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Instagram gives sand quarry in Indonesia new lease of life, but fame brings local conflicts

Instagram gives sand quarry in Indonesia new lease of life, but fame brings local conflicts

A boat at the edge of a pond in Tebing Koja, a former sand quarry in Banten, Indonesia, which has turned into a tourist site thanks to social media. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

CIKUYA, Indonesia: When photographer Mr Syaipul Patony first laid his eyes on the sand quarry near his new house in Java’s Banten province, he instinctively knew it would make the perfect backdrop for pre-wedding photo shoots. 

The 6ha site featured a man-made canyon surrounded by sheer cliffs some 30m deep and swarmed with ridges of solid rocks jutting out of the plains below.

There are also ponds, created by accumulation of rain over the years.

Tebing Koja in Cikuya village, Banten province, Indonesia. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

With permission from the quarry’s owner Mr Zainuddin, Mr Patony returned with a couple the next day. As he had expected, the photos generated a lot of interest from fellow photographers once he uploaded them on social media.

“They were all asking the same question: ‘Where on earth were these shots taken?’” the 37-year-old said.

Mr Patony, known to his peers as Tony, initially thought about keeping the location a secret, but in the end he decided that the mesmerising landscape should be marvelled by all.

“I went back to see Mr Zainuddin and ask him if it’s alright for me to reveal the location. I told them this place would be a hit if I do, as photographers and tourists would flock here in droves.

“He thought I was mad,” Mr Patony recalled the conversation took place in early 2017.

But true enough, 200 tourists came the following week. During the school holiday season that year, the number of visitors ballooned to more than 1,000 in a single day, Mr Zainuddin, who like many Indonesians go by one name, said.

Tebing Koja, a former sand quarry which became a tourist destination overnight in 2017. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

Along with the fame, the sand quarry stoppped extraction. It also took on a new name of “Tebing Koja” (Kettle Cliff) because of a rock that resembles the shape of the neck of a kettle.

The local villagers benefited from the site’s popularity, earning more income as tour guides or food hawkers.

However, this has also led to disputes between them and Mr Zainuddin, and worse, conflicts within Mr Zainuddin’s family.

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The reason why Tebing Koja stands out is the abundance of scenic and unique spots available in one location, Mr Patony explained.

“If you shoot your model from the pond, you can create the impression that your model is on a serene lake surrounded by tall, jagged cliffs. If you shoot from the top of the cliff, you get this otherworldly canyon-looking vista,” he said.

Photographer Mr Syaipul Patony was the first to put Tebing Koja on the map. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

“There’s even an open ceiling cave which creates the impression that you are in some exotic desert far, far away.”

At Mr Patony’s request, Mr Zainuddin created more photogenic spots to add on to the variety of backdrop options.

Behind the cliff are traditional houses made out of bamboo and straw. On one pond sits a wooden foot bridge painted in the colours of a rainbow, while boats are anchored in another.

Mr Zainuddin's latest project was planting sunflowers on a green patch.

“Tony asked me to plant the flowers, saying that they would make another photogenic spot. I don’t understand photography but he does, and he believes this will bring more value for the tourists, so I said yes,” he said.

The site now charges an admission fee of 5,000 rupiah (US$0.35) per person. Permits for photo shoot are priced between 5 million and 20 million rupiah, depending on the length of the session.

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The overnight success of Tebing Koja has completely transformed the once sleepy village of Cikuya.

The front yards of village homes have been turned into parking spaces and the villagers went from sand miners, farmers and housewives to tour guides and food vendors.

“I used to make 100,000 rupiah a day when I was a sand miner. Now, I can get that same amount in a few hours from tips,” Mr Bungsu, 44, told CNA.

Former sand miner, Mr Bungsu, posing inside an open ceiling cave in Tebing Koja, Indonesia. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

He even learned basic photography from Mr Patony and now knows how to compose shots. He can even guide the tourists to strike flattering poses.

Mr Patony said there are many villagers like Mr Bungsu who are eager to learn photography from him.

“All young people here know how to take great photos using mobile phones, which is enough for their work as tour guides,” he said.

“But there are those who are eager to learn more. People here started to realise that the real money is to be a professional photographer, shooting models or couples who are about to get married. I am taking a few of the locals under my wings to mentor them.”

During CNA’s visit, Mr Patony was taking photos of a couple who travelled from Bekasi, 90km away in the outskirts of Jakarta.

Two of his assistants, tasked with setting up the remote-control flashlights and holding the reflector, were natives of Cikuya.

Photographer Mr Syaipul Patony's assistants used to be sand miners in the former quarry. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

However, the transformation has not all been positive.

With no clear guidelines on where shops can be built, people have erected huts within the site, spoiling the landscape.

Houses bordering the man-made canyon also opened up their own access to the site and charge admission fees from visitors, but do not always share their profits with Mr Zainuddin.

This created tension between them and Mr Zainuddin, who felt the residents should contribute to the maintenance of the site’s sanitation and facilities.

Then there were also complaints from people in a neighbouring village, who were troubled by the traffic jam and pollution as a result of the site’s popularity.

They demanded that Mr Zainuddin move his entrance booth closer to their village, so they could charge the vehicles passing through.

Police were called when they stormed Tebing Koja in August, threatening to shut it down unless their demands were met, Mr Zainuddin said.

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But what worries Mr Zainuddin most is the fact that the success of Tebing Koja had brought division to his own family.

Mr Zainuddin, the owner of Tebing Koja, said the sand quarry has transformed, for better or for worse, since it was discovered by photographers in early 2017. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

“This land belongs to my ancestor. I tried as best as I can to divide the profit equally between members of the family. However, some of them want bigger slices of the pie,” he said.    

“To be honest, I am tired of running this place. I just want to sell it and move on. At the very least, have the government manage the whole thing.”

Chief of the Tangerang Tourism Agency, Mr Ahmad Surya Wijaya, told CNA that Mr Zainuddin had been inviting regency officials to visit the site in a bid to convince the government to take over the management.

“The way I see it, the locals have been doing a good job at managing the place.

“There are many things which can be improved, like parking spaces and unruly vendors, but these are not something which the locals cannot handle or improve on their own,” he said.

Mr Wijaya said the government is studying Mr Zainuddin’s proposal but no decision has been made.

“In the meantime, all we can provide is input on how the owners can better manage the place.”  

Source: CNA/ni(tx)


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