30: Indonesia > Sumatra Barat > Bukittinggi Morning

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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.
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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).

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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.

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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.

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

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A young artist at work.
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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.
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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

> TO BE CONTINUED …

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