Riau Province (near Singapore) embraces a large chunk of eastern Sumatra and the Riau islands, a group of 3000 islands that lie between Sumatra and Singapore in the strategic Straits of Malacca and the South China Sea. Most of the islands are uninhabited, and many are nothing more than coral reefs which rise far enough above the ocean to be considered islands. The largest island is Bintan. The mainland areas on Sumatra are covered mostly by dense lowland forest and swamps. Some of the last remaining popualtions of Sumatran tigers, Sumatran rhinos, elephants and tapirs are found here.

About 6.7 million people is Riau Province, with about a third living on the larger islands. It is the heartland of Indonesia's Malays as well as the Bahasa Indonesian language which is very similar to Malay. The first book of Malay grammar, called Bustanul Katibin, was written and published here in 1857. Riau Province is rich in oil, tin and bauxite and was rich in tropical forests before many area were deforested. Some of the islands have been developed for tourists coming from Singapore.

Like Aceh, Riau has a reputation for being another troubled resource-rich province. At one time it accounted for nearly half of Indonesia's production of oil and natural gas. Oil fields in Riau Province are being worked by Caltex Petroleum, a joint venture of Chevron and Texaco. In the past production was cut due to attacks on the oil fields. The people of Riau want a better revenue sharing deal.

The Riau Islands were ruled by Malay kingdoms in the 16th century. The kings found it difficult to maintain their power because aside from fighting sea pirates, they also had to fend off attacks from Portuguese, Dutch and English who were keen in controlling this southern entrance of the Strait of Malacca — a strategic place for trade with China and India back then. Oil was found near Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau, before World War II. The first oil well was drilled in Minas, about 15 kilometers away from Pekanbaru. Pekanbaru became the provincial capital in 1959, taking over from the former capital of Tanjungpinang on the Island of Bintan.

The people that inhabit Riau province are mostly Malays. They are known for their geniality, warmth and affection, also diverse styles of language. There are several protected tribes too in Riau province, most famous perhaps is Sakai tribe that still lives in the forest. About 160 kilometers upstream on the Siak River you can find a number of buildings in the traditional style. Among them are Balai Dang Merdu, Balai Adat and Taman Budaya Riau, or Riau Cultural Park. The food eaten in Riau is mostly traditional Malay cuisine, which is normally spicy. Among the typical dishes are kare- (a kind of curry) and Malay-style seafood dishes. Due to its proximity to Singapore and neighboring provinces, Riau features a variety of Western Sumatra and North Sumatra dishes. Western food and fast food are available virtually everywhere.

Simpang Tiga Airport is a busy visa free entry point. Pelangi flies to Kuala Lumpur and Silk Air flies to Singapore. Domestic airlines direct flights are available from Jakarta as well as from Medan and Batam on several airlines. There are buses and minibuses to destination all over Sumatra. Agencies all around town sell tickets for the boats to Batam, where you can catch the ferry and faster boats to Singapore. Tourism Office: Jl. Jend. Sudirman No. 200, Pekanbaru Phone. (62-761) 31452, 40356, Fax. (62-761) 40356; Website: riau.go.id

Riau Archipelago

Riau Archipelago with Tanjung Pinang as the capital is blessed with a lot potential for tourism. Including beautiful beaches and cultural attractions. Its waters are the backyard of native seafaring nomads who fish and trade for a living. Their traditional wooden sailing crafts called 'pinisi' still ply the the forested channels of these islands, along with other indigenous crafts, fishing vessels and cargo ships. Tanjung Pinang lies on the largest island of Bintan archipelago. Once known as Riau, it was the heart of an ancient Malay kingdom. Today, Bintan is undergoing development that occurs in fits and starts.

The Riau Archipelago is a province that consists of the Riau Archipelago, Natuna Islands and Anambas Archipelago. Barely an hour away from Singapore by ferry the Riau Archipelago is in the process of being turned into what is hoped to be a major tourist destination. Originally part of Riau Province, Riau Archipelago was split off as a separate Province in July 2004 with Tanjung Pinang as its capital. Anambas Archipelago, located between mainland Malaysia and Borneo were attached to the new province. Based on population, the most important islands in this area are are Bintan, Batam and Karimun. Size wise, however, the sparsely populated Natuna Islands are larger.

Riau Archipelago with its thousands of island has plenty of scenic beaches and diving spots, among them Trikora on Bintan and Pasir Panjang on Rupat Island. Trikora is about 50 kilometers south of Tanjung Pinang on the eastern side of the island. Pasir Panjang, on the northern side of Rupat facing to Malacca Strait, has natural beaches. Nice natural beaches are also found on Terkulai and in the Soreh islands, about an hour's distance by boat from Tanjung Pinang. One of the most popular beaches is Nongsa on Batam Island. From here one can see the Singapore skyline.

Batam is one of the 3,000 islands, which make up the Riau Archipelago and is closest to Singapore, which is only 20 kilometers away or twenty minutes by air-conditioned ferry. It has a rapid-growing population of almost 1 million and has developed into a major industrial and tourist area, attracting an ever-increasing population from other Indonesian islands who see Batam as a haven of opportunity. Once almost uninhabited, save for a few scattered fishing communities, Batam's history took a sharp turn beginning 1969, when it became support base for the State-owned 'Pertamina oil company' and its offshore oil exploration. In 1971 a presidential decree designated it as an industrial area and in 1975 the Batam Authority was formed. In 1978 Batam was established as a bonded area. In addition to the oil support industries of Batu Ampar and a fast growing electronics industry, Batam now attracts increasing numbers of tourists. Many come from Singapore for a short holiday with friends and family, duty-free shopping and great seafood. The visitors to Singapore hope over for a day or weekend trip.

Riau Island can easily be reached by air or sea from Jakarta and Pekanbaru directly. Batam and Bintan have intrnational shiplines and flight. It is only 45 minutes away from Singapore by ferry. Malay people are the indigenous people of Riau islands. However because of the high number of people comeing from elsewhere in Indonesia to seek their fortune the Riau Islands now melting pot for many ethnic groups. The islands are known for Malay-influenced cuisine, Riau Islands seafood and fresh ingredients.

History of the Riau Archipelago

From Sriwijaya era until the 16th century, Riau was a part of greater Malay kingdoms or sultanates, in the heart of what is often called the 'Malay World', which stretches from eastern Sumatra to Borneo. The Malay-related Orang Laut tribes inhabited the islands and formed the backbone of most Malay kingdoms from Sriwijaya to the Sultanate of Johor for the control of trade routes going through the straits. After the fall of Melaka in 1511, Riau islands became the center of political power of the mighty Sultanate of Johor or Johor - Riau, based on Bintan island, and were considered the center of Malay culture.

But history changed the fate of Riau as a political, cultural or economic center when European powers struggled to control the regional trade routes and took advantage of political weaknesses within the sultanate. Singapore Island, that had been for centuries part of the same greater Malay kingdoms and sultanates, and under direct control of Sultan of Johor, came under British control. The creation of a European-controlled territory in Johor-Riau heart natural boundaries broke the sultanate into two parts, destroying the cultural and political unity that had existed for centuries. The Anglo-Dutch treaty of 1824 consolidated this separation, with the British controlling all territories north of the Singapore Strait and Dutch controlling territories from Riau to Java.

After the European powers withdrew from the region, the new independent governments had to reorganize and find balance after inheriting 400 years of colonial boundaries. Before finding their current status, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Borneo territories struggled and even came into military conflict against each other, and Riau islands once again found themselves in the middle of regional struggle. But the once strong cultural unity of the region with Riau never returned, and the line drawn by the British in 1819 remained, this time marking the divide between three new countries as of 1965: Singapore, the Malaysian federation in the north and Indonesia in the south. These new countries, however, recreated unity in Riau world for the first time after 150 years with the creation of the Sijori Growth Triangle.

But while bringing back some economical wealth to Riau, the Sijori Growth Triangle somewhat broke the cultural unity within the islands. With Batam island receiving most of the industrial investments and dramatically developing into a regional industrial center, it attracted hundred of thousands of non-Malay Indonesian migrants, changing forever the demographic balance in the archipelago.

Today the name of Riau merely refers to this administrative region of Indonesia, a free trade zone heavily supported by Indonesian, Singaporean and international investments.

Strait of Malacca

The Strait of Malacca is a narrow strait of water that divides the Indonesian island of Sumatra from Malaysia and Singapore. It is also one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. The 890-kilometer-long waterway carries one third of the world’s trade and one half of the world’s oil supply. Carrying more ships everyday than the Panama and Suez Canals combined, its strategic importance can not be underestimated. The strait doesn't lie in international waters but is located in the territorial waters of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore and these countries are responsible for patrolling it.

More than 60,000 ships — equal to half the world's merchant fleet — carrying half the world's oil and 40 percent of its commerce pass through the Malacca Strait. The ship range from mammoth supertankers as large as city skyscrapers to tugs and barges. Lots of tankers going between the Persian Gulf and East Asia pass through the strait. As parts of the strait are only one kilometer wide ships have to sail at low speed.

Peter Gwin wrote in National Geographic: For centuries, this sliver of ocean has captivated seamen, offering the most direct route between India and China, along with a bounty of resources, including spices, rubber, mahogany, and tin. But it is a watery kingdom unto itself, harboring hundreds of rivers that feed into the channel, miles of swampy shoreline, and a vast constellation of tiny islands, reefs, and shoals. Its early inhabitants learned to lead amphibian lives, building their villages over water and devising specialized boats for fishing, trading, and warfare. [Source: Peter Gwin, National Geographic, October 2007]

Patrick Winn wrote in Global Post, “The Strait of Malacca is a natural paradise for seafaring bandits. Imagine an aquatic highway flowing between two marshy coasts. One shoreline belongs to Malaysia, the other to Indonesia. Each offers a maze of jungly hideaways: inlets and coves that favor pirates’ stealth vessels over slow, hulking ships. It's a narrow route running 550 miles, roughly the distance between Miami and Jamaica. This bottleneck is plied by one-third of the world's shipping trade. That's 50,000 ships per year — ferrying everything from iPads to Reeboks to half the planet's oil exports. Avoiding pirates by traveling fast is “practically impossible in the Strait of Malacca. The channel is simply too crowded and too shallow. Gigantic vessels are instead forced to churn through at slow speeds that invite pirates in fast-moving skiffs. (To save fuel, today's cargo ships often travel at about 14 miles per hour. That's slower than 19th-century sail boats.) [Source: Patrick Winn, GlobalPost, March 27, 2014]

History of the Strait of Malacca

At least since the A.D. 1st century, islands in the straits of Malacca, were used as holding area for Indian and Chinese trading ships to find shelter and wait out typhoons that raged in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. Marco Polo briefly described his passage through the strait and a stop at what is thought to be present-day Bintan island. Beginning in the 16th century, Europeans — first the Portuguese, then Dutch and the British — arrived in the area and, realizing the strait’s importance, fought each other and the local sultanates as well as the Malay and Bugis mariners in these waters for control over the strategic shipping channel.

In the 18th century the Strait of Malacca was part of the Malay Peninsula and ruled by the Johor-Riau Sultanate, whose seat alternated between Johor — in present day Malaysia - and Bintan Island, in present day Indonesia. In 1884 the British and the Dutch closed their differences over the strait, its islands and land on either side of it with the signing of the Treaty of London, by which all territories north of Singapore were given suzerainity to the British, while territories south of Singapore were ceded to Dutch powers.

After that Singapore grew and prospered, while the areas the control of the Dutch, who concentrated their efforts in present-day Jakarta and Java, neglected the area. In recent decades, cordial relations between Indonesia and Singapore have led to development on the Indonesian side of the strait, particularlyin the Riau islands, where a Free Trade Zone was set up on the Batam, Bintan and Karimun islands.

Piracy in the Strait of Malacca

The Malacca Strait has a long history of piracy. Peter Gwin wrote in National Geographic: “Armadas of these skilled sea raiders in light, maneuverable craft regularly plundered passing ships and retreated upriver to fortified villages. Their raids yielded troves of gold, gems, gunpowder, opium, and slaves, which they used to build powerful sultanates that dominated much of the Sumatran and Malaysian coastlines. [Source: Peter Gwin, National Geographic, October 2007]

“Sailors chronicled the horrors they faced in the strait and nearby waters. One 19th-century episode involved the capture of British Captain James Ross. Believing his ship held a stash of silver coins, lanun forced him to watch as his young son was lashed to an anchor and drowned. Then they cut off Ross's fingers joint by joint.

“European colonizers and their navies brought the sultanates under control in the late 1800s, but the lanun were never eradicated. The 21st-century inheritors of their tradition continue to hunt these waters, mainly in three incarnations: gangs that board vessels to rob the crews; multinational syndicates that steal entire ships; and guerrilla groups that kidnap seamen for ransom.

Today, The Strait of Malacca is known as one of the world's piracy hotspots. Between 2001 and 2007, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has recorded 258 pirate attacks in the Malacca Strait and surrounding waters, including more than 200 sailors held hostage and 8 killed. More than $1 million in ransom was paid in 2005 by owners of ships transiting the passageway, statistics show. According to the International Maritime Bureau, of 325 pirate attacks that took place in 2004, 37 were in the Malacca Strait. Indonesia was a victim of the largest number of pirate attacks, with 93 occurring in its territorial waters. Because ships travel at low speeds they are easy targets for pirates.

By 2005, pirate attacks in the Straits were happening almost weekly and Lloyds of London began classifying the waters as a war zone. In 2005, the insurer Lloyds of London included the Malacca Strait on the list of the world's 20 most dangerous waterways. It also raised its rates for insuring ships that traveled through the strait, and said that piracy attacks will be classifdied as a war risk rather than a maritime risk, citing its "war, strikes, terrorism and related perils." The advisory was lifted this year after Singapore and Indonesia began coordinated air and sea patrols. [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, November 13, 2006]

Peter Gwin wrote in National Geographic: “The strait's geography makes it nearly unsecurable. It passes between Malaysia and Indonesia, known for thorny relations, further complicating the security picture. Some 250 miles (400 kilometers) wide at its northern mouth, the strait funnels down to about ten miles (16 kilometers) across near its southern end and is dotted with hundreds of uninhabited mangrove islands, offering endless hideouts to all manner of criminals. [Source: Peter Gwin, National Geographic, October 2007]

For a while the waters around Somalia were the biggest piracy hot spot but as piracy has slacked off there in recent years it has picked up again in the Malacca Strait and South China Sea. There are also worries that a terrorist attack might occur there. Reuters reported: “The strait is only 1.7 miles wide at its narrowest point, which creates a natural bottleneck and makes it vulnerable to terrorist attack. Middle East crude accounts for 90 percent of Japan's imports, while up to 80 percent of China's oil imports and 30 percent of its iron ore imports pass through the Strait of Malacca.

Beaches, Islands and Reefs on the Riau Islands .

Pasir Panjang on the side Rupat island which faces the Strait of Malacca is good for surfing. Good beaches are found on the islands of Terkulai and Soreh which are about an hour by boat from Tanjung Pinang. On the Nongs beach on Batam island one can see the Singapore skyline. Good snorkeling can be found around the islands of Mapor, Abang, Pompong, Balang and Tanjung Berkait.

Located at Pangke, Meral, Tanjung Balai Karimun, Pelawan Beach is the right place for you to find inspiration and peace. This beach has white sands, big rocks, and mangrove forests in its surrounding areas. Its beautiful beach and blue water make it the pride of those living in Tanjung Balai Karimun. It is also a favorite place for weekend and new-year celebrations. The nature of Pelawan Beach is still well-maintained as you could see from its clean sand. It is easiest to reach this beach by airplane. Hang Nadim international airport in Batam city, Kepulauan Riau is its entry point. From Batam, it takes about 45 minutes by ship from Batam port to Tanjung Balai Karimun.

Natuna Archipelago

The Natuna Archipelago is Indonesia’s most northerly islands in the South China Sea. If you are adventurous by nature and are looking for beaches that are free from other tourists, then the Natuna Archipelago could be the right place for you. It comprises some 270 islands and has amazing green-blue seas. Bunguran, Jemaja and Serasan are the three largest islands in this archipelago located in the South China Sea.

There are the beautiful beaches such as Tanjung Sebagul, Teluk Selahang or Setengar beach. There are also caves such as the Batu Sindu, and Batu Kapal caves, or see the strange clusters of granite stones at the Stone Park. In Natuna, are also found the endangered species of primates called Kekah. This monkey only lives and breeds on Bunguran Island in areas that include the Gubung Sintu area (Pian Tengah, Sepang, Seberang), Mount Ranai, and Mount Ceruk. In season, you can find turtles laying eggs on several beaches. Don't forget to visit Tiga Island, which is famous for its coral reefs. This area is where the Napoleon fish lives and breeds.

Visitors can stay in hotels or inns available on Pramuka, H.R Subrantas Ranai Darat, Sukarno Hatta, or Dt. Kaya W.M Benteng streets To reach Natuna take a flight to Batam’s Hang Nadim’s airport. Or take a ferry to Batam from Singapore or Johor Bahru, Malaysia. From Batam, take another flight to Ranai airport in the Natuna archipelago, which takes about a one hour flight. Lion Air now flies Jakarta-Batam-Natuna daily. Alternatively, you can take a motorboat from Tanjung Pinang but it only sails once a week.

Anambas Islands

The Anambas Islands are located between Singapore and the Natuna islands in the South China Sea. Earlier the islands were better known as a base for off shore oil drilling and natural gas explorations,but today Anambas has gained popularity among divers on account of its pristine corals and azure seas where whalesharks may suddenly appear. The islands are easiest accessible by live-aboards from Singapore and Malaysia.

Anambas is the latest district in the province of the Riau Archipelago. Best-known sites are the underwater reefs of Tokong Berlayar, the Malang Biru island which has steep slopes, the Katoaka reef, and the Seven Skies wreck. There are also small local fishing villages on Anambas, waterfalls, and beautiful natural surrounding

The Anambas islands are very remote and have little facilities, including little health care, while restaurants sell only Indonesian food. Therefore, when you wish to dive here, best travel on fully equipped liveaboards or take your own yacht with complete telecommunications connectivity.

By Air: Anambas is served only by Riau Airlines which flies to Pulau Matak, "gateway" of the Anambas Islands . This airline operates thrice weekly Fokker-50 flights from Tanjung Pinang's Kijang Airfield on the Island of Bintan. Bintan is connected by hourly fast ferry from Singapore. If you leave from Singapore at 0700AM by boat to Tanjung Pinang on Bintan, you are able to connect to the Riau Airlines flight which brings you on the ground in Matak Airfield at 1200 Noon. The airport, owned by ConocoPhilips for offshore drilling and natural gas explorations, also serves as a domestic terminal .It has a 1,200 meter runway and is beautifully located by a shallow lagoon.

By Boat: Best is to travel to and around Anambas by yacht or live-aboard from Singapore, Batam or Bintan. Twice a month the Pelni shipping lines has a ferry, the kilometers Bukit Raya that calls on Kota Tarempa (the Archipelago's capital "City") on Siantan Island. You can catch it from the Tanjung Priok harbour in Jakarta, Capital of Indonesia. Sailing times are prone to delays. This boat also delivers almost all the necessary goods to the Islands.

Penyengat Island

Penyengat Island (a 15 minute sampan ride from Tanjung Pinanag) was the seat of the powerful Bugis-descended viceroys. A small island situated across Tanjung Pinang, Penyengat was the twin-seat of the Sultan of the Johor-Riau Kingdom in the 18th century. Today, the Sultan’s palace has been restored. It is an interesting blend of Javanese and Dutch architecture, still imbued with an air of dignity, even though it has been abandoned for more than 80 years. There also tombs and crypts, and a restored fort worth checking out.

The pride of the island is the Sultan’s Mosque, the Mesjid Raya Sultan Riau Penyengat. Peeping through the palm trees like a fairy tale castle, it is still in use today. Rumour has it that a large part of the mosque was made of eggs, gifts from the Sultan’s loyal subjects on the occasion of his wedding. The egg-white proved to be a strong bonding agent. The mosque has excellent acoustics and even a whisper can carry right across the auditorium. Here is also the beautifully preserved handwritten and illustrated Quran of over 150 years old.

Around the island, descendants of the Riau royalty still live here in modest stilt houses. Even today there is hardly any transport on the island, and life goes on very much as it has for centuries. There are good walkways on the island. A new cultural center holds performances of Malay and local dances including Malay wedding ceremonies, the joget dance, and demonstrations of pencak silat, the Indonesian martial art.

The island's just a 1.5 kilometers from Tanjung Pinang. Speed boats are available to carry you to Penyengat from Tanjung Pinang jetty, about US$1 per person. Or you can rent one for about US$7 to take a small group of people for a roundtrip.

Sultan Riau Mosque

Sultan Riau Grand Mosque (on Penyengat Island) was built when the island was the residence of Engku Puteri Raja Hamidah, wife of the Riau ruler, Sultan Mahmudsyah (1761—1812). Initially, this mosque was a simple wooden building with brick floors and about 6 meter tall towers. Sultan Abdurrahman then invited participation from his people to help build a bigger mosque. People from many places around the Riau Lingga area came to the island to donate their materials, food and manpower.

Some said that due to abundant food supplies of rice, vegetables and eggs, workers were so bored eating eggs that they only ate the yolks and used the whites as adhesive material. The egg whites were mixed with sand and limestone to make this mosque which still stands strong today. Today, many visitors come to pray in this historical building. If you're more interested in the architecture, here are some details. The walls of this mosque are 50 centimeters thick and the mosque is the only one remaining from the Riau-Lingga kingdom that is intact. The total size of this mosque compound is about 54.4 x 32.2 meters. The size of its main building is 29.3 x 19.5 meters, and is supported by four pillars. Its floor is made of clay bricks. In its yard, there are two Sotoh houses for travelers and meetings. There are also two halls where local people place food during parties or fast breaking sessions in the evenings during the holy month of Ramadan.

This mosque has thirteen domes and four sharp towers as high as 18.9 meters that were previously used by muadzin to call for prayers. This mosque looks as strong as royal palaces in India. Its domes are varied and grouped into three and four domes. Total number of domes and towers is 17. It reflects the total number of rekaat in Muslim pray that must be performed by every Muslim every day. Sultan Riau Mosque has very unique architecture. It is not known from where this mosques architecture originates.

Tomb of Raja Ali Haji

The Tomb of Raja Ali Haji (on Penyengat) is the tomb of a famous leader not only in this province, but also in other parts of Indonesia. This island is synonymous with the great poet. For the local Malay, particularly those living on Malacca peninsula, he is a great hero who is respected and honored. His full name is Raja Ali al-Hajj ibni Raja Ahmad al-Hajj ibni Raja Haji Fisabilillah bin Opu Daeng Celak, alias Engku Haji Ali ibni Engku Haji Ahmad Riau. Born in 1808, or 1193 Hijriah, in Riau-Lingga Sultanate on Penyengat Island, Raja Ali Haji died in 1873 on the same island.

The Tomb of Raja Ali Haji is located within the cemetery of Engku Putri Raja Hamidah, outside the main building of the Tomb of Engku Putri Raja Hamidah. Inside this main building, you will find an excerpt of the famous “Gurindam Dua Belas” poem. (the Twelve Aphorism). The Tomb of Raja Ali Haji itself has a green roof. Two grave stones on this tomb are properly covered with yellow fabrics.

Places in Eastern Sumatra in Riau Province

Pekanbaru (about 160 kilometers up the Siak River) is the capital of Riau Province and main town on the central eastern Sumatran mainland. It is primarily an oil town. For travelers it is mainly a way station between Singapore and Bukttinggi. About 120 kilometers up river from Pekanbau is Siak Sultanate's Park, featuring a palace built in 1889 by the Sultan of Siak. Now a museum this palace contains royal paraphernalia and other items of historical interest.

Kerumutan Nature Reserve (18 hours by a motorboat ride from Pekanbaru) is located on the mainland of Sumatra. This 120,000 hectare park is one of the most remote regions in remote Sumatra.

Bukit Tigapuluh National Park (between Riau and Jambi Provinces) contains large tratcs of lowland forests and is home to tribal people. most significantly the Kubu.

Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program

Reporting from Bukit Tigapuluh National Park, Indonesia, Richard C. Paddock wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Peter Pratje, a German wildlife biologist and project leader of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, plans to free as many as 50 rehabilitated orangutans in Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in central Sumatra, where the species has not lived for 150 years. The orangutans — orphans illegally captured in the wild, sold as pets and later seized by authorities — are learning to live in an environment they haven't known since they were small. [Richard C. Paddock, Los Angeles Times, May 14, 2005]

“Unlike some orangutan rehabilitation centers, this one is not run as a tourist attraction. The 24-mile dirt road into the park keeps visitors and illegal loggers at bay by turning to mud in the rainy season, stranding travelers for days at a time. The younger orangutans at the center are released from their cages during the day to explore the nearby forest and learn how to find some of the 200 foods a wild orangutan eats.

“It's up to the younger orangutans to decide when they are ready to stay overnight in the jungle. Older orangutans, when they are deemed ready, are taken a short distance into the jungle and released. The staff monitors them and feeds them if necessary. Some disappear quickly and stay away for long periods. Others come back to the center and hang around for months. Some never adjust, like Sari, a 12-year-old who lives in the camp, sleeps in a metal barrel instead of a tree and steals vegetables from the garden rather than forage in the woods.

"It's clear that not all orangutans can be rehabilitated or reintroduced," said Pratje, who estimates that 20 percent are too accustomed to human ways to adapt to the jungle. "If they are kept very well, like part of the family, the chances of turning them back into orangutans is smaller," he said. "Those who were treated badly hate humans. If they hate humans, they don't expect us to feed them." Of the 35 orangutans released between January 2003 and May 2005, four are confirmed dead and eight are unaccounted for, Pratje said. Over the long term, he expects that about half the orangutans he releases will survive.

“Two four-man enforcement teams hired by the center patrol the national park, watch over the orangutans and occasionally destroy illegal logging camps. It is the first time since the fall of the Suharto military regime seven years ago that wildlife regulations have been enforced in the park.

Story of a Rescued Orangutan at Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program

Richard C. Paddock wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Mustafa, the largest of the 35 freed so far, stands a good chance of becoming the group's alpha male. He is believed to already have fathered two babies through the bars of his cage while awaiting release at the Orangutan Reintroduction Center on the edge of the park. Estimated to be 15 years old, he seems good-natured but is potentially the most dangerous because of his size. [Richard C. Paddock, Los Angeles Times, May 14, 2005]

“Pratje believes Mustafa was captured when he was about 3 and still with his mother. At some point, Mustafa was taken to the Hotel Niagara near Sumatra's scenic Lake Toba, where he was called Boy and kept in a garden mini-zoo with snakes, monkeys, monitor lizards and a younger orangutan, also called Boy.

“His home was a cage 6 feet wide, 10 feet long and 10 feet high. "It was like a jail," acknowledged Agun Pakpahan, Mustafa's keeper during his last two years of captivity. Mustafa was kept there for a decade, Pratje believes. "His crime," he said, "was being cute when he was a baby." Hotel guests were allowed to feed the orangutan bananas and other fruit. Sometimes he would get upset and grab a visitor's hand, Pakpahan said, but he never hurt anyone. He liked to climb around in the cage and be sprayed with water. It appears Mustafa was well cared for; he does not display the animosity toward humans that is common among mistreated orangutans. Pakpahan said he wept the day he came to work in 2002 and found that police had confiscated both of his beloved Boys.

“Mustafa spent 15 months at the reintroduction center at Bukit Tigapuluh, a camp of scattered wooden houses and orangutan cages about 200 miles south of the equator, and was released into the wild. The arrival of Mustafa presented special problems. For one thing, he was much too big to be let out for his lessons. Keepers brought about 50 kinds of food to his cage. They demonstrated how to eat termites and break open a rattan vine with their teeth. But Pratje was uncertain how much Mustafa learned. "There's a lot we can't teach," he said. "We can show him the fruit but not the tree."

Release of Rescued Orangutan at Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program

Richard C. Paddock wrote in the Los Angeles Times: Pratje decided to release Mustafa during the rainy season, when food was most abundant. The keepers lured him into a metal box measuring about 4 feet long, 3 feet wide and 3 feet high. It had a small mesh screen at one end that allowed him to peer out. Eight men carried his cage on poles for a day through the leech-infested jungle, then ferried him by bamboo raft upriver to a remote part of the park. [Richard C. Paddock, Los Angeles Times, May 14, 2005]

“On the first day, the eight bearers carried Mustafa into the forest along an old logging road, then up and down steep trails through the jungle. The temperature was above 90 degrees and the air was heavy with humidity. "This is the most difficult one because he is the biggest and the site is also the farthest," said Suparman, 26, an enforcement unit leader who has been involved in many of the releases. Like many Indonesians, he uses one name. "It's also more difficult because it's the rainy season and the trail is more slippery."

“The group stopped frequently to rest and occasionally pull off leeches. When the bearers came to a stream or river, they jumped in fully clothed to cool down. Mustafa sometimes pounded on the box when the team stopped, but most of the time he was calm. That afternoon, the team set up camp by the Manggatal River and made a bamboo raft for Mustafa. Hornbills flew over the towering trees. Gibbons howled continually from the nearby treetops. A rare Malayan tapir came out of the forest 50 feet from camp and crossed the river to a deep swimming hole.

“The next day, the group headed up the Manggatal, wading in the shallow river alongside the raft, which was an unstable 3 feet wide and 40 feet long. Sometimes the men were up to their necks in water and struggled to keep the raft and Mustafa from tipping over. Orangutans generally dislike water, and the plan was to release Mustafa on the far bank so he would not return to the orangutan center. The bearers carried the metal box up a small stream, set it under the trees, opened the door and retreated to the safety of the stream.

“Mustafa crawled slowly out of the metal cage and found himself in the middle of the Sumatran jungle. He had been behind bars for a dozen years. Now he was home. He hesitated for a moment, then scampered up the nearest tree. In quick order, he swung on a vine, fed on termites from a rotting tree and built a sleeping nest 60 feet above ground. Pratje and the team, watching nervously from the water, marveled as Mustafa, who had been in the cage for more than 48 hours, climbed from tree to tree, swung on a vine and broke branches for the nest.

“After 90 minutes, Mustafa climbed a small tree by the bank of the stream. The tree bent, allowing him to climb into a tree growing from the opposite bank — and suddenly the water wasn't such a barrier. Most of the team withdrew and hiked back to camp half a mile downstream. Mustafa followed on the far bank, swinging through the trees. Within an hour, he had reached the trees across the river from the camp."

“Pratje was concerned that Mustafa would trail the crew all the way back to the center. He decided that all but a small observation team would break camp and leave at 4 a.m. before Mustafa awoke. That night, a torrential storm lashed the jungle. Mustafa spent his first night of freedom in a tree with lightning crashing all around and water pouring down in buckets. By 4 a.m., the river had become so swollen that the current would have swept away anyone who tried to wade. The group clung to the side of the raft in the pitch dark, half wading, half floating down the swollen river. The trick worked, and Mustafa didn't follow. The ape was sighted a month later near the spot where he was released. Since then, no one has seen him in the densse jungle, but Pratje believes he is still nearby.

Muara Takus Temple

Muara Takus Temple (122 kilometers from Pekanbaru) is built by the Kampar Kanan river in a remote in a jungle clearing. Also known as Candi Muara Takus, it is the largest set of ancient brick buildings found on Sumatra. The main Candi Mahligai is a tall stupa flanked by ruins of several other brick sanctuaries. Its tall shape differs from the normally bell-shaped Buddhist stupas found on Java. The temple is constructed of river boulders, sandstone and earthen bricks and was restored in 1980. The Muara Takus complex is the only ancient Buddhist temple complex found in Riau. It is said that the Muara Takus bricks were made in the village of Ponkai above the temple complex, where inhabitants carried the bricks, handing these over to one another in a long line all the way to the complex. Muara Takus can be reached by road either from Padang, West Sumatra or from Pekanbaru, Riau.

The Muara Takus Temple complex is surrounded by a 74 meter x 74 meter wall, with another earthen rampart of 1.5 kilometers x 1.5 kilometers surrounding this, stretching to the edge of the Kampar Kanan river. Within the walls are Candi Tua, Candi Bungsu, the Mahligai stupa and the Palangka. In the complex is a mound believed to be the place for cremations. When they were built is something of a mystery, Archaeologists estimate they buildings were constructed either in the 2nd, 4th 7th or 9th century. Bt the 10th century, the kingdom of Srivijaya located further south near present-day Palembang was a thriving learning center for Buddhism, where even Chinese pilgrims were said to study on Sumatra first before proceeding to India.

The Muara Takus Compound Site was nominated to become a UNESCO World Heritage site. In October 2009. According to UNESCO: The Kampar Kanan River divides Muara Takus into two regions. The Kampar Kanan River flowing northward forms a parabolic river bend. In the eastern side of the Kampar Kanan River,there is a small river which is known by the local people as the Umpamo or Limpamo River. In the past, a human settlement was situated at the inner side and northern side of the river bend, but more specifically in the eastern side of the river... The Zones located within the ancient embankment are named Zone I, whereas the Zones located outside the ancient embankment are named Zone II. Inside Zone I, there are the Mahligai Temple, Building III and Building IV; While in Zone II, there are Building V and Building VI. The Zoning was based solely on the grouping of the observed Zones and was not based on the true concept of site zoning. [Source: Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia]

“The Muara Takus Temple compound was utilized as place for settlement and for worship near the water sheds of Kampar Kanan River. This compound is situated on the higher grounds that are not affected by floods from the Kampar Kanan River. The embankment serves as the region's border line, as a flood guard, and as a part of a drainage system in managing overflowing rainwater. This is evident from several dikes/gaps on the embankment that are parallel with ditches. In the centre of the embankment is the Umpamo River that flows into the Kampar Kanan River. This stream serves as a water drainage for rainwater flowing into embankment. In the inner part of the embankment, there is a relatively flat land.

“The unique structure of the Muara Takus Temple that is unequalled is an outstanding masterpiece created by the community. The distinction between shapes and sizes of the temples in the Muara Takus compound demonstrates the level of understanding of the benefits expected from such differences. The construction of the temples was done in several stages and this demonstrates the advanced knowledge and understanding of the past generation carried forward to the next generation. As a result, the structures were different in shapes, sizes, and philosophy (Mahligai Temple).

“Muara Takus Temple clusters as well as the settings and artifacts discovered in this region have high archeological values as they provide descriptions of events and tradition of the supporting community in Muara Takus Temple between the 12th century and 13th century (reflecting Buddhism). With the discovery of stone fragments with vajra drawings and bijamantra (words of wisdom) inscribed using Nagari characters, it can be concluded that the temple compound was built by followers of Buddhism, particularly the Vajrayana sect. The inscription discovered in the temple compound can be used to determine the chronology of the temple, for instance, the Sriwijaya epigraph in the 7th century (for the Ancient/Pallawa vested letters) epigraph of Rakai Panangkaran of Ancient Mataram in Java in 8th century (Nagari characters). Besides that, the chronology of the temple can be determined from the ceramic pieces originating from the 13th and 14th century found in the area.

“The location of Muara Takus Temple compound is within an area encircled by the ancient embankment made from dirt. It is highly probable that this was a water system that was managed by the ancient community to address the water overflow from the Kampar Kanan River. During the excavation on the ancient embankment, several fragments of bricks similar to the temple's stones were discovered. The data indicates that it is possible that the temple and the embankment were of the same period.

“There is a correlation between the temple's function, the ancient embankment, and the brick structure. It is obvious that in the past, the temple was a sacred religious building, and therefore, around the temple, there must have been a settlement inhabited by the followers or the caretakers of the sacred building. It has been proven from the discovery of several brick structures (tiles) in the inner part of the embankment, that it is believed to be the foundation of a native's house. Also, household utensils, such as ceramic pieces were discovered.

“In building the embankment and the temple, it is believed that many people were deployed. Thus, a busy settlement might have been led by an influential person (king?) who was able to command people to build the embankment and temple. From some etno-historical data, it was described that there was a man named Datuk Laweh Talingo who had ears that were so wide that his ears could be used as a blanket. This character played a significant role in building the ancient Muara Takus embankment. According to the legend, after passing away, this character was transformed into an elephant. It was believed that the elephant that used to visit the compound was an incarnation of this character. There is also a legend on the material used in the brick-making that originated from Pongkai region. As from the research results, it was discovered that many new bricks were made in Tanjung region, located approximately 7 kilometers from Muara Takus. The quality of the brick material from that region is similar to that of the bricks used in the temple structure. Hence, the bricks from Tanjung region were used for the restoration of Muara Takus Temple.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Indonesia Tourism website ( indonesia.travel ), Indonesia government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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