By Fadil Aziz
Berastagi is situated in the upland of North Sumatra Province. Wedged between Mount Sibayak (2,049 m) and Mount Sinabung (2,451 m), it has cool climate, beautiful scenery, and several tourist attractions. With a well-developed infrastructure, the city is perfect for weekend getaways or longer holidays.
Berastagi has always been a favorite weekend spot for Medan’s citizen since the 1.5 hours trip from Medan (Capital of North Sumatra Province) is relatively shot. The city, however, can also be a worthwhile destination for Jakartans. It only takes a total of 3.5 hours to reach: 2 hours of Medan Berastagi drive.
There are vast forest along the road from Medan and occasionally, you can see buildings with unique Karo (a tribe from Batak ethnic) ornaments, a sign that you have entered their domain. Women wearing the distinctive Batak headdress can also be seen from time to time.
Mejuah-juah, welcome to the land of Karo! On the road between Medan and Berastagi, lies Sibolangit Botanical Garden, which houses several kinds of local vegetation. Next, it goes winding and sloping upward, going through Penatapen. If you want, you can stop here briefly to enjoy the cool air or a clear view to the plains below.
Near Berastagi, there is an intersection that goes to Semangat Gunung, a starting point for people who wants to climb Mount Sibayak. After this intersection, you will see hotels lining up along the road, right up to the hilltop. You can also see forested hill on the right side of that winding road, before finally entering the main street.
Berastagi is small city with downtown area comprising only of a main street with stores and restaurants on its left and right. For accommodation, it is better to pick hotels on the hilly areas, such as Gundaling Hill where it is quieter and offers better view.
The panorama from Gundaling Hills is especially beautiful in this afternoon. You can see the whole city, its surrounding orchards, and the crater of Mount Sibayak, a volcano that has been dormant for centuries. To the west is Mount Sinabung (another dormant volcano), while the Karo plains lie on the south.
Martabak Telor and Bandrek.
Evening is the best time to savor various North Sumatra dishes in Pasar Kaget, a market that opens nightly along Berastagi main street. Among the interesting dishes are martabak and roti canai, both of which bore heavy Indian influence. Indian are not the dominant ethnic group in the province, but they have definitely left their mark in North Sumatra culinary scene. Among several stalls selling such food is Aboy’s restaurants , named after its owner. It offers martabak telor , roti canai, and Indian-style fried rice.
For drinks, you can enjoy a glass of milk tea or try Berastagi’s favorite beverage: bandrek. It is similar to bandrek common in java, a mix of milk and ginger that warms the body, perfect remedy for the cold weather typical of a place standing 1,400 meters above sea level. Across Berastagi, bandrek is an everyday beverage and the pride of locals.
It may be a bit puzzling why a popular beverage in Java, especially West Java, ends up wiyh the same popularity in Berastagi. Local tales have it that bandrek was introduced some decades ago by a Javanese who opened the first warung (similar to café but with a simpler setup) serving bandrek. Back the, the drink is virtually unknown in Berastagi, but because bandrek suits cold climate, its popularity took off at once. Presently, almost anyone visiting the city will feel obliged to try the beverage. In fact, bandrek has become synonymous with Berastagi.
Morning is the best time to buy fruits or enjoy the atmosphere of Berastagi’s fruit market at the main street . you can find all sorts of fruits and vegetables, from the ubiquitous orange and tomato, to Berastagi’s special beet, red cauliflower, and passion fruit. You can even buy flowers at this market.
A lot of these fruits were first planted under the direction of Dutch colonial government to supply their need in Medan. Since Karo Plains are Surrounded by volcanoes, the land is very fertile and able to produce the best fruits and vegetables. In the past, most of them are exported to Singapore and Malaysia. Now, it is the tourists that come here to enjoy the harvests.
Another activity you can do is visiting the Lingga traditional village, 16 kilometers south-west of Berastagi. You can observe traditional Karo villagers go about their lives and see their unique tribal houses that are almost extinct, or their traditional garment that are almost extinct, or their traditional garment that many still worn, especially during certain occasions.
You can also continue to the Sipisopiso Waterfall, about 1.5 hours from Lingga, and onwards to Toba Lake, through Simarjarunjung, Prapat, and Samosir Island.
On the way to airport in Medan, you might want to visit the famous Maimoon palace and mosque, or go to Majapahit Road for a box of bika ambon, a delicious local cake with unique spongy texture, sold by various vendors there.
A major point to remember is that you have to book your accommodation in advance for weekends or long weekend, since you will be competing with tourists from Medan, and even Singapore and Malaysia for lodgings.
"Tourist Destination for Nearly a Century"
The de development of Berastagi into tourist destination is closely related with colonial planning. When the area around Medan was converted to plantation (one of the most successful plantation in Dutch colonies), their need for fruits and vegetables were supplied from the fertile lands of Karo. This connection increased in 1908 when the Dutch constructed a road directly linking Medan and Karo high plain.
The Dutch recognized Berastagi’s potential as vacation spot. So they built bungalows, villas, resorts. Clinics, schools, and even a nine-hole golf course. In fact, many of them fell in love with Berastagi that they opted to spend their retirement here.
Berastagi’s fame as a tourist destination began to spread in the 1920s. almost a century later, the city is still attracting local and foreign tourists. Berastagi has become even more popular than Kabanjahe, the capital of Karo.
Fadil Aziz is a founder of Alcibbum Photography, the photography company specializes in Indonesian nature and travel photo. Visit his site http://www.AlcibbumPhotography.com to enjoy his works, including images related to Indonesia and this article.
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