Central Kalimantan, dominated by the indigenous Dayaks, is known as the lung of the world for its vast and fertile tropical jungles and forests. The northern mountain chain, the Schwaner Range, is home to some of the most pristine forests in Kalimantan. Certain areas are within WWF’s Heart of Borneo conservation initiative signed by the 3 nations, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.
These mountains are the source of 11 mighty rivers intersecting the vast lowland peat swamps and finishing their journey in dense, crocodile infested mangroves along the estuaries of Central Kalimantan. Peat swamps are home to iconic Bornean fauna, the orangutan, the proboscis monkey and red leaf eating monkey and many bird species. Deer, clouded leopards, porcupines, sun bears, giant pythons, magnificent hornbills, monitor lizards and wild civet cats also share this jungle habitat.
Its capital, Palangkaraya is the natural starting point for exploring the region, having numerous daily flights to and from Java, and further into the interior. It is also the centre of a web of public road transport to all areas and to South Kalimantan.
Montage of Palangkaraya (Source : wikimedia.org)
Palangkaraya, or Honoured and Sacred Great Place, is the capital city. Growing from Pahandut, a small stilt village on the banks of the Kahayan River, the first President of Indonesia, Sukarno, had decided that that it would become the next site of Indonesia’s capital. The new city was completely designed from scratch and built in grand proportions in the 1960’s.
After the passing of the Sukarno era, Palangkaraya was left as a back water, a tiny capital in a brand new province. Only in recent years has it realized its potential after the de-centralization of government to the provinces and the secret of its great natural bounty of resources was uncovered, ushering a period of break neck development. The idea of Palangkaraya as Indonesia’s capital has recently re-surfaced after Jakarta has become overcrowded and its traffic severely congested.
Eco tourism is yet to develop in the mountains, but in the lowland areas, orangutan and river eco tourism is well established.
Soekarno monument, Palangkaraya (Source : inspirasi.co)
Palangkaraya has it own eco tourism pioneers in Kalimantan Tour Destinations, who have introduced a comfortably remodeled traditional ‘rangkan’ river boat. Cruises encompass the natural beauty and magnificent fauna, particularly the orangutan, of Borneo. Working with local communities to create a true ecotourism experience, one guest rated it as an iconic Indonesian experience, and went on the say:
The Rahai’i Pangun Jungle River Boat journeys offer minimal impact viewing of its rainforest, wildlife, especially orangutans, and riverside Dayak villages from the vantage point of a traditional river mode of transportation. It also benefits local communities by generating alternative livelihoods and teaching new skills that contribute to the development of a sustainable local eco-tourism economy.
About 700 km southwest of Palangkaraya lies the town of Pangkalan Bun which is an entrance to the Tanjung Puting National Park. Tanjung Puting National Park has long been a centre for orangutan research and rehabilitation. Founded by noted orangutan expert and former Richard Leakey student, Birute Galdikas, arrangements for cruising canals in the Park, and disembarking to walk through forests to orangutan feeding stations are beautifully established and maintained. Rehabilitated orangutans are free at the stations and jetties. Many tour companies operate cruises on local boats with simple sleeping arrangements, or use the Rimba Eco Lodge on the park boundary. For 3 or 4 days, enjoy the natural beauty of this park, and come face to face with the orangutan.
There are many restaurants which serve local grilled food, or Javanese foods, satays, Padang spicy foods and some western style foods. A special feature of Palangkaraya is the tent city of food stalls set up every night in Jalan Sudarso, near the big roundabout. Wander along these animated stalls under the twinkling lights, for a wide choice of local and Indonesian specialities. Favourites are the grilled corn, wedang jahe (hot spicy ginger drink with added sweet tid bits), fresh fruit lassis, hot, sweet coffees, and the ubiquitous satay.
Most souvenir shops are located in Jalan Batam, near the traditional markets. This is the central shopping area for traditional handicrafts, foods and cheaper clothing.
The Palma Mall has some boutiques, a bakery, coffee shop, food hall and cinema.
• Rahai’i Pangun Jungle River Cruises and Tours
Offering a wide range of cruise options, land tours to distant longhouses, to places of cultural and natural beauty, adventurous journeys into the Sebangau National Park, tailor made tours spanning all of Kalimantan or overland trips from Bali. Cruises are on the Rahai’i Pangun, a beautiful re-modelled traditional ‘rangkan’ complete with 5 comfortable cabins, 3 bathrooms and a huge viewing deck, with 360 degrees views from comfortable rattan sofas. Relax and enjoy up to 5 days aboard, served fusion cuisine by our on board chef and stopping enroute to visit villages, explore magical black water lakes by canoe and to see orangutans released on river islands. Be among the first to see raw Borneo, and support an eco tourism initiative. In the running for an international Responsible Tourism Operator Award in London this year, the Rahai’i Pangun Jungle River Cruise is fast becoming an iconic Indonesian tourism experience.
• Museum Balanga in Palangkaraya
The provincial museum contains a fascinating collection of artifacts tracing the everyday life of Dayak peoples from birth, through adolescence, engagement, marriage and death. A fine collection of masks, carved totem poles, Mandau or swords, and traditional cloth may be viewed Monday through Friday mornings.
• City walk around original stilt village and traditional markets
Explore Pahandut on foot or by becak, a 3 wheel pedi cab. Navigate the maze of raised board walks built on high stilts to escape the flooding river waters during the rainy season. One of the chief features are the animated faces of the children!
• Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation’s Education Centre at Nyaru Menteng, near Tangkiling
30 kilometers out of the city along the Cilik Riwut Road is the Arboretum, site of the Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) Foundation’s Clinic, Rehabilitation and Education Centres. The Education Centre is open to the public on Sundays, and permits visitors to view adolescent orangutans, waiting a release location, behind glass. Entry is by donation.
• Taman Alam, near Tangkiling
A small wildlife park lies in the shadow of Bukit Tangkiling. Its most interesting exhibits are the local crocodiles, captured in near by water ways.
• Climbs up Bukit Tangkiling and Bukit Batu
35 kilometers out of Palangkaraya, Bukit Tangkiling at approx 150 m in height is a relatively easy climb. At the top, you are rewarded with a wonderful vista of vast flat flood plains and peat swamp forests, as far as the eye can see. Before the climb, have a look at the jumble of spirit houses, built for wandering spirits and also used by locals putting offerings for their special requests. Brilliantly painted, the yellow banners are believed to attract the good spirits and guide them to these places of refuge. Bukit Batu is approx 70 kilometers from Palangkaraya. This is one of the rare rocky outcrops or magmatic extrusions in the mostly flat peat swamps. Revered by Dayaks as the place of contemplation of their local and national hero, Bapak Cillik Riwut, it has a fascinating history.
Regional capital of the Katingan regency, and over 80 kilometers from Palangkaraya, Kasongan is an interesting small centre at the cross roads of the great Katingan River and the Cilik Riwut Road on its way to Kalimantan Tengah’s port in Sampit. Famed for production of timbers, rattan, gold, zircon, fruits, rubber, oil palm and much more, the township has interesting Dayak sandungs, traditional houses, rattan processing factories, markets and best place to find the giant river prawns which are a culinary specialty here. Shortly after Kasongan is the road which travels north to Tumbang Samba and the hinterlands.
• Tumbang Manggu longhouse and Dayak cultural centre
Getting there is 5 hours by local roads, and fording both the Katingan and Samba Rivers by barge, to reach the Tumbang Manggu Longhouse. Sited behind a tiny river village, it is newly built on traditional principles. It sits on enormous tree trunks, has the ancient niched logs as ladders, and the huge internal communal area for performances. The owner is a local Dayak elder, and acknowledged artist, who maintains dance and music performance at a high level, and welcomes visitors into his home and village to learn more about these ancient arts. The village also houses an impressive number of the bone houses or sandungs, used to store the ancestors’ bones. Decorated by extravagant carvings, totem poles and painted brightly, these sandungs are reminders of the ancient Dayak heritage.
Airport taxis are available on arrival to transport travelers to the hotels in Palangkaraya. There are numerous transport companies that are usually willing to rent out the car plus driver for differing periods.
These transport companies also operate services to most towns and cities in Central Kalimantan.
The larger hotels can assist guests obtain transport. Small orange mini buses service the city and environs on established routes from 6am to 4pm. After this time, you should bargain for your trip.
Flights depart daily for Jakarta and Surabaya. Current airlines operating services into Palangkaraya are Garuda Indonesia, Sriwijaya Air, Lion Air and Citilink. Flights from Palangkaraya to Surabaya are operated by Lion Air.
Palangkaraya is a small city of some 300,000 people. English is rarely spoken, so you will need to learn a few words of basic Bahasa Indonesia to get around.
Normal Indonesian dress standard applies, women wear sleeves and trousers or longer skirts.
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