30: Indonesia > Sumatra Barat > Bukittinggi Morning

Morning, Saturday 7th July 2007 (or ‘070707’). Close to our Bukittinggi hotel, there’s a beautiful park overlooking the Sianok Canyon (story later). But it also has statues of a couple of WWII-era Japanese soldiers.

For beyond the statues, down some stairs, lies a ghastly reminder of the cruel Japanese occupation of Sumatra 1942-1945: a network of subterranean tunnels built with the lives of many unlucky Indonesians. Locals simply call it Lubang Jepang (Japanese Hole).


A plaque at the entrance shows the network of tunnels, at least 70m below the ground and extending kilometres into the earth. It’s a self-contained bunker, a township, which reminds me of Hitler’s own in Obersalzburg, near Berchtesgaden in southeastern Germany, which we visited in 2001 (with Aina too).img_1429.JPG

First, down a staircase along a 64m-long tunnel to access the network.img_1432.JPG

Old folks better stay back. This exploration is pretty physical.img_1433.JPG

Tunnel hacked through rocks using rudimentary hand-tools. Looking at it makes you feel the pain. Forced labour is brought from outside Sumatra (mainly from Java and Kalimantan) to do the dirty job.img_1441.JPG

Thousands of them brought in, none recorded. Reminds me of people in Malaya recruited by the Japanese to do the Death Railway in Siam. Same modus operandi.img_1446.JPG

The tunnels access compartments such as offices, living quarters, dining rooms, ammo dumps, medical centre, jail, etc.


A hidden escape route opens into Sianok Canyon. img_1454.JPG

Kilometres of tunnels, some entending right underneath downtown Bukittinggi, all hand-made.img_1457.JPG

This tunnel ends at another secret opening above a road. The Japanese used this route to kidnap hapless villagers traveling to Bukittinggi, robbing them of their possessions (esp. farm produces) and killing them.img_1459.JPG

The original tunnel wall still carries marks made by the poor workers.img_1461.JPG

The large vertical grooves in the wall have two-fold functions: echo breaker, so that noise inside tunnel is suppressed, and to place torches.


More hacking marks on the wall, and more vertical grooves.img_1466.JPG

Detention compartment where the wretched ones were left to die. The local guide tells me, Japanese visitors to Bukittinggi refused to see these tunnels. Bad memories.img_1469.JPG

Dead bodies were dragged through this narrow tunnel to a hidden opening above a river below, where they were dumped. No records as to how many died, but easily in the thousands.

More pitiful marks on the stone wall. Fed with only one rice porridge meal a day, the forced workers had no chance. Many died due to malnutrition, sheer hard work, diseases and systematic torture.img_1472.JPG

Another secret opening. These tunnels were secretly built by the Japanese army and was only accidentally discovered by a villager in 1946, a year after independence.img_1474.JPG

The ammo dump compartment, with the original height. img_1478.JPG

Horror tunnels done, time to do the climb back up. I am told, the Dutch ruled 300 years but did not kill as many people as the Japanese did in just 3 years! img_1438.JPG

Back to the present after the most sobering underground experience, and it’s nice to see a familiar face.img_1487.JPG

A lady, still nursing I believe.

The pack is well-behaved unlike their Malaysian cousins.img_1501.JPG

This is Ngarai Sianok (Sianok Canyon), with Mt Singgalang (9,440ft, inactive volcano) as backdrop.img_1490.JPG

Exposed earth due to recent earthquakes. Behind, Mt Merapi (9,480ft, active volcano) .img_1496.JPG

Some of the cliffs are more than 100m high.

I bump into a trio, siblings probably. Notice the one in the middle placing his left hand on his mate’s.

Welcome to My Domain!


A young artist at work.

Some of his products for sale. Btw, is that an observation tower I see there? img_1519.JPG

I climb the tower to a platform and find myself over a Chaniago graveyard. Only dead Minangkabau Chaniago people can be kept here.

Aina spotted me and climb up too. img_1534.JPG

The view of Sianok Canyon from here is fantastic.img_1537.JPG

Down in the canyon, village folks are also wired to the world. Without satellite dishes, there’s no way they can watch telly. Huge C-band dishes, everywhere. img_1552.JPG

Below the platform, dog-gone tired. So early in the morning?img_1559.JPG

We return to the arcade area, where great bargains can be had.img_1565.JPG

Next to me, an unhappy kid finds solace in mum’s embrace.img_1566.JPG

A while later, a beautiful pair of pinks. img_1569.JPG

Time to depart Bukittinggi, and I found someone’s little home.img_1572.JPG

Twenty minutes later we are out of Bukittinggi, zooming along the road to Batusangkar with the imposing Mt Merapi to our right, amidst lush rice-fields. Btw, the crater of the volcano is at the right part of the peak, the bit covered in clouds.img_1575.JPG