Globe Asia (2007): Solo Travel – Wealth of Experience

  SOLO TRAVEL: WEALTH OF EXPERIENCE Holiday season is approaching and perhaps it’s time to do something different. Try solo traveling. The trip might be more costly than joining an arranged tour but the joy of discovery is more than adequate reward, say Agustinus Weng and Nefransjah. BY MARY R. SILABAN Flying business class, staying at five-star resorts, joining a flock of fellow tourists in an air-conditioned bus and eating a sandwich while visiting an ancient temple is not how Nefransjah and Agustinus Wibowo like to travel. The two independent travelers, or what people usually call backpackers, demand the freedom to add their own flavor. While on the road, Nefransjah tries to be as close as he can to the street, and that means taking as few air flights as possible and avoiding the usual tourist sites. “1 want to absorb all the local ambience,’ says the 37 year-old. For Agustinus, 26, there’s no thought of joining a group tour. “When we travel solo, we have the closest contact with the local community. We can communicate with the locals and learn much valuable knowledge rather than merely historical facts a tour guide may provide you, says Agustinus. The young traveler [...]

June 29, 2007 // 1 Comment

Thar Desert – Life of Survival

May 22, 2006 Special thanks to Om Parkash Piragani from Sami Samaj Sujag Sangat and Jamal from Ramsar Otagh It’s a vast, hot, dry, dusty, shady desert area stretching from the corner of Interior Sindh of Pakistan up till Rajasthan and Gujarat over the other side there in India. Water is a main problem here, food is insufficient, and education is luxury. Thar or Tharparkar desert is where about one and half million tribal people, living in more than 800 widespread villages, survives their life, with their cattle, despite all of the hardship. Umerkot is a small, busy town connecting the desert to the interior Pakistan. It’s a vital survival for the people from the deep desert. Umerkot is not a common Pakistani city. It boasts the point of world history as the birth place of the biggest Mughal king, Akbar. And what makes the town special: it has the largest Hindu inhabitants proportion in this Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Most of the people, some claimed seventy percent, are Hindus. If might said, Umerkot is the ‘little India’ of Pakistan. The town has some offices, a bustling bazaar, rows of shops, and decent schools. For the people in the desert, [...]

May 22, 2006 // 1 Comment

Muzaffarabad – Good Bye Noraseri

April 4, 2006 Time to say goodbye The day to leave Noraseri had come. I had spent quite a month here, and I felt it was already my second home. The people, now I prefer to say, the friends, were so deep in my heart. Farman said that Noraseri had been my second home. He might be right. I would like to return back here to meet again the friends in this village. But now I had to leave to continue the journey. The farewell was not easy. I had such a limited time, because Rashid from the NGO had called earlier in the morning, saying that I had to return to Muzaffarabad before one, so I may copy the photos of the project. He was leaving to Islamabad and brought the computer back from the office. The office was going to be emptied. And I had to rush. It was impossible to say farewell to everybody. I started in Doctor Shahab’s house. Together with Junaid and his cousin, Mubasshar, I went to Mubasshar’s house. Mubasshar father was coming a little bit late, after some work in the dispensary. Like Doctor Shahab, Mubasshar family was quite a rich family before [...]

April 4, 2006 // 0 Comments

Noraseri – Homesick

March 29, 2006 Totally devastated, but life has to go on Time passed very fast, and it had been my thirtieth day in the NGO camp in Noorasery. I was reading some printed material from Andreas Harsono blog ( which explained about some basics of journalism. This weblog was recommended in the photographer website. It was indeed enlightening. The posts were mostly in Indonesian, and the articles about investigative journalism, how to write in English, some basic elements of journalism, the narrow Indonesian nationalism in tsunami disaster, and the literal journalism were very well-written that I thought deeply about my country. He was right, Indonesia, our country, was full of problems. It was not difficult to see injustice, suppressed people, poverty, mysteries, struggles, and so on. I felt that somehow I wanted to dedicate myself deeper to the journalism world. But I still had too much to learn, as my educational background was not exactly fit with this new life I am trying to start. There is no reason to complain. Live here is much harder. Reading the articles in Indonesia made me really homesick. I dreamt about Indonesia, and somehow wanted to be there soon. I missed the food, [...]

March 29, 2006 // 2 Comments

Noraseri – A Story from Basyir’s Family

New home, new hope March 18, 2006 After five consecutive months living in emergency tents, finally, Mr. Basyir had the chance for a celebration: a move to the new shelter. The Danish Muslim Aid, an NGO from Denmark, had provided the family with the building material, and three men from the family worked hard every day to build their new home, the new place to shelter the hopes and dreams remained after everything was devastated by the disaster. Mr. Basyir was a typical example of the suffering victims of the disaster which rocked South Asia on October 8, 2005. The family, once consisted of the parents and ten children, now was smaller. Basyir had had six sons and four daughters. Three died. All boys. And the boys were the youngest in their family. The scars of the tragedy still rooted very deep on Mrs. Basyir. Her youngest boy looked like a Chinese boy, when he was alive. That youngest son was only two years old, and he was not recovered under the rubbles of the house. Mr. Basyir said that his wife cried on the first day she saw me, due to my Oriental face which reminded her to her [...]

March 18, 2006 // 0 Comments

Gilgit – The Story of My Visa

Some tricks are needed to get a new visa extension March 9, 2006 Sorry for being snobby about visa, but I dont know why I have to be the poorest creature to be created to always have tragedies with visa, especially in this trip. From the Indian visa in Nepal, Pakistan visa in India, and now, Pakistan visa extension. As what I was believing, Pakistan visa was easy to extend, as the country is promoting tourism now. My visa was about a week left when I was in Muzaffarabad, and Rashid, the guy from our NGO, said that if that possible, than it would be very easy to extend. He just came back from Islamabad Monday 6th, and on Tuesday we started our ‘visa extension struggle’. First of all, instead of directly went to the DC Office where the extension and passport paperworks are done, we visited the Muzaffarabad SSP (I dont know what this stand for), the man with highest position in police department in Muzaffarabad. U know, in Pakistan you can go anywhere with connection. Knowing someone in the high position is always a good thing. Mr Kurshid, the Muzaffarabad SSP, is a very friendly man with very [...]

March 9, 2006 // 0 Comments

Muzaffarabad – Sea of Tents

Sea of tents March 4, 2006 The city of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, sprawls along two important rivers in Pakistan, Niilam and Jhelam. The two rivers meet in the heart of the city, where the economic activities of the city concentrated. The main road stretched from the north through Chella Bandi area until the ‘Secretariat’ area, of total 4 kms of length. Muzaffarabad is hilly city, the roads are all ‘uupar niche’ (up and down), with several steep cliffs (many were collapsed due to the earthquake 5 months earlier) and ladder provided to pedestratians to up the hill. Was the main landmark and tourist attraction of the city, the historical Red Fort or Lal Qila is now a bunch of red stones. The remains of the fort, walls now not more than 2 metres tall, are still standing on the top of small hill near Chella Bandi. The shops and houses are also still showing the scars of disasters, with orphaned children beggar sleeping on the street, exhausted of waiting alms from the pedestrians. The shop owners are apparently going back to their shops, despite the risk that the shops may collapse at any single possible [...]

March 4, 2006 // 0 Comments

Muzaffarabad – Missed Call

It was a real call, not just mere a ‘missed call’ March 2, 2006 After the major earthquake disaster on October 8 last year, up till now there were already 2,000 big and small aftershocks, of which the people called as ‘missed call’, as the shocks resembles the short vibration of the mobile phone when a missed call comes. I was not shocked by the small earthquakes, as we also live in earthquake area in our homeland. But the people here, covered by the trauma from the disaster, were all running to the street. Still most people chose to live in tents instead of inhabiting the house buildings; no matter how good and untouched the house was, as everybody was still afraid. I was sleeping in my room at that time, when the young boy in the office urged me to run away immediately. It was a missed call anyway. No [...]

March 2, 2006 // 2 Comments

Muzaffarabad – Farewell Party

A lavish farewell party in a ‘hotel’ (aka restaurant) in Muzaffarabad March 1, 2006 The NGO work is almost to an end. It has started since the disaster, and now everybody in the relief team was going to go back to their life. Most of the team members were temporary members, working for 1 month or so, but some like the Gillanis, were here since October last year. As today was a new day of a new month, the members were reducing again. The guys planned to have a farewell party in Muzaffarabad to say good bye to some of leaving members. The transport to go back to the province capital was not easy, and after waiting almost about an hour, we successfully ‘hijacked’ a Suzuki bus. The lunch was in Muzaffarabad Cantonment area, with splendid fried rice, roti, mutton curry, and the pink coloured Kashmiri tea. I really regretted to come very late, that the work is almost to an end. The NGO would be still in the area up till the third week of this month, and there would be still some work to do to make documentation of the shelter homes in Patikha. But for these some [...]

March 1, 2006 // 1 Comment

Noraseri – An Exhausting Day

New development in the earthquake zones February 28, 2006 Mahmood Gillani, who possesses a strange habit to only spoke Urdu when there was the sun and spoke other strange tribal languages to me in other time, just came back a night before from Islamabad. The road was open. The work of clearing the road from the blocks was done very rapidly, thanks to the heavy machine donated by ‘the people of Japan’. Electricity was supposed to come yesterday, as the weather was clear. But it came very late, so that the plan to watch porn movie with young boys from neighborhood was cancelled. And I also met a young guy who was very desperate in kissing and hugging me. I gave my palm for him to kiss, but not my face (yet). The porn watching plan was replaced by sexy gabshab (sexy talk), where the goftgu (conversation) was dominated by sex topics. The boys here not only put sexual jokes verbally, but also physically, like hugging and kissing. It was really hard to determine their sexual orientation somehow, lol. Our work is to distribute the so-called CGI sheets to the survivors As yesterday there were not many shelter homes that [...]

February 28, 2006 // 1 Comment

Noraseri – Tent Life

Morning ritual of the volunteers February 26, 2006 The rain which was started the day before yesterday and lasted for more than 30 hours had just stopped at midnight. The sky was still dark in the morning, and I had problem with my camera lens. I don’t know how to clean the lens, and because of overusing under the rain, the lens had vapors on it, and the pictures taken were not sharp. Any input from other photographers is expected. The morning life is always hilarious in our camp. Everybody started the day by shaving the moustache (the Pakistanis prefer to use the plural form of the noun – moustaches, possibly mean the upper and lower part of the moustache, as it indeed means ‘two different parts’ – the men tend to preserver the upper and clean shave the lower), washing faces with the warm water, and brushing teeth with a stick of a certain tree. I prefer not to do anything to clean myself in this cold weather (learnt this bad habit from China), and pimples appeared in every single millimeter of my face. The rain has brought some landslides. Yes, we are living in landslide area, where the [...]

February 26, 2006 // 0 Comments

Muzaffarabad – Five Months after the Disaster

Muzaffarabad, 5 months after the disaster February 23, 2006 So, at last I am going to Kashmir, the earthquake affected area. The departure was with an NGO, Dannish Muslim Aid. The organization name bears the name of the country mostly infavorable in many Muslim countries. Rashid, the guy from the NGO told the driver, a Pakthan from Peshawar, to say that we were from ‘Ganesh’ instead of ‘Danish’ whenever anybody ask. Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (Azad= Free), one third of Kashmir which is under Pakistan control, is a winding 4 hour journey through the Murree Road. For Rashid, the trip was extremely unbearable. He tried to make himself fall asleep instead of tortured in the “uppar-niche” – up and down journey. Murree itself is among popular place for vacation for locals, as there are several tourist buses passing the area. And the Punjab province meets its end in the border town of three provinces: Punjab, NWFP, and Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK). In Daval, the main road runs between two big rivers, on the left is the NWFP and on the right is AJK. The road goes until the end of Punjab, just before a bridge connecting [...]

February 23, 2006 // 0 Comments

Rawalpindi – Earthquake Relief

Margala Tower, destroyed by the earthquake February 4, 2006 As trusted before, my visit to Pakistan is to be a volunteer for the earthquake relief. But due to the sickness I got, I still havent started any single movement. I felt guilty myself, when my friends asked start asking, hey, when you go to the earthquake areas, or you look like also a tourists. Nobody to blame, but being late is always better than nothing. I got several contacts of NGOs working in earthquake areas since my arrival in Pakistan. And today I just got the first chance to visit Dannish Muslim Aid, which was happily received me to be a volunteer and go to Muzaffarabad. The manager, Mr Syed Abid Gilani is just a friendly and helpful man, showed me the pictures of the victims of the earthquake and the work they are doing. The happening was quite similar to that in Indonesia, the tsunami in Aceh, but the terrain here is much more difficult as it happened in the mountainous areas, while Aceh terrain is much more plain. The high mountains, those over 6000 m, just bumped into the villages, swept everything on it, and the scars are [...]

February 4, 2006 // 0 Comments