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The Warsaw Voice » Other » December 6, 2006
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A Gem of the Equator
December 6, 2006   
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Indonesia is a vast and beautifully diverse country, the world's largest archipelago, consisting of more than 17,000 islands. Spread across 5,120 km of ocean and positioned between Asia and Australia, this country is as wide as the European continent. Four-fifths of the area is sea, and the major islands are Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Papua.

Situated entirely in the tropics, Indonesia is known as "the belt of emeralds across the equator." There are two seasons, the dry season from June to October and the rainy season from November to March.

As the world's fourth-largest nation, Indonesia's population is over 220 million, comprising 250-300 ethnic groups that have their own languages and dialects but are united by Bahasa Indonesia, the national language spoken throughout the archipelago. The majority of Indonesians are Muslim (87 percent), with Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and followers of Confucianism making up the rest.

Indonesia's flora and fauna is as diversely rich as its land and people. Orangutans, tigers, one-horned rhinos, elephants, dugongs-a kind of sea cow, anoas and komodo dragons are the pride of Indonesia. The seas around the archipelago also hold the country's treasures, a rich marine environment that holds a myriad of species, from fish, to corals and marine mammals. National parks around the archipelago serve to preserve this rich natural heritage.

The main island of Java is the most populous and where the capital city, Jakarta, is located. It is home to over 12 million people, art and antique markets, first-class shopping, interesting museums, good accommodation and food, great nightlife, national monuments and the bustling port of Old Batavia.

Since the 18th century, the Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat palace in Yogyakarta has been the patron of Javanese culture, tradition and values which the Javanese have treasured for many generations. The grand and elegant Javanese architecture guards priceless royal heirlooms and other precious antiques. The classic leather puppet theater performance usually takes place throughout the night until the early hours.

Visiting Java wouldn't be complete without an awe-inspiring visit to the majestic Buddhist "monastery on the hill": Borobudur, one of the seven wonders of the world. The two-level pyramid symbolizes the 10 stages of the Mahayana Buddhist cosmic system. The walls of the Borobudur are sculptured in bas-reliefs extending over a total of six km. The Prambanan Temple complex, situated 17 km from Yogyakarta, consists of three courtyards that surround three main shrines dedicated to the Hindu trinity: Ciwa, Vishnu and Brahma. Built in the ninth century, the temples' reliefs are beautifully carved and depict the Hindu cosmic system and stories of Ramayana. Traditional Javanese ballet is performed on open-air stages during full moon evenings.

Volcanoes form a backbone to Java with Mounts Bromo and Merapi popular tourist sites. Going up Mount Bromo on horseback at the break of dawn to watch the sun rise over the sands of an ancient caldera is an experience you'll never forget.
Just off the East Java province is the world's number one island-resort of Bali. Dynamic dances, music, colorful costumes, sacred ceremonies and mystical temples are part of the endless rites of passage and religious beliefs that influence the lives of the Balinese. Such a harmonious way of life is not found anywhere else in the world. Surrounded by the Indian ocean, the island boasts fabulous beaches, clear waters and perfect surfing and diving spots.

Around 35 km east of Bali is the island of Lombok, whose history and culture is intertwined with those of Bali, but has its own distinct charm. Still relatively unknown to the rest of the world, the island has even gained a reputation for beautiful, isolated white beaches that surpass Bali's.

For the more adventurous, a trip to Komodo island can be recommended, home to the famous dragon reptile. The only inhabitants can be found living in small villages along the shores. Yet, its most famous inhabitants are the Komodo dragons (varanus komodensis), giant lizards that are preserved in the Komodo National Park. Reaching up to three meters in length and weighing 150 kg, these descendants of dinosaurs lay up to 30 eggs at a time.

The island of Sumatera, the world's fifth-largest, is less settled and features vast rainforests, orangutans, the beautiful Lake Toba and the commercial centers of Bukittinggi and Medan. Sumatera is a paradise for nature lovers. National parks cover regions from the northern to the southern tip of the island. Gunung Lauser National Park 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. The Bahorok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center at Bukit Lawang near Medan is also worth a visit.

Kalimantan is the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo and is transected by wide rivers, forests and plantations. On the southeast coast of Kalimantan, Banjarmasin is a bustling trading city crisscrossed with many waterways fed by the Barito river. Diamonds are one of the region's richest resources and are mined extensively in Cempaka and Martapura. The province of East Kalimantan derives its riches from oil-producing Balikpapan and from the valuable timber in Samarinda.

Sulawesi's maritime past has produced formidable shipbuilders and seamen who traveled to North Australia and Madagascar on their trading trips. Rugged mountains, virgin rainforests, lush rice fields, highland lakes and pristine beaches-unspoiled reserves provide a protected habitat for the indigenous species of Sulawesi, such as the anoa, dwarf buffalo and pig-deer.

Amidst the rugged mountains and fertile plateaus of Tana Toraja in Central Sulawesi, the Toraja people thrive and retain their ancestor worship and animistic beliefs. The Torajan rituals for the dead are just as interesting as their way of life, as can be seen from their fascinating funeral ceremonies and rituals for their ancestors.

Snorkeling and scuba diving in Sulawesi (pictured right) is a fantastic marine adventure. The mind-boggling array of coral formations and a multitude of marine life make the region one of the world's most beautiful marine environments. White sandy beaches, a dense population of fish and coral and deep underwater gullies and valleys of Bunaken promise a breathtaking experience.

For centuries, the legendary isles of spices of Maluku and its surrounding islands were the world's only sources of nutmeg, mace and cloves. On Halmahera island in Maluku, Lake Laguna is home to the sacred crocodiles.

Papua is culturally unique even by Indonesian standards. The scenery ranges from snow-capped peaks to vast riverine wetlands with few people in between. The mist-shrouded valleys and mountains of West Papua are a trekker's paradise but most are still largely unexplored. The highest peak of Jayawijaya mountain range is 5,500 meters high. It is a favorite among local and foreign mountaineers as the reward is setting foot on the one and only snow-capped peak on the equator (pictured right).
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