No country had ever made me suffer, cry or break down as Indonesia and there’s no place on earth I would keep visiting or dream of visiting than this incredible archipelago nation. While my official 1st solo travel destination had been Iran, it is Indonesia which had actually healed me and made me start believing in life again.
As cheesy and story bookish as it may sound, my career as a solo traveler happened on similar lines to those of Elizabeth in “Eat, Pray, Love” and it was in Indonesia that I finally made peace with life. Sudden tragic bereavement, heart breaking loss and whirlwind shattering of secured marital life, made me feel like a train wreck and cruel suffocating social norms imposed on bereaved Indian ladies, did not help matters much. To survive, I had initially escaped to Iran, where its gentle, loving people had helped me limp back to life with unsure steps and after that there was no looking back. My career as a researcher started soon, with some recognition in tow and immediately upon returning from Iran, Indonesia beckoned.
Indonesia, until then had never featured on my (our, as I was not bereaved then) travel itinerary and to a very unaware me, did not exist beyond a much touristy Bali. I had no idea of what to expect when I boarded the flight for the most intriguing Indonesian archipelago and I remember spending many confused waking hours on the long journey to Denpasar. I was about to plunge into absolute anonymity and it was also the 1st time that I was leaving my little girl behind for such a long period. Frequent bouts of tear shed and nervously beating heart accompanied me constantly and more than once, I had questioned my sanity. Grief supposedly makes some people insane and I had often seriously wondered if it had affected me too in similar fashion.
Although the arrival was refreshingly easy, even after a few initial Indonesian days, I was still relatively unprepared. Out of sheer lack of hard core solo travel experience, I had only a list of things/places I needed to work upon there for guidance and my shell shocked heart was still bleeding. I was going through the toughest phase of my life and because of an extremely impulsive decision, had naively embarked upon something which was equally challenging. The result was a life changing experience and one which will remain closest to my heart till my last breath. Indonesia had possessed me immediately upon arrival like a very tenacious spirit and it’s uniqueness used to intrigue me non stop. Its familiarity had comforted me in a motherly way and I soon got lost in the huge spread out country. As I dived deeper and deeper into Indonesia, my days got shortened and I had no spare time for tearful moments. Even the most mundane of activities in some areas where I was stationed, posed as a challenge and by bed time, I used to be too exhausted to think. Its bewildering beauty captivated my waking hours and I fell in love with the gay abandon with which nature presided there.
The delicious, flavourful food used to make me ravenously hungry and in spite of the hard work, my face soon regained its soft contours. Transportation was a hassle for most parts and sometimes, even flying required serious research and hunting for flight schedules. Ferrying across its vast marine stretches on not very reliable steamers are some of my most poignant Indonesian memories and those had been some of the most content moments of my life. Indonesia’s wilderness baffled me and in contrast to its dark unexplored depths, India’s far flung stretches had seemed like gleaming metropolis. Strangely, India for most of the times, had never seemed culturally very far and even though hundreds of miles separated me from my country, on the map India was its immediate neighbour in the northwest. Indonesia’s insane global positioning was the 1st shock that I had received about it (and I hail from a subcontinent called India) and soon its expansive 5200 kilometers stretch across the Equator (between Indian and Pacific Oceans) opened my eyes to one of the most adventurous places on earth.
With 18, 110 islands, Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago and shares borders with Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Palau, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, Australia and India. Volcanoes, tropical rain forests, pristine islands, impossibly blue lively ocean, powder soft beaches, snow capped mountains, incredible wildlife, cyber cities, Iron Age civilizations and blood bathed village rituals create its whirlwind like breathlessly diverse panorama and to me it seemed as if the whole planet had been showcased in 1 country. I loved its diversity, its hard to reach places like Banda Island, Sulawesi, Irianjaya, Raja Ampat Island, its fluid dances, unique quirky pocket of Hinduism in Bali and the incredulous mix of jet set lifestyle with stone age human habitats.
Bali still remains my favourite place in Indonesia with Irianjaya being a close second and I can never get enough of both. Java was nice too and I had experienced some most spiritually rich moments at Borobudur at sunrise. Much to my surprise it was in Java, that I had discovered Indonesia to be a cradle of many historically important civilizations and was amazed by their spectacular ruins. Lombok and Gili Islands were absolutely paradisaical and hard to reach Banda had been like a step back into Indonesia’s colonial times. Irianjaya and Komodo Island are perhaps some of the most wildest and exotic places on earth and I had nearly lost my life among the giant dragons. However, it was Irianjaya which had been the real testing ground for my nerves and in spite of all the hurdles it had entailed, I would gladly go back there any day.
Far flung, mysterious with most of its areas still unexplored by any living adventurer, glorious birds of paradise, virginal undisturbed reef and stories of still existing cannibalistic head hunting tribes consist of the Indonesian Papua (Irianjaya). Difficult and nerve wracking, the journey to its depths was one of the most freeing and toughest experiences of my life and in our present global village scenario, Irianjaya had revived the thrill of early days of exploration.
Bali, in contrast had been like a healing balm on a lacerated soul and Ubud’s gentle pace had rejuvenated me like never before. Eating, working, getting massages and staring at balsam bordered green rice fields had consisted of my Bali days and it was at Ubud that I had managed to enjoy a bit of Indonesia’s luxe, cosmopolitan lifestyle. I had been in Indonesia for more than 6 months and had suffered from all kinds of possible mishaps and ailments. Severe food poisoning, jelly fish sting, getting robbed, dishonesty, corruption, serious financial stress due to my credit card getting swallowed up by outdated ATM machine, bouts of loneliness and depression and a mild attack of malaria, Indonesia had put me through an extreme endurance test. Needless to say, unprepared extensive traveling in one of the most exotic and vast countries in the world coupled with fragile emotional state, made my Indonesian sojourn, one of the most trying times of my life, but one from which I had emerged stronger, happier and hopelessly in love with the archipelago nation.
Even today as I struggle to pen down my Indonesian experiences, my heart longs wistfully for my friends living there, its pure adrenaline rushes and its breathlessly beautiful moments. Indonesia is a well spring of beauty and all the hardships I had faced there came with abundance of incredible visual delights and soul touching moments, when I had silently thanked God for being alive. All sensory experiences exploded in form of stunning volcano hikes, soft pink sunrises, transparent cerulean blue ocean, black sand beaches, burst of flavours on my taste buds, wildly vivid sunsets and gentle croaking of frogs at my Ubud rice field home stay.
Huge, spectacular and an absolutely 360 degrees travel destination, Indonesia can be best summed up in 1 word and that is breathtaking. Intoxicating, intriguing and perhaps the last frontier for some of the greatest adventures on earth, Indonesia is unforgettable too. So Selamat Datang to Indonesia, where the world is an oyster.
Some photos have been taken from the internet and can be of graphic nature.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE