As the A320 started its descent I start to see the ocean dotted with medium sized cargo ships and oil tankers. We are landing on an island but the ocean around cannot be described in any shade of blue, there are no golden sand beaches or thatched roofs in sight. We are landing in Jakarta, the second most populous urban conglomerate in the world and the island of Java – the most populous island in the world.
Long walk guided at times by boards and other times by the airport staff get us to the immigration counters at Soakarno-Hatta International Airport of Jakarta. The polite officers see our passports and stamp it. Yes! Indians do not require visa to enter Indonesia. Such privileges are rare for Indian passport!
When I first asked my acquaintances who had been to Jakarta on what we can do in 36 hours, the response was “Nothing, all the time will go in traffic”. We chose the Novotel Gajah Mada for our stay since the area is equidistant from all the major sight seeing points and very close to the expressway which links the airport, yet the 20 kilometer journey took over an hour.
In my teens I had seen a documentary where the host exchanges a few hundred US dollars for a sack of Afghan currency. I was dreaming of a similar experience but for the denomination of 1 lakh which is available for Indonesian Rupaiya. The money in hand far outnumbered the money in bank, albeit with different currencies. Remember to bargain at the currency exchange, it works!
Internet is flooded with experiences of taxi operators in Jakarta and we stuck to Bluebird Taxi for the entire duration. Just once did the driver try to take us for a ride, which we promptly noticed and made him take the correct turn. The cost to city center from the airport is between 100,000 to 200,00 IDR. A quick check-in later we settle in the 22nd floor modern room of Novotel.
Its 7pm and its pitch dark already. We decide to visit the surrounding malls & explore local cuisine but google informs us that the malls close at 7pm, later confirmed by the hotel reception. We realized the reason for this the next morning. Sunrise was at 4.14am and by 5am it was very sunny and blazing hot. The city has an amazing number of sprawling malls, mostly concentrated towards South West of the city.
The city promotes its numerous open air roof top sky bars, but the dreary weather and gridlocked traffic wasn’t motivating to visit one of those.
The next morning, we had a confusing breakfast at the hotel. It comprised of everything from soups to desserts and yes it was a breakfast! The hotel is at a strategic location, head south and the road will take you to Monas or the National monument at Merdeka square. The 137m long structure was inaugurated in July 1975 to commemorate the Indonesian Independence from the Dutch. The complex houses museums, galleries and gardens. One can go to the observation deck but with all information boards in Bahasa Indonesia and lack of guides or English speaking locals, we had to skip this one.
Monas or the National Monument of Indonesia
Istiqlal Mosque – the largest in Southeast Asia is located near one of the entrances of Monas. This grand mosque is right opposite Jakarta Cathedral – a neo-gothic styled structure built in 1901 and seat of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Jakarta.
The city has two Hop On Hop Off routes – Red and Blue. To promote tourism, they are free for tourists but the same problem resurfaced – Language! We waited for a while at the HoHo Stop, saw one bus park and asked the lady conductor about the route. Except NO, there was no other answer. What choice did we have than to keep wondering what that NO is for?! We took a Bluebird taxi again to head to the Dutch square passing the National Museum and scores of TVS and Bajaj auto rickshaws (Made in India) on the way.
All the entries to the square are flooded with ice cream sellers and many fruit and food stalls. The bylanes of the square will show you ghosts on streets, magicians sitting up in the air and school children taking turns riding on Dutch themed bicycles.
Jakarta was once known as Batavia and we dined at Café Batavia, housed in the grand Dutch era building set on the square. It is the second oldest building in Central Jakarta and still carries an air of the 19th century colonial Jakarta.
We were nearing the end of our 36 hours in Jakarta and it was time to head back to the airport for the flight back. Bounteous amount of street food, chaos, traffic, bike taxis of Uber and its local competitor Grab along with scores of students who come asking for signature, photographs and interviews in English is what differentiated Jakarta for us.
But Jakarta was the place where we had the best Chicken Satay thus far. Indonesia has a lot more to see and do and we will be back to explore Indonesia further.
The first thing that comes to mind about Jakarta is chaos and Traffic. But try the restaurants and colonial heritage buildings and one may change your views on the “Big Durian” – named after the smelly fruit that is divine to the locals.
Our flight was delayed by a few hours but since the delay was communicated only when we reached the airport, we had to spend the time in an airport lounge. This meant trying out some additional
Indonesia stuff which included the Teh botol. It literally means Bottled Tea in Indonesian and is an iconic drink. Irrespective of its cult status, this sweetened Jasmine tea is something I will definitely avoid when I go to Indonesia the next time.