(written by Tom Brightman, photographs by Martin Smit and Tom Brightman)
Today was a study in contrasts—between the stark reminders of the burgeoning Indonesian population (now 14 million strong in the Jakarta area), the steep slope deforestation for tea plantations, and the lush beauty and biodiversity of the sub-montane rainforest on the slopes of volcanic Mount Pangrango.
Our driver skillfully maneuvered us up the narrow, serpentine, lorry and motorbike-choked road from the city of Bogor, through a profusion of roadside vegetable and fruit stands (life is not complete without enjoying the sweet and sour nirvana of a fresh-picked mangosteen) and satay purveyors. We drove past the lower slopes of Mount Pangrango that are covered in thousands of hectares of tea plantations, orderly and lovely, but devoid of their virgin rainforest cover. As we approached the Cibodas Botanic Garden, our point of embarkation for our rainforest trek, both sides of the road were filled with small, local plant nurseries boasting healthy inventories of every tropical plant imaginable. We met Eka Iskandar, a researcher from Cibodas, who turned us over to our guide for the hike, Ken.
Gede Pangrango Park consists of a landscape dominated by twin volcanoes: Mt. Gede at 9,704 ft above sea level and Mt. Pangrango topping out at 9,904 ft. above sea level. The mountains’ slopes are very steep and are cut into by rapidly flowing streams that carve long ridges and deep valleys. To quote the official park guide, “Pangrango evokes esthetic feelings of what a graceful volcanic cone should look like and, reflecting its tranquil appearance, is classed as extinct. On the other hand, Gede is a very active volcano. Currently deceptively quiet, viewed over time Mt. Gede is one of the most active volcanoes on the island of Java.” Given the recent earthquake activity in Indonesia, we were glad that both were quiet this day!
Our hike took us on a steep, rocky trail through thick sub-montane rainforest to our destination of the Cibeureum waterfall. Not one, but three waterfalls are formed by the confluence of the Cibeureum, Cidendeng, and Cikundel rivers. At over 90 feet tall, the falls crash into the lush surroundings, thrusting a cool mist into the forest below.
The forest is full of plants competing for light. The large canopy trees host their own ecology of ferns, orchids, and climbing vines and provide a home to Ebony leaf monkeys, false cajoles lizards (pictured), and many spectacularly gilded butterflies. Plants of note included Rattan (Plectomia elongate), Arisaema filiforme, and numerous orchids.
This level of biodiversity has not gone unnoticed. The park is one of seven World Biosphere Reserves in Indonesia, as designated by UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere program. Although just a remnant of the large rainforests that once dominated this part of the world, the Gede-Pandrango forest is impressive nonetheless.