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Bandah Aceh


With Aaron's "mate" proving to be the only taxi driver around, it was a pricey ordeal getting back to the ferry pier on Pulau Weh despite there being 3 of us. Despite clearly agreed pricing he still had the audacity to push for more which really deserved an arse kicking under the circumstances, he held the already lucrative monopoly and he knew it. Back over on the slow ferry again and straight onto a Bemo, I found myself a crummy but cheap hotel after all, courtesy of a recommendation from one of the Germans, hitting upon a preserved DC-3 mounted in a park during the wild goose chase to find it. Practicalities took priority, with a chicken curry and omelette with Sprite rounded off very nicely with habitually oversweet but excellently smooth and rich Sumatran coffee, and all for less than a quid. I stocked up on mosquito coils, plasters, a new diary (it filled up fast!) and gaffer tape for odd jobs, before heading out forlornly for the State Museum of Aceh which was predicted to be closed. It was a refreshing surprise then to find it as such but only for lunch, and I filled in the gap until re-opening with a wander down to the nearby Gondangon "pleasure garden", invested by Sultan Iskandermuda in the early 17th century. I had stumbled across his tomb on the way, lying in what I tentatively translated to be a "peace park" despite the row of cannons and field guns, and there were other stone sarcophogi of what I learned had been the Bugis royal dynasty. The local gatekeeper boy wasnt able to explain anything beyond the one rare storyboard in English at Gondangon, but it told of the adjacent "man made mountain" of unspecified purpose. It looked like a crown of sorts coated in sugar icing and clambering up it revealed no further secrets as to its usage, perhaps it was just a folly inspired by the wish to be closer to Allah. Next to it sat an empty quadrangle similarly devoid of obvious purpose, but it had once been a royal graveyard enclosure and references to the interred revealed an episode of intermarriage with the Malay Sultanates. From there I made the practical move of jumping in a Bemo for the bus terminal to check out onward transport for the next day, only to discover that it didnt run from there. Then being given the runaround by another overeager Bemo driver, I ended up going in the wrong direction. They seemed to operate in loops and maybe it was his intention to take me the long way around, but with the town petering out I opted to jump out in frustration and just retrace my pointless journey in the blazing burning sun. My long slog was tempered by the habitual frequent "Hey mister!" from very friendly locals and the chance to witness some very poor quality post tsunami housing settlements. My Ozzie NGO informee had related how though originally intended as temporary shelters, that was an unrealistic policy and ranks of teensy slapdash huts I found were already a slum. Some developments were said to have been unfit for habitation right from their inception, such was the culture of corruption which allowed successive contractors to secure the job only to pass it on after taking a cut for their pocket. Among my many admirers were the army of construction workers, it was like Bangladesh all over again. By the time I reached the museum I was left with less than an hour to whizz round it, dripping in sweat, with first the architecturally pleasing Rumoh Aceh outside, a traditional wooden palace finely decorated with yellow trim. As ever, I got shoved out by the caretaker within a minute and so only got brief glimpses of the royal chambers decorated with wall tapestries and a deers head, and then the museum short changed me again by closing 10 minutes early.


After a few Homo Erectus skulls, a faunal section of indiginous species showed a Pygmy Elephant, a Honey Bear and a Sumatran Tiger, all presented to look ridiculously ferocious. There was a Python, a Monitor Lizard over 1 metre long as well as an Estuarine Crocodile and curiously the White Crocodile. A small spotted cat tackling a snake was perhaps a Civet Cat and other more notable residents were the Pangolin (Scaly Anteater) looking like an Armadillo, and the Kancil (Mouse Deer), the size of a cat with incredibly thin legs. Various squirrel species included the very large black Winged Squirrel and a type of Kingfisher with a very large pointy beak akin to an Australian Kookaburra. A solitary inscribed stone found near here recently is written in old Tamil characters, dating it to the 11th century Chola dynasty, though its transcription is unclear and still under investigation. Whickerwork included many backpack type baskets used in the Gayo Highlands of central Aceh, and there were examples of a sugar cane press, paddy field style woven pointy hats and a "caterpillar scoop" used as a hand net I guessed. Cannons bearing Arab inscriptions were unusual and amongst the usual armaments collection was a Rattan woven protective vest, also many elaborate daggers known as Rencongs used in Acehnese ceremonies. Their handles were unusual in invariably having a right angle in them akin to a walking stick, some spliced to resemble a ducks bill. Banda was founded under Sultan Alaiddin Mahmud Shah who reigned 1267 to 1309, becoming the seat of the Darusalaam Kingdom. Merchants from the West brought Islam and it quickly became a dissemination centre for the faith, growing in importance after the Portugese seizure of nearby Melaka. The evolution of it as a trading crossroads resulted in scattered settlements hereabouts which remained nationalist in character, there were Portugese, Javanese, Gujarat, Arab, Bengali and even Peruvian townships. This ensured Aceh's development until its zenith in the 16th-17th centuries when it became a renowned political, economic, cultural and Islamic centre for all of South East Asia, ranked on a par with Damascus, Agra and Esfehan. The Acehnese resisted repeated persistent attempts at colonial subjugation but finally in 1873 the Dutch succeeded in seizing the Darud Dunia (Royal Palace) here and changed the city's name to Kutaraja. Upon independence it became Bandah Aceh (Aceh Port), having served as a resistance centre and one time seat of the newfounded nationalist government. The more contemporary Merdeka movement was glazed over but it was stated that Aceh would continue to defend its newly attained "Serami Mekkah" (Islamic law). It quaintly tailed off with "the proofs are needed to be conserved for next generation. These proofs should not be considered as old story or tale leading to sleep only". A final storyboard related how a Mr. James London, Governor General of the Dutch East Indies generated the policy of confrontation with the Acehnese 1872-73, which caused political turmoil back in the Netherlands. And thats as far a I got with the museum before getting the boot.

In the throes of getting kicked out upon closure, a quick glance revealed that confrontation with the Dutch had endured on and off for decades, with a major campaign here in the 1870s, and the Kerkhof Dutch cemetery opposite Gondangon had related lists of regular casualties dating up to as late as 1909. Photos at the museum surreally showed Dutch colonial outfits looking very World War I. How that conflict had affected the Acehnese situation remained a mystery but I could wager that a museum in Jakarta would better complete the tale. A quick rubberneck upstairs revealed a cultural collection of predictable traditional costumes and artifacts and so happy that I had seen the main points of interest I let myself off with that.

Back at my friendly fleapit hotel it was as quick as I could get into the Mandi shower and wash away a days worth of sticky grime, also trickily scraping the scruffiness off my face using the Mandi ladle and a broken mirror. Even here the mosquitos plagued me. Suitably refreshed, I ensconced myself in front of the table fan to clear up a few chores. First I fashioned a more compact and durable cover to protect my Lonely Planet, they tended to become dishevelled very quickly especially with sweaty paws, and I was very happy with my innovation from another hardback book cover, it now fitted very nicely into my day bag. I strengthened in similar fashion the box for my mosquito coils since they tended to break into useless pieces in the crush of my bag. I could also now afford to edit my photos since I had access to electricity again to recharge my batteries, such were the small but crucial considerations I had to constantly keep in mind. Having sussed the hard way that only minibuses ran to Takengon, it was a relative cinch in the city centre to secure a ticket for a next morning departure, though the language barrier was still proving tricky. Job done though, I then opted to search out a precious rare net cafe the other side of the river, and though it eluded me I discovered a more up-market quarter where the NGOs had clearly bred a legacy of KFC, Pizza Hut and more aggressive Becak drivers. An atmospheric open air food court blessed me with a very good and cheap fish dinner, all in all a very productive day despite there being no booze to be had.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Indonesia

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