Read CHAPTER VIII - FROM BUITENZORG TO TJI WANGI of A Visit to Java With an Account of the Founding of Singapore , free online book, by W. Basil Worsfold, on

View of Mount Salak Railway travelling in Java
Soekaboemi No coolies A long walk Making
a pikulan Forest path Tji Wangi at last.

It is two in the afternoon, and I have just taken the curious Javan meal called rice-table. Everyone else in the hotel, visitors and servants alike, are asleep. The doors of my rooms are all open, and there is a through draught from the courtyard to the verandah, where I am seated in a long easy chair with arms extending at will after the manner of the tropics. By my side on a table are placed cigars, a glass of iced claret and water, and a novel.

The view from the back rooms of the Hotel Belle Vue at Buitenzorg is famous. This afternoon I am looking at it for the last time, and it seems more wonderful than ever. Let me try to describe it.

Immediately in front is the great triangular mass of Mount Salak. The peak is 7000 feet above sea-level, and, like most of the Javan mountains, it rises to its full height almost clear from its base. The lower levels are luxuriantly covered with tropical forests, a covering which gradually thins and dwindles until the apex of the triangle stands out sharply against the sky. Between the hotel and the mountain there stretches a sea of waving treetops. In the distance it is deep blue; as it approaches it grows more and more green; then separate forms of palms and bamboos can be distinguished, with red-tiled or brown-thatched roofs showing between them. Immediately beneath me is the brown river Tjiliwong, with bamboo cottages on its banks and natives bathing in its waters.

Inside the courtyard no one is stirring. The dreamy silence is only broken by the voices that rise from the river below, by the clacking of the sarong weaver’s shuttle or the dull boom of a far-away tom-tom.

Under such circumstances the conditions necessary for perfect physical enjoyment are very fully realized. Yet it is at such moments that one is apt to reflect how unimportant are these material considerations compared with the advantages of strenuous and reasoned action. One longs for the stir of life as it is felt in the great centres of European population;

“Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.”

Well, I was going to see some European energy on the morrow. At Batavia an English resident had said, “When you are at Buitenzorg you should go on to Soekaboemi and see a coffee plantation.’ Subsequently he wrote that his friend H would expect me on Tuesday at his coffee plantation with an unpronounceable name in the Preanger district. The morrow was Tuesday.

Soekaboemi was only thirty or forty miles away, but I left Buitenzorg at eight o’clock in order to escape the discomfort of travelling in the middle of the day. It goes without saying that trains in the tropics do not carry you along as quickly as the Flying Dutchman or the Scotch express. But I found the carriages comfortable enough, being built in the American fashion, and furnished with Venetians to keep out the sun and let in the air. Except the station-masters, all the officials were Chinese or Javan natives. The guard who looked at my ticket wore the traditional peaked cap and cloth uniform, but over his European garments he had appended as usual his airy native costume. Of the four classes of carriages two are reserved for Europeans, one for Chinese, and one for the natives.

In leaving Buitenzorg I made the mistake of taking a first-class ticket. In the first place, the carriage had not been dusted, and a cooly came in and disturbed me with his brush. He made such a cloud of dust that I had to beat a retreat. On my return I found the carriage clean, but the dust transferred to my baggage. In the next place, all the Dutch officials, and the planters and their wives, were travelling second class, and I was left to enjoy (?) my compartment in solitary grandeur. Had there been any one in the carriage, I should have found out that Soekaboemi was not the right station for H ’s plantation. As it was I could open and shut windows at will, and I was free to make the best of my opportunities for sight-seeing an object towards which the slow pace of the train and the frequent and lengthy stoppages materially contributed. Indeed, the crowds of natives at the stations were as well worth studying as the mountains and plantations. I never saw elsewhere, even in Java, such rainbow mixtures of colours as they contrived to bring into their cotton jackets and dresses; and as for their plaited hats, there was every possible variety of shape and size, from an umbrella to a funnel.

For the first few miles the line ran southwards between Salak and Gede. On either side I could see stretches of mountain slopes luxuriously wooded, while the brown stream Tji Sadanie, a tributary of the Kali Besar, or “great river” of Batavia, playing hide-and-seek with the railroad, afforded more than one charming “bit” of river, tree, and mountain.

As we get away from the mountains the view widens. Masses of palms, dark green bamboos, and other tropical growths fill up the distance. In the foreground are irrigated rice terraces, with gleaming waters and the freshest of verdure. Here copper-coloured natives are at work. Men are ploughing the wet soil of the sawahs with buffaloes; women often with their babies slung on their backs with their long scarfs are hoeing, or weeding, or reaping. As the average monthly temperature does not vary more than two degrees all the year round in Java, the process of preparing the ground, sowing, and reaping go on simultaneously in the ricefields. Every now and then we come across a queer little Noah’s-ark cottage in the midst of bananas and bamboos, with a tall palm or two waving overhead. Salak remains long in sight. At first it towered in its pride of greatness, then it grew soft in the blue distance. At last the railway turns abruptly at Karan Tenjak, and it is gone.

As the train nears Soekaboemi the character of the country changes. Plantations of sugar in the level country and of tea on the uplands take the place of ricefields. The name Soekaboemi means “pleasant place,” and the town is the centre of the planting interest in Java. In its immediate neighbourhood are coffee, cinchona, and tea plantations.

At a quarter to eleven the train drew up in a large and excellently arranged station. I at once made my way outside. Here I looked in vain for the horses and coolies I expected to meet me. After waiting some moments, I confided my troubles to a bystander, addressing him in French, which is spoken by the Europeans in Java almost as much as Dutch. Fortunately Tji Wangi the unpronounceable name of H ’s plantation seemed to be well known, and he grasped the situation at once.

“You ought to have gone to Tji Reingass,” he said; “the coolies will be there.”

“How far am I from Tji Wangi? Is it within driving distance?” I inquired.


“Can I take a sadoe?”

“Yes, certainly.”

There were several sadoes outside the station at Soekaboemi. As my knowledge of Malay, the recognized language for communication between natives and Europeans, was strictly limited, I asked my new friend to find out if the Malay “boy” knew where Tji Wangi was. This he readily did, and told me that it was all right; that he would take me to Tji Wangi. So I got into the sadoe, expecting to be driven promptly to my destination.

But the thing was not so simple. After an hour and a half of driving over mountain roads, the Malay pulled up suddenly under the shelter of a wayside inn. While I was wondering why he stopped, he coolly took out my luggage and planted it in the middle of the road in front of the sadoe. After this very broad hint, I got out too.

“Mana Tji Wangi” ("Where is Tji Wangi")? I said.

For answer he pointed with his thumb over his shoulder to the mountain.

“Brapa lama” ("How long")?

“Suku jam” ("A quarter of an hour"), was the mendacious and unhesitating reply.

Meanwhile a cooly, who had been summoned from the ricefields, appeared upon the scene and took up my Gladstone bag. Nothing remained for me but to pay my mendacious Malay half the number of florins he demanded and follow my new guide.

As a matter of fact, Tji Wangi was ten miles away on the other side of the Goenoeng Malang, or Cross Mountain. This, of course, I did not know, and so I set off cheerfully up the side of the mountain. Although it was midday, the heat was not oppressive at this altitude (two thousand feet), and I was clothed for the tropics. When an hour had passed and there were still no signs of the plantation, I began to feel less cheerful. I stopped and interrogated the cooly. He smiled blandly. He at least was suffering from no misgivings. Like the young man in “Excelsior,” he pointed upwards. We met some natives; I accosted them with “Mana Tji Wangi?” They too pointed up the mountain. At any rate, we were travelling in the right direction. I noticed that the natives we met behaved very differently from the saucy sadoe-drivers in the towns. As we passed they stood on one side with their heads uncovered. When I spoke to them, they squatted down and sat with their legs tucked up under them and their hats off in a most uncomfortable way. I afterwards learnt that these traditions of Oriental etiquette were preserved by the Dutch and English planters in the interests of discipline. As the plantations are often long distances apart, the Europeans have to rely upon moral force to maintain their ascendency. Another half-hour passed and still no signs of Tji Wangi. We had met no Europeans, and I was beginning to get uneasy, when we came to a second inn.

Here I ordered a halt. The shade of the projecting roof was very welcome. My eyes could not reach the dark interior, but they ranged hungrily I had eaten nothing since my early breakfast over the edibles laid out in front. There were fruits and cakes, little messes of vegetables, dried fish, and other odd-looking delicacies on plates. I decided on a big bunch of bananas. In payment I gave a half-florin worth rather less than a shilling of English money and I received in return quite a handful of silver and copper coins. I concluded that bananas were not expensive in Java.

While I was eating my bananas, my cooly set to work to make a pikulan, or shoulder-piece. He took a long bamboo and stripped off the leaves and branches with his gaulok, a long knife which every native carries at his waist. By the aid of this contrivance borrowed from China the Javan natives carry burdens up to half a hundredweight without apparent exertion for long distances. The spring of the bamboo eases the pressure on the shoulder. On the same principle, an Australian carries his swag with a lurch forward.

While he was busied with the pikulan, the cooly talked over the affairs of the Tuan Ingris (English gentleman) to a crowd of natives. Suddenly I heard the word kuda. Fortunately kuda (horse) was one of the words I knew: and I at once ordered the kuda to be brought. Half a dozen natives set off to find it. It turned out to be a very diminutive pony, but I was not prepared to criticize.

We set out from the inn under brighter auspices. The cooly slung my Gladstone bag at one end of the pikulan, and another small bag, with a big stone to balance, at the other. He moved with an elastic step, as if there was no greater pleasure in the world than carrying bags up mountain paths, and beat the kuda hands down.

Relieved of the fatigue of walking, I could admire the mountain scenery. As we climbed higher and higher, the stretches of green country grew more extensive, and the blue mountains seemed to grow loftier in the distance. Once over the saddle of the mountain, we descended rapidly into a region of almost virgin forest. Ferns and large-leaved trees overhung the path; from the verdant undergrowth there sprang at intervals the vast round trunks of the rosamala trees. In the branches high above, and beyond the range of any gun, the wild pigeons fluttered and cooed. The spaces between the great trees were filled by a background of dense forest.

About five o’clock the red roofs of the plantation came in sight. In another five minutes I was being-welcomed with Anglo-Saxon heartiness. “Ah!” said H , as he looked at my little pony. “I sent you down a horse that would have brought you up within the hour. You should have gone to Tji Reingass; that is our station, not Soekaboemi. Johnston ought to have known. Come in.”

In H ’s comfortable den I soon forgot the various contretemps of my journey to Tji Wangi.