Sunday, October 10, 2021

Sawahlunto Tours Destination Steeped in History

WHEN TOURISTS used to ask about places to visit in West Sumatra, one of the most common answers was the city of Bukittinggi. Today though, that answer includes Sawahlunto.
The next question would then be: “What is  there to see in Sawahlunto?” And the answer is that the city has as many – if not more – tourist objects than Bukittinggi.
Sawahlunto, like Bukittinggi, is a small city, but it has a rich historical heritage. It is home to seven museums and old buildings from the Dutch-colonial era that are quite well preserved. They all reflect that past way of life in the coal-mining town.
In 2015 Sawahlunto was shortlisted on the tentative UNESCO World Heritage list as an Old Coal Mining Town. And in 2019, the government will include Sawahlunto in its list of proposed sites to the World Heritage Committee.
The list will be expanded to include the remains of the supporting infrastructure for coal production in the 19th century. These include a 155.5-km railway crossing six regencies and towns in West Sumatra, all the way to Teluk Bayur Seaport, which used to be called Emma Haven, a docking location for coal bound for exports.
Sawahlunto is situated in a valley. It was founded by the Dutch in 1888 when a big reserve of high-quality coal was discovered in the area. Until today, the coal is still mined in small volumes; large-scale mining activities, or deep mining, were halted in the early 2000s.
Mining-related building boasting Dutch style architecture are common sight in the region, including the main office of the coal mining company founded in 1916 and now the icon of Sawahlunto. There are also three silos in the form of giant concrete cylinders 40 metes in height that were used to store coal.
Tourists can also visit the Cultural Building, which in the colonial era was dubbed the Ball House. It hosted billiard tournament s and cultural events. Another building is a cooperative building called Ons Belang. Constructed in 1920, it was used as the office of the cooperative whose members were the Dutch and the Indo-Dutch. Hotel Ombilin, meanwhile,was constructed in 1918 and used to house Dutch mining engineers, and the graceful St. Barbara Church was built in 1920.
But one of the more popular sites among tourists is the Mbah Soero mining tunnel, the area’s first coal mine that opened in 1898.
The mining tunnel’s attractions include a sad story of the “chained people”, thousands of convicts sent to West Sumatera from prisons in Java and other regions in Indonesia. They were shipped by the Dutch colonial government, their feet in chain, to work as miners. Many of these chained people lost their lives in Sawahlunto.
Tourist can enter the tunnel accompanied by a guide for only 56 US$ cents per person. Outside the tunnel is a statue of the chained people, and in the building’s Info Box, tourists can view various tools used by the miners.
Related to Mbah Soero is the Goedang RAnsoem Museum. Constructed in 1918, it was used as a soup kitchen for mine workers. Visitors can see the cooking utensils used in that era, including stoves and cauldrons.
The Train Museum, meanwhile, is located where Sawahlunto Station used to be. This is the only train museum on Sumatra and the second in Indonesia, after the first one in Ambarawa. The musem houses a collection of train equipment and devices used in Sawahlunto from 1918. In the yard, visitors can view the legendary locomotive dubbed “Mak Item”, and a wooden carriage that reminds us of the American carriages from the Wild West.
In front of the coal mining company building, PT Bukit Asam, is the Ombilin Coal Mining Museum, which is managed by Bukit Asam’s Ombilin Mining Unit. The museum also functions as the company’s documentation and archive center.
In front of the museum, viistors are greeted by the statue of Ir. J.W.Ijzermen, a Dutchman who held the Ombilin Coal mining project in Sawahlunto until it become productive in 1892. Inside are pictures of Willem Hendrik de Greve, who discovered the coal reserve in Sawahlunto in 1867.
Three other museums in the city are not directly related to the history of Sawahlunto, but they can offer visitors an enjoyable day of culture and entertainment. They are the Etno Kayu Paint Museum, which display modern paintings and wooden crafts; Museum Seni Musik, which houses a collection of musical instruments from various regions in Indonesia and abroad; and Museum Tari, displaying a trove of accessories for Minangkabau traditional dances.
 Tourists can visit all seven museums and historical buildings in one day on foot as they are located in the Old Town area.
Sawahlunto also has family entertainment facilities located some 12 kms from Old Town. One of these is Kandi Zoo, wehre visitors can not only see animals but also paly paintball and engage in other outbound activities.
Every December, to commemorate its anniversary, Sawahlunto holds a horse race at its 1,400 –m track, the second-longest in the country. The arena can accommodate 30,000 spectators.
Other family-friendly destinations are the Rantih tourism village, Fruit Garden and Waterboom Waterpark, as well as sites to enjoy the area’s beautiful scenery, such as Cemara Peak and Polan Peak.
Also in Sawahlunto is the grave of national hero Mohammad Yamin. The grave is situated in Talawi, 15 km from the center of town. Yamin was one of the early concept writes of Indonesia’s ideology and a proclaimer of the historic Youth Pledge.

Sawahlunto is only 95 kilometers from Padang and 88 kilometers from Bukittinggi. If visitors don’t have time to stay the night, they can still enjoy what the town has to offer by making a one-day trip from either of these cities in a rental car.
Backpackers can easily visit Sawahlunto on a budget. From Minangkabau Ekspres airport train to Simpang Haru Station (the last station). Currently tickets for the Minangkabau Ekspres cost only $0.8.
From the station, visitors can walk 350 meters or take an ojek (motorcycle taxi) t oa minibus shelter. From there, they take a minibus to Sawahlunto in Tugu Api. The bus fare is 1.3$ and the minibus is available every hour from morning until late afternoon. The minibus stops at a terminal in the center of Sawahlunto, and visitors can stay at one of the budget homestays that are abundant in the area.

 [Sources : by The Jakarta Post |Words: Syofiardi Bachyul Jb]