Soekaboemi (Desire of the World), a favourite sanatorium of the Dutch, is approached by an exquisite railway, curving round the purple heights of forest-girt Salak. The usual afternoon deluge weeps itself away, palm plumes and cassava boughs, overhanging the silvery Tjiligong, drop showers of diamonds into the current, and giant bamboos creak in the spicy wind, redolent of gardenia and clove. The hills, scaled by green rice-terraces, each with tiny rill and miniature cascade, are vocal with murmuring waters. Lilac plumbago, red hybiscus, and golden allemanda mingle with pink and purple lantana, yellow daisies, and hedges of scarlet tassels, enclosing wicker huts in patches of banana and cocoanut. Brown girls, in blue and orange sarongs, occupy the steps of a basket-work shrine, from whence an unknown god, smeared with ochre, extends a sceptred hand, for Hinduism left deep traces on inland Java, dim with the dust of vanished creeds. The expense and trouble of former travel by the superb post-roads, made at terrible sacrifice of life in earlier days, is now done away with, though the noble avenues and picturesque shelters, erected for protection from sun or rain, suggest a pleasant mode of leisurely progress. No trains may run at night, not only on account of native incompetence, but from dangers caused by constant geographical changes on this volcanic soil, where rivers suddenly alter their course, and earthquakes obstruct the way with yawning chasms or heaps of debris. A paternal Government provides the traveller with a half-way house, erecting a large hotel at Maos, with uniform rates, entirely for the benefit of the passenger by rail. Trains are built on the American plan, stations are spacious and airy, refreshments easily secured, and every halting-place offers an embarras de richesses in the shape of tropical fruits, wherewith to supplement or replace the solidity of the Dutch commissariat. Coffee and tea plantations in ordered neatness, contrast with the untamed profusion of forest vegetation, clothing sharp promontory and shelving terrace. Dusky villages cling like birds' nests to ledges of rock, screw-palms with airy roots frame mountain tarns, and a Brazilian Emperor-palm, with smooth column bulging into a pear-shaped base, accentuates the sunset glory from a crag crowned by the black canopy of colossal fronds. The Preanger Regency was the heart of ancient Mataram, that historic kingdom of old-world Java round which perpetual warfare waged for centuries.
Language and customs change as we cross the saddle between the blue peaks of Salak and Gedeh; gay crowds bring fruits to picturesque wayside markets, bearing bamboo poles laden with golden papaya and purple mangosteen, or plaited baskets containing the conglomerate native cuisine. The elastic and gracefully-modelled figures of the Soendanese populace betoken a purer race than that of the steamy Batavian lowlands, where foreign elements deteriorate the native stock. The Hotel Victoria at Soekaboemi consists of detached white buildings round tree-filled courts, erected on the "pavilion system." Every two visitors occupy a tiny bungalow of two bedrooms, opening on a spacious verandah divided by a screen, and each section provided with lamp, rocking-chair, and tea-table, the long public dining hall being approached by a covered alley. The rain, swishing down through the night in torrents and cataracts, clears at sunrise, and though heavy clouds still veil the heights of Salak, the transparent beauty of the morning crystallises the atmosphere, and sharply defines every feature of the landscape. The country roads, shaded by towering palms and fruit-laden mangos, glow with a continuous procession of brown figures, the women clad in the universal sarong, but men and children often in Nature's garb, with touches of orange or crimson in scarf and turban. Water-oxen and buffaloes, goats and sheep, vary the throng, but cattle fare badly in fertile Java, where the all-pervading rice ousts the pasture-land. Glorious bamboos form arches of feathery green meeting across the road, and the busy China campong, or désar in Preanger parlance, is full of life and movement with the first streak of day, for all trade in Java depends upon the indefatigable industry of the Celestial. The idle gambling Malay, though an expert hunter and fisher, takes no thought for the morrow, and is protected by the Dutch Government from ruin by an enforced demand of rice for storage, according to the numbers of the family. Every village contains the great Store Barn of plaited palm leaves, so that, in case of need, the confiscated rice can be doled out to the improvident native, who thus contributes to the support of his family in times of scarcity. This regulation relieves want without pauperising, the common garner merely serving as a compulsory savings bank. Many salutary laws benefit the Malay, possessing a notable share of tropical slackness, and the lack of initiative partly due to a servile past under the sway of tyrannical native princes. The little brown people of Java, eminently gentle and tractable, are honest enough for vendors of eatables to place a laden basket at the roadside for the refreshment of the traveller, who drops a small coin into a bamboo tube fastened to a tree for this purpose. The customary payment is never omitted, and at evening the owner of the basket collects the money, and brings a fresh supply of food for future wayfarers. Country districts demonstrate the fact of Java being a creedless land. This is Sunday, and the Feast of the Epiphany, but the only honour paid to the day consists in a gayer garb, and a band playing for an hour in the palm-shaded garden. Work goes on in rice-field and plantation, but no church bell rings from the closed chapel outside the gates, and no sign of religion is evident, whether from mosque, temple, or church. Lovely lanes form alluring vistas. The pretty désas of plaited palm and bamboo, hiding in depths of tropical woodland, with blue thunbergia clambering over every verandah, and the Preanger girls, with their brilliant slandangs of orange and scarlet, amber and purple, make vivid points of colour in the foreground of blue mountain and dusky forest. A copper-coloured boy carries on his head a basket of gold-fish large as salmon, the westering sun glittering on the ruddy scales.
Traditional servility remains ingrained in Preanger character, and the crouching obeisance known as the dodok, formerly insisted upon, is still observed by the native to his European masters, the humble posture giving place to kneeling on a nearer approach. The kind proprietor of the Soekaboemi Hotel offers every facility to those guests anxious to penetrate below the surface of Soendanese life, placing his carriage and himself at the disposal of the visitor, and affording a mine of information otherwise unattainable, for books on Java are few and far between, and the work of Sir Stamford Raffles continues the best authority on island life and customs, though a century has elapsed since it was written. Why, one asks in amazement, did England part with this Eastern Paradise? rich not only in vegetation, but containing unexplored treasures of precious metal and the vast mineral wealth peculiar to volcanic regions, where valuable chemical products are precipitated by the subterranean forces of Nature's mysterious laboratory. In the far-off days when "the grand tour" of Europe was the climax of the ordinary traveller's ambition, beautiful Java was relinquished on the plea of being an unknown and useless possession, too far from the beaten track of British sailing ships to be of practical value. The remonstrances of Sir Stamford Raffles, and his representations of future colonial expansion, were regarded as the dreams of a romantic enthusiast, and the noble English Governor, in advance of his age, while effecting during his brief tenure of office results unattainable by a century of ordinary labour, found his efforts wasted and his work undone. Instead of returning home, he applied himself heroically to the developement of Singapore, the eternal monument of patriotic devotion and invincible courage.
The line to Tjandjoer, the starting point for Sindanglaya, traverses one of the exquisite plains characteristic of Java. Mountain walls, with palm-fringed base and violet crest, bound a fertile expanse, where myriad brooks foam through fairy arches of feathery bamboo and long vistas of spreading palm fronds. Rice in every stage of growth, from flaming green to softest yellow, covers countless terraces, the picturesque outlines of their varied contours enhancing the beauty of the fantastic scene. A sado, with a team of three tiny ponies, dashes up the long avenue leading to the palm-fringed hills, the mighty Amherstia trees forming aisles of dark green foliage, brightened with the vivid glow of orange red blossoms. The broad road is a kaleidoscope of brilliant colour, for native costume vies with the dazzling tints of tropical Nature as we advance further into the Preangers. The gay headgear, worn turbanwise, with two ends standing upright above plaited folds, and magenta kabajas, with slandangs of apple green, amber or purple, make a blaze of colour against the forest background, or glow amidst the dusky shadows of palm-thatched sheds, where thirsty travellers imbibe pink and yellow syrups, the favourite beverages of the Malay race. The ascending road commands superb views of the mountain chain, and the rambling two-storied hotel, widened by immense verandahs, stands opposite cloud-crowned Gedeh, half-veiled by the spreading column of volcanic smoke. The misty blue of further hills leads the eye to the three weird peaks of the Tangkoeban Prahoe, the boat-shaped "Ark" regarded as the Ararat of Java, for the universal tradition of the great Deluge underlies the religious history welded from Moslem, Buddhist, and Hindu elements. Legendary lore clusters round the petrified "Ark" in which the progenitors of the Malayan stock escaped from the Noachian flood. The storm-tossed and water-logged boat, lodged between jutting rocks, was reversed that it might dry in the sun, but the weary voyagers who traditionally peopled the Malay Archipelago remained in the lotus-eating land, and the disused "Ark" or Prau, fossilizing through the ages, became a portion of the peaks whereon it rested. The sacred mountain developed into a place of pilgrimage and prayer, and the ruins of richly-carved temples, together with four broken flights of a thousand steps, denote the former importance ascribed to the great Altar of Nature, and the power of religion on the social life of the past. Generations of later inhabitants, dwelling in flimsy huts of bamboo and thatch, regarded the mysterious ruins of the Tankahan Prahoe as the work of giants or demons, and the haunted hill as a mysterious resort of evil spirits. In lofty Sindanglaya, the swaying palms of the lowlands yield to glorious tree-ferns, shading road and ravine with feathery canopies of velvet green. A lake of azure crystal mirrors a thick fringe of the great fronds, and on every parapet of the ruddy cliffs the living emerald of the lanceolated foliage glows in vivid contrast with the splintered crags. Sindanglaya is the refuge of fever-stricken Europeans from malarial coast or inland swamp, but the hotel is now empty of invalids. The kind proprietor lavishes time and care on English guests, and the attentive Malay "room-boys," squatting on the verandah outside our doors, fear to lose sight of their charges for a moment, lest some need of native help should arise. They watch hand and eye like faithful dogs, for their language is unintelligible to us as ours to them, and the only attempt at speech is "Chow-chow, mister!" when the dinner-bell rings, the mystic words accompanied by a realistic pantomime of mouth and fingers.
The following morning dawns like an ideal day of June, and we start in chairs, carried by four coolies, for the beautiful Falls of Tjibereum. A mountain road winds through rice-fields and tree-ferns towards fold upon fold of lilac peaks, until we reach the mountain garden of Tjibodas, the beautiful supplement of incomparable Buitenzorg. A strange sense of remoteness belongs to this lonely pleasaunce of the upper world, on a sheltered slope of ever-burning Gedeh, quiescent now save for the blue curl of sulphurous smoke, which gives perpetual warning of those smouldering forces ever ready to devastate the surrounding country. Subterranean activity increases during the rainy season, and tremors of earthquake occasionally startle the equanimity of those unused to the perils of existence on this thin crust of Mother Earth, for Java's teeming soil and population rest upon an ominous fissure of the globe's surface, and twelve of the forty-five volcanos on this island of terror and beauty are still moderately active, sometimes displaying sudden outbursts of energy. The green lawns and towering camphor trees of Tjibodas suggest the spellbound beauty of some enchanted spot, unprofaned by human foot. A glassy lake mirrors the tall bamboos and feathery tamarinds, their slender and sensitive foliage motionless in the still air of the dewy dawn. Huge coleas accentuate the spring verdure with heavy masses of bronze and crimson, and magnolias exhale intoxicating odours from snowy chalices. Blue lilies and flaxen pampas grass grow in thickets upon the emerald slopes, and the ordered loveliness of the mountain Paradise, walled in by dense jungle and savage precipice, brings the glamour of dreamland into the stern environment of mysterious forest and frowning peak. A rudely-paved and mossy path, shadowed by the black foliage of stately casuarinas, leads into the gloomy jungle. The forest monarchs are curtained with tangled creepers and roped together with serpent-like lianas, stag-horn ferns, and green veils of filmy moss fluttering from every bough. A swampy path through rank grass and rough boulders pierces the dense thickets, matted together with inextricable confusion, teak and tamarind, acacia and bread-fruit, palm and tree-fern losing their own characteristics and merging themselves into concrete form. The appalling stillness and solemnity of the dense jungle appears emphasised by a solitary brown figure, with pipe and betel-box, beneath a thatched shed at an angle of the narrow track, where he presides over a little stall of cocoanuts, bananas, and coloured syrups, for the refreshment of coolies on their way from the Tjibodas garden to villages across the heights of Gedeh. No voice ever seems raised in these remote recesses of the mountains, where even the children of each brown hamlet play silently as figures in a dream. Our bearers, swishing through wet grass and splashing across brimming brooks, push with renewed energies up a steep ascent to the heart of the wild solitude, where three mighty waterfalls dash in savage grandeur from a range of over hanging cliffs into a churning river, descending by continuous rapids over a stairway of brown-striped trap-rock and swirling between lichen-clad banks, to lose itself in the green gloom of the impenetrable woods. One of these huge cascades would make the fortune of a Swiss valley, and we need no further efforts of our willing bearers in the cause of sight-seeing, but as neither words nor gestures prove intelligible to Western obtuseness, a brown coolie seizes each arm, and rushes us up a grassy hill to a huge cavern, hung with myriad bats, and containing a pool of crystal water. The simple minds of these kindly mountaineers shirk no trouble for the benefit of the stranger, who, though regarded as a madman, must be humoured as such, not only to the top of his bent, but often beyond it. A descent through rice-fields and désas skirts the serrated cliffs of Gedeh's northward side, though tree-ferns growing in thousands afford shelter from the daily showers. The sudden passion of tropical rain dies away, leaving an atmosphere of unearthly transparency. Gedeh, carved in amethyst, leans against a primrose sky, streaked by the puff of white smoke from the crater. Villagers returning from work brighten the road with patches of scarlet and yellow; children, clad only in necklaces of red seeds and silver bangles, running about amid groups of women in painted battek, with brown babies carried in the orange or crimson folds of the slandang, pause before the doorways of woven basket-work huts, or carry crates of yellow bananas and strings of purple mangosteens, to supplement the "evening rice" of their frugal meal. The Malay races have been called "the flower of the East," noted for their soft voices and courteous manners in the days of old, but European intercourse obliterates native characteristics, and the inhabitant of the sea-coast, or of the larger towns, unpleasantly imitates the brusquerie of his Dutch masters, and even exaggerates it. The Soendanese of the Preanger hills, less in contact with the external world, retains traces of life's ancient simplicity, and though a keen intelligence forms no part of his mental equipment, his desire to please and satisfy his employer is of pathetic intensity.
The Governor-General of Java, whose stipend is of double the amount received by the American President, owns a country palace at Sindanglaya, in addition to the splendid official residences at Batavia and Buitenzorg. A lovely walk leads from this flower-girt mansion to a pavilion on the Kasoer hill, commanding a prospect of four mountain ranges, outlined in tender hues of lavender and turquoise against the cobalt sky. In the foreground stretches a fertile plain, with bamboo and sugar-cane varying the eternal rice in brilliant shades of green and gold, always decorative, from the first emerald blade to the amber-tinted straw, for the sacred grain possesses a beauty far exceeding that of wheat, barley, or rye.
Undulating lines and ascending terraces break the uniformity of the lovely plains with the fascination of weird contour and fanciful design, intricate as the pattern traced on the native sarong. The rice-culture of these fields and valleys is a perfect survival of the primeval system, unchanged since the days when "the gift of the gods" was first bestowed on primitive man in this land of plenty. The peasant, toiling in the flooded sawas, and occupied from seedtime to harvest in the arduous labour demanded by the rice-field, combines with his agricultural work the idea of a sacred duty to the divinities who gave him the staple commodity whereon his life mainly depends. Cocoanut and sugar-cane, maize and tapioca, banana and cassava, supplement the rice, but it ranks above all other products of the teeming soil, for sacramental efficacy and supernatural origin have hallowed the "grain of heaven" from the very dawn of history, and the hereditary belief in the efficacy of the sacred crop still remains mystically rooted in the sub-consciousness of the Malay race.