Well, at last I have done it! I have finally seen what every tourist visiting Jakarta must see: ‘Monas’. ‘Monas‘ is an abbreviation for ‘Monumen Nasional’ (the National Monument).
Our schedule for today was supposed to include a trip to the Thamrin Centre which is apparently a great place to buy oleh oleh (souveniers). As my pack has absolutely no room left, it was quickly agreed that a visit to Monas was more important. I also explained that it was the one place I had yet to visit and really wanted to. So since we were heading to the centre of Jakarta, we also went to the Istiqlal Mosque and also to the Catholic Cathedral across the road. A much better schedule for me since this trip is about collecting memories, not so much souvenirs! Especially with an already bursting pack!
The order we visisted each of the 3 Jakarta icons was determined, as it always is in Jakarta, by the traffic. As the traffic in the centre of Jakarta is guaranteed to be bad, we decided to plan our schedule around the direction of the one way streets. Thus we began at the Catholic Cathedral.
My accompanying teachers,Pak Haji & Bu Rina, are muslim and were both nervous and curious about being inside a catholic church, especially as guests were beginning to arrive for a wedding! It was lovely inside the cathedral with beautiful arched timber ceilings and large Christian pictures on the walls under the huge stained glass windows all dating back to the time of Dutch colonisation. In preparation for the wedding, the pews were decorated with bunches of flowers which were tied beautifully with ribbon. It felt so European.
After a quick walk through the church we headed across the road to the Istiqlal Mosque which is the largest in South East Asia and according to our guide, the 3rd largest in the world after Mecca which is without doubt, the largest. To pronounce the Mosque’s name, try this: Is-tick-lull. The building began in 1961 and wasn’t finished until 1978 and even now it is constantly being renovated. When we first arrived, we had to remove our shoes and walk through a metal detector. We then chose one of the guides to take us around and he showed us to a room which was set up for showing films. I thought we were going to be shown a film about the mosque, but instead we were directed to put our shoes in a cupboard that looked like the teachers pigeon holes at school, while he went to a wardrobe and selected one of the gowns. He brought it over to us and told me that I needed to wear it because my arms were showing! The gown was like a kimono and I felt like I was walking around in a dressing gown!
We headed out to the stairs and climbed up to the 2nd floor.From there we could look down on the main prayer area.
The mosque is absolutely enormous and has the capacity for 120,000 worshippers. There are also 4 levels of balcony above the prayer area and if that isn’t enough space, there are also several huge areas outside marked out ready for prayer mats showing which direction is ‘kiblat’. There are signs everywhere with an arrow labelled ‘kiblat’, showing the direction towards Mecca.
Here I am wearing my kimono:
It was great being able to look through a mosque, especially one so famous as this one. It is only the second time I have been in a mosque and what impressed me most about Istiqlal was the quietness and cleanliness, 2 things Jakarta is not famous for!
We headed back to the school van which was driven by Pak Herman today and he took us to our 3rd and final destination for today; Monas.
We follow the hoards to the ticket booth and buy tickets to take us to the top. On our way to the lift, we pass through a huge area underneath the entire building. People are scattered everywhere, either sitting down chatting or walking around the perimeter of the room looking at the many dioramas showing different scenes from significant events in Indonesia’s history. We look at a few but I happily bypass the majority to head upstairs. Can you imagine our horror when we finally get to the lift to discover a queue that winds around 2 sides of the base of the monument? My 2 companions wanted to give up there and then, but I thankfully was able to convince them that we should give it a go. The queue moved very slowly and at one point early in our lining up, Pak Haji went for a walk to find out why it was so slow. He discovered that there was only one lift and the maximum capacity for the lift was 11 people! We ended up waiting in the queue for over 2.5 hours! Pak Haji & Bu Rina kept checking their watches! It was quite amusing because in Jakarta we spend hours in traffic jams yet standing in a queue for hours was difficult!
Towards the end of the queue were rails directing the traffic and they were welcome because at last we could sit on the railing and give our poor feet a rest. Being in the queue gave us a chance to chat to the people around us. We discovered that we were surrounded by a huge group of high school students from Probolingo in East Java. This trip was a graduation celebration for them as they will start senior high school when the new school year begins in July. The funny thing was there were 2 other westerners in the line as well. My 2 companions kept telling me that I had friends in the line up ahead and were puzzled when I showed no interest in going over and saying halo! I tried to explain that the chance they were Australian was slim and even if they were, our current population is 18 million! They weren’t convinced! Indonesians are so friendly and love to chat with fellow Indonesians no matter where they are. however I tend to avoid other travelers (and visa versa too). It is hard to explain why, but I think it is like breaking the mystical spell that we fall under when we travel.
When we finally reached the lift door we felt like cheering. The lift to the top wasn’t as fast as I thought it would be, but it didn’t take that long. My ears did pop on the way up though! After such a huge long queue of people to get onto the lift, there was surprisingly few people at the top. I had barely got to the top and looked out on one side when Pak Haji started encouraging us to head down again! I thought he was hungry or ambivalent about the view but later I realised that we had waited in line so long, he was feeling anxious because he had missed midday prayers. Once in the lift he asked the man controlling the lift where the musholla (prayer room) was! However we did have enough time to walk around the top and take some photos while looking at this absolutely enormous city that sprawled as far as the eye could see. No wonder the population of the greater Jakarta area is larger than the entire population of Australia!