Mount Puntang: Behind the Revolutionary Song “Halo-Halo Bandung”

During Indonesian National Revolution, the city of Bandung (especially southern side) was deliberately burned by retreating Indonesian republicans. The burning would prevent the city to be controlled by Dutch and Allied Troops. This event is better known as Bandung Lautan Api, or Bandung Sea of Fire, which is perpetuated in the revolutionary song “Halo-Halo Bandung”. This song became well known as a symbol of Indonesians struggle for independence from colonial forces.

But how did the songwriter came up with the title “Halo-Halo Bandung”? I had not bothered to figure it until my recent trip to Gunung Puntang (Mount Puntang), Banjaran, Bandung. This mountain, along with Mount Malabar and Mount Haruman, stand tall to form the southern boundaries of Bandung Basin.

Heading south from the city of Bandung, it took me about two hours to get there. The journey was pretty smooth, with the exception of a pretty boring traffic jam at Dayeuh Kolot. I did a quick research about Mount Puntang the night before, even exploring it on Google Earth, to get a better view and understanding. Here are the things I found on the internet regarding Mount Puntang, and the real conditions of them were not disappointing at all.

  • Pine forest. Although this is really common in Indonesian mountains and highlands, the pine forest here was pretty clean, seemed undisturbed, and if the mist settles in… well that makes a perfect photo background.
  • River Ci Geureuh (actually, Ci means river or water in Sundanese). My lecturer said Geureuh means some kind of ‘warning’. Warning from what? Probably flash floods. Besides, this river is stacked with big boulders originating from mountain landslides, which would count to a higher risk if flash flood actually happens. Oh, and the water is crystal clear, and very cold.
River Ci Geureuh. The water shown here will eventually flow to River Ci Sangkuy, then River Ci Tarum.
  • Camping grounds. Not many campers were there during my visit, but I could tell the camping experience there was great.
  • Owa jawa (Javanese gibbon). It is a protected animal, and no, I didn’t see one during my visit.
  • Remnants of Dutch houses, offices, and most importantly, a radio station. These buildings were all destroyed by Indonesians in the Bandung Sea of Fire, previously assumed to be burned by the Japanese.
Radio Malabar station, now only ruins.
Ruins of Dutch houses with mist-covered pine forest in the background.

Why did Dutch build a radio station there?

Communication was an important thing between The Netherlands and Dutch East Indies (the name for Indonesia in the colonization era). To provide better direct communications between these two faraway lands, the Dutch built a radio station on the slope of Mount Puntang (named Radio Malabar) accompanied with housing complexes and recreational facilities for the working people. The slope of Mount Puntang chosen for this radio station site faces northwest, directly to The Netherlands, 12.000 kilometer away. Surrounded by pine forests and a high altitude added up to the advantage of this radio station.

The call sign for this radio was “Halo Bandung”. See, that’s the origin of the revolutionary song titled Halo-Halo Bandung.

Unfortunately, today we can not enjoy anything but the remains of Radio Malabar station and its facilities. These ruins may not be as bold as Macao’s Ruins of St. Paul or Rome’s Colosseum, but they offer a peaceful, yet mystical ambiance, especially with the surrounding pine forests and when fog or mist settles in.

If you’re passionate enough to do more challenging activities beside strolling around pine forests and radio station ruins, try walking down to River Ci Geureuh. Steep river valleys, big boulders, small rapids, and fast flowing river indicate that this river’s stage is young. I was told that the bedrock of this river is andesitic. There is another attraction upstream, a waterfall called Curug Siliwangi. But there is a long distance ahead and slippery (yet not-so-easy-to-find) path to reach the waterfall.

Another thing I found really interesting was the Dutch cave. The Dutch built this cave to store their equipment. The air inside was muggy, and water dripped off from the ceilings (make sure to protect your gadgets!). Our guide told us to stay on the left side, because the cave floor was uneven and very muddy, especially on the right side. In some parts the ceilings were so low. After a few minutes walking, we met the true dweller of the cave: bats. Many, many bats. They flied above our heads -they were probably disturbed by our flashlights- and their shrieks filled the air. Pretty scary, but I felt like a video game character doing a mission!

What does Puntang mean, actually?

There are people visiting a travel destination who would not bother to figure out the reason why a place is named that, why does it take a particular form, and so on. Immersed by the beauty and challenging activities of Mount Puntang, we may not be interested enough to figure out what Puntang actually means.

Puntang means “holding on to something” in Sundanese. Currently there is no brief explanation of “holding on to what?”. In my opinion, we should hold on to Mount Puntang’s beautiful nature, wildlife, and historical remnants. Besides preserving it for future generations, holding on to Mount Puntang means perpetuating our origins, that we are just tiny humans living among the vast natural landscapes, and we have stories of the past that we can learn from to ensure a better future ahead. Hopefully.

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