I visited the city of Pekalongan on the island of Java in Indonesia on a stopover from the volcanic Dieng Plateau, on my way to Jakarta. I had read about Pekalongan’ s batik traditions and while I only had a short day in the town I was keen to get a glimpse of the character of Pekalongan and an impressions of its batik tradition.
Pekalongan is not yet a major tourist destination. Most international tourist and travellers appear to rush rapidly through Java on their way to Bali, with quick stops in Yogyakarta in central Java to see the splendid Borubodur Buddhist temple and the temples at Prambanan, both Unesco World Heritage sites.
The Dromo Plateau in west Java is another tourist magnet, again attracting those en-route to Bali. Few visitors head up to the Dieng Plateau, north of Yogyakarta, and even less continue to the north coast, where Pekalongan is located. You will have Pekalongan just about to yourself if you ever visit.
A stroll around town brought me to a neighbourhood which immediately struck me for the colourful houses and the use of murals with motifs that were inspired by Pekalongan’s traditional batik patterns. In this neighbourhood the locals cheerfully gathered around me. The traveller often becomes the main attraction in a less-visited place.
When I started to photograph some of the colourful facades in the narrow streets, the local shop keepers, house owners and some hyper energetic kids were eager to be photographed in front of their homes or enterprises. This resulted in an entertaining photo shoot and some good laughs.
In Indonesia and Java you will find some of the warmest and friendliest people. The creative colour schemes and batik motives on the walls of the homes together with the hospitality and cheerfulness of the people make Pekalongan, the Batik City, a joy to explore. So, if ever in Java, consider a detour off the beaten track.
Photographs and text by Jan Haenraets