Bambang M., Contributor, Yogyakarta
Botanists call Gede Pangrango National Park in West Java “”the pearl in Java’s crown”” for its incomparable richness and beauty.
Just like a pearl, though small, it is exquisite. The park is one of the world’s best examples of a tropical forest with its overwhelming biodiversity and stunning natural splendor although the 15,196-hectare park is the second smallest in the country.
Sadly, the “”pearl”” is now tarnished by trash left behind by climbers, leaving several places commonly used to rest and enjoy scenery covered with filthy rubbish.
“”We unfortunately can’t deal with the waste problems just yet,”” said the park’s officer at Cibodas station, L. Surjadi.
Despite warnings, visitors continue to throw their garbage everywhere, unaware of the park’s status as one of the world’s centers of biodiversity.
The park which produces oxygen for over 1.5 billion people has attracted internationally renowned biologists like Alfred Russe Wallacea — a biologist who divided Indonesian fauna into two categories: western and eastern territories; Reinwardt — founder of Bogor Botanical Garden in Bogor, West Java, and many more.
The park, located on the slopes of Mount Gede and Mount Pangrango was named a nature reserve by the Dutch East Indies government in 1889 who declared the area between the Cibodas Botanical Park and the hot water spring at the altitude of 2,150 meters on Mount Gede as a nature reserve. In 1978, the Indonesian government named this area Gede Pangrango Reserve before declaring it a national park two years later. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) then made this park a World Biosphere Reserve, and since 1995 it has become a global conservation zone.
On the way into the park’s deep forest, there are numerous varieties of soaring trees. The forest floor too is covered with bushes and shrubs. Over one thousand flowering plants, 120 families of vegetation and more than 200 orchid varieties can be found in the park.
Between the altitudes of 1,000 meters and 1,500 meters is the thickest submontane forest zone, where visibility is hampered by different kinds of huge trees. Pasang and saniten trees (family of Fagaceae) dominate the area to a height of 30 meters to 40 meters, while rasamala is the tallest, reaching 60 meters in height. On the ground level are diverse types of rattan, ginger and gorgeous flowers.
In the montane area (1,500-2,400 m), the forest starts to thin, with trees, reaching a height of only 20 meters. The forest floor has decorative plants like Begonia isoptera and Labelia angulata.
The subalpine height (2,400-3,019 m) is characterized by small-leaf vegetation, dominated by cantigi (Vacciniun varingiaefolium).
The dense forest zone is also the habitat of different bird species, making a visit here a must for avid bird watchers.
Dark colored tiung batu/sunda (whistling thrush) are most easily noticed. A gentle walk often enables us to spot such birds feeding on the ground near forest paths.
Around 250 species, or half of all types of birds existing on Java island — including the rare Javan hawk-eagle (Spizaetus bartelsi), live there.
Unlike birds, mammals are more difficult to discover. With some 60,000 visitors a year, mammals stay away from forest paths and hide themselves in the dense jungle.
Among the mammals that fortunate visitors may catch sight of are Java’s owa or gibbons (Hylobtes moloch), surili or leaf monkeys (Presbytis comata), lutung or ebony leaf monkeys (Trachypithecus auratus), trenggiling (Manis javanica), and leopards (Phantera pardus). Gibbons are the most prominent of all.
The gray gibbons with black faces and no tails are the world’s rarest species and can only be found in West Java in the wild. However, only 100 such gibbons are left in the park. The population of the species, which is on the critical list of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), has shrunk due to diminishing natural habitat.
Visitors who fail to get face to face with the park’s unique birds or other species will find the remarkable scenery a consolation.
An hour’s hike from the park’s Cibodas station will take one to a small lake called Telaga Biru, which is teeming with fish and surrounded by singing birds on nearby bushes.
The lake’s name literally means “”blue lake”” since its water sometimes changes in color from blue to brownish owing to its rich mineral content, which comes from decomposed leaves, other organic materials and dissolved volcanic rock and soil.
Cibeureum waterfall is the next attraction at an altitude of 1,625 meters, offering an extraordinary sight with three streams of water gushing down from a 30-meter height. The largest waterfall on the left is called Cikundul, the middle Cidendeng and the right Cibeureum. Official sources say the right stream came from the lava flow of Mount Pangrango and the left from that of Mount Gede. There is no information however, about the middle stream.
The name Cibeureum for this waterfall means a red river because red molds growing on the waterfall’s walls, create the illusion of reddish-colored water.
Other tourist spots in the park are the hot spring (2,150 m); Surya Kencana plain (2,750 m); Lake Situgunung, that is accessible from the gate of Selabintana (70 km from Bogor or near Sukabumi); and Cimanaracun and Sawer waterfalls near the lake.
In his dairy, Wallacea described the waterfalls as beautiful as a painting. But if he had lived to witness the present day park, he might sadly add that Indonesians cannot appreciate natural beauty as they had marred it with trash. The beautiful painting has turned into a dump.