indonesia corners

indonesia corners

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Trowulan Reopens Pages of ‘Historical Book’




Most of Indonesian students know about Majapahit Kingdom, but only a part of them know about Trowulan, and just a few have complete data and information about this historical site. The grandeur site of Trowulan is now overshadowed by development at the surrounding areas, but all ancient buildings and temples which are still preserved today can be the authentic proof of Majapahit’s beauty capital city in the past.  

Today, Trowulan historical site is still undergoing the process to become world heritage under the official recognition of UNESCO. While the process is going on, East Java government is now trying to excavate the artifacts buried by mud and ashes, to guard the site from being damaged by locals or outsiders.

Excavation at Trowulan site indicates that a part of ancient settlement was buried by river mud and volcanic ashes a few meters deep under the earth. Some archaeological sites could be found in Trowulan Sub-district. There we can find ancient buildings made of bricks and are now undergoing renovation. 

MaClaine Pont, one of the Indonesian history experts, through the map he made in 1924 interpreted the perpendicular network systems in Trowulan as road networks. However, in 1981 Coordinating Body for Surveys and Mapping (Bakosurtanal) interpreted them as discoloration anomaly of aerial surveillance photos caused by the buried water-canal networks used by locals to manage water governance system in XIV century.


Formally there is no excavation yet at the location in order to know how to design the ancient canal networks and its functions in those days. There are some reasons for the puzzles of this historical inheritance to be disclosed which covers 49 canal segments of 50 meters width perpendicularly intersected to each other. 

As supposed to be the capital city of Majapahit Kingdom covering the period of 1293 to 1518, Trowulan kept within the site measuring by 11 x 11 square kilometers a lot of historical artifacts, in the form of temples, bathtubs of noble elites, cemetery of kings and queens, remains of house buildings and the bordering wall of the capital city. 

A good reference can be gained from 15th century Chinese historical note describing that Majapahit palace was surrounded by brick-walls up to 10 meters high with double gates. Buildings inside the palace area were supported by wooden poles of 10-13 meters high with the floor covered with mats for common people to sit down. The roof was made of ebony planks while house roofs of common people were just made of palm fibers and straws. 


This confirmed Prapanca's historical book of Negarakertagama (1365) which described that Majapahit palace was surrounded by highly thick walls made of bricks. This Chinese account, therefore, can be taken as confirmation of other related details picture of the palace. Prapanca further illustrated that the main gate leading the palace, situated at the north, was big and made of carved iron. In front of the gate there was a long building intended for annual meeting with high officials. Next to it was a market and a holy crossroad. At certain spots there were some small posts where palace guards were always ready to do their duties.

When one made his entry into north gate entrance, he could find a yard surrounded by holy buildings. At the west side of the yard there were clusters of houses for palace guards constructed on terraces. Another gate leading to the next yard was a great hall, intended for guests waiting for their turn to meet the king. The king’s residence within the palace complex located at the east side of the yard near the great hall, consisting of a few pavilions and verandas made of carved bricks. The building was supported by the carved wooden poles quite high and big. Just outside the complex there were buildings for Shiva and Buddhist monks, family members of the kings and high officials. A little bit outside, separated by a big yard, there was another complex of royal buildings, one of which became the residence of Gajah Mada, the commander of the Armed and Navy Forces of the kingdom.

Ruins of Trowulan ancient city were discovered in 19th century. In his report, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, who served as Java Governor from 1811 to 1816, pointed out: “There are ruins of temples … spreading for miles at this region.”  But since the forest was so dense packed with teak wood, additional surveys and more detailed study were impossible. Nonetheless, Raffles, who was very interested in Javanese history and culture, was definitely fascinated by what he saw and dubbed Trowulan as “The Pride of Java”.


A bad news came in 2013 that a local regent has issued a decree allowing for the construction of a steel factory right at the site which normally must be preserved. After undecided matter, fortunately Sukarwo, East Java governor, determined that any construction at the site would only damage this historical heritage, and so he banned it for good.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

High-Speed Train, Pros and Cons



The railway transportation portrait in Indonesia was always associated with crowded passengers squatting on the top of the carriages and illegal ragged shelters at railway banks and illegal stalls occupy the station platform and parking lots. 

Public attitude used to consider public service should be cheap and doesn’t concern with the resulting low revenue and insufficient operation cost that may deteriorate the related service. 

The railway situations in the country degrades and many railway tracks considered as uneconomic were dismantled.  Barely new tracks and new stations have been built in the country since the independence day. The moral of railway personnel were so degraded that it becomes a public secret that many railway employees feel at ease dealing with the stalls and the shelter owners to gain some regular petty cash as though their behavior is a normal one. 


However, there was a change on the people mindset that such permissiveness towards the indiscipline of the part of the society even though on behalf of the poor cannot be continued. The slums which have grown at the railway banks and illegal stalls within the station area gradually were eradicated. In last several years the train management has set electronic means (e-ticket) at 63 stations in Jabodetabek in order to reduce illegal passengers.

However, as compared to other countries which have already jumped operating high-speed train (HST), we are still looked as though crawling using outmoded locomotive and carriage. You just name it: Japanese Sinkansen bullet train, France TVG-high speed train, or German Inter-city Express (ICE) train which can ran very fast at more than 350 km per hours.

And today the government wants to make giant leap that nobody dares to imagine before. It looks as though we just jump from stony age into the modern age. The government now is very aggressive and a little bit ambitious to build and develop the infrastructure widely throughout the country. Indonesia wants to follow the advanced countries to develop the high-speed train hoping that it could accelerate the regional development in accordance with Transit Oriented Development (TOD) plan.


The first project selected was Jakarta-Bandung track. The kick-off for this first HST project took place on January 21, 2016, on which event President Jokowi inaugurated the groundbreaking ceremony. The HST will connect Halim in Jakarta, Karawang, Walini and Tegal Luar in Bandung Regency, covering the distance of 141 km in 35 minutes with USD 20 ticket price. There will be around 40 round trips a day carrying 583 passengers per trip or around 24,000 passengers per day. The inter-city railway track with the destination to the stations of high-speed train, called Light Rail Transit (LRT), will also be constructed.

The constructor of HST costing around USD 5.600 billions will be China Railway International joining with a consortium named PT Pilar Sinergi BUMN Indonesia (PSBI) consisting of PT Kereta Api Indonesia, PT Wijaya Karya, PT Jasa Marga and PT Perkebunan Nasional VIII. It is expected that the project will be completed in 2018 and fully operated in 2019.

As a new project it is normal that there are still pros and cons. One of the objections is that there are too many stops for such short distance of 141 km that make the train can never gain its full speed instantly. There is also issue on the use of National Budget because so many State-owned companies taking part in the project. 


The government is firm to continue the project not only for Jakarta-Bandung track but other longer distance such as Jakarta-Surabaya, in big islands such as Kalimantan, Papua and Sulawesi, as long as the project is viable and the fund is available.  

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Degrading Roles of Bosscha Observatory



We live in a lonely green planet as part of solar system  looked insignificant in the midst of Milky Way which itself looked as insignificant shining spot among the very vast super-cluster galaxies. Why we live in such a “remote” little planet? Do we live in a special place within the grand cosmos? This old question is unanswered until today. 

This is the astronomical science is for. To observe the vast heaven above us, we need  technology. Without modern telescopes and other observatory equipments and most of all without astronomers, no way we can answer such human curiosity. 

The world knows well about Mount Palomar Observatory operated for the first time in 1936 by California Institute of Technology. But hardly people know that before Palomar Observatory was founded, Indonesia then Dutch East-Indies had already operated an observatory in Lembang, Bandung in 1925, the first of its kind in southern hemisphere. 


Karel Albert Rudolf Bosscha, the owner of Malabar tea plantation in West Java, and an astronomer Joan George Erardus Gjisbertus Voute, two persons with significantly different occupations, cooperated in building the observatory. Having realized that no development of observation in southern hemisphere, Voute took the initiative to establish an observatory in South Africa but having no support from the local government, he then moved to Dutch East-Indies.  

His old friend Bosscha, although a simple agribusiness man, agreed to support the idea and was able to collect one million guilders from his pocket money in early 1920s to buy the optical lenses and supporting equipments in Europe under the supervision of Leiden Observatory. He successfully convinced Ursone brothers, his fellow cattle breeders, living in Lembang to donate their 6 hectares land in surrounding areas at 1310 meters above the sea level on which the observatory, then coined as Bosscha Observatory, was constructed.

The observatory was operated by Nederlandsch-Indische Sterrenkundige Vereeniging (NISV) who issued its first publication in 1933. In 1951 NISV handed over the whole ownership and operation of the observatory to Indonesian Government. The government gave rights to Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) to operate it in 1959.

The observatory was completed with 5 telescopes, each of which has its own functions. In general, currently the telescopes are intended to observe the orbits of double stars, of Milky Way including novas and supernovas, of star spectrums, to make photometry of star eclipse and to examine the new moon for the fasting month. There is also a radio telescope with the diameter of 2.3 meters operating at the frequencies of 1400 to 1440 MHz to examine distant galaxies and quasars.

In the early 1960s, UNESCO donated Schmidt telescope to observe the Milky Way. In 1989, the Japanese Government donated Cassegrain Goto telescope to measure the strength of stellar light. The donation was given through Overseas Development Agency (ODA) Program. Unfortunately, people now construct too many houses surrounding the area where it becomes the public settlement. As the consequence the place becomes too bright at night against the astronomers need for minimum light to optimize the observation. 


In 2008 the government stipulated it as one of the vital objects, and under the law No 2/1992 it became the cultural heritage that must be protected and conserved. The observatory got international awards in the early 2010s, when four of its previous directors – Bambang Hidayat, Moedji Raharto, Dhani Herdiwijaya and Taufiq Hidayat – were coined as the names of asteroids by the Association of International Astronomy. 

The Bosscha Observatory – once was an important center of scientific research – ideally should regain its position as the leading observatory from the southern hemisphere. We all are responsible to find out solution on how to empower, re-strengthen and renew it to catch up with current developments. One of the most important factors to elevate the status of the observatory is to increase the government attention especially Indonesian Science Body (LIPI) towards  the welfare of the astronomers and the one and only astronomy education in ITB. 

As the observatory has only slightly been upgraded, the role of Bosscha observatory becomes insignificant. This situation is aggravated as other southern hemisphere nations such as Australia and South America built ultra-modern telescopes.


As a grand nation with big population such as Indonesia, we need a thoroughly upgrade Bosscha observatory and the construction of a new modern one. It should be built at a site far from the populated city, quite high above the sea level. Such a location can be easily selected somewhere in the Archipelago but unfortunately the government puts the funding of such requirement into low priorities if not none. 

The hope now lies on the loan of grant from the international scientific society or from the helping-hands of Indonesian tycoons, as the case of Bosscha who are willing to donate necessary fund, for which their names can be coined to the new observatory. But so far we have never heard about local tycoons who donated something for the progress of the science let alone the development of the observatory. 

Who among you, especially the Indonesia tycoons who are interested on science and want to follow the good deed of Karel Albert Rudolf Bosscha around hundred years ago.