Enjoying The City Of Bengkulu

Bengkulu, capital and largest city of Bengkulu Province, is not only the center of the provincial administration and facilities but it is also a city steeped in history. Traces of the great by gone era decorate major parts of the city and radiate a distinct classic ambience.

With a total area of 245.67 km², the city of Bengkulu is situated on the south-west coast of Sumatra directly facing the Indian Ocean. The city was once named ” Bencoolen” by the British and “Benkoelen” by the Dutch. It is said that the name “Bencoolen” was derived from the English word “Bent Coal land” since the area was blessed with an abundance of coal. However, another version suggests that It is derived from the local language Bangkahulu or Bangkahuluan from the Javanese language, where “Bang” translated means coast,  and “Kulon” means west.

Following  the rule by the Kingdom of Banten on Java and the Minangkabau of West Sumatra over the area , Bengkulu fell to the British in the 17th century. At the time when the Dutch established the Verenigde Oost Indië Compagnie or VOC, the British founded the East India Company (EIC) and the two would engage in an endless battle for control over the spice trade in the area around the Malacca Strait, especially in the trade of pepper. To protect their interest here, in 1714 the British built Fort Marlborough. The Fort is known as the second largest fortress built by the British’s EIC in Asia and has been well preserved until today. However, Bencoolen was never financially viable, because of its remoteness and difficulty in procuring pepper. Despite these drawbacks, the British persisted, maintaining their presence there for 150 years.

Bengkulu City Where the British Once Ruled
Bengkulu City Where the British Once Ruled (Source : indonesia.travel)

The British colonization of Bengkulu was faced with many conflicts and resistance from the local population.  In 1719, the British were driven out of Bengkulu, although they managed to return.  In 1807, the British Resident or Governor Thomas Parr was assassinated by a local of Bengkulu and was later replaced by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. To commemorate his services, in 1808 the British ruler erected the Thomas Parr Monument about 100 meters from Fort Marlborough, which can still be seen today.

Immortalized in the name of the gigantic flower Rafflesia Arnoldii , which has become the icon of Bengkulu Province, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles was the last British Governor before the British finally ceded the territory to Dutch in exchange for the island of Singapore. During his reign in Bengkulu, the British governor occupied a residential house which was also used for government activities. Nowadays, the building of the British Governor’s House still stands in its original architecture and is used as residence for the present Bengkulu Provincial Governor.

The British eventually ceded Bengkulu to the Dutch colonial as part of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 to focus their attention on Malacca. Like the rest of present-day Indonesia, Bengkulu remained a Dutch colony until after World War II, when Indonesia declared her Independence in 1945.

Probably, the most notable of all the British traces in Bengkulu is the British Christian Cemetery which became the final resting place for British troops in colonial times. The cemetery is also acknowledged as the biggest Christian cemetery in South East Asia.

Bengkulu, inside the city
Bengkulu, inside the city (Source : indonesia.travel)

During the imprisonment of Soekarno by the Dutch in the 1930s, the future first president of Indonesia lived in exile briefly in Bengkulu City. Here he met his wife, Fatmawati, who gave him several children, the most famous being Indonesia’s first female President Megawati Sukarnoputri. The  house of exile of Soekarno remains well preserved along with some of the most historical items that once were used by the country’s first President.

ACTIVITIES

A visit to Bengkulu City will not be complete without taking a bite of the legendary spiky Durian fruit. Some may not be accustomed to the smell, but its soft and sweet taste is truly something special. Aside from the fresh fruit, there are also various snacks made from Durian including Lempuk (Durian Jam) and Tempoyak  (a traditional dish made from fermented Durian).

As capital of Bengkulu province, and staging point to explore the rest of the province, there are a number of star-rated hotels and inns available in Bengkulu City.

Aside from various heritage sites, there are still other spectacles you can find in Bengkulu City. For those who wish to enjoy the Lake, Beach and coastal ambience, there are Beaches called Pantai Panjang, Putri gading Cempaka, the Jakat Beach, the Danau Dendam Tak Sudah lake , and the Baai Port. Those who are interested in religious sites, you can visit the Jamik Mosque, the Sentot Ali Syahbana Tomb, and the Imam Senggolo Tomb.

Every 10th day of Muharram in the Muslim Calendar, the Muslims of Bengkulu annually hold a special cultural celebration called the “Tabot Festival”.  The festival celebrates the martyrdom of Hasan and Husein, grandsons of Prophet Muhammad, in the historical battle in Karbala, Iraq.

GET THERE

There are no direct international flights to Bengkulu. You will have to take a flight to Jakarta and then take a connecting flight to Bengkulu. There are daily direct flights (6 times a day) from Jakarta served by Lion Air, Sriwijaya Air, Citilink, and Garuda Indonesia.

Alternately, you can also catch regular buses from MedanPadang or Jakarta. If you want to go there by bus from Jakarta, there are two common routes :

  • The West Route (Lintas Barat) takes you from Jakarta to Bandar Lampung and then through dense tropical jungle of Liwa, Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, and Krui. It takes around 22 hours with magnificent ocean view along the way, but the road condition is not very good and considered unsafe.
  • The East Route (Lintas Timur) goes from Jakarta to Bandar Lampung and then enters Bengkulu via South Sumatra. It’s a longer trip (about 25 hours) but safer.

There are also several van travel that ply the route between Padang and Bukit Tinggi to Bengkulu City and the journey take around 19 or 20 hrs (IDR 220,000). Many drivers tend to use the long journey via Muara Bungo and Sarolangun rather than use the coast road (Muko-Muko and Painan)  which has an ‘absolutely with better view and scenery’.

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