Jakarta was a weird one. I debated for sometime whether or not I would actually visit it – since the fundamental criteria for it being part of the Grand Tour was missing: Jakarta’s Grand Hotel – the Hotel Des Indes – was demolished by Soeharto in a very nationalistic move in the 1970s. And so, if there was no hotel to stay in, why in the world would I be going?
I decided that this was, after all, a Tour of colonial history in Southeast Asia; and that being the case, I couldn’t possibly leave out Jakarta. Since, up until very recently, it was something else altogether; something splendid – the capital of the Dutch East Indies; and one of the most splendid ports of all time, that is, until Singapore came into the picture.
In Jakarta, my task was to uncover traces of Oud Batavia. And I have to say that I was only partly successful. Plenty of buildings from that period still stand – particularly in Kota Tua (the Old Town) and all along the banks of the Kali Besar (previously the Grootegracht, or Grand Canal).
However, the way of living that went along with these buildings had long since disappeared. And no amount of reminiscing could every bring this lost world – that of the Indische, or the Dutch-European Indonesians – back. It was a case of tempo doeloe, so to speak – time lost that could never be regained.