Of all the regions in Indonesia, Aceh, at the northwestern end of Sumatra, is the first to have come into contact with the world outside. Chinese chronicles of as early as the sixth century A.D. spoke of a kingdom on the northern tip of Sumatra named Po-Li. Several Arabic writings of the early ninth century, and later inscriptions found in India also mentioned the area. In 1292, Marco Polo, the famous Venetian adventurer, on a voyage from China to Persia visited Sumatra and reported that on the northern part of Sumatera there were as many as six trading ports including Ferlec, Samudera and Lambri. The irony is that this area, which had for so many centuries maintained contact with others, is at present one of the least known of Indonesia even among Indonesians.
Islam is believed to have reached Aceh somewhere between the seventh and eighth centuries A.D. and the first Islamic kingdom, Perlak was established in 804 A.D. Others followed: Samudera Pasai in 1042, Tamiah in 1184, Aceh in 1205 and Darussalam in 1511. In 1511, the Portuguese captured Malacca, when many Asian and Arabic traders sought to avoid the Malacca Strait and called instead on Aceh's port, bringing wealth and prosperity. Aceh's dominance in trade and politics in northern parts of Sumatra began, reaching its climax between 1610 and 1640.
With the death of Sultan Iskandar Thani in 1641, Aceh's decline began. The British and Dutch both started to vie for influence. In 1824 the London Treaty was signed, giving the Dutch control over all British possessions in Sumatra in return for a Dutch surrender of establishments in India and an abrogation of all claims on Singapore. It was a long drawn out struggle for the Dutch in their attempts to subdue the recalcitrant Acehnese. The Aceh War, which lasted intermittently from 1873 to 1942, was the longest ever fought by Holland, costing the Dutch more than 10,000 lives. This background has stamped a deep imprint on the Acehnese outlook and mentality.
The era of industrialization has arrived, and with it has come a more open attitude towards things alien. Visitors should keep in mind, though, that the Acehnese take their religion, their manners and their morals seriously.
Around Banda Aceh
Banda Aceh is the capital of Aceh and also the main gateway to the province. The Governor's Residence, was built by the Dutch in 1880 on the spot where the palace of the sultan once stood. This building is known as one of the historical sites with a unique architecture and completed with traditional house equipments.
This place is of course a restricted area and entering it must be with a kind of permission from the security guard.
Baiturrahman Grand Mosque is one of the most out-standing landmarks in the capital city. The old mosque that stood there before it was burnt down at the beginning of the Aceh War, was rebuilt in 1875, taking its present shape after a number of renovations and expansions.
Museum Negeri is another charm of the city. The museum is filled with antiques. Among the exhibits is a big clock, a gift from the Emperor of China and brought to Aceh by the famed Admiral Cheng Ho in 1414.
Gunongan and Pinto Khop which are located at a few steps from the Pendopo are also charms of the city. Gunongan was erected around the 16th century during the reign of Sultan Iskandar Muda.
Kerkhof or Churchyard is a much visited site especially by Dutch visitors where the remains of more then 2,000 Dutch soldiers lie buried.
The Syiah Kuala Grave is another popular visitor's object. Teungku Syiah Kuala was one of Aceh's great Moslem Ulamas of the past. His grave stands near the mouth of Krueng Aceh River about 2 kilometers from the city, visited by local visitors and other parts of Indonesia and Malaysia.
Indra Patra Fortress. This old fort was built during the time of Iskandar Muda. It probably functioned as a defense against invaders.
Museum Cut Nyak Dhien is a historical object. The house is a replica of the heroine Cut Nyak Dhien, from the Aceh War. The house was burnt down by the colonial forces but a replica was built later, after Indonesia's independence. This house in Lam Pisang, about 6 kilometers from Banda Aceh, is now a museum.
Un-crowded Banda Aceh has many beautiful beaches. The most popular ones are Ujong Batee beach, Lam Puuk beach and Lhok Nga beach. Those beaches are located about 16 kilometers from Banda Aceh. They have clean waters and white sands. Sunsets are quite impressive there.
Sea Gardens are located offshore from Banda Aceh at about 45 minutes by speed boat. Some can be enjoyed around Rubiah island in Sabang, and the others are around Beras, and other small islands around them.
Lhokseumawe is a town located 274 km from Banda Aceh which is now being developed as an industrial zone. Many gigantic plants are constructed following the discovery of huge LNG resources in the area. Touristic features of the town is a.o. Samudera Pasai. It was the first great Islamic kingdom of Indonesia. All that remains of it, however, is a graveyard 18 km east of the town. One of the graves belongs to Malikussaleh, as Samudera Pasai's first king. Other objects for visitors are Blang Kolam Falls and Ujung Blang beach.
Takengon is a town located in the central area of Aceh. It is being promoted as a tourist resort since its temperature is about 2O degree C (68F), cool enough for a holiday resort. The main feature of the town is Lake Laut Tawar. It offers soaring cliffs around the shore which are ideal for rock hiking. The lake is also stocked with trout.
A warm water pool at Simpang Balik, Loyang Koro and Loyang Pukes caves by the side of Laut Tawar are also interesting objects.
The National Park of Gunung Leuser is probably the wildest in Indonesia, located in Southeast Aceh, can be reached from either Kutacane, or Takengon. This magnificent national park has a wealth of flora and fauna. The park also has research facilities for the study of primates, birds, insects, and other animals. Basic accommodation facilities are available at Ketambe. The rapids-infested Krueng Alas river inside the park is popular with rafters.
Picure: (Classical dance of Aceh)