Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Riding the Rails Across Java...

This past weekend I had the opportunity to do something I've wanted to do for a while: ride the train from Jakarta to Jogjakarta. Trains are one of the best ways to see a county and I've been fortunate enough in the past to have ridden trains across the US, China, Japan, and Europe. So on Sunday I jumped at the chance to ride the Argo Dwipangga from Gambir station in Jakarta to Tugu Station in Jogja. The scheduled departure was at 8am, and according to my ticket arrival was set at 3.15pm in Jogja. I was surprised at this, since I've heard the trip is 8-9 hours. By 8.20am the train hadn't arrived, so I asked one of my fellow train-watchers about the ETA, pointing to the time printed on the ticket. My comrade-in-waiting responding simply by laughing at me.

Anyway, eventually the train arrived and we got underway, a mere half hour late. As the train rambled (an rambled) through the Jabotabek region I settled in for the long ride. Aside from the arctic temperatures within the train, it was on the whole clean and comfortable.

So what will you see? Well, for starters, rice, rice, and more rice. Java is one of the most densely populated areas on the planet, and has been for a while. To give you an idea, the densely-populated Japanese archipelago is almost 3 times as large as Java in terms of area, but has about 10 million fewer people. The intensive cultivation of rice on rich volcanic soils helps support all the people. Thus what you see from the train is a glimpse of a continuum that has been ongoing for millenia. And not to be too sentimental, but there is something about a verdant rice field that soothing and relaxing; maybe it's something primeval, a signal to the soul that there will be food for at least the near future. The rice comes in all forms and is cultivated year-round. You'll also see terraces which have been constructed to make maximum use of slopes and water resource

But there's more than rice. In the predominantly agricultural landscape you'll see tree crops like rubber, corn, sugar cane, and lots of horticultural products. Then there's the industriousness of the rural denizens; you'll see cottage industries including low-tech brick manufactories, tile works, and all sorts of things like that. You'll briefly see into the lives of villages and small towns as the train "rolls along past houses, farms and fields". You'll also cross a beautiful landscape dotted with volcanic mountains. For your viewing pleasure, I've included 1 1/2 minute movie clip taken with my lo-rez digicam. This is just a brief glimpse. Given the fact that the train was moving relatively quickly, it was hard to get good picture.

All in all riding the train is a lot of fun and worth the time. I recommend riding executive class for the comfort. It costs about $35 for the ride and the extra $7 or so is a good investment. There are several other routes you can take as well; I've included a map of executive-class trains below that I shamelessly lifted from Wikipedia.

What you'll need:
1. Parka. I know you guys in Hawaii probably don't know what a parka is, so I've included a picture for your reference. You need this because the air conditioning in the executive is cranked up so high that you'd think the water on your eyeballs would freeze. Maybe the executive class coaches double as a meat wagon.

2. MP3 player. It's a long trip, and it's nice to be able to break the monotony with some music. They show the same 2 (bad) music videos over and over as "in flight entertainment".

3. Some snacks. Bring along something to eat. Although the cabin attendants provide menus and all sorts of things to eat, it's nice to have some tim tam and water.

4. A good book. Preferably not on the topic of train derailments.

The Argo Dwipangga's scheduled departure from Jarkarta's Gambir station is 8am. I think it's probably a good idea to buy your ticked a couple of days in advance, especially during holiday periods. If you plan to travel at the end of Ramadan you can pretty much forget it, though.

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