We’ve heard it said many times before: Life is about the journey, not the destination. I was again reminded of this saying after a recent significant episode in my life, namely the death of a close friend, a photographer who got me interested in photography and accompanied me on many of my reporting and non-reporting travels.
One day I heard that Yudha Prasetya Baskara, or Yudha Pebew, was really ill. He was in Jakarta, and I was in Yogyakarta. Astrid Reza and I, and her son Bhumy, then took the Gajah Wong train to Jakarta to visit him. On that train, I spent so much time on my phone that it quickly ran out of battery. So there was very little chance for me to receive the news that when I was still on that train, Yudha breathed his last. Right when I was on my way to Jakarta, his family was taking his body to Yogyakarta, his birthplace.
I received a short message in the morning, about the news of his death. Trying really hard to deal with that devastating feeling, the kind you get when you wake up and realize that you’re way too late for a very important occasion, I shuddered and cried. There was no use trying to get a ticket home; he was about to be buried in a few hours.
A few days later, I returned to Yogyakarta with Julia Elaine Patricia, or Leha. She heard the news of Yudha’s death from my Twitter account. Yudha, Julia, and I once shared a precious time together when the three of us traveled to Karimunjawa Islands two years ago. Yudha was our personal photographer as we hopped from one island to another, and we came up with a scenario that we were the participants of a beauty pageant called Miss Karimunjawa 2010. Leha won the crown made out of twigs.
Leha accompanied my return to Jogja so that we could visit Yudha’s grave together. We wanted to take the same air conditioned economy class train that I had taken — price ranging from Rp125,000 to Rp165,000. But something happened to the Gajah Wong that it would arrive at Jakarta’s Gambir Train Station about five hours late (so the station attendants said).
A series of interesting incidents that followed made that day one of the most colorful days in our lives. We hopped onto a business class train called the Sawunggaling, without the appropriate tickets because the station attendants said it was okay.
We initially got seats, but after several hours all the seats were taken by their rightful owners. So then we sat by that space where the coaches are connected (is there a specific name for it?), only to later move to another space because the two guys that sat close to us were chatting in a manner that made us think they had just swallowed a loudspeaker.
Arriving in Kutoarjo, Central Java, we were told to move to a different train called Prameks. This train is quite popular for those living in Kutoarjo, Yogyakarta, and Surakarta (Solo), the cities that it connects, for it is cheap (only about Rp10,000 per ticket) and leaves every one hour or so. But that night the Prameks was so packed that Leha and I had to stand for an hour and jostle for space every time the train made a stop at the smaller stations.
Suffice to say, we were exhausted. But we arrived in Yogyakarta with a stronger memory of Yudha. He was so dear to us that we would take any demanding route to get to see his tombstone. It wasn’t his death that we mourned; it was the beautiful moments that we’d been able to share with him during his lifetime that we remembered and cherished. Journey over destination.
Trains, railways, and train stations have always been able to bring out the romantic person in me. And I believe they do the same to many of you.
The history of railway in Indonesia itself is full of colors. The first Javanese to see a locomotive were those living along the first rail tracks that connected Semarang and Tanggung, both in Central Java. They were built by a private Dutch company called Naamlooze Venootschap Nederlandsch Indische Spoorweg Maatschappij from 1864 to 1867.
Dutch investors began to take interest in building more rail tracks, that the period leading up to the turn of the century saw a rapid development of railways on the island of Java. From 25 kilometers in 1867, the tracks extended to 3,338 kilometers in 1900.
I mentioned in an earlier post that in Indonesia trains operate only on the islands of Java and Sumatra. They once operated on the island of Sulawesi in the 1920s. Preliminary studies for the building of railways were conducted on the islands of Kalimantan, Bali, and Lombok around the same period, but the construction projects never took off.
In 1939, railways snaked on paths that were nearly 7,000 kilometers long in total. But during the Japanese occupation in the early ’40s, about 900 kilometers of them were gone, probably because the materials were dismantled and brought to be rebuilt in Burma.
The Japanese only built 83 kilometers of rail tracks during their time in Indonesia, namely on the western part of Java and on the central part of Sumatra. In Sumatra, the construction process took the lives of so many forced labors whose graves now scatter around the tracks between Pekanbaru and Muaro that they had helped build. Ironically, the tracks are no longer functioning.
Indonesia celebrates September 28 as Train Day, or Railway Day. On the same date in 1945, Indonesians working in the railway sector who called themselves Angkatan Moeda Kereta Api, or the Young Generation of Railways, declared the end of Japan’s authority over the railway sector.
Another fun fact: The name kereta api, or fire carriages, is used because in the olden days the locomotives were propelled by the burning of coals or woods, not by diesel or electric currents as we know it today.