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West Java province

West Java (Jawa Barat or Jabar) with a population of around 41.48 million (2007), is the most populous province of Indonesia, located on Java Island. It is slightly larger in area than densely populated Taiwan, but nearly double the population. Its capital city is Bandung.

Samudra Beach
Room No. 308 still retains its mystery

You can book any room you want at the Samudra Beach Hotel at Pelabuhan Ratu near Sukabumi, about 160 kilometers from Jakarta, but don't ask for room no. 308. For sure, the management won't let you stay in the room, located in the center of the third floor even though you might have a wad of cash or several platinum credit cards. The room is strictly reserved for a very special guest... a queen. The queen, named Nyai Rara Kidul or the Queen of the South, is the spiritual ruler of Java's southern coasts where Pelabuhan Ratu (literally means the Harbor of the Queen) is located.

Curious about the room and its special guest, I decided to spend my weekend there as the resort area is not too far from Jakarta. Pelabuhan Ratu can normally be reached within about four hours from Jakarta. Don't worry if you don't have your own car, you can reach it by bus from Jakarta to Bogor first and then continue your trip to Sukabumi.

Be prepared as your trip will be rather uncomfortable, particularly when passing the route between Sukabumi and Pelabuhan Ratu. Big holes, enough to "torture" you for one hour, are everywhere along the road. I had a worse experience. I found that along the way, there were dozens of youth blocking the road at more than 20 spots begging for money to pay for their "service," directing passing cars so as to avoid the holes.

But I felt so relieved when reaching the resort area which was canopied by shady trees. New hotels and bungalows are located along the seashore but the "queen" of the sea, Nyai Rara Kidul, prefers to "stay" at the oldest hotel in the area, the eight-story Samudra Beach Hotel. This four-star hotel has been famous for regularly receiving a special guest, The Queen of the South, but I still clearly remember that the hotel was mentioned in my elementary school textbook.

Samudra Beach Hotel was one of four hotels built by the Indonesian government using the war reparations fund from Japan in the early l960s. Other hotels were the Ambarrukmo in Yogyakarta, Hotel Indonesia in Jakarta and Bali Beach Hotel in Sanur, Bali. The Samudra Beach Hotel's guests may only take a glance at the room no 308. One can enter the room and meditate there after obtaining special permission from the hotel management. The size of the green-carpeted room was exactly the same as the others but the interior design was especially created to please Nyai Rara Kidul who loves green. As I entered the room, I smelt the sweet fragrance of flowers mixed with incense and all kinds of scents usually used during "rituals".

The room was furnished with a single-sized spring bed covered with a green silk-quilted bed sheet adorned with gold threads. Lying on the bed were several large and small bolsters, a red gown, a gold lace kebaya (traditional Javanese blouse), a long batik cloth and a pair of high-heeled, gold-colored slippers to be "worn" by the queen every time she visits the room. All the things for rituals are prepared by people who regularly pray here, usually on Friday evening (the most sacred night considered by many). "We never prepare anything as our obligation is only to regularly clean the room like the others," said head of the food and beverage division Edy Rohendi.

I was allowed to spend quite some time for a photo session after Edy, who also acted as the mediator to the queen, "asked" the queen' to allow me to take some shots of her bedroom. We sat on the green carpet, facing the "shrine" consisting of a low table, a small cone of rice with egg on top, incense, flowers, a place for betel vine, and other ritual equipment. The "shrine" is located below a big painting of the long-haired queen sitting in the middle of an ocean storm with a golden snake at her side, the work of art master Basoeki Abdullah.

Edy, the guide of the "room no. 308 tour", was silent for a while before he started "communicating" with the queen's spirit. "We ask for your permission to take a picture of your room, may you not be angry with us," he said in a low voice. A similar "ritual" also took place after the photo session was ended. Edy said that the ritual must be conducted adding that "it's just like the etiquette of entering one's house".

I felt that the 20 square-meter room was too "crowded" with eight large and small paintings of Nyai Rara Kidul, mostly the work of Basoeki hanging on the walls. In his 1979 work titled Nyai Loro Kidul dengan Dua Kuda (Nyai Loro Kidul with Two Horses) the maestro painter even put the words Nyaosaken gambaran panjenengan dalem kanjeng pengetan. Saking abdi dalem Basuki Abdullah (To present the picture of your highness as a remembrance. From me Basuki Abdullah).

Nearby the window, there are two paintings of the late president Sukarno with the Indonesian flag surrounded by flowers. Edy said that it was a homage to Sukarno, who initiated the hotel's development in 1965. "One of the local elderly men, who joined the ceremonial meal was involved at the start of the hotel's construction - which was also attended by Sukarno - and received a wangsit (divine inspiration) that the hotel should furnish a room for Nyai Rara Kidul, and the room should be located in front of a ketapang tree.

"But the wangsit was never communicated to the hotel's management, that's why the management did not prepare such a room," said Edy, who started to work there in 1972, adding that the ceremony itself took place under a Ketapang tree, near the hotel building. After the grand opening on Feb. 15, 1966, a Japanese guest stayed at room no. 308 but he complained that strange voices always bothered his sleep.

Sometime later an "orang pintar" (person who had super natural powers) meditated in the room and suggested that the room should be reserved for the queen. Surprisingly, room no. 308 is located exactly in front of the Ketapang tree which still stands there. According to Edy, the room has brought "blessing" to the hotel. "For our guests, it is a special attraction."

Pelabuhan Ratu is really a wonderful resort area with its undulated coasts side by side with paddy fields. But be careful, because threats are sometime sheltering behind its beauty. People believe that visitors are banned from wearing green color clothes when they walk or play along the beach, offenders will be "seized" by the queen and taken to her underwater kingdom. Swimming is quite dangerous because the waves are unpredictable, sometimes capable of dragging people into the sea. If you follow the "unwritten" rules, you can just enjoy the beauty of Pelabuhan Ratu. Happy holiday.

Last revised on December 27, 2009
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