Tasikmalaya, West Java, Indonesia
Everytime Jack and I visit my family in Jakarta, my parents would plan an epic road trip that inevitably involves all 5 of us stuck in traffic for hours on potholed rural roads. Or worse if we’re really unlucky.
Most families bond over dinner in their living room, mine bonds over boiled peanuts and fried tofu from street vendors, bought and eaten during these countless roadtrips. As an extended family we’ve driven all over Java, even as far as Bali at one point.
On our last visit (Dec 2014), we kept the roadtrip short because we only had 4 days due to my brother’s school. As a destination, I was championing for Tasikmalaya on the south eastern part of West Java. I wanted to see nearby Kampung Naga and the Green Canyon. My parents had always been reluctant to visit this region because the roads were often washed out after a period of heavy rain.
“How bad can it be?” – I reasoned. “It’s rainy season. So it would be pretty bad”, they warned.
I cajoled. And I wore them down.
Well, after a total of 6 hours of rutted roads with man-sized pot holes, treacherously hidden under an inch of muddy water I had to admit, it was really, really bad. My throbbing lower back reminded me how badly lacking the infrastructure in my home country is still.
But fueled by baskets of fried tofu everyone managed to keep their spirits high. It was all just part of the adventure.
As soon as we got to Kampung Naga, Jack and I flung ourselves out of the car, eager to stretch our legs and get away from the freezing interior of the car (what is it about Indonesians and AC?)
Down a few hundred concrete steps from the parking lot, lies our destination: the hamlet of Kampung Naga (or Dragon Village).
In Kampung Naga there’s no electricity and motorized vehicle. And it’s all part of the attraction.
This community of 100+ houses haf become a tourist destination because despite the out of control development that has taken over the island, it still managed to cling to ancestral traditions and way of life.
“Like the Amish but minus the beard,” Jack summed it up.
The villagers still abide to ‘adat’ – a set of informal laws that have been passed down from generations to generations.
This set of wisdoms governed the many details of the villagers’ everyday life including how the houses were built.
All the houses in Kampung Naga had a raised floor, kept off the ground by cement or wood blocks. ‘Adat’ specified that the materials with which to build the roofs and walls (‘alang alang’ – a type of wild grass), and which direction the front doors need to face (either North or South).
This helped explain the unique layout and look of the houses in Kampung Naga.
The villagers of Kampung Naga lived off the land as much as they could. The river running alongside the village provides water for bathing and irrigation. There were fish in ponds, goats and chicken in wooden pens.
They grew rice and vegetables in the surrounding fields. The rice grown here was still milled in the traditional way: by hand pounding in a mortar with a pestle.
They also made grass baskets and other souvenirs that they would carry up the 400 or so steps up to the parking area to sell to tourists.
Jack, as a foreigner, attracted quite a bit of attention here. I have a feeling that unlike Borobudur and Yogyakarta, few foreigners come to this part of Java. Somehow, Jack being gawked at made me feel better about visits such as this where I can’t help feeling like such a voyeur.
There’s something almost surreal about Kampung Naga.
The villagers here might live simply by Western standard but there’s an air of prosperousness and pride. The dirt paths looked they had just been swept. The white-walled houses were well maintained. Everyone wore big, friendly smiles on their faces.
And the location couldn’t be more scenic.