On February 27, Indonesian President Joko Widodo opened the new terminal at Wiriadinata Airport in Tasikmalaya, ushering in a new era of passenger travel for a pocket of the country well off the typical tourism trail.
Tasikmalaya is the name of the city and the district in this eastern part of West Java. The volcanic soil makes this area perfect for agriculture; it is also green and beautiful. Most of the region is hilly, especially to the west where Mount Galunggung (2,167m) rises majestically. It’s a place where nature enthusiasts are spoiled for choice when deciding what to do and where to go next.
I start my adventure in the cold dawn; my feet tread up the 620 steps to climb Mount Galunggung. Its crater is still covered in thick fog, like a giant bowl filled with cotton candy, the lights from Tasikmalaya City flickering across the morning air from the opposite side. The sun is quite high when the fog slowly lifts, revealing the green crater and a black-sand island. A waterfall tumbles into the crater from the edge. I feel like going down to get closer to the crater – there is no smoke or sulphurous smell – but for safety reasons, visitors are not permitted to get any nearer. I am content to sit quietly, enjoying the warmth of the morning sun and the spectacular view.
Since the advent of social media, the type of tourism that has been on the rise in Tasikmalaya is ‘curug tourism’; curug means ‘waterfall’ in the Sundanese language. “There are dozens of Instagrammable waterfalls in Tasik,” explains Suci, my millennial guide. “My favourite is Ciparay waterfall.”
Naturally, the waterfall is the next stop – but it is no easy feat getting there. Situated near Parentas village, 30km from Tasikmalaya City, our destination takes over two hours to reach because the final 6km leg of the uphill road is in terrible condition. However, the journey is well worth it. From the top of the hill, Ciparay waterfall – also called Curug Kembar (Twins waterfall) because there are two flows – is a breathtaking sight as it descends among the dense green forest of Mount Galunggung.
I am greeted by Andi Ramdani, the head of Parentas, who gives me a cup of fresh coffee brewed from the village plantation. Parentas coffee is grown from Arabica beans in volcanic soil at 1,300–1,500m above sea level. “Since I was little, I’ve enjoyed playing at the waterfall, but several years ago it got busier with visitors after it was often posted on social media,” Andi says.
I walk down the earthen steps in half an hour. The closer I get, the louder the sound of the rushing water. Suddenly, I realise I am wet from the spray – and my camera has also been sprayed, making it difficult to take photos. I can only stare, speechless, at the two waterfalls, each dozens of metres high.
We next visit Dengdeng waterfall, which is 62km south of Tasikmalaya City – ‘only’ the final 2km of the road is damaged. I am amazed to see that the waterfall is so wide and cascades over three levels. The first level at its mouth is 9m high, the second is 11m and the third is 13m. The waterfall ends in a magical-looking blue pool, surrounded by the peaceful greenery of the forest.
Two men are fishing and enjoying the serenity of one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Indonesia.
One hour by road from Dengdeng waterfall is Jasper Park in Cibuniasih village, named after the eye-catching red stones that are found here in sizes ranging from that of a matchbox to a small house.
After trekking in the hilly forest for an hour, we reach the Cimedang river. The combination of blue sky and river, green forest and red stones together makes a unique and incredibly stunning view.
The jasper was made 25 to 30 million years ago from incandescent lava that came into contact with sea water and underwent a hydrothermal process. When sharpened and polished, the stones gleam with beauty. “I remember at the end of the 1990s there was a miner from Japan who took these stones. One car was filled with just one very big stone. To lift it they had to use a chain because it weighed tonnes,” says Utang, our guide. Because this is a rare natural phenomenon, the local government has now banned mining, and the area is being turned into a geo park. The natural wonders of Tasikmalaya are truly hidden gems!