Old Tractor Tour? (Part 3)

After 2 days in Solo area, it is time for us to head back to East Java to resume our research.  It’s Monday 18th April 2016 and it is our last day in Solo, before we head back to Surabaya. I woke up very early in the morning to have breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant. Today I took a slightly different menu: Nasi Goreng (fried rice) and sausages.

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Although Nasi Goreng in most hotels is no match to those at street side food stalls, this one is actually tasted nice. But the texture is not perfect as the rice is moist and sticky, not really suitable to make Nasi Goreng.

Contrary to yesterday, today the hotel seemed to be rather deserted.

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There was no one else other than me and the hotel employees in the restaurant. The hotel is nearly deserted! Is it a trend in this city where hotels are deserted in Monday morning?

After I finished my breakfast, I return back to my room to prepare myself for the return journey.

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Once all of my belongings are packed, I head down to the lobby.

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Upon arriving at the lobby, I found that Cristophe and his fiancée have just finishing their breakfast.  We checked out from the hotel, and hail a taxi that took us to Solo Balapan Railway station.

It’s not very crowded in the station, and getting into the platform was a breeze.

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In one of the station’s track there is a trainset consisting of brand new 2016 built coaches. There are some buzzes regarding of these coaches.

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Notably their brand new bogie suspension design, which is said to be revolutionary.

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Although new, some already criticized their interior designs that resemble commuter train, which obviously not comfortable for long distance trip.

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At around 07.40, our train from Yogyakarta eventually arrives, and it too depart according to the schedule at 07.45.

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What I like about taking morning Sancaka express train from is the fact that its schedule hardly time-consuming, it doesn’t depart too early from Solo, and arriving at Surabaya just before midday.

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As soon as we arrive in Surabaya, my brother picks me up to take us to travel around Surabaya. First we have a lunch at one restaurant which near railway track. This restaurant is well known for its duck, and this is one of its popular menus: “Bebek Puteri Madura”

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Once we finished our lunch, we head to Tulangan sugar mill. This mill is one of a few sugar mills which still use 19th century engines. But since our visit is rather impromptu, we are only allowed to visit its locomotive shed. It’s no problem, as we are not going after steam engines after all.

Upon arriving, we were greeted by friendly shed master. He introduced himself to us as pak Yayak. He has worked in this mill for almost 20 years. He initially works as a locomotive driver before climbing up his rank.

He reminisces the days when the field lines were still in operation. He said that back then Tulangan’s field lines goes all the way into Porong, next to the now abandoned tollway which is now buried under the mud flows.

Although located at close proximity with two other mills whose operated narrow gauge railway network, Tulangan field lines were not interconnected with both of them as it ran on narrower gauge (600mm).

Since the rural villages around Tulangan become increasingly urbanized, thanks to the Surabaya and Sidoarjo metropolitan expansion, the small roads around the area have become increasingly busier. Even the construction of tollway doesn’t just cutting parts of Tulangan sugarcanes fields, it also creating new urban areas. And this made the narrow gauge railway activities around the area a nuisance.

After many complaints from local people from the area (that’s what the mill management said, I believe in reality it was due to pressure from truck owners and stingy mill managers) the Tulangan’s field lines network were closed at the end of 2004 harvesting season.

Since then, Tulangan’s fleet of diesel locos, with their distinctive red body and blue skirt color, sees very little use. In fact these days, they are relying on tractors to provide motive power for sugarcane wagons in here.

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Ironically, the mill’s management is keen to create heritage themed tourism in their mill premises. In my opinion such effort would be very much in vain, considering that in the past couple of years this mill have vandalized many historical artifacts in their possession. Even their fleet of steam locomotives was scrapped in 1990s! And to add the pain, just like most sugar mills who have abandoned their railway, they’re proud by the fact that they have get rid of them! Not to mention many historical buildings around the mill which have largely been demolished, so what sort of “heritage tourism” this mill will offer then?

One derelict diesel loco which is parked right in front of the shed drew our attention.

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We have never seen this type of diesel locomotive before, and this one looks rather unique.

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Upon closer inspection, we found out that this locomotive was built by Orenstein & Koppel.

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This locomotive looks so old that even its driving console seemed to be as antiquated as the Deutz that we saw at Gondang Baru.

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When I see the builder plate in the cab, I found out that this loco was built in 1961. Not as old as I initially thought.

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We opened the engine hood to look at its engine. Unlike the one that we saw at Tasikmadu, this locomotive is powered by O&K’s native engine. Not Deutz product.

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Just like other remaining locomotives in Tulangan, this locomotive has been retired and no longer in use. It seemed that this loco was withdrawn even before the field lines network were closed.

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We also wandering around the yard to see what are left. These days, only the circular railway lines inside the compound are left. The rail to field lines used to branched off from this area and goes into the weighbridge in the background and beyond into the sugarcane field around the mill.

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Since they are likely to use tractors to push or haul the wagons, the track that lead to the locomotive shed (the building with the open door) have even been removed. Should the need to deploy the locomotive arise, what they will do is installing temporary track to allow the locomotive to go out.

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Wider angle view with the track that goes to former field lines can be seen branched to the right of the picture and partly buried in the asphalt.

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Since it is off harvesting season, all of the wagons are parked in the yard, waiting for their duty which will commence once the harvesting season started.

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Since there was very little to be seen on locomotive shed Cristophe asking whether if there are any other old diesel engines around here. The shed master showed us to the pumping station on the riverside.

Inside pumping station, there are several Deutz diesel pumping engines. They are mostly dating back from 1960s or 1970s and came in several variety. Some of them looks familiar to Cristophe, but other are totally new to him.

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Since there are nothing left to be seen, we bade farewell to the mill’s employee and return back to Surabaya.

On our way back, Cristophe is asking whether if we can travel through some scenic countryside. I granted his wish, and we traveled through a small narrow road to the east of Tulangan sugar mill. (Note this photo was taken a few months prior to this trip, but the location is the same).

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Judging by its appearance, it is obvious that this road was built on what used to be the roadbed of field lines! And there are hardly any traffic, let alone built up area! So any claim that the railway traffic causing nuisance, or the sugarcane field have largely been converted into built up areas are unfounded!

It is unfortunate that our visit to Tulangan have partly been a disappointment. The fact that there are very little to be seen on railway or old tractor aspect does let us down.

But we do hope that tomorrow exploration could bring some consolation.

TO BE CONTINUED

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Old Tractor Tour? (Part 2)

It’s Sunday on 17th April 2016. This morning we have an ample of time before we start our tour.

After I woke up, I head downstairs to have a breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant. The restaurant was very packed: there was group of people from Jakarta who were vacationing in Surakarta, and all of them had a breakfast together. So the restaurant was really packed, and I struggled to find seat.

I look at the breakfast buffet menu, and quite disappointed by the lack of variety. Yes I know it’s a budget hotel, but they supposed to provide some lighter items that my stomach can digest in the morning. So I took sausage and potato that they served. The sausage is just mediocre, while the potato is just too starchy.

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After I finished my breakfast, I head out to the jalan Slamet Riyadi main street nearby to see the Car Free Day event. Upon walking out, I can see the Novotel hotel which is located just next to our hotel.

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Every Sunday, the main thoroughfare of Solo is closed from motorized traffic and used as pedestrian area.

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The occasion is used by local communities to showcase their stuffs, such as this peregrine falcon.

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There are also some people who asked for signature from passersby to support Indonesia’s first Formula 1 racer, whom himself is also native of Surakarta.

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In some places, there is also some traditional dance performance, such as this Dayak dance from Kalimantan, performed by Kalimantan students who studied at the local university.

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But other than that, we can just simply walking around in the middle of the street and enjoying the quietness of this city, a trait that this place was once known for.

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Some traditional food vendors also using the opportunity to sell their foods or merchandise, such as this old lady who sell satay.

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After withdrawing my money in the bank, I head back to the hotel where on the way I catch up with Christophe who has also returning from Car Free Day. He is impressed by the way such event is held, as he never saw such thing in Bangkok.

We are returning back to the hotel soon after. And upon arriving at the hotel, some people can be seen swimming in the hotel’s pool. It looks like a nice time to have a dip in the pool, but our tour starting time is near, and beside that we didn’t bring any swimming trunk with us.

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When we are about to enter the hotel, we saw this sign, which say that this hotel was inaugurated by Mr. Joko Widodo. He was the Mayor of Surakarta at the time this hotel was opened in 2008, and now he is the President of Indonesia!

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Upon returning back to my room, I had a shower first. My body was drenched in sweat, as if I was melting! After I finished shower, I sat on the working table in the room and enjoying the scenery. It was already past 9am, and the car free day have ended and the road reopened for motorized traffic.

Yet somehow I also see a group of protesters walking down the street. I was wondering what they were up to on Sunday?

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And one unique feature of jalan Slamet Riyadi is the fact that not all motorized vehicle that passing through the street are road vehicle. Every day there is also a railbus from Wonogiri who plying the street running section.

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It’s still 20 minutes to go before the tour commence, so I sit back and relax while enjoying the scenery out there.

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Once the tour commencement time near, I dressed up and head to the lobby where Cristophe and his girlfriend later come and meet me.

Our car arrived on time at 10.30am, and we head straight to Tasikmadu sugar mill. It wasn’t very difficult to go there as the road are rather empty. Upon arriving there, we were greeted by the steam locomotive who hauling tourist coaches.

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Interestingly, unlike my last visit in here, this time they reverted back to the old open air coach for the tourist train. Where are the VIP coaches?

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Upon arriving at the gate, we were greeted by pak Megantoro, the head of the theme park, and also my friend who lives nearby: Ariawan Sulistya. He is glad that I can return back to his theme park again. And Ariawan is also happy that he can finally accompany me again, after some failures to catch up in my previous visits. He is showing us that all of the locos in the park have recently been repainted. He said that the color selection was done with the consultation with German railway enthusiasts who happen to know the loco’s original color.

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Apparently to “Doon” tram engine have also been repainted with the similar color.

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Just for your reference, this engine is the twin of “Si Mbah” that we saw in Gondang Bar, unless it was withdrawn much earlier, probably in 1950s. And unlike “Si Mbah” which was mainly employed for freight dutiest, this loco was exclusively used to haul VIP royal inspection train from Solo to here.

Of course the main attraction of this place is the real steam working around the theme park.

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But Cristophe is not really interested with the steam loco, and keen to see the sole diesel loco used for the amusement train.

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As we opened the engine compartment, we found out that this loco is using Deutz engine! This is an air cooled engine, so there is no radiator, and instead there is a large turbine which is used to pump in fresh air to assist cooling.

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Pak Megan introduced us to the head diesel mechanic who happens to be there. He is pretty much the expert of the diesel loco in here. He said that this loco is highly reliable. And maintaining the loco is not very difficult as the spare parts are easy to obtain. The exception being the wet clutch which is rather expensive and difficult to obtain.

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Contrary to popular belief that I heard in some sugar mills in East Java (some of them even still retaining their field lines) maintaining the old German diesel locos are not that difficult, their spare parts are readily available in the market and not costly to purchase. Then why do some sugar mills over there change the original European engines with Japanese ones with excuses such as cheap parts?

The mechanic also told me that this 1966 built locomotive is robust and reliable.

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Had Tasikmadu field lines are still in place, this loco would have been the best choice (for diesel category) to work in the field.

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The fact that the loco can go run around for several times a day without any glitch is a proof on how reliable the loco is.

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Okay, now it’s time to get more serious.

The first agricultural vehicle (of sorts) that we explore is this old steam roller. This vehicle wasn’t actually used for any agricultural activities around the Tasikmadu’s estate. Instead, it was used for road construction and repair, and possibly field lines roadbed construction.

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Christophe wasn’t too interested with this, and asked if there are any other old agricultural vehicles around here. Pak Megan showed us there is one tractor which is claimed to be the oldest in the mill. He said that the mill itself doesn’t possess any tractors as they are mostly owned by local farmers. And those too are mostly brand new products.

We did see the vehicle which turned out to be a modified bulldozer. Although originally built for construction, it was occasionally used to assist harvesting activities. Christophe found that the engine is a Ford product which was built in 1960s.

Age wise, it doesn’t meet Christophe’s expectation. It is ironic that in the place that I mostly proud of, our tour seemed to have gone downhill, in term of historic tractor research…..

While we were busy investigating, we can hear steam whistle approaching. It was Tasikmadu I approaching.

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The fact that the mill is closed due to off harvesting season (and it was Sunday) prevented us from exploring much more inside.

But at least the sight of passing diesel train does entertain Christophe.

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I have to say that the mill’s building is a majestic looking one. A stark contrast to other mills which largely resemble ordinary factory or just shed, Tasikmadu’s mill entrance is like a façade of a palace.

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Just right next to the entrance is the remnants of a locomotive boiler. Pak Megan told us that this is the remains of a locomotive that was involved in a fatal accident in 1990.

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Ariawan explained further that the accident was caused when the driver lost control of the runaway train (as it was traveling downhill from Matesih). When the driver tried to made hard braking, instead of reducing speed, the loco flipped over and buried in sugarcane wagons pile ups. The driver perished when hot water from the boiler showered him. That’s truly gruesome!

The accident was remembered as the darkest chapter in the mill’s railway history. It didn’t just caused the loss of locomotive and life, but also hastened the closure of eastern field lines, which at that time amounted 40% of Tasikmadu’s field lines network!

From there we head to the locomotive shed. In Indonesian sugarcane railway world, the locomotive shed is called “remise”. Christophe said that the word is actually French in origin. It means storage shed or barn.

Since the main locomotive shed is locked, we can only see the locos from the outside. I also notice that apparently the art-deco shed building is actually dating back from 1951, not Dutch colonial era.

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In the smaller loco shed, there are fewer things to see: just a small Schoema locomotive as well as the wreck of De Couillet steam locomotive which was scrapped in late 2014.

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Christophe giggles upon hearing the name. He said that in France the word “De Couillet” is the slang for “small genital”!

Well, it is obvious that there no more interesting objects to be seen for Christophe’s research, so we decided to return back to the city.

As we walked back to the car park, we encountered this Tasikmadu I which is parked near the shed, waiting for its duty hauling amusement train.

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A few minutes later, a whistle can be heard in the distance, and the Borsig-built no.3 is approaching from ahead. So the driver of loco no I had to put the train in a spur nearby to allow this train to pass through.

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Trailing behind this train, apparently there is one interesting looking vehicle: a track inspection vehicle!

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Nicknamed “becak rel” due to its resemblance to rural tricycle taxi, this vehicle was used to inspect railway track condition, especially when the field lines were in operation. As the field lines were closed, the mill management decided to dump this vehicle. In fact when I visited Tasikmadu in 2014, it was in dump yard.

In 2015, the vehicle was recovered and brought back to operating condition. Although now it’s only used for recreational vehicle, as plan to reopen Tasikmadu’s field lines for tourist train has yet to materialize.

As we walk back to the car park, we also see some interesting things such as this Tasikmadu VII locomotive which is unfortunately painted in gold color.

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We also catch the last glimpse of this Orenstein & Koppel diesel whom Christophe likes the engine sound very much. He said it reminds him to his father’s tractor.

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Our car is parked just in front of “Besaran” or Manager’s mansion, which is now used mostly as employee’s dormitory. I really love its old colonial style, and it’s good to know that it is still well maintained.

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We bade farewell to pak Megan, and Ariawan, and head back to the city. Upon arriving back, we took a lunch at this famous eatery which is located right in front of Mangkunegaran Royal Palace. I had eaten in this restaurant before, but this time I brought my DSLR along as in previous visit my camera was not working.

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Despite of its “Café” tag, it is actually a restaurant which sells traditional lower middle class food repackaged to appeal upper middle class. Unless that they also provide free Wifi (only for customers who buy significant amount of food), for anyone who wants to sit and surf the interenet.

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The concept of this restaurant is similar to traditional Solonese food, where you are offered variety of rice serving, and then you take side dishes of your choice. Unless in here they warm any food items that you take first in griller before serving them to customers.

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I took 2 packets of rice with beef black pepper, and with side dishes of quail egg, sweet beef jerky, and caramelized spiced tofu.

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They are very satisfactory when it came about quality, but rather modest in quantity.

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After we finished our lunch, we went around the city to kill time before sunset. We decided to see some interesting places around the city of Solo, such as pawn shops at Triwindu market, and Laweyan batik district. In both places, we didn’t buy anything, and we didn’t even set down to have a look around in Laweyan.

To conclude our today’s tour we also visited Solonese royal palace.

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At the height of their power, the area around the royal palace was a restricted area and inaccessible by commoners like what it is now.

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The Solonese royal family is one of 2 royal families who live in Surakarta, the other being Mangkunegaran. In fact the Solonese sultanate came into being as a result of Giyanti Treaty in 1755 which ended Mataram kingdom as a fully sovereign state, and dividing the kingdom into Surakarta and Yogyakarta sultanates.

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Unlike their Yogyanese counterpart (at one point in history they were rival) Solonese royal family no longer bear true power, and their position in Indonesia’s politics are purely symbolic.

A few years ago, this Sultanate was embroiled in power struggle scandal. After the death of their king, Pakubuwana XII, two of his eldest sons (Suryo Partono and Tedjowulan) claimed to be the rightful claimants of the throne. As the deceased king did not designate replacement, or having queen consort (both of his eldest sons were born from different concubine mother) this eventually led to a family feud which briefly made headline in 2004.

After some negotiations, which were mediated by central government in Jakarta, it was eventually decided that Suryo Partono is the rightful heir to the throne, and he was eventually crowned as Pakubuwono XIII.

Although it was a small scale scandal, by national level, it was pretty much damaging Solonese sultanate reputation. After Indonesian independence, the Sultanate was often accused for being Dutch collaborator, which was later proven to be untrue. So this feud really added their misery, after being stripped of their Special Region status in 1946.

Some say the accusation were made by communist group in nearby Madiun who seen a sovereign royals as a threat of their increasingly volatile activities. Although the communist rebellion was eventually crushed in 1948, Solo sultanate has never been granted special territory (like what their Yogyanese counterpart has) ever since.

Nevertheless, Solonese royal palace is a worthy place to visit if you happen to come to this ancient royal seat.

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The façade of the palace is equally impressive.

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Just behind it is a tower named “Panggung Songgo Buwono”.

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Up until 1970s it was the tallest structure in Surakarta. It was said to be used by past royals to meditate, and also monitoring Dutch military activities at the now largely demolished Fort Vastenburg citadel.

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At the conclusion of today’s tour we returning back to our hotel for rest and relax. Unlike previous night, where we ate together in the hotel, tonight I decided to explore a bit of culinary in the city. My friend Ariawan told me that there is one nice seafood restaurant just a few hundred meters from the hotel.

So I decided to give it a try. The restaurant is just a modest lower middle class restaurant. But the seafood is authentic, and they have a good variety of menu. I ordered Shrimp in Tauco sauce (tauco is a sauce made from fermented soy bean).

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The food tasted….oh well, I should have asked them not to add tomato because it spoiled the taste. But overall it is a delicious and tasty food, and it is a highly recommended place to visit. I would love to come again, although I may order food without tomato in it.

After I finished my meal, I went to do some shopping in nearby supermarket, to buy some provisions for tomorrow, and then heading back to hotel for rest and relax.

TO BE CONTINUED

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Old Tractor Tour? (Part 1)

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My blog postings have attracted interest from railway enthusiast from around the world to start exploring railway heritage in Indonesia. My aim in creating this blog, aside of posting photos and stories about my railway tour, is also promoting the railway tour package that I run in my company.

But one day, it is also attracting interest from unlikely group of people. In late March 2016, a French reader contacted me and he congratulates me on my blog. Just like many readers in the past who e-mailed me, he also wants me to run a tour for him. But his interest is rather foreign for me: he wants to see old tractors. Old tractors? Yes old tractors! What do old tractors have something to do with railway?

Still perplexed on reading his request, he suddenly called me. He introduced his name as Christophe Perret. A Frenchman who currently lives in Thailand. He said that he would like to have a tour around Java to see old tractors. I asked him, what does my blog have something to do with old tractor? He replied that according to his archive many old tractors were send to sugar mills in Java during Dutch colonial era to work in the mill. So he is keen to do some research in Java to see whether if any tractors still remain in existence.

Perplexed, due to the fact that I have no knowledge at all regarding to old agricultural vehicles, I decided to arrange the tour per his request. And my lack of knowledge about the subject is the reason why I put question mark on the blog’s title.

 

PREPARING ITINERARY

Unlike previous big and specialized tour, such as Java Steam and Sugar Tour, for this tour I only have less than 2 weeks to prepare everything. The combination of hotel rooms and train ticket scarcity truly puts some pressure on me.

At one point I was thinking of giving up hope and relent, and let Chris find someone else to do the service. But his insistence on using my service does give me some hope to carry on.

Christophe told me that he only have a space of 10 days to explore, yet he wants to see as many sugar mills as possible in his trip. But the problem is he would only come alone, making the cost that he must bear a rather big one.

At first I offered him tour itinerary that cover Surabaya, Probolinggo, Pasuruan, Situbondo, Jember, Malang, and back to Surabaya. But that would have been too long and too expensive. Then I arrange another one which cover Surabaya, Mojokerto, Malang, Madiun, and even Solo. But again, this is beyond reach for him. We eventually settled with a rather short itinerary that cover Solo, Klaten, Surabaya, and Probolinggi / Pasuruan area which only take 5 days to do and with much more affordable price. Chris agreed with this option, and decided to give me go ahead to proceed with the tour.

Since he is a big fan of Deutz brand, I told him that there is a one loco from the marquee which is preserved at Gondang Baru sugar mill. So we put this mill as our number 1 priority.

As we are counting down to the start of the tour, he suddenly informs me that his fiancée would like to join the tour a few hours before our tour commence! Had we traveled solely by car, it won’t be a problem. But since parts of our journey utilized trains, this can be a problem especially it was on weekend where seats are scarce. But after some quick response, I eventually able to secure the seat for her without too much problem, and we are eventually good to go.

 

TOUR STARTING

It was in the evening at 15th April 2016. According to the schedule, their plane supposed to arrive in Surabaya at 19.50, after a long and non-stop flight from Don Mueang airport in Bangkok. But somehow it was delayed for several times before it eventually arrived at 20.50.

I was almost late in catching up with them, as all roads in Surabaya was jammed at that time, as the metropolitan area experiencing the worst flooding in months. All ordinary roads that lead to the airport were jam packed with cars, forcing me to use the tollway, which is near to Terminal 1, but in order to access to Terminal 2, I still have to go through another jam packed road.

After negotiating the busy roads, I finally made it into the airport, just in time to pick them up! When I finally made it into the terminal, I learned that their flight had actually landed! I anxiously waiting, wondering whether if I have missed them, or are they still inside? I looked around and none resemble French person. Only a few minutes later he eventually appeared from inside the terminal, with his fiancée. I greeted him and taking them to my car, and then we head to their hotel in eastern Surabaya, where they would sleep overnight before taking the morning train to Solo on the following day.

 

HEADING TO SOLO

It was an early wake up for me as I had to do prepare not just my belongings, but also their tickets too. After bade farewell to my parents, my driver took me to the Core hotel where I pick them up and then we head to Surabaya Gubeng station. Upon arriving at busy station, we unload our belongings from the car and enter the platform before boarding the Argo Wilis express train that took us to Solo.

The journey to Solo is generally uneventful. The sceneries are beautiful, and train crossings do exist. But somehow I felt too lazy to take any photograph. So there are no photos of our journey from Surabaya to Solo.

During the journey, I had some conversation with Christophe about the tractors and Deutz engines. He told me stories about his family’s relationship to Deutz brand as his family has roots in farming in Normandy. This dating back from his grandfather’s farming days which continue all the way to his father. So he grew up seeing those Deutz tractor in action.

Although his main interest is mainly tractor, he also has some archive about narrow gauge diesel locomotive. He is also interested with them as most of the European locos are powered by Deutz engines. He showed me his data. And I was amazed! Since then, it changed my perception about Indonesian railway history completely.

Prior to entering narrow gauge plantation railway world, what I know is the oldest diesel loco in Indonesia is a GE shovel nose which was built in 1953. But in recent times, I learned that diesel locos has been around since Dutch colonial era. I didn’t know the exact year, but all I know was in Cepiring there is one 1938 built Orenstein & Koppel diesel which has been modified. Even the first diesels to arrive in Indonesia after Independence were all narrow gauge industrial locos which arrived in 1951, preceding the shovel nose by 2 years! Only after studying Cristophe data that I realized that diesel locos has been around in Indonesia since 1914!

At around midday, our train finally arrived at Solo Balapan railway station. After taking our luggage, we are heading out from train station and into our rented car, which I have booked prior. Once we settled in into the car we head straight to our first destination: Gondang Baru sugar mill in Klaten.

The trip went uneventful. Along the way I also made contact with my friend in Yogyakarta whom is keenly interested in narrow gauge railway: Yoga Bagus. He is a young railway enthusiast in his early 20s, yet he already has access to many senior railway enthusiasts around the world. He also has large collection of railway archives, and he is still eager to learn more about narrow gauge railway history in Indonesia. So that’s why I invited him to come, as his eagerness can be helpful in this trip.

Upon arriving at Gondang Baru sugar mill, we were greeted by the sight of this diminutive Orenstein & Koppel locomotive. Despite of its diminutive size, this loco actually ran on wider gauge that what Gondang Baru have: 750mm (versus Gondang Baru’s 700mm). In fact this loco was originally belonged to the nearby Ceper Baru sugar mill, and relocated to here upon the closure of its original mill.

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Before we start exploring the mill, I decided to go to its “agrowisata office” to meet Yoga’s friend, Joko Indarto, another railway enthusiast who worked in here. I introduced myself as friend of Yoga, and he also introduced himself. He helped us to see around the museum.

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The first thing that we see of course is the Deutz locomotive.

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This locomotive is the reason why we put Gondang Baru mill on the first part of our tour itinerary.

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Named “Ajax”, this locomotive is a very old locomotive, so much that the driving console resemble a steam locomotive, instead of a compact driving console that you would normally see in modern day diesel locos.

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One unique feature that puzzled us is the presence of 70 atm air reservoir on the locomotive.

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We assume that it might be used for air brake system, quite a novelty for a plantation railway. But Christophe assumes that it might also be used to help starting the engine.

Next to the Deutz loco is the locomotive which is said to be the oldest locomotive remain in existence in Indonesia, hence its nickname: “Si Mbah” (“The Old Man”).

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This Backer & Rueb built tram engine is said to be originally owned by Oost Java Stoomtram company before being acquired by Solonese royal family to be used for their sugar mills.

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The loco was used to haul sugar molasses tanks between the mill all the way into Srowot station, on the 1,067mm branchline. This service terminated at the end of 1986 harvesting season.

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This loco actually has its twin: there is one similar loco used at Tasikmadu sugar mill.

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From the locomotives, we went to the library. Joko told me that a few months ago he did came across some book about old tractors in the collection. Despite of its rather dilapidated appearance, this library does have some treasures in it, such as 1921 book which show many narrow gauge steam locomotives during its primetime, and even early diesel locos too! Other than that, we also see old calendar which shows many steam locomotives when they were still in operation in 1990s.

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While we were rummaging the library, Yoga finally arrived and we introduce ourselves. This is the first time that I actually met him, after corresponding with him through internet for sometime.

After we finished browsing the library, we start exploring the mill complex.

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It is off season, so all of the activities are dominated by maintenance works.

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We went into the locomotive shed to see some of the locomotives inside. Including this Schoema locomotive, which is essentially an enlarged version of what I see in Kedawung.

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The only steam locomotive in the shed is this Orenstein & Koppel built no.8. Originally operated by Rendeng sugar mill, it was relocated to this mill in 1990s. It is normally used to haul tourist train on circular line around the mill every Sunday, but these days it is only used on chartered basis.

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Outside the shed, we can see several steam locomotives placed off the track.

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It is sad to see them in such poor condition.

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One of those dumped locos is this Linke & Hofmann built no.2. When it was in operation, it was the star attraction as it used to have the loudest chugging noise.

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As you can see in this 1994 video, the loco used to have the loudest chugging noise.

Years later, the same loco is now in derelict condition.

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Joko said that this loco used to have a twin: the no.1. He also said that it was exported to France for one railway enthusiast group there. Christophe is interested with this, although he doesn’t really know where it is now.

Another interesting looking loco is this outside frame Orenstein & Koppel locomotive. Unlike other O & K 0-8-0 locos, this one looks larger.

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All of these locos were withdrawn when Gondang Baru was forced closed down its field lines in 1998, in the aftermath of 1997 economic crisis. Yoga said there is another version of story regarding of the closure. He said that in the aftermath of 1997 crisis, many of Gondang Baru’s field lines rails were stolen, forcing the mill management to suspend field operation indefinitely. Even worse, many of the roadbeds have even been occupied by squatters, rendering any prospect of field lines reopening (which was discussed in 2014) higly unlikely.

From there we return back to the Deutz locomotive again to see if we can reopen the locomotive’s engine.

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After some efforts, then viola! We manage to open it!

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Despite of its small size, the locomotive is powered by 2 large cylinders.

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Cristophe is investigating the engine. He had made several interesting findings about this loco.

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This locomotive was delivered to here in 1928 and it is probably the oldest diesel locomotive remain in existence. Interestingly for early generation industrial diesel loco, this one feature radiator cooling, which is quite a novelty considering that other diesels of the same era were only equipped with air cooling system. Although unfortunately the fan is nowhere to be seen when we investigate, presumably stolen.

We wasted no time in photographing this unique locomotive.

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Some other facts that we learned at the conclusion of the tour (long after we left Gondang Baru) is the fact this loco engine is a 2-stroke engine. Aside of that Deutz did actually sent 5 other identical locos with wider gauge, all were sent to BPM (Batavia Oil Company, precursor of modern day Shell oil company) railway network in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan. But the fate of those sent to Balikpapan remains unclear to this day.

After we finished investigating the Deutz Ajax loco, and closing its engine bay door, we head to the restaurant in the complex to have a lunch.

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We ordered some menus, like this Fried Chicken in Kalasan style.

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I can’t recall what did we discussed during the lunch, but overall Christophe find the food satisfactory. And Yoga is happy to find that the Deutz loco is among the oldest surviving diesel loco in Indonesia.

After we finished our lunch, we bade farewell to Yoga and Joko, and returning back to Solo. Along the way we catch with this sight of rainbow.

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Upon arriving back at Solo, we bade farewell to our driver and checked ourselves in into our hotel at Ibis Styles.

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This may not be as great as Swiss Bel Inn that I stayed last January, but it is a great value for money.

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In the evening, we decided to have a dinner in the hotel as we get a discount voucher for eating in the hotel.

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Being a rather small hotel, they have limited items in the menu. But it’s still tasted great.

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After we finished our lunch, we returned back to our room for rest and relax.

TO BE CONTINUED

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An Outlook of 2016 Railway Tour in Java

New_Year2016

INTRO

Last year we have seen a dramatic change in railway tour scenery. When compared to 2014, 2015 have completely different scenery. Somehow there seemed to be less attraction than what it used to be, yet tourists seemed to be more pampered than what they were. Gone were the days when the attractions are, in the words of Rob Dickinson, authentic. But also gone were the days where tourists had to stay in cheap and dodgy accommodations, now they stay in “budget hotel” which may not be expensive but not an “el cheapo” either.

 

2015 REVIEW

STEAM TRAINS

It can be said that 2015 started with deflating puff for steam locomotive lovers. Many “authentic” steam locomotive attractions in sugar mills which were favorite destinations no longer pulled out their best or anything at all!

At the conclusion of 2014 harvesting season, many famous sugar mills such as Pangka, Sragi, Sumberharjo, and Tasikmadu reporting major losses on their yearly financial report. As a result, saving measures were done to ensure their survival. And the easiest target was the steam locomotives operation.

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Many die hard steam locomotive enthusiasts who arrive in Java were shocked to find that many sugar mills stopped their regular steam locomotive activities, and some would charge visitors to have them running. For budget travelers (admittedly many of those authentic-seeker railfans are actually count into this category) this is just too much. Many described 2015 season as “disastrous”.

Not all mill who ceased their regular steam operation suffering major financial loss in 2014. Kanigoro sugar mill in Madiun did also stopped their steam locomotive operation in mid-2015. And despite of its good financial performance, there is a plan to close the mill down at the end 2017 as Madiun city expansion gradually swallowed up its former sugarcane field.

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All were not totally lost in 2015, for these people, at least in some places there are some real steam locomotives in operation. Such as in Purwodadi sugar mill where real steam loco goes back and forth between road yard and the mill. And also in Pagottan and Semboro sugar mills where they ran fireless steam locos.

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Chartered steam locomotives at Ambarawa railway museum, city of Surakarta, and Semboro sugar mill still proves to be popular attraction among newcomers, affluent railway enthusiast, or non-railway enthusiast tourists. Olean sugar mill, which traditionally known in the past 10 years as one of 2 sugar mills who sent their steam locos for field working (the other was Sumberharjo) have followed Semboro in reverting their steam locomotive operation into chartered basis (much to the dismay of purist railway enthusiasts, but still acceptable by ordinary tourists).

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The Cepu logging railway, which have been reverted to chartered operation since 2002, is still a popular attraction although there are some doubts about its continuation due internal infighting inside Forestry Company management. In addition, frequent damage on one of its bridge (the bridge that crosses over the Cepu-Blora highway has been rammed by oversized container trucks for several times) means that their service had to be cut back on several occasions. There are even some doubts whether if the train still runs to the scenic Gubug Payung in the teak forest, despite the news that the aforementioned bridge have been repaired. When me and my foreign tourist clients made impromptu visit to its locomotive shed, we were greeted by hostile crew who uses whatever methods to prevent us from seeing the locos! Rumor has it that it was due to litigation with the European tourists in the past, which makes them rather xenophobic.

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SUGAR MILL FIELD LINES

Field lines operation is unique as it allows railway enthusiasts to see those diminutive trains traveling in nature and countryside, passing places that would normally be inaccessible by their wider counterpart.

When 2015 harvesting season started, many narrow gauge railway enthusiasts were surprised to find many sugar mills which their field lines are endangered still operating their field lines after all. Such as Kedawung sugar mill in Pasuruan, Gending in Probolinggo, Asembagus, and famously known Krebet Baru in Malang.

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But still, sign of impending closures in some of them were imminent. Some of the mills above have had their field lines network curtailed. Parts of their field lines which were in operation in 2014 were closed or even lifted in 2015! For Krebet Baru sugar mill, 2015 season was the last season where they operated their field lines, and their railway too!

Unfortunately, Sumberharjo sugar mill in Pemalang closed down its field lines for 2015 harvesting season. With the closure of Sumberharjo field lines, it means active narrow gauge fields lines are no longer exist in Central Java.

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So by 2015, there were 7 sugar mills that operated field lines with one of them confirmed that it will close down by this year (2016) while another 2 are strongly rumored that it might close them down in 2016 too.

Reopening of field lines may sounds like a good news, but the prospect of having them materialized is probably next to nothing. Like what have happened to Pangka sugar mill in Slawi, Central Java. This sugar mill, which is known for its fleet of red steam locomotives, have long mulled reopening parts of their field lines for tourist train. Although regular field working ceased in 1980s, they did actually operated parts of their field lines on chartered basis all the way until around 2008/2009. But since discontinuation of steam locomotive service, and even the prospect of inactivation of the mill itself, it’s highly unlikely that it would take place after all.

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However, I do have a high hope on Tasikmadu sugar mill in Solo, Central Java. This mill has the largest fleet of steam locomotives in Central Java (although some of them were inherited from other mills), including the celebrated Tasikmadu VI. Yet, it no longer have its field lines in operation, being closed sometime in 1999. Admittedly, chance of having its field lines reactivated for tourism purpose is actually just as remote as what you see in Pangka. But at least, this plan have financial and political support from local regent in Karanganyar (the place where the mill is located).

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Photo by Rob Dickinson. Published with consent from copyright holder.

In Yogyakarta, 2 of its famous sugar mills have planned to reactivate its field lines, for tourism purpose too. While Gondang Baru haven’t gone beyond planning, Madukismo mill have actually made some physical progress to reactivate its field lines all the way to Kasongan. But unfortunately, there are no additional news about its progress as in March 2016.

 

EFFORT ON PRESERVATION

On brighter side, by 2015 there are some sign that there are serious effort in preservation.

Ambarawa railway museum have almost completed its renovation progress. All of its locomotives are finally placed on the newly rebuilt railway yard, where they are displayed on rail under roof. This move protect these old (some of them are centenarian) locomotives from rain or elements that would have rusted these historic locos.

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Although disliked by some railway photographer as making the photography difficult, it would make the locos more visible to general audience as they do not have to climb up or walking through grasses or open spaces just to see the exhibits.

Now the museum management even began to construct buildings and associated facilities for diesel locomotives museum in Tuntang. Although the building process have been completed, this museum have yet to see any diesel loco exhibits delivered.

Some sugar mills management also followed the suite. Agrowisata Sondokoro in Tasikmadu sugar mill began to improve their attractions by bringing additional steam locomotives back to live. Even more, now passengers don’t have to be exposed by smokes as they are now sitting inside enclosed carriages, previously used for VIP only.

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Although despised by senior railway enthusiast for stopping their regular steam work, Olean sugar mill is now serious in turning their premises into a living museum. Some efforts have been done to make the mill visitor friendly, such as polishing their steam locomotive and cleaning up their mill complex. The upside of this mill when compared to Tasikmadu is the presence of field lines, which make the journey more varied, while the downside is the mill location which is rather isolated.

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ACCOMMODATIONS

One vital aspect in railway tour is definitely the accommodation. Many senior or hardcore railway enthusiasts don’t mind to stay in shabby accommodation in the past, as long as it is near to the attractions. But some other would make fuss about the quality of the accommodation, especially newcomers.

In the early years of my railway tour adventures, I often had to put up with such inadequate accommodations, mainly due to lack of fund, and lack of knowledge. I remember that back in the old days we stayed in a shady hotel with squat toilet, without aircon. Sometime we had to share the same accommodation with prostitutes!

But thanks to the tour guide websites such as TripAdvisor, now we know where to stay, which hotel has the best value for money, and even what other people think about the accommodation.

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Gradually we began to move into more adequate accommodations. Sometime we would get accommodations with 5-star service with budget fare too! And if that’s not enough, sometime they are located very near to railway station or railway line. And thanks to the cooperative hotel management, since I work in Tour Company, I can get half price discount in some fine hotels too.

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And these days, the accommodations aspect has become quite near to perfection. Now there are some great new hotels that are located not just near, but essentially adjacent to railway track! So much that you can even do trainspotting by just sitting on your bed!

EXPECTATIONS FOR 2016

2016 will definitely be a different year. For purist railway enthusiast, this year would probably leave them high and dry. But for newer generation it might give them some hope.

Some new attractions will surely pop up in the future. Although Tasikmadu VI steam loco was sidelined in mid-2015, in 2016 it will be revived for circular train. At least that’s what the mill management said during my recent visit in early 2016. Olean sugar mill will be developed into something like Semboro sugar mill where tourist will ride coach and traveling across Olean’s sugar mill vast property. And some old diesel locomotives have been sent to Ambarawa railway museum in preparation of diesel locomotive exhibition at Tuntang.

Some old attractions might still remain as popular as ever, such as Sepur Kluthuk Jaladara in Solo, Ambarawa steam train, or Semboro tourist train. Many people hoped that the steam locos shunting at Purwodadi sugar mill would remain. And so far the mill management hasn’t made any comments regarding of the future of its operation.

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On accommodation aspect, it seemed that there will be more variations. Some towns which were notoriously known for the lack of variety began to have new hotels built in the place. Madiun, for example used to have only 1 hotel with questionable quality in the past. Now there are additional 2 hotels whose are part of reputable hotel chains, one of them is a budget hotel.

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Some cities also began to have reputable hotels which overlook railway track, such as Jakarta, Bandung, Yogya, and Solo. Such hotel is truly a heaven for railfans. It doesn’t just provide railfans with comfortable amenities, but also ability to do trainspotting from the comfort of your bed!

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Despite of changing in scenery railway tourism will always thrive in Indonesia. Elderly generations who despise the loss of authentic steam locomotive actions may no longer put Indonesia or Java into their destination. But there will always be newer and younger generations of railway enthusiasts who will still include Indonesia into their railway tour destinations as this country still provide unique railway scenery and actions not seen in other countries.

Would you like to visit Java this year, and wants to have a railway tour with us? Don’t hesitate to contact me! 🙂

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2016 JAVA STEAM & VOLCANO TOUR (Part 4 (End): 25-26 January 2016)

This is our final night in Solo, and at this beautiful hotel. At last I finally can get a real and proper sleep! After dressing up a bit, I went down to the 5th floor to have a breakfast.

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Upon entering the restaurant, I found that both Waktong and Hafizul have already been in the restaurant.

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But what surprises us is the fact that we are the only customers in the restaurant for today! It seemed that last night we were the only guests in the hotel too!

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I took my breakfast which consist of stir fried potatoes and grilled sausages.

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I also ordered omelet as side dish too.

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That’s perfect!

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And as a dessert, I took some fruits and cheeses.

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After finishing our breakfast, we head back to our room to pack our belongings in preparation for check out. I also had shower too, before heading out.

Once we have prepared everything, we went down to the lobby to settle the bill and check out from the hotel. No additional expenses were incurred, and we are good to go. We have additional itinerary for today, and also since our return train to Surabaya depart in late afternoon, we decided to drop our bags here, and will collect them again after returning back from Wonogiri.

Soon, we head to Solo Purwosari station which is located very near to the hotel. I have to admit that the pavement is very wide, and amazingly no motorcycles ever intrude it!

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After a few minutes walking we finally arrive at the station.

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The station is busy as usual with morning departures.

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These days, this station is used to cater all economic class trains who arrive and depart from Solo, replacing Solo Jebres station which is located to the east of the city.

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What amazes Waktong and Hafizul is the fact that despite all of the modernization in Indonesian railway, they’re still preserving the old building!

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According to Waktong, in Malaysia such thing are rare as the Malaysians often consider old buildings (regardless of their historical value) are outdated and must be replaced with new buildings.

Just near the entrance door, we can see the remains of the original cape gauge platform of this station. This is where the train to Wonogiri were originally departed, as the tracks on the current platform were once laid to standard gauge.

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But with the arrival of Japanese, they regauge the track to cape gauge, and lifted this part to be used for Death Railway.

According to the schedule, our train depart at 10.00.

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As it was almost 10, we entered the platform immediately.

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It was still quiet in the platform. No trains are here yet.

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While waiting for the trains, I also spend time by marveling the original Dutch era architecture of this station.

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This station share similar architectural style as Ambarawa and Kedungjati station. And just like the other 2 stations, this one originally had island platform configuration, before the departure line for Wonogiri branch relocated to the present site during Japanese occupation era.

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And up until 2008, this station had no platform roof, other than for track no.1. But since then this large additional structure was added for the comfort of passengers. Such as these passengers who wants to board Prambanan Express train to Yogyakarta.

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Although officially count as intercity train, Prambanan express DMU service does actually act as a commuter train for Solonese who work in Yogyakarta or vica versa.

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Originally conceived as local trains served by Glossing und Sholler built DMU in 1960s, the Prambanan express train has since evolved into a popular commuter train service in here. There is even a firm plan to electrify the service too.

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At one corner of the station is a water crane used to replenish the steam locomotive used for Sepur Kluthuk Jaladara tourist train.

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Solo is currently the only place in Indonesia where real steam locomotive running alongside modern trains. The ones in Ambarawa ran at isolated railway line, which is not yet reconnected with the mainline.

The station is getting more crowded now, as more passengers arriving. Only a few of them took the train to Wonogiri. Most traveling with other trains either to Surabaya or Purwokerto.

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About 10 minutes before our departure time, the Batara Kresna train arrived.

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We boarded the train, and it was not really crowded inside.

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Unfortunately, it was rather hot too as the aircon system is not working properly.

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Me and Hafizul sat on the first coach, just behind the driver’s cab.

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Right at 10’o clock our train departed Solo Purwosari station.

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After passing through narrow space, we eventually arrived at the street running section, where our train already drew attention from motorists.

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Traveling with this train is also a great way to explore the city, as it is also passing through some landmarks in here, although unfortunately it doesn’t stop at all. But I was told that Sepur Kluthuk Jaladara does make some stop on interesting places.

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Although the city of Solo has strong traditional Javanese identity, sign of Westernization is already apparent in a form of McD restaurant.

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We also pass near The Royal Surakarta Heritage hotel. The hotel building was originally built as a bank.

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But when the bank went bankrupt, it was taken over by its creditor and converted into a hotel. Originally a Best Western hotel chain, but later replaced by Accor group and renamed The Royal Surakarta Heritage. Despite of its “heritage” tag, it is actually a new hotel.

Once the most luxurious hotel in Solo, it has since been overtaken by Alila Solo which offer better service. But still, this hotel has some advantage than its rival as it is located very near to the royal palace and downtown area.

After passing through that hotel and the royal palace, our train eventually exited the street running section before arriving at Solo Kota station.

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In Solo Kota station, a large number of schoolchildren and their teachers boarded the train. Making the train packed!

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Once we depart Solo Kota station, we crossed the Bengawan Solo Bridge where from there the crowded urban area are replaced by beautiful farmland and rural scenery.

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We stopped by at Sukoharjo station. When this line was reopened in 2012 after some period of hiatus, the service terminated in here. But it has since been re-extended further to Wonogiri.

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I remember when the last time I rode this train to here back in 2012, the train was brand new. The aircon worked. And of course there were no scratch marks at all on its exterior.

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After several minutes of stopping, we resumed our journey again. This is the first time I traversed this route since 2007. Back then I rode on the deck of a small shunter loco.

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The kids were restless throughout the journey. Some even trying to play around with the trash bin.

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We later arrived at Pasarnguter station.

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The station also has a siding that goes to a storage warehouse. Back in the old days it was used to distribute fertilizer from Pupuk Sriwijaya Fertilizer Company.

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Although fertilizer traffic have ceased since 1990s, the siding is somehow retained.

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It’s quite a long wait at Pasarnguter, which is strange as our train is the only train that plying this branchline.

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The scenery near Pasarnguter station is unbelievably beautiful. I even think passengers who waiting for the train in here wont get bored as they can enjoy the scenery of rice fields and rolling hills.

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The kids are growing restless as the lousy air conditioner failed, makes the train’s cabin felt rather uncomfortable.

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Thankfully, our waiting is finally over and our train is given clearance to go.

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Beyond Pasarnguter, the terrain becomes increasingly hilly.

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In fact as we approached Wonogiri, the driver revving up the train’s engine as we had to negotiate moderate gradient near Wonogiri. While the train is working hard, the passengers could see the beautiful teak forest scenery which encircled the town of Wonogiri.

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After several minutes, we finally arrived at Wonogiri station.

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All passengers start to disembark from the train.

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Meanwhile, there are another group of schoolchildren waiting in the station’s hall to board the train.

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Once we exited the station, the schoolchildren from Wonogiri boarded the train, while the ones from Solo Kota boarded the bus whose are prepared in front of the station.

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The small Wonogiri station is the current terminus of the branchline that started from Solo Purwosari station.

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Back in the old days, the railway lines used to go further to the south beyond this station, all the way until Baturetno station. But the service to Baturetno was suspended in 1976 when the Gajahmungkur dam was constructed, as it flooded a significant portion of the railway track.

I soon bought the return ticket back to Solo, although there are plenty of tickets, there were no seats available.

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Soon we return back again to the platform area.

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Although heavily modernized, Wonogiri station still retain the elements of the old building, including this classic looking guest room, complete with the old tiles!

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It’s quite an unique thing to see modern looking Batara Kresna DMU parked in front of classic looking Wonogiri station building. Since we had an ample of time before our departure, we spend it by taking pictures.

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Our train finally departs around midday. Unfortunately, since it is already packed with schoolchildren, we had no choice but to stood up throughout the journey back to Solo. I initially stood on the cab car. But since it is hot, I decided to move to the middle car where the aircon turned out to be in proper working condition!

I didn’t take much photos between Wonogiri to Solo Kota. But I did take some video clips along the way.

Once our train arrived at Solo Kota, all of the schoolchildren and their teachers disembark from the train. Leaving a plenty of seats for us!

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I also notice that some of the passengers have Arabic looking appearance.

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It is understandable as Solo have sizeable amount of Arab Indonesian community.

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The return journey through the street running section went uneventful.

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One of the hotel that we passed is this Novotel Solo. It is one of the earliest 4-star hotel in Solo, and it has been around when Solo was smaller than what it is now. Now this hotel has many rivals.

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Upon returning back to the hotel, we fetch our bag and called the taxi.

While waiting for the taxi, my local friend from Karanganyar, Ariawan Sulistya came to our hotel. Well, it is good that we can eventually met. We chat a lot while waiting for the taxi. He also mentioned about several railway activities around Solo, including the ones at Tasikmadu sugar mill.

Once our taxi arrived, we bid farewell to Ariawan and resuming the journey.

It was lunchtime, and we felt hungry. I asked suggestion from the driver about good and affordable restaurant around Solo. He suggesting Taman Sari, which is located on the main road to the airport. The food are good, and the price is also reasonable.

I ordered rice with shrimp satay, chicken rollade, and spiced tofu.

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And for the drinks, I take “Dawet”, a traditional sweet drinks made from coconut sugar and jellies made from rice flour.

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After we finished our lunch, we head straight to the station. It might still be long, but we think it would have been better if we wait at the station, rather than rushing ourselves later on.

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The main hall looks slightly busy. This Dutch era building is still perfectly maintained despite of decades of usage.

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Before entering the platform, we decided to have some coffee at one of the Rotiboy outlet in the station.

We concluded our today’s journey is a successful one. Admittedly, it could have been better had the train traveled faster.

As our departure time nears, we decided to enter the platform.

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Inside, there is a Prambanan Express train waiting in the station.

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It stopped for quite a long time, apparently waiting until its new schedule to commence.

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A few minutes later, the Lodaya train from Bandung arrived at the station. This train terminates here. But what surprised me is the fact that some of the carriages are formerly used by legendary express trains of the past.

Like this coach which originally started its life as a 1st class sleeper coach on Bima express train

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And then this coach which is amongst the very first air conditioned seater trains originally used on Mutiara Utara express train.

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Not long after that, our train arrived from Bandung.

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As soon as it came to a halt, we boarded our train.

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It’s quite a busy period now.

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Before I boarded the train, I was surprised when I see this. Back in the old days, you could go to the VIP lounge from here. The lounge is still there, but the access path to the platform have been walled.

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Our train is really packed today. And most of the passengers have boarded the train all the way from Bandung.

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Once the train departs Solo, I sat and tries to relax myself. I have to say that Argo Wilis seemed to be a shadow of its former self. It is not as comfortable as it used to be, since they decided the replace floor material from carpet into vinyl. Even the seats are now wrapped in synthetic leather. If that’s not enough, these days they decided to put the light in the middle, making the interior too bright and uncomfortable for night trip.

The sky is getting darker as we arrived at Madiun.

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Waktong and Hafizul are curious about INKA plant, as Malaysia have recently commence the operation of INKA built coaches. I tried to show them but they’re partly blocked by petrol tank cars.

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The remainder of the journey went uneventful, before we finally arrive back at Surabaya at 9pm. My brother picked us up, where we took Hafizul and Waktong to their hotel, and then I returned back home to rest.

FINAL DAY

It’s Tuesday, and it is business as usual in Surabaya. But it is also the last day for our tour. Waktong and Hafizul will catch their return flight to Malaysia in the afternoon.

Waktong wants to buy some souvenir which is typical of Surabaya. Since the number of souvenir shop in Surabaya are scarce and tricky, we decided to check out around 10 and head to some places to find souvenirs.

After traveling around the city, we eventually get our souvenirs in a shop at the southern part of Surabaya.

Once they purchased the souvenirs, we head for lunch. Since Hafizul is craving for another Bebek Putri Madura, we head to Bebek Harissa restaurant. I initially wants to take them to the one near the railway line at Surabaya Expo. But since we had very little time left, I decided to take them to the one in MERR nearby.

Of course we ordered Bebek Putri Madura. Very tasty indeed!

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After we finished our lunch and settling the bill we head to the airport.

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In there, I bade them farewell, and after 6 days of adventure, we eventually came to the conclusion of our tour. Everyone are happy and satisfied with the tour. Both of them promised that they will return back to Indonesia again to have another tour!

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That’s all folks! If you want to have similar tour or even better, don’t hesitate to contact me or check out my website at www.indonesianrailwaytour.com

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2016 JAVA STEAM & VOLCANO TOUR (Part 3: 24 January 2016)

After two very tiring days, which were marked with inadequate sleep hours, I can finally get proper sleep time in a peaceful and air-conditioned room of my hotel.

However, it seemed that it was still not enough. In the morning, I still felt like too tired to woke up. I felt like having a rude awakening when there is phone call. I initially thought it was a room service or just promotional call. Only after second call was made then I realize it was Hafizul! He was asking about breakfast, and I replied that it is available on 5th floor.

I woke up and looking out to window. As a railway enthusiast, I feel very grateful that I have chosen the right hotel and right room to stay. Just by sitting on the bed I could see the railway station below clearly.

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I could even see the passing Prambanan Express train easily from my room window.

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After having shower, I head to the hotel’s restaurant to have a breakfast. Apparently both Waktong and Hafizul haven’t come yet.

I took my first portion which consists of Beef Stroganoff, grilled sausages, and grilled potatoes.

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I have to admit that this is an excellent place to have breakfast.

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Moments later, Waktong and Hafizul arrived and start to have breakfast. Meanwhile, I took my second portion which consists of cold cuts and cheeses.

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The cheeses tasted marvelous.

Then I took the salad. Unfortunately, the corn tasted a bit sour. I was initially expecting sweet corn. The peas were also equally unappetizing.

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Then I took the next portion which consists of grilled sausage and fettuccini carbonara. The fettuccini tasted excellent! I love the cheese flavor.

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And finally the fruits for the dessert.

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After completing the breakfast, we went out to enjoy the garden.

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For some reason, they’re using fake plastic grass, instead of real one. I’m not sure why is that. At least other vegetation are real.

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The swimming pool is just a basic swimming pool that you would normally found on a 3-star hotels.

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But from here, you can get commanding view of Solo Purwosari station.

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We still enjoy our time in here, while I would like to explore the rooftop garden more.

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Well, I’m sure that this gonna be a perfect picnic spot.

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Look can be deceiving here. Despite of its lush greenery, the grasses are none other than just a plastic green carpet!

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Since this hotel is located in Solo, which is known as one of the most important Javanese cultural centre, the hotel owner decided to add “Pendopo” on its rooftop garden. Pendopo is a Javanese style guest hall, where it is normally used to receive guests or where the host uses to discuss with his/her guests. But somehow, this Pendopo looks out of place when compared to the hotel’s architectural style.

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We head back to our room to prepare our cameras. Along the way I took the photos of its stylish lounge and ballroom hall.

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While I was preparing my camera and equipment, I caught the glimpse of passing Malioboro Express train that travel from Yogyakarta to Malang.

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After taking my belongings I went to the lobby, where I meet both of them. It was around 09.15. I have actually booked a car hire (with driver and petrol). According to initial plan, it supposed to arrive at 9am. But it still haven’t arrive yet.

Rather than complaining we decided to go to the nearby street running section at jalan Slamet Riyadi.

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This street running section is one of a very few street running section still remain in operation in Indonesia.

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Back in the old days, the service were normally served by decrepit economic class train, hauled by small locomotives. But since 2012, it was upgraded into an air conditioned Batara Kresna DMU.

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The contrasting sight of a train traveling peacefully with road vehicles have become rarity in Indonesia, and Solo is the last place to see such thing.

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As the train slowly moved away into Solo Purwosari station, I decided to pack my cameras and ready to head back to the hotel to meet the driver.

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Waktong and Hafizul decided to stay and want to photograph the Batara Kresna train on its return trip to Wonogiri. So I decided to head back to the hotel alone to catch up with our hired car.

As soon as I made it back to the hotel, I was greeted by the driver of our car. He apologized for his lateness because apparently while attending a Car Free Day event he received additional impromptu orders.

I accepted his apology, and once I put all of the bags in the boot, we went to jalan Slamet Riyadi to pick Waktong and Hafizul up. Both of them are apparently waiting at the level crossing of Wonogiri branch, right at the starting point of street running section. Once they boarded the car, we resumed our journey to Tasikmadu.

As we plying jalan Slamet Riyadi, apparently we caught up again with the Wonogiri-bound Batara Kresna DMU.

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Waktong asked the driver to overtake the train. But apparently it won’t be that easy. Because whenever we encounter traffic lights, they’re always turned red. While on the other hand, the train is exempted from following the road traffic rule.

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A cheeky driver might want to run the red light, but not before being fined by traffic police!

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As the train approached Slamet Riyadi statue, it is the beginning of the end of street running section, and we had to bid farewell to the train for today.

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When we traveled near the famed Pasar Gede market, we came across an unique double decker bus.

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This tourist bus service was inaugurated during Jokowi’s mayoralty and proved very popular amongst the visiting tourists in Solo.

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It’s the Chinese New Year eve, and apparently everything have been prepared for the festivity.

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After several minutes driving, we finally arrived at Tasikmadu sugar mill.

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This grand looking mill was originally founded by one of the Solonese royal families.

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Right next to its entrance door you can see one of the former Royal inspection coach displayed.

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Built to 750mm gauge track, this coach was once used by the Royal family owner to inspect their vast sugarcane estate by traveling on Tasikmadu’s narrow gauge field lines.

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Of course the grandeur days of Royal visit to Tasikmadu have long gone. The internal dispute within the Solonese royal family, economic crisis, and poor space planning have reduced this once behemoth mill into an over-sized struggling mill. Even the once vast sugarcane estate have largely been converted into either rice field or built up areas. All of Tasikmadu’s field lines were closed at the conclusion of 1993 harvesting season.

Now locomotives are used mostly for shunting. But since 2007, they have also been used to haul recreational train that plying newly laid tracks around the mill.

Moments later we hear a sound of whistle. It sounds like steam whistle, but rather weak one. It turned out that it actually came from a diesel loco.

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What a surprise! This is the first time I see this Diema loco working since 2012.

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This loco is used to haul the train that plying the diesel route.

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Of course, being railway enthusiast, no one can resist the temptation of taking its pictures.

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Apparently, just near the spot where we photographed the diesel train there is a huge mansion. This mansion is normally reserved for the mill manager, or guest house for visiting Royals. But I have no clear idea on what do they use the building now for? For management office? Or perhaps VIP reception place?

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The design of the mill building is undoubtedly something to behold. It is looks much more like an office than sugar mill. Some said that during the last decade of Dutch colonial era, Tasikmadu mill was the most modern sugar mill in Java, exceeding other mills whose are still operating their field lines and receiving awards such as Semboro or Olean.

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Not long afterward, the thing truly attracted us to visit this place did eventually appeared: Steam locomotive!

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This Orenstein & Koppel built steam locomotive is one of 2 steam locomotives in operation for today. Unlike my previous visit in September 2015, this time some VIP coaches are employed for regular recreational train.

When we approached the theme park entrance, suddenly an elderly man with Agrowisata Sondokoro uniform approached us. He asked who we are. I answered that we are a group of railway enthusiasts on a railway tour.

The old man introduced himself as Megan, and we called him pak Megan (“pak” is a title or salutation used to address a man much older than us).

Pak Megan is the manager of Agrowisata Sondokoro. He is also the person who initiates the theme park program at Tasikmadu sugar mill.

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Although initially considered a side business , the theme park eventually developed into major source of income for the struggling mill.

Being a brainchild of him, he was glad to show us around the theme park (and somehow we skipped the ticket booth, unintentionally).

The first object is of course the steam loco that is displayed near the theme park’s ticket booth. Although it is part of Tasikmadu’s fleet of steam locos, this loco actually run on the same gauge as State Railway (1,067 mm / 3ft 6in).

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This loco was used to haul goods train that carried bags of refined sugar, and sugar molasses tanks, from the mill into Kemiri railway station. When the service was suspended in late 1980s, the loco was retired.

Pak Megan said that back in mid 2000s, during Jokowi mayoralty, there was a talk of using the loco for Sepur Kluthuk Jaladara steam tourist train. But the plan never materialized as the mill management couldn’t reach agreement with Solo city council. The city council wants to purchase the loco, while the mill management refused to sell it and would only accept the hiring scheme only.

In the end, Solo city council settled with a C12 steam locomotive which ironically is actually hired (not purchased) from Indonesian State Railway.

From there, pak Megan took us to see a steam roller which is parked near the employee housing area.

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This Kelly Springfield-built steam roller is probably the only steam road roller still in operating condition in Indonesia, although it hasn’t been lit for some time.

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From steam roller we moved into the theme park, where we see this Diema locomotive.

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This mid-cab locomotive still wearing standard Tasikmadu livery, and this is probably the first time it runs after several years of absence.

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This locomotive was built by this German engineering firm, based in Bremen.

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We later could smell burning log aroma, and later a steam hauled train eventually arriving.

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This Borsig-built Tasikmadu 3 is perhaps the only Borsig steam locomotive still in running condition in Indonesia.

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Not long after the Borsig loco passed, the Orenstein & Koppel steam loco is also coming.

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That was truly an impressive sight!

Pak Megan invited us to ride the steam train which we gladly accepted. Upon arriving, we were slightly surprised to find that the loco is nowhere to be seen!

Apparently it went to the refueling point to refill its water and logs supply. Once it completed its refueling process, it returned back to its train.

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Upon looking at its builder plate, I was truly amazed by how old the locomotive is. It was built in 1908, and still in running condition until now!

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It’s an example on how good the German engineering is. They’re built to last, as exemplified by this loco.

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We asked on whether if we’re allowed to ride the locomotive. Pak Megan allowed us to have a cab ride (and it’s free!). For Waktong and Hafizul this is once in a lifetime moment, as steam locomotives are rare in Malaysia, and riding them is generally forbidden in Malaysia.

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Not long, our train eventually departed.

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Hafizul using this moment to record the journey.

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Our train traveling around the mill premises, ranging from employee housing and into an artificial tunnel which is specifically built for this tourist attraction.

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Once we exited the tunnel, everyone are gasping to breath fresh air….

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We are now outside the the mill compound, traveling in front of the entrance door.

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This pathway was once part of Tasikmadu’s field lines. In fact the railway line that connects the sugar mill and Kemiri station used to be here too. Could it be a dual gauge line?

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As we entered the mill, we had to stop to allow the O&K to passed us.

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Once the train cleared our track, we resumed our journey.

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Our train also passes through the grassy looking main yard. This moribund looking yard looks as if it has been abandoned.

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In reality, it is not. It’s a common sight during off-harvesting season that the mill looks like abandoned property.

We returned back to the place where we started, and we disembark from the train and bade farewell to the driver.

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Pak Megan showed us around, including to this hostel, built in the mill premises. Right in front of it, there is one incomplete steam locomotive displayed.

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I’m not sure about its identity. But judging by its buffer, I believe it is former Tasikmadu’s loco.

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We wants to see the locomotive shed, and pak Megan is also keen to show some of the progress that has been made on the tourist train.

Unfortunately, upon arriving we’re a bit surprised to find that it is locked. Apparently the shed supervisor in charge of carrying the key is having off day. So we can only see the locos by peeking through the window.

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Right on the edge of the shed, I couldn’t believe what I see: the Tasikmadu VI having its cab panel removed. It probably underwent maintenance in preparation for the following season.

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But considering last year’s harvesting season, where the loco was only used on chartered basis, what will they do with the loco for this year anyway?

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Pak Megan told me that the loco will be used for recreational circular railway. It will be used on the line currently plied by Orenstein & Koppel no 1 loco.

Right behind it is Tasikmadu V. Aside of number VI, it was regularly used for shunting in the yard.

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I have to admit that the loco shed looks a bit messy now.

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There are more locos in the shed, including some large Japanese diesel locos. I believe the type was probably introduced in 1980s, during Tasikmadu’s last decade of field lines operation.

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And right next to it is another VIP coach which styled in similar fashion as Royal inspection coach. Pak Megan said that it will be used on the train currently hauled by the Borsig loco, replacing the current open air coaches.

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Slightly out of the picture to the left is a mechanized inspection vehicle. Last year I saw it dumped behind the second shed, but now it has been refurbished.

I also found the Orenstein & Koppel diesel loco which would normally be used for circular train. But it is being mounted on pedestal for maintenance.

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Right in front of the shed, there are 2 tenders whose are belonged to the number V and VI.

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Under the shed beside the tenders, I also found an old freight wagon in derelict condition. Judging by its size, I believe it ran on 750mm lines.

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But what surprised me about this wagon is the fact that it has roller bearing axles! It is a novelty for such operation.

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Behind the shed, we could also see some engine tenders being dumped. The lack of field working probably made them redundant.

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As we moved along, I was a bit surprised to find that there is another tender number V.

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I was told that some of the locos in Tasikmadu have identical number. Some may just be the Roman number version of other, The reason behind number mixed up is due to the fact that some locos in here were originally belonged to other mills, but transferred here for preservation after their former mills were closed.

We also see a plowing machine preserved here. This machine was used to plow the sugarcane field.

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But due to change of land ownership in 1980s, the farmer would plough the land using their equipment, rendering this machine redundant and eventually retired.

Right next to it is the weighbridge. This building is where all of the loaded sugarcane wagons arriving from the field weighed before being unloaded at receiving station.

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It is also acted as a gateway to the mill’s yard. Beyond this place, the field lines started.

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Up until 1993, the railway lines beyond the weighbridge used to go very far. Even all the way to Matesih, which is right at the foot of mount Lawu, 20 km away from the mill. But from 1994 harvesting season onward, the field lines activity were intermittent if non-existent after all. The last recorded field lines action was back in 2000, where a single short train ran to easterly direction.

Now only around 100 meters of railway track beyond the weighbridge left. The rest have been removed. Pak Megan told me that there is a plan to revive portion of field lines for tourist train where passengers could visit tourist villages around Karanganyar by train. Despite support from local government, the funding has yet to materialize.

We returned back to theme park to prepare our journey back to Solo. As we walk along, we suddenly caught a sight of the Borsig traveling through an open space in the yard.

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As it about to enter the theme park, it crosses with the Orenstein & Koppel train.

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The O&K loco stopped for an unusually long time. When pak Megan double checked with the crew, it turned out that it is running out of logs! There is a pile of logs at the other end of the park, but it is only enough for one loco. So they had to buy from somewhere else. Pak Megan was infuriated by this, and reprimanded them not to repeat the same mistake.

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As soon as we returned back to the mill, we bade farewell to pak Megan and hoping that we could return back again in the future.

But before we left the theme park, we photograph the Borsig as it departs for a single lap around the mill.

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You can see the video of the Tasikmadu steam actions here:

We return back to our car and our driver took us out back into the city. But as we crossed this steam locomotive, Waktong asked the driver to stop, so he can take picture of this loco.

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The traffic to Solo is busy, and along the way I caught up with this monument which is located at the junction with the main Solo-Tawangmangu road.

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I suddenly remember my friend’s photo. Ariawan Sulistya is my friend who is native of Karanganyar, and said that he grew up seeing Tasikmadu’s field lines action in his childhood days. His father once took the photo of the field lines action in this spot. Such photos are rare as very few people ever took the photo of Tasikmadu’s field lines action.

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It’s just pity that we couldn’t meet today as he had something else important to do.

As soon as we returned back to Solo, Waktong wants to change some of his Malaysian Ringgits into Indonesian Rupiahs, as he began to running out of rupiah. We were looking for money changer around the city, but couldn’t find any. So as a last resort we had to go to the airport.

Adi Soemarmo airport is the main airport that serving the city of Surakarta. It is located to the north of the city. Despite of its rather small size and quiet atmosphere, it is actually capable of handling Boeing 747.

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When we were there, we saw strong presence of military personnel around. Some even carrying automatic rifles. Apparently Mr. Jokowi, the famous former mayor of Solo which is now Indonesian president is visiting his hometown.

While Waktong and Hafizul changing their Ringgits, I walked around to see the airport the terminal. I found this amusing: why the stair leads to a wall? Were there any viewing hall where visitors could see the airplanes?

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Although opened in 2009, the terminal’s architectural design is akin to 1980s. I know that they’re trying to incorporate Javanese element into the architecture. But somehow, it doesn’t work.

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Despite of its shortcoming, overall the airport is good and perfectly managed.

After settling the money changer matter, we returned back to the city. Along the way we came across this steam locomotive. This locomotive was once part of Colomadu’s fleet of steam locomotives. Since the mill’s closure in 1998, this locomotive has been in derelict state before being relocated to its current place.

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Judging by its appearance, I have a feeling that the cab and the boiler’s front cover are not original.

On our trip to the city center, we also taking picture of this old Orenstein & Koppel steam locomotive, displayed on pedestal in front of PTPN IX office.

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Named “Baletouri” this locomotive was built by Orenstein & Koppel, and it was originally part of Kalibagor sugar mill fleet. But when the mill closed, it was relocated to Gondang Baru mill before being preserved here.

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We felt hungry because we haven’t had lunch. So we are asking suggestion from the driver about the nicest eating place in Solo. He directed us to Tiga Tjeret restaurant which is located right next to Mangkunegaran royal palace.

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The driver said that it is owned by the eldest son of president Jokowi,(although some of my friend later disputed the claim). It sells traditional “angkringan” Central Javanese food. The food menu was originally a lower middle class ones, but polished to make it appealing to upper middle class.

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Even the rice has many varieties of flavor, with bombastic naming.

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Whatever we ordered, it will be heated on grill on the counter.

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The taste of the food is excellent.

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The atmosphere is also great.

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After finishing our lunch we returned back to our hotel for rest and relax, and also bade farewell to our driver and thanked for all of his effort in showing us around. Generally, today’s itinerary have been completed and the remainder of the day are free.

Waktong and Hafizul decided to spend the evening on their own, while I choose to take some rest in my room and wait until my camera battery fully charged. Once it is fully charged, it’s time to get something to eat.

My friend, Ariawan Sulistia, had actually suggesting several places to me. And all are located near the hotel. I picked Bestik Pak Mangun, which is located south east of the hotel. It’s a long walk to there. And upon arriving, I found the rather shabby looking restaurant, served by sour faced servants.

When the food served, I was quite surprised to find that it is pretty much a stewed chicken, served with fried potato.

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If that’s not enough, when I paid for the food, apparently there are some hidden costs which make me a bit upset. I give the mark for appearance: 6, taste: 6, service: 4. Not worth visiting the place again.

From there I walk to Solo Square to buy something in its supermarket. Apparently it is a very long walk from the restaurant, and I also had to cross the railway track too. Aong the way I caught the glimpse of Panti Waluyo hospital with its unique architecture.

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It’s quite a busy time at Solo Square, and apparently there are some fancy cars being displayed in front of it. All of them have Jakarta number plates.

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After buying some drinks and snacks that I need, I walk back to my hotel for overnight rest, passing through a quiet looking Solo Purwosari station.

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TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2016 JAVA STEAM & VOLCANO TOUR (Part 2: 23 January 2016)

BROMO TOUR

I have to admit that in the past couple of days I was totally exhausted as I had fewer than 3 hours to sleep. After completing the Surabaya city tour at around 9pm, I still had to prepare the provisions for the tour. And by the time, I completed the preparation, it was already 10.30pm. Still less than 2 hours before I must prepare for Bromo tour.

Thankfully, there are 2 things that actually eased my burden. Firstly, I had hired my driver to do the driving for this Bromo tour. Normally, I would do the driving by myself. But for this one I decided to save energy and asked him to me some favor. Especially since we would have additional itinerary by going to Solo by train in the afternoon. Secondly, we depart to Bromo at 1am, instead of midnight, due to the advice from my local friend there.

At 12.30am, I woke and preparing myself to pick Waktong and Hafizul from the hotel. Upon arriving at the hotel, I greeted them in the lobby, and afterward we went straight to Sukapura. The trip went uneventful, and I spend time during the trip by trying to catch some sleep. Upon arriving at Sukapura, we arrived at my friend’s home where from there we swapped to his 4WD jeep to go to the top.

Unlike previous visits, the jeep doesn’t go all the way to caldera floor due to the eruption. So we are not just barred from visiting the famed savannah and Teletubby hills or whispering sand, we can’t even access Penanjakan point (the highest point at Tengger mountain) as in order to do so from Cemoro Lawang we must go down to the caldera and enter the access road on the other side of the caldera.

Instead, he took us to the Penanjakan II point. This place is actually accessible from Cemoro Lawang, but due to poor road, it is rather difficult to access by ordinary car. Although this place is lower than Penanjakan, but you could still see mount Semeru clearly from there, something that you wouldn’t see from Cemoro Lawang.

The trip from car park to the top is difficult. As soon as we exited the jeep, we were greeted by a strong and very cold wind. As if there is giant air conditioners right next to us, in maximum setting. And from car park we must hike a long walk all the way to the top. Considering the steep gradient, long distance, the weight that we carry, and thinner air that makes the hike very difficult for unseasonal climber.

If that’s not enough, there are many horse owners who kept bugging us by offering their horses for ride. The problem with this service is the fact that it is overpriced. It cost around 200-400 thousand rupiahs for a return short ride between car park and the bottom of the stair. Beyond that we must walk up the stair (which is very difficult under the condition mentioned in the previous paragraph). The horse doesn’t go all the way to the top. I felt that such thing is a rip off, so not worth paying. Sorry about that. Had the horse could take passenger all the way to the top; it might be worth paying such amount for their service.

While we walked, we could hear the rumbling of mount Bromo’s eruption. Yes, the volcano is currently on Alert 3, which means that it is unsafe to go near it, but it is not yet in major eruption. Although it was completely dark, we could vividly see the smoke in the distance.

After long climb, we eventually arrived at a spot right below the Penanjakan II which despite of its lower position, it is actually less crowded. It was still dark when we arrive, so all the photos taken before sunrise were just plain dark. Although mount Bromo is erupting, since the eruption is phreatic eruption instead of magmatic, there was no lava glow or molten rocks to be seen.

Waktong told me that he is thankful that I had informed him to bring jacket along, because he didn’t expect the place to be this cold. He said that even Cameron highland mountain resort in Malaysia is no cooler than this. Well, I also add that throughout my visits to Bromo, this is the first time that I experienced high wind situation, where strong and cold wind blew furiously.

We waited for some time, before the sun eventually appeared in eastern horizon, creating the legendary sunrise moment.

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The rising sun allowed to take some photos of the volcano. Although I have to admit that it was still quite dark.

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Mount Semeru, the highest point in Java Island, can be seen in far distance, covered in mist. Just like mount Bromo, it also show some sign of increasing activity.

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But the funny thing is, it seemed that the wind in both volcanoes blew in different direction, as can be seen from the puff on from their craters.

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Although it was already bright, the strong gale force kept blowing.

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As the sun rose higher, it allows us to take spectacular photo of Tengger caldera complex, complete with erupting volcanoes.

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Although in some way it possesses danger to the nearby farmland, the volcano does actually provide rich and fertile soil needed to grow crops. Some of the crops planted here are delivered to major cities like Surabaya, Malang, Semarang, and even Jakarta! Even McDonald burger outlets in Java island sourced a large number of their potatoes from here!

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As the sun rose higher, we can clearly see that the ash clouds are falling to easterly direction, essentially showering the savannah and the B29 summit with ashes.

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Some visitors decided to conclude their visit and began to descend back to the carpark.

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But Waktong said that he wants to spend additional one hour in here as seeing such thing is rarity.

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Well, seeing an erupting volcano from such close distance is also rarity for me too!

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Since the access to the caldera floor have been closed, the scenery below looks much more natural as there are no jeeps or any vehicles flocked the caldera floor.

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I have to admit that standing at the edge of cliff can be scary. Especially since there is a 50 meters drop below.

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Upon finished taking pictures of the volcano, we decided to return back to the car park.

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Along the way we enjoy the scenery around here.

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We can even see the erupting volcano from the car park too.

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From there, we hop onboard our jeep and heading back to Cemoro Lawang. Along the way we stopped by at one of the potato and cabbage plantation nearby. For Waktong and Hafizul, it is the first time that they see potato plantation, and it’s quite a unique experience. I didn’t follow them as I was too tired and decided to have a brief sleep inside the jeep.

Once they’re satisfied we head to Cemara Indah hotel to enjoy the scenery of mount Bromo from slightly closer distance.

While we relaxing over there, an elderly man offered his massage service to us. I politely refused, but Hafizul and Waktong accepted, so they decided to have massage while enjoying the scenery.

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After they finished with the massage, we returned back to Sukapura to have lunch, and also to return back to Surabaya to prepare ourselves for journey to Surakarta (Solo).

TRAIN TRIP TO SOLO

Again, my rest time felt rather insufficient. I initially thought that we would return back home by midday. But due to the traffic jams on our way back we only made it back to home by 2’o clock! Although I have packed most of my belongings, I still haven’t prepared my cameras yet since I brought them to Bromo, and having had to repackaging them once again.

This only left me with around 30 minutes to sleep! Under such physical condition, I should have at least 2 hours of sleep. So I decided to make do with whatever the available time. Generally, I cannot sleep in such short space of time, and there is a fear that I might overslept and missed the train! So I decided to just lie in bed and do whatever I could to make myself relaxed.

At 3’o clock the alarm ring and I took shower and pack the remainder of my belongings before bade farewell to my parents. My driver took me to the hotel where I pick up Waktong and Hafizul, before we go to the Surabaya Gubeng railway station.

The station was rather quiet, and it seemed that not much people boarding the Turangga express train that we took this evening.

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We waited at the platform of the station.

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Judging be the number of people on the bench, our train would obviously be empty.

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Hafizul asked me whether if we can take picture? Considering that back home in Malaysia, taking pictures of the train is generally forbidden due to political reason. I said that it is fine, as long as we’re train passenger.

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Eventually our train arrived on time.

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Since our coach is located at the back of the train, we had to walk a bit to reach our coach.

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Upon entering, we were greeted by the sight of a rather empty coach.

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Seating is no problem, in fact I even get two foot rests!

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Our train departing right on time at 4.30pm. For me this is the first time I board Turangga express train since 2011. I have to admit that I never become a big fans of this train service, compounded by the fact that the interior design doesn’t look as nice as it used to be. Even the reclining lever is located inside the seat, which means that whenever you wants to adjust your seat, you must stand up do some adjusting. The most ridiculous and un-ergonomic reclining seat I’ve ever seen.

But since the train depart before sunset, we could see the scenery clearly. The sight of scenic countryside with the backdrop of volcanoes are just amazing sight to see.

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Beyond Kertosono, it became too dark for us to see the scenery, so we moved into the dining car nearby. Hafizul marveled on how neatly designed the dining car is. He said that dining car has become a history in most passenger trains in Malaysia, in fact there is a talk that loco hauled passenger trains in Malaysia might be on their way out.

They also lament on how bad the railway scenery has become these days. The deal between Malaysian state railway and Chinese company cost the company a lot, yet it was retained due to political reason. In addition, at one point Malaysian state railway was headed by a rather unpleasant person who had a habit of sending good rolling stocks into scrapyard purely for political reason. And also during his tenure, train photography in the station was outlawed. But since his removal from the office, things might have improved these days, but Malaysian railway will never be the same again.

At Wilangan our train stopped to give way to Argo Wilis express train from Bandung, bound to Surabaya.

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Once the train passes, our train resumed its journey to Solo. The trip went uneventful, and as we near Solo we returning back to our seats.

I tried to catch some sleep, but felt rather worried if I might overslept and overshoot my destination.

Near our seats there was one lady who sits solemnly. She asked us on where we are going. I replied that we will disembark in Solo. She smiled, and said that she will travel with this train all the way to Bandung. Waktong asked how far is that from Solo? I told him that it would be another 7 hours to go. Waktong was totally surprised upon hearing that as he felt that our journey from Surabaya to Solo itself felt lengthy for him.

At around 9’o clock in the evening our train finally arrived at Solo Balapan station in Surakarta.

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We disembark on the right hand side of the train.

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Such move is actually incorrect as the exit way is located to the left of the train.

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But we did it on purpose, as we want to explore a bit more of the station, as well as avoiding the hassle of having had to deal with the shady taxi drivers who preying on incoming passengers.

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Once the train departed, we exited the station.

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As I have predicted earlier, we get bugged by taxi and becak drivers who kept offering their service. I took out all of the tricks possible to put them away, ranging from saying false distant destination such as Karanganyar (works for the becak drivers) all the way until saying that we stayed in the nearby hotel that is within walking distance.

Well, admittedly since our hotel is actually far from station we STILL need a taxi nevertheless. I eventually hail one cab with reputable service on the main road ahead.

Once we boarded the taxi, I asked him to took us to our hotel: Swiss Bel Inn Saripetojo.

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This hotel is still brand new (opened in mid-December 2015), and still looks in mint condition.

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After paying the taxi fare, we head to the receptionist where we checked in into our rooms.

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I have to admit that although the lobby is rather small and lacking with gimmicks, it is still a stylish one.

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We went up to our rooms which is located on 9th floor.

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The corridor’s design just looks stylish and amazing.

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I entered my room which is located right next door to Waktong and Hafizul’s room. And I have to say that it is an amazing room.

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The shower room also looks equally nice too.

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Once I had shower and cleaned ourselves, we went out to have supper. We look around and although there are many choices, we eventually settled for Nasi Goreng stall nearby (note the picture was actually taken in another restaurant, and used for illustration).

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The taste is just fine, at least it is enough to quench our hunger. Once we settled the bill we returning back to our room for rest and relax.

Here you can see the excerpt of our journey in the video below.

TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

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