Little do most visitors suspect, however, that within West Java itself, and only hours from the capital city, are sandy beaches and breathtaking landscapes as attractive as any in the more heavily visited destinations to the east.
And while it may be true that the Sundanese of West Java lack the courtly sophistications and architectural monuments of a high civilization – they are certainly no cultural paupers. Their rhythmically complex gamelan and angklung music. popular jaipong dances and lively wayang golek puppet performances have achieved every bit as much recognition as similiar art forms in Central Java or bali.
Above all, teh “Sunda Lands” are among the most beautiful and most accesible highlands in all of Indonesia. So if you prefer the exhilaration of a mountain climb, or the thrill of glimpsing rare wildlife species, to the endless round of temples, palaces and dance performances, then you should consider spending some time in West Java.
Encompassing much of the western third of Java, the so called “Sunda Lands” (Tanah Sunda) are where the Sundanese people live. Although physically indistinguishable from the Javanese of Central and East Java, they are culturally quite different known for their melliflous language, hardy individualism and staunch adherence to Islam.
West Java may be roughly divided into two distinct regions: the Parahyangan (Abode of the Gods) or volcanic highlands, and the northern coastal plain. The coast is much more mixed, culturally, having absorbed a multitude of immigrants and influences via its trading ports for many centuries, and in certain coastal areas (notably around Jakarta and Banten), Javanese and Indonesian are more commonly spoken than Sundanese.
The Sundanese highlands, through relatively impenetrable and very sparsely populated until the 19th century, have also been inhabited for many millennia. Neolithic stepped pyramids, pottery shards and stone tools have been found in several areas. And from the 5th century onwards, Hindu kingdoms such as Tarumanegara, Galuh and Padjajaran flourished here, leaving behind a handful of temples and inscriptions.
During the early 16th century, the coastal ports of Banten and Jayakarta (later Batavia, now Jakarta) were conquered by Islamic forces from demak and Cirebon, and banten then rose to prominence as a major trading emporium. The prosperity and influence of Banten was founded upon control of the pepper trade, pepper being a commodity that was then prodeced in abundance in southern Sumatera (Lampung).
The Dutch, when they arrived, sought to corner the market on pepper, and for several years Batavia and Bnaten competed fiercely, until finally the Dutch attacked and subdued Banten in 1683. At about this time also, the Dutch were ceded much of the rugged Priangan (Parahyangan) highlands by the ruler of Central Java, Amangkurat II. For many years, however, they remained unable to penetrate these tangled uplands and a number of local rulers administered them atuonomously.
The great trans Java post road, constructed by order of Governor General Daendels between 1808 and 1811, finally opened up the Sundanese hinterland by linking Batavia (Jakarta) with what is now Bandung, via Bogor and Sukabumi. From 1830 onwards, and especially after 1870, when the Dutch allowed certain enterprising Englishmen to operate tea, cinchona (quinine) and rubber estate here, the high;ands of West Java became the cornerstone of the colonial economy. Eventually, 5,000 sq kms (2,000 sq miles) or over 10 per cent and planted with cash crops, of which coffe was the most important.
The cool highland climate attracted European residents as well, and first Bogor (Buitenzorg) then Bandung became Dutch administrative centres. Today these cities continue to attract new residents at a rate disproportionate to their size, and modern industry has followed. Many textile and pharmaceutical plants, even an sircraft factory, operate here with the result that the province of West Java together with Jakarta, is economically the most advanced region in Indonesia.