoes in Java and is still active, although no eruptions have been recorded since the 1920's.

Papandayan made its presence known in 1772 when its side erupted with an almighty bang and caused the deaths of over three thousand people. You can get most of the way up by road, after which an easy half-hour walk will take you to the crater and on to the peak if you're keen. Try and hit it early, as the clouds tend to roll in if you leave too late in the day.

If you're not much for the leg action, not to worry, there's plenty more to see and do. The sulfur springs for which the area is renowned have been utilized to their utmost potential by all the hotels, and hot spring baths are to be found in all rooms.

The springs are known to have a purifying effect on the skin, so take your time. But beware! When they say "hot springs", they do mean hot, so diving is not recommended and you should probably dip in a toe or two first to test the water.

There are several areas in and around the resorts where one can simply lie down and while away the afternoon. The natural beauty of the surrounding forests make for a very relaxing environment indeed. Just ask one of the locals or your hotel staff for the one best suited to your needs.

For those with a sweet tooth, the area is renowned for a confectionery of palm sugar, coconut milk and rice called dodol. You'll find locals plying it on every other street corner down in the village, but the best you can get your hands on is made by the Picnic brand in Garut.

For somewhere to stay, you have a range of choices from budget to up-market. Hotel Tirta Merta is a clean, cheery and basic accommodation in the middle of town. It caters to the budget traveler, but has everything you'll need to chill out for a few days.

If you've no qualms about dishing out a couple of extra rupiah, then the Sumber Alam is for you. The hotel has been designed with the surrounding environment and ecosystem in mind, with individual bungalows situated around a huge fresh water pond, blending into the foliage. You can even fish from your window, if you so choose!

To get to Cipanas from Jakarta, take a train to Bandung and then a bus, or simply drive. However, driving is not recommended during the peak holiday season.

If it's an escape you want, then Cipanas offers an easy, affordable option for the jaded Jakartan. Get up into the mountains and clear your head. You know you want to.