Blitar – A Range of Attractions: East Java
There are many tourist attractions in Blitar, a city located right at the foot of Mount Kelud, and 167 kilometers from the East Java capital of Surabaya city, so it would be a pity if you miss it. Apart from the grave of Indonesia’s first President Soekarno, visitors can see a tourism village that sells jimbe drums, a product of Blitar’s home industries that are successfully breaking into export markets. It is better if you cancel any planned tour to Mount Kelud, located on the border between Kediri and Blitar regencies. This is because the volcano’s status is on high alert; the famous green lake in the caldera, a major attraction, has been closed to tourists.
As of Wednesday, the Geology Disaster Mitigation and Volcanic Center, which is located in Bandung, had kept the status of Mount Kelud at level four alert, meaning great care must be taken.
But do not worry because visitors have the choice of many attractions in Blitar city, including religious centers, historical sites and also a place to shop for handicrafts, particularly the special products of the Blitar community.
In Blitar city there is the grave of Bung (brother) Karno, as the first president was widely known. This grave is seldom short of visitors. Many take a tour wanting to know more of this carver of the nation’s history; others who believe in the supernatural perform rituals in the area surrounding Bung Karno’s Grave.
After visiting president Soekarno’s grave you can enter the Bung Karno library. This library was built on 1.5 hectares in the political administrative district of Bendogerit, in the subdistrict of Sananwetan. The place is around 500 meters from Bung Karno’s grave.
In the library you can read books from the collection, including Bung Karno the People’s Voice by Cindy Adams, Bung Karno Menangis dan Mendesak (Bung Karno Weeping and Urging) by Agus Pakpahan, Riwayat dan Perjuangan Proklamasi Kemerdekaan Indonesia 17 Agustus 1945 (A Narrative on the Struggle to Proclaim the Independence of Indonesia 17 August 1945) by Adam Malik and others.
You can also see a three-meter-high statue of Bung Karno. It is located in the middle of the first floor of the A building. A wall relief sculpture depicts the life journey of Bung Karno, from his youth through to the struggle for independence and old age.
If you are interested in the architecture of the Majapahit era, the famous Hindu Kingdom which had enormous influence because it dominated a big part of the Indonesian archipelago through to the Malay peninsula, examples can be seen in the Penataran Temple. This is situated approximately 13 kilometers from the Bung Karno library.
Some people believe that the temple, which is located on the south-west slope of Mount Kelud in Penataran village, Nglegok subdistrict, protects Blitar when Mount Kelud erupts. The location is around 15 kilometers from Mount Kelud.
“In the past this temple was often used by the Hindu community in Blitar and Kediri for praying. But later the temple became a tourist attraction and we can no longer pray in the temple complex,” said Suyoto, the head of Palisade Hindu Dharma Indonesia, Arum subdistrict, Blitar.
But, said Suyoto, more than 1,000 Hindus did not object because they can pray in Pura, which is in Blitar.
“I believe that in Blitar there are hundreds of other Hindu temples that have yet to be found. Not far from the Penataran Temple complex is a village called Sewu Temple. According to my ancestors, that area has many Hindu temples which were buried by ash following the eruptions of Mount Kelud,” he said.
The Penataran Temple was built in the era of Kertajaya, the king of the Majapahit Kingdom in 1197, as an offering to Sira Paduka Bhatara Palah. The Panataran Temple was discovered in 1815 by Englishman Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781-1826), the lieutenant governor general who administered the then Dutch East Indies between 1811 and 1816.
Raffles together with Dr Horsfield, a scientist, visited the Penataran Temple. The result of their visit was reported in The History of Java, which was published in two volumes.
Raffles’ steps were later followed by other researchers namely J. Crawfurd, then Van Meeteren Brouwer (1828), Junghun (1884), Jonathan Rigg (1848) and N.W.Hoepermans, who in 1886 made an inventory of the Penataran Temple complex.
Before you leave Blitar city don’t forget to buy souvenirs, like jimbe drums the product of Blitar’s home industries. You can buy drums in the tourist village of Tanggungsantren in Blitar regency, with prices starting from Rp 5,000 (about US 50 cents) up to Rp 500,000 (US$54).
“Our products are of international quality because they are mostly exported to countries in Africa like Tunisia, to Europe, Australia and the United States,” said the Romdhani, the head of the Timber Manufacturers’ Group.
“We started making jimbe drums just five years ago. Before that we made many traditional toys using mahogany, such as yo-yos and catapults. But because buyers lost interest in the traditional toys we finally started producing drums,” he said.
Ramdhani said that the jimbe name was taken because many overseas visitors called the drum a jimbe after the skin-covered hand drums from West Africa known as djembe. Finally manufacturers used the name jimbe drum to mark it as a Blitar specialty.
Now there are 30 home industries making jimbe drums.
“We try to substitute mahogany with nangka (jackfruit tree) timber because supplies of mahogany are getting scarce in the forest. Many mahogany trees are small and not ready for felling,” said Romdhani.
“We keep increasing the quality by decorating parts of the drum, including using motifs of Australian Aboriginal tribes. We want to satisfy customers so buyers will continue to patronize Blitar’s home industry handicrafts,” he said.
What a pity that after offering jimbe drums, Blitar doesn’t provide any special local culinary delight, like Kediri does with its tofu or Yogyakarta with its bakpia, (a dry cake made from flour). However the food in Blitar is cheaper when compared to Surabaya.