18 July 2009

The Banjar - Cijulang Tour

Construction of the Banjar-Cijulang branch line started in 1911. The first section, about 31 kilometres down to Kalipucang, was opened in December 1916. The second section to Parigi was finished in January 1921, while the short extension to Cijulang was officially opened in June 1921. The railway line was mainly built by the Netherlands Indies colonial government to open up the then isolated East Priangan (Preanger) region and to carry the surplus copra produced in that area. It is also believed that the line had a military purpose, and was part of a planned railway route along Java’s southern coast, from Bayah in the west to Banyuwangi in the east.

One of the reasons it took such a long time to build this relatively short line was because many bridges and viaducts had to be built and many tunnels had to be dug. Along the 83 kilometres line there are at least four tunnels and three long viaducts. Hundreds of workers died of malaria and other diseases building the line. The situation became so bad that the Staatsspoorwegen (SS) , the State Railway Company, in its 1916 report stated that no workers were willing to work on the project.

Part of the line skirts the deep blue Indian Ocean. Many people believe that the Indian Ocean is the abode of the mythical Queen of the South Sea. The combination of gorges, ravines, jungle and ocean makes it one of the most scenic railway lines in Indonesia.

On 4 and 5 July 2009 a group from the Indonesian Railway Preservation Society (IRPS) made a trip along the disused line. The group visited three of the four tunnels and two of the longest viaducts. Unfortunately, since the whole line had been closed for more than two decades, the tour had to be made by bus and (naturally) on foot.

The trip started early in the morning of 4 July with short tour of Banjar Station and its former engine shed. This station dates from 1894 but renovated in 1949 after sustaining heavy damage in the war of independence. This busy former junction is on the Bandung- Yogyakarta mainline. The shed is more or less abandoned, but the turntable is still workable.

The next stop was Banjarsari Station. This station was built in 1911, at about the same time the Banjar-Kalipucang line was built. In 1986 the closure of the Banjar-Pangandaran line also meant that this station, together with the other stations and halts along the line, became redundant. Earlier, in 1984, the Pangandaran-Cijulang line had already been closed. The reasons given were the poor condition of the bridges and viaducts and the large number of non-paying passengers. This, of course, is a reflection of the bad management of the railways. In 1995 there were plans to reopen the line, and the tracks up to Banjarsari had actually been rehabilitated, but the economic crisis in 1997 stopped the project on its track.

The group did not spend much time at Banjarsari, because except for the station building ( now used as a house), nothing much of the railway remains. We continued our journey to the Hendrik tunnel. This 128 meter tunnel is now part of a local road connecting villages in the area. It is named after Prince Hendrik, husband of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands (r.1890-1948). We walked into the tunnel, and came out on the other side. After a short walk further down the road, we saw a magnificent sight, the Cikacepit viaduct. Even though a closer look showed that many parts have been vandalized, it was still impressive, with its nearly 300 meters span and high trestles spanning the deep ravine below it.

It is interesting that in the book published to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Staatsspoor- en Tramwegen (State Rail- and Tramway Company) in 1925 there is no mention of Cikacepit. However, it shows a drawing of it, with the explanation that it is the “bridge over the Tji Pembokongan ravine on the Bandjar-Parigi line”. Strangely, the name Tji Pembokongan (Cipembokongan) is totally unknown today.

After a fifteen minute trip along the main road, the bus stopped at the edge of another ravine. We were going to see two more tunnels, about 400 meters straight below the road, only accessible by a narrow trail. It started to drizzle and the narrow path had become slippery, so some people decided not to go down. At the bottom of the path on our left we were met by the northern opening of the Wilhelmina Tunnel, known locally as Sumber Tunnel. At the other end of the tunnel Sumber Station used to stand, but nothing remains of it. Having a length of 1208 meters, Wilhelmina Tunnel is the longest railway tunnel in Indonesia. It is, appropriately, named after the reigning queen of the Netherlands at the time of its completion in 1916. We were not allowed to enter, however; besides being full of snakes, lizards and insects, it was feared that there was poisonous gas inside the tunnel.

We then turned to the right. After about 300 meters we entered the Juliana Tunnel, known as Terowongan Bengkok (Curved Tunnel) by the local people. As its names suggests, this 147 meter tunnel is curved. It is named after Princess Juliana, who became Queen of the Netherlands in 1948 when her mother Queen Wilhelmina abdicated. Here, we were allowed to enter and see the viaduct on the other side of the tunnel. This unnamed viaduct directly leads to the Cikacepit viaduct.

After struggling along the slippery trail back up to the road where our bus was parked, we continued our journey to Ciputrapinggan. But first, we had lunch at a Sundanese style restaurant. Our simple but delicious menu consisted of roasted chicken, three kinds of sambal , steaming white rice and lots of fresh, raw vegetables. This lunch was much needed, because after that we had to go up another a hill, which was just a few meters behind the restaurant. The going up was quite steep, but fortunately not too high. And the view of the Ciputrapinggan viaduct once we got to the top of the hill was simply breathtaking.

We decided that we had to go down and have a closer look at the viaduct, and also go to the beach which looked so inviting.

We started the second day rather early by watching the sun rise at the beach just in front of our hotel at Batukaras Cove, followed by a swim in the sea before breakfast. The evening before, we had a hearty dinner of different kinds of fish at a beach side restaurant. Batukaras reminded me of Bali in the 1970s. It is still relatively quite, with only three small hotels, mainly catering to surfers. Our hotel was very basic, with no air-conditioning and no television (who needs it, anyway, in such a place), but clean and very comfortable.

After a leisurely breakfast, we prepared ourselves for the second day tour. The second day was not as dedicated to railways as the first day. The only railway related sites were the two stations, Cijulang Station (the end of the line) and Pangandaran Station. Cijulang Station is still the original 1921 structure, while Pangandaran Station is a newer one dating from 1948. Earlier, we took a boat cruise along Cukang Taneuh, or ‘Green Canyon’, a river gorge surrounded by luxurious vegetation and strange rock formations. And at the end of the day before returning to Banjar, we made a short stop at the popular Pangandaran Beach.


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Mahmood said...

Your blog is very nice. The photographs are very beautiful. Wish you all the best. God is Great.


Tjahjono Rahardjo said...

Thanks, charmedwishes and Mahmood. I appreciate your comments

bangrudy said...

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Tjahjono Rahardjo said...

Thank you bangrudy.

bodie said...

Really wonderful blog Pak. Almost everyweek I see around those places. When will come to see around Pak ?