Introducing Madura, Part One: An Underrated Corner of Indonesia
Welcome to Madura
Even in a country as complex as Indonesia, Pulau Madura remains shrouded in mystery.
By rights the island should be a highlight of any trip through the region. It has an ideal location, perched off the east coast of Java and a stone’s throw away from Bali. Madura’s history, scenery and culture is one of the most distinct in the region.
And yet, this rugged island remains so far off the beaten track that many visitors to Indonesia are unaware of its existence.
However, therein lies Madura’s charm. With the lack of crowds comes the room to breathe. Certainly, those who make the effort will encounter sleepy towns, raging bulls, gloriously beautiful mosques, vibrant festivals and an independent streak as intense as anywhere in Indonesia.
Madura exists in its own little sphere, a corner of Indonesia unbound to the prism of tourism. Although the island is only an hour or so from Surabaya thanks to the Jembatan Suramadu – the bridge itself is a now-iconic Javan image – this accessibility does not translate into simplicity.
English is not widely spoken, public transport is cramped and there is not much tourist infrastructure. The overriding mood is one of blunt honesty and few concessions are made to visitors. As a predominately Islamic island alcohol is not widely available.
All of which goes to make Madura such an endearing and adventurous destination. Each visit feels like a trip into the unknown. A cramped bus ride brings with it colourful characters, strangers warmly welcome passers-by and vibrant festivals showcases the island’s storied history. Locals greet tourist – a rare species – with arms wide open and just a touch of incredulity.
The beauty of Madura lies in its remoteness. Happily, people are glad to help newcomers meaning so it’s easy to organise trips and transport.
As a general rule Madurese towns and villages are picturesque and reward exploration on foot. A peaceful jalan jalan will reveal sights, sounds, smells and characters not immediately apparent upon first arrival.
For many, the first major stop from Surabaya in Bangkalan, a town worthy of a night or two’s stay. Many head here for the bull racing and the town is home to the colourful Gelora Bangkalan Stadion (Jl. Raya Teuku Umar), where Madura FC play most of their home games. For anyone who’s got their own transport, the salt mines of Bukit Jaddih (5,000R entrance fee), pictured below, are worth the 25-minute journey. The beautiful white limestone cliffs combined with the views afforded by the hill’s peaks make for one of Madura’s most stirring sights.
Heading further central, Pamekesan is home to the Monumen Arek Lancor, pictured below, perhaps the island’s most enduring image. Standing proud in the city’s alun (square), the monument writhes in an attitude of prayer and devotion, as though inspired by the ornate Masjid Agung Asy-Syuhada behind it. Coupled with rousing Uldaul festivities – comprising floats, costumes, music and traditional songs – the town offers a kinetic, rousing celebration of Madurese culture.
Located about 12km to the city’s south-east, Jumiang Beach is a popular hang-out spot. The myriad cafes and warungs make for a congenial atmosphere as the nearby salt ponds stretch into the distance.
Sedate Sumenep, to the east of Madura, is the island’s capital and one of Java’s most charming destinations. The calm pace of life, open streets and rugged surroundings give it a distinctly Mediterranean feel. It’s easy to spend an enjoyable couple of days soaking up the serene atmosphere. Since Madura is home to some of Indonesia’s most unique Batik designs there’s good reason to go shopping here. Well-made, sturdy shirts cost as little as 50,000R and while the material itself can be pricey – in some cases over 900,000R a roll – the quality is excellent. Toko Apollo Batik Madura on Jl. Raya Sumenep is a good place to start but be sure to shop around. Most stores offer high-quality goods at competitive prices.
Sumenep is easily explorable on foot. A leisurely walk from the Masjid Jamik Sumenep – Madura’s most iconic mosque – to and fro the Royal Tombs (Makam Raja Sumenep Asta Tinggi, below) should take no more than a few hours. Factor in a stop at the Stadion Karapan Sapi, home of the annual bull races, for a complete sweep of the town’s landmarks.