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Riau is a province of Indonesia, located in the center of Sumatra along the Strait of Malacca. Riau is currently one of the richest provinces in Indonesia. This province is rich with natural resources, particularly petroleum, natural gas, rubber, palm oil and fiber plantations. The Riau Islands were part of Riau province until 2004, when they were made a separate province.

Anonymous spot in Riau

Karimun is a slow, far-away island with a colorfull past. During the Srivijaya period (7th to 13th century) and under the later sultanate Malakka (1400 - 1511), it was a strategic base, inhabited by orang laut who lived on boats which helped the Malay rulers to conquer the sealanes.

During the 18th and 19th century Karimun was sometimes used as the location for those who doubted over the authority of the Riau kings. A Minangkabau lebai (mosque worker) had a try for 'independent monarch' at the end of the 18th century. Sultan Husein van Singapore sent people to Karimun in 1820 to mine tin, but because of the Anglo-Dutch treaty the island came back under Dutch rule in 1824, and the men were send home again.

Karimun is about sixty kilometres direct west of Batam. There is little to do, except wandering around in the capital Tanjung Balung or view the overgrown landscape. The biggest part of the island is hilly and covered with rainforest, so a mountainbike is the most practical way of transport over the island. The bumpy roads of the island are used by very old buses.

They only cover the inhabited southern part; for the northern part you have to rent a car with a driver. Tanjung Balai is the main entrance, a nice city on the southeastern tip of the island. As well as many other merchand cities in the Riau archipelago, this city is mainly populated by Teochew Chinese. The main road of the island runs towards the west towards Meral, where an imposant, but ramshacke Chinese house was once built.

The road continues to Pantai Pelawan, a sand beach at the western coast, along scattered settlements and clove gardens in the middle of forested hills. Carpets of clove are drying in the sun and their sweet odour fills the air. Clove varies in color from lemon green to brown, dependent on the drying proces.

Since Karimun is the guard to the southen entrance to the most important sea route in Asia, it's nothing special that an old Sanscrite inscription was found here. This is created on a big layer of granite near Pasir Panjang along the northern coast and it's exeptionally cryptical: "The feet of Gautama, the Mahayanist which moved the sfere." It is taken for granted that this has anything to do with an armillarium, a sky-globe which is built from rings, which is used to locate the position of the planets.

A globe of this kind could be a gift for a local orang laut-leader named Gautama, as appreciation of the ruler of Melayu (Jambi) or Srivijaya (Palembang). However, is more likely that the inscription is graffity, created by a passing budhist monk, and has something to do with Gautama Buddha, founder of the buddhist religion. It is said that the 'footsteps' of the buddha ascend the rock left of the inscription in a series of natural nicks created by the force of water. Even now the footsteps are worshipped by orang laut which offer food or white flaggs here.

Last revised on April 05, 2012
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