From the tip of the Ujung Genteng beach up to the Pelabuhan Ratu Bay in the west, the road winds up and down, tossing the car in a never-ending seesaw ride.
We see the sea above us and below us. A roller-coaster ride that gives unimaginable landscape views, unmatched by any amusement park entertainment. The rice fields and trees are on our right, complimenting the ocean’s blue with sparkling greenery. Fending off the serpentine ride’s bump on our heads, we savour each and every moment of being surrounded by nature. The asphalt we ride on cuts across one of Indonesia’s five geoparks – the Ciletuh-Pelabuhan Ratu Geopark. This is coastal West Java (and coastal Sukabumi).
Ciletuh-Pelabuhan Ratu Geopark is the newest addition to the geoparks list in Indonesia. Established as a Global Geopark Network by UNESCO in 2018, this park covers more than 1,500 km and presents a diverse range of landscapes, from pristine beaches and lush rainforests to rugged mountains and towering waterfalls. Probably the most striking part of this park is the coastline where we drive. The Indian Ocean’s vast expanse offers endless views of the blue sea dotted with fishermen’s boats and bagan (floating fishing huts). Here and there, handfuls of surfers bracket the waters with foamy white rising above and breaking behind them.
Waterfalls are plenty in the park, as is the geographic norm throughout West Java. They compete with each other for the place of the most majestic and the most beautiful in Bogor, Bandung, and no less here in Sukabumi. The Ciletuh waterfall plunges 60 m into a crystal-clear pool. A hike up to the waterfall through the surrounding rainforest allows taking in the lush vegetation and the sounds of exotic birds and monkeys along the way.
We stop by Ciletuh Bay which lies at the heart of the Park. Here is a spot where the beach cannot dominate your sights all the time. Hills on your left, paddy fields on your back, and the Cimarinjung waterfall further on your right all become bewitching agents of distractions. The distant sight of the waterfall from a beach is not something you can feed your aesthetic senses with everywhere as most waterfalls are covered by nature. But there flows Cimarinjung down to the valley and joins the Bay by cutting a stream across the beach.
The network of waterfalls in the Park is like a cobweb where one is situated not very far from the other but hopping from one to the other can take one to two hours thanks to the complex topography. Roads are not paved well everywhere, adding either to inconvenience or to a sense of adventure. The waterfalls are fed by the many rivers that flow through the geopark and range in size from small cascades to massive torrents that plummet down from high cliffs.
Leaving behind the freshness of the Bay and the Cimarinjung Waterfall, we drive along the rugged terrain again. At one point where we reach a vantage point, we meet a lady who runs the Bukit Paralayang Ciletuh, a parasailing adventure point that takes keen tourists on a Skyride and lands near the beach at the Ciletuh Bay. The view from this vantage point covers the Bay, the far-off hills, the paddy fields and the Cimarinjung’s flow into the sea. The surrounding cliffs look weathered and worn, their faces carved by the elements over thousands of years. From this point, the Bay looks like a narrow strip of sand, where the waves of the sea crash against the shore. The sand is a mix of golden hues and black, with scattered pebbles and shells adding to the rugged beauty of the landscape.
Another prominent feature of the Sukabumi landscape is the numerous small islands that dot the coastline. These islands are scattered throughout the sea, some close enough to swim to, others accessible only by boat. The islands are formed by volcanic activity and are a testament to the region’s geological history. They are home to a variety of plant and animal species, and visitors can explore their rocky shores and hidden coves.
Down again in our whirring car, we pass fishing villages clinging to the coastline. These villages have been around for centuries and they play a huge role in contributing to the region’s rich cultural history. The fishermen who live here still use traditional methods to catch fish, and visitors can watch as they haul in their nets and bring their catch to shore.
Leaving the Ciletuh waters, we slowly get down to the weekend hot spot of Pelabuhan Ratu. Our cultural stop here is a Buddhist Vihara that is perched on a clifftop by the seaside. This is one of the remotest Buddhist temples you will find in Indonesia.
Nam Hai Kwan Se Im Pu Sa Temple was built by Anothai Kamonwathin (“Mama Airin”), an ethnic Thai who acquired Indonesian citizenship. The temple is said to be founded sometime in 2000. The story goes that Mama Airin had a dream that at the location of this temple, 600 years ago (during the reign of the Ming Dynasty in China), this temple existed, but it disappeared due to the passage of time. She took it upon herself to rebuild it. After searching for suitable sites that flashed in her dream – Gunung Batu, Malang, and Gunung Kidul, Yogyakarta – Mama Airin finally found the best one in the Sukabumi area.
The temple is distinguished from the other ones in Indonesia for its Thai style of architecture. We are prepared to get to the top. Yes, it is an effort of climbing winding stair after stair, probably around 500 of them. At each level, there are statues of the Goddess of Earth and Buddha. The altar on the topmost level features gods and goddesses from different religions, making it a harmonious spot.
One of the most unique things about this temple is the altars of King Siliwangi and Nyi Roro Kidul. The Nyi Roro Kidul altar is specially made in a wooden building that resembles a house. This altar carries a bed and a dressing table, devoted to the ruler of the South Seas. A green colour characteristic of Nyi Roro Kidul pervades the whole area. President Soekarno’s work table also features inside this altar.