After spending a day in Jakarta, we headed to Bogor for the next leg of our trip.
It takes about an hour to reach Bogor from Jakarta. But, you can add an extra hour and a half when the traffic builds up. We left Jakarta at noon and missed its infamous rush hour traffic by a couple of hours. I was happy to leave Jakarta and looked forward to sleepy (that’s what I thought back then) idyllic Bogor. I sipped Mama Roz’s carrot and orange extract and listened to Demi Lavato (& Clean Bandit) blare on the taxi radio. Towering urbanscapes slowly transformed into dense, green foliage. I felt optimistic.
Around Botani Square
Botani Square is at the heart of the city centre. It’s got a nice mall, IPB Convention Centre (the venue for Basil’s conference), a choice of luxury hotels, and Bogor’s biggest tourist draw: the Botanic Gardens. We spent the next 3 days in Bogor and decided to take each day as it comes. In hindsight, there couldn’t be a more terrible plan. Most tourist attractions require a day trip outside the city and guided tours are the best way to explore. Stay away from the city centre to escape the manic traffic it draws during rush hour. There’s a dimly lit underpass and a pedestrian bridge (inconveniently located), but most locals prefer crossing with buzzing cars around them. We tried it, but it can get scary during peak hours.
Our hotel (Amaroossa Royal) was located on the opposite side of Botani Square. At first, I was happy with its location. After a day in the hot sun, zipping traffic, and inconvenient crossings; I had change of heart.
Basil and I explored Botanic Gardens on the first day and on the next two days, I spent most of my time at the mall or reading Orhan Pamuk’s book. Sadly, during one of my pedestrian bridge crossing adventures, I was nearly robbed by Mr. QuickHands, and I couldn’t be more thankful to a stranger who saw it happen and had the presence of mind to shout, “Bag!”. I was too stunned to scream when I faced the man, who pretended as if nothing had happened. Now, this can happen anywhere, and I wouldn’t want to hold it against the place, and I tried to concentrate on the ‘good’ people I had met so far. But, it was never the same whenever I crossed the bridge or was alone. I felt more at ease in the mall and even had my first solo movie (Loving Pablo) outing.
The heat makes distances seem longer and I struggled to walk in the morning sun. Taxis are the most comfortable mode of transport. Most locals prefer angots (green minivans), ojeks (motorcycle rides), or buses. On our way to Botanic Gardens, we gave in to the heat, and stopped an angot. The driver was very friendly and spoke broken English. Inside, after Basil sat down, there wasn’t much space. It was round 7000 IDR (for 2 people) from Botani Square to the main entrance of Botanic Gardens.
Indonesian bloggers are pretty active on the blogging circuit and I found their tips to be quite helpful. I read about Chinatown (bang opposite the main entrance of the gardens) on a blog. We didn’t explore much and just saw the outer gates of the town.
There’s an entrance (Gate 4) next to Botani Square, but this entrance is open only on the weekends and public holidays.
So, we had to enter from the main entrance (Gate 1) of Botanic Gardens. There’s a visitor centre and I picked up an information brochure & map. The security is pretty strict because of the Presidential Palace inside.
Bogor Botanic Gardens was established during Dutch colonial rule, in 1817, by German Botanist, Casper Georg Carl Reinwardt. Back then, the gardens were known as ‘s Lands Plantentuin the Buitenzorg and were developed for studying and introducing economically viable plants to Indonesia.
Bogor Presidential Palace
We took a roundabout route to reach the Presidential Palace. In the morning, gardeners were busy mowing lawns and watering plants. They were kind enough to shut the sprinklers as we passed by. Water lilies glistened in the morning sun and added a pop of colour to the pond.
Bogor Presidential Palace was built for the governor general during Dutch colonial rule. Visitors aren’t allowed to enter the Palace (one of the six Presidential Palaces in Indonesia) and we had to make do with the scenic views on the outside.
Bogor’s King Tree
The King Tree, a member of the legumunosae family, is the tallest tree in Southeast Asia. We fell in love with the towering bark (disappearing way above us) and ginormous roots of the tree. The sun felt miles away under the shade of the towering tree.
The roots of the tree grow over the surface of the soil for easy absorption of nutrients. This tree was planted in 1914 and it must have seen history change dramatically around it.
We came across an ancient stone plaque and idols of Hindu gods.
We followed the inner trail of the gardens and discovered a secluded pond with a ginormous banyan tree. The shade kept us cool and it was a beautiful place to explore. It was hard to imagine the bustling city that lay outside this natural gem.
En route we spotted stunning flowers and picturesque themed gardens. We followed the trail — wherever our feet lead us.
The Meksiko Garden has a fantastic collection of cactii, a greenhouse, and flowering plants. This garden is adjacent to the busy street — on the other of the wall. I smiled at one of the gardeners and he said, “Madam beautiful”. I wondered if he was talking about the garden or me.
Without towering trees for protection, we had to face our nemesis: the sun. I like graffiti/street art, but I’m not a fan of vandals who write on garden plants (or heritage structures). Love is ephemeral and we’re only there until our bodies return to the earth, so what’s the point of writing down your name when it’s going to fade away someday? Who’s going to remember who you were or what you did?
Read before you sit!
We took a break in the shade and Basil checked his email while I flicked ants off the bench. Bogor is also known as the Rain City of Indonesia and I hoped for rain.
The Bridge Crossing
There’s a short bridge crossing that connects the Mexican Garden to the other side. I was a bit nervous to cross the suspension bridge and tried hard not to look below — until I reached safely to the other side.
Climbing Plants Collection
The ‘Creeping Forest’ had towering trees with creepers winding around them. We spotted a yellow oriole fly, but Basil wasn’t quick enough to capture it on camera.
The shade was a relief from the sun and we spotted another interesting bird. I don’t know its name, but it does a wonderful job of camouflaging itself with green leaves.
Searching for Rafflesia Patma
We followed the signboard that pointed towards Rafflesia Patma. We came across an interesting set of creepers and flowers along our way. We couldn’t find it and decided to turn back. This time, we followed another route that passed a settlement for forest officers. I only heard the (strong) rustling of leaves and Basil (he thinks) spotted a monitor lizard. Honestly, I was happy the lizard was scared and ran away — before I froze in fright. Basil was disappointed we couldn’t include Komodo National Park in our trip, but he was happy with this chance sighting, even if it was a smaller lizard.
It was too early for us to have lunch, but we couldn’t stand much longer in the heat. We walked around the green lawns of the Aquatic Garden.
The water lilies looked absolutely stunning.
Grand Garden Cafe
Grand Garden Cafe lies on the top of the hill and offers splendid views of the lawns below. Photographs of presidents, heads of state, and dignitaries adorn the walls of the restaurant. We were happy to get a place under the fan and eat another delectable meal.
Basil ordered Ayam Bakar Tali Wang & I ordered Nasi Goreng Ayam.
We had to retrace our path (back to main entrance) to exit the gardens because Gate 4 was shut and we missed Gate 3. En route, we saw a black squirrel on a tree and passed some houses. The local market, outside the Botanic Gardens, has a couple of souvenir and Batik shops.
Surprisingly, the sun sets very early (around 6 p.m.) in the month of July. We saw gorgeous sunsets almost every single evening.