Tue, 02 Aug 1994

The history of world-famous Central Jakarta's Jl. Jaksa

Jl. Jaksa is quite popular for its cheap but good hotels especially among backpackers. In the first part of two articles, The Jakarta Post reporter Lenah Susianty interviews visitors and also Nathanael Lawalata, the man who first developed a hotel for budget tourists, to gain insight on how the street earned international fame.

JAKARTA (JP): If you ask for Jl. Jaksa, taxi drivers will take you to Wisma Delima Youth Hostel, states a guide book published in the 1980s by The Lonely Planet.

Today Wisma Delima is not the only hotel located on the street which provides the cheapest accommodation for backpackers in the city. Many establishments have sprung up in the area joining in on the lucrative business. However, it is Wisma Delima which brought the narrow street to the attention of foreign backpackers and gave Jl. Jaksa a place in history.

Jl. Jaksa became a tourist center by serving International Youth Hostel Federation members. Indonesia is no longer a member of the Federation because the Federation rules that its members must be from the private circle, not the government.

The street was named Jl. Jaksa because it was where students of the Rechts Hogeschool (the Law College), which was located near the National Museum during colonial times, lived. Jaksa, listed in every guide book of Indonesia, means attorney.

"I know of this street from this book," said Ivan, a Czech, pointing to South-East Asia on shoe-string, a guide book published by Lonely Planet.

"It is o.k. for me, although my room is noisy, but it is cheap," he added.

Last year, the street was visited by 57,201 people who spent US$5 to $15 per day for accommodation and food on the street.

It is estimated that Jl. Jaksa, which is 400 meters long, earns about $572,000 annually because the accommodation business has brought other related businesses such as restaurants, money changers, and laundries to the area.


Started in 1968 by Nathanael Lawalata, now 82, Wisma Delima first opened its doors to 40 Australian tourists. Little did the owner know that this first step would make him famous.

"We were not yet prepared to accept guests in our house, but they said they did not need anything luxurious and they could sleep anywhere because they had sleeping bags," Lawalata said in a recent interview.

He said his house was converted into a hotel because he was the secretary general of the Association of Indonesian Youth Hostels in 1968.

"It is a funny story. We were listed as a member of the International Youth Hostel Federation which was based in London even though we only had one youth hostel with two big rooms managed by the National Police," Lawalata recalled.

The hotel was called Hotel Polisi or the Police Hotel and was located on Jl. Kebon Sirih, Central Jakarta, where PT Bimantara, stands today.

Indonesia was listed with the International Youth Hostel Federation on the suggestion of T. Kaneko, a Japanese officer who was a good friend of Indonesia's first president Soekarno.

Kaneko, an admirer of the country's beauty, thought it was a pity that tourists coming from Europe and traveling in Asia could not stop here on their way to Australia simply because there was no cheap accommodation.

"The National Police were appointed to be in charge of the youth hostel. However, it did not stay in business long because the hostel was not well kept, it was not clean and tourists did not like because it was not comfortable or cozy," said Lawalata, who speaks English and Dutch well and understands French and German.

"At that time, I worked for the Bhayangkara travel bureau, also by the National Police. When they closed the hostel, they decided to move it to my house because I lived in the center of Jakarta, not far from tourist sites like the National Monument (Monas) and the National Museum -- more popular as Museum gajah (elephant), Gambir railway station and the Lapangan Banteng area, which was a bus terminal," said the father of three children.

The Lawalata family then decided to enter the accommodation business by building rooms for tourists around the main house where they still live.


Wisma Delima, now managed by Lawalata's son Yahya -- nicknamed Boyke -- has 11 rooms and can accommodate 43 people in its double, triple and dormitory rooms.

The hotel remains one of the cheapest on the street where 26 other hotels exist. Prices begin at Rp 5,000 (around US$2.30) per night per person in the dormitory.

"I am content that our rooms are always full although we have to compete not only with the 26 other hotels but also with residents in this area who also offer rooms for tourists," Lawalata said, adding that his family earns around Rp 6 million to Rp 7 million ($2,768 to $3,230) per month from the business.

He commented that his guests come from all corners of the world, including Australia, the United States, Nigeria, India and Japan.