The Kaliandra Estate, Part I: A place where dragons live…

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The front facade of Villa Leduk. (photo: IO/Tamalia)

God! I will pack and take a train and get me to Leduk again.. Kaliandra! ah, Kaliandra!
There’s peace and holy quiet there, great clouds along pacific skies, and men and women with gentle eyes…
(adapted from Rupert Brooke’s Grantchester)

IO – In the morning one wakes to the plaintive cry of peacocks at Villa Leduk on the Kaliandra Estate and on its roof sit three large spider mon­keys come down from the jungle in the mountains in search of food or merely out of curiosity. At the back of the large palladium palace built in a style influenced by the manor hous­es of Tuscany, in a large park sloping towards the mountains, spotted deer with antlers, placid-eyed does and lit­tle bambies gaze silently at the guests seated between grey pillars eating at tables set with crisp white table cloths and flowers… and yes, there is honey still for tea. Wild honey from the trees of the forest, homemade bread and mulberry jam and for those who pre­fer an Indonesian meal that is always available…

Breakfast is served on the back portico with
wild honey and home made bread and mulberry jam. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana

Villa Leduk sits on the gently rising slopes of Mount Arjuna in thirty-four hectares of lush, cool land in East Java about two hours from the Sidoarjo train station or the Surabaya plane station. Flowering creepers entwine themselves around its grey pillars and greenish blue and also pure white peacocks spread their tails on its porticoes. It is a dream come true… where goodness and beau­ty have combined to produce an earthly paradise.

Atmadja Tjiptobiantoro with his niece Meme Widjanarko Doss at the opening of the Rumah Kolonial 1880 Hotel. (photo: IO/Krisandari Yuningrum)

The creator of this dream is a tall, slender man with gentle eyes and the courtly demeanor of a Javanese prince named Atmadja Tjiptobiantoro. He is a man in whom the child spirit is still very strong. As a young boy Atmadja had an experience that had a pro­found effect on him and a direct in­fluence on the creation of Villa Leduk. One day he stayed with his mother at the large house of the Lim family in Pasuruan and in the early morn­ing he rose and together with some cousins he saw a house on the oppo­site side of the road. It was a beauti­ful house with a colonnaded portico topped by an entablature crowned by a small Javanese style triangu­lar pediment. Unlike most colonial houses which were white in color, this house was painted a sort of yel­low ochre. The small boy crossed and entered its grounds. “I really like this house,” he thought quietly to himself.

Later when he told his mother about the house she scolded him im­patiently, “Silly boy! That’s the family house!” for Atmadja was descended from one of the wealthy sugar fam­ilies of East Java. About two years later in 1951 his mother and her sis­ters decided to sell the house. When Atmadja heard of this he rushed to ask her, “Why are you wanting to sell it? It’s a beautiful house?”

Atmadja Tjiptobiantoro was able to hire
President Sukarno’s original car as a sentimental gesture for Dewi Sukarno. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

Her response was that it was better to receive money than to have to spend it. Apparently, there was a four-meter long back wall which needed repairs and his mother and aunts preferred to sell the house than spend the money for the re­pairs. To Atmadja her actions made no sense but he kept quiet and later as an adult after working for many years he reached the point where he had enough set aside for him to re­purchase the family house. He told a neighbor what he intended to do but she told him that he was mad to even consider it as Pasuruan was a hot, humid and noisy place with many mosquitoes. “You’ll never sur­vive it! Why not find a place up in the mountains and build there?”

“I was obsessed but not insane. So, I took Tante Norma’s advice and searched for the ideal piece of land to build,” said Atmadja with a small smile. He searched for a piece of land where he could build the house of his dreams and perhaps also help the people who lived in the surrounding areas. “I have been noticing my whole life.. that the world is full of people who need care… not just in Indonesia but … even in America… everywhere.”

The elegant peacocks of Villa Leduk proudly
display their beauty. (photo: IO/Tamalia)

It took Atmaja two years before he found the land on the slopes of Mount Arjuna and began to build a house. Its front facade was modeled after that of the family house that had so fired his imagination as a young boy. Atmadja is an architect and within a year the house was built but it was not his family house. Instead he had built an ochre colored palace with grey stone Doric columns in the Palla­dian style. A flock of peacocks adding their displays of glorious feathers to various nooks and porticoes. “The Ja­vanese green peacocks are a protect­ed species so I could not have those. Instead, I had a pair of blue peacocks and a pair of white peacocks brought from India,” he remarked. “Unfortu­nately the male white peacock died. I tried to buy another male white peacock but received another female one instead.” So, they have had to in­termarry with the greenish blue ones producing a spectacular greenish blue peacock with strands of white. The deer are the same as the ones at the Bogor Palace.”

Atmadja then explained about the dragons. “Many years ago two friends of mine came to stay. One was an Indo­nesian lady who had lived in Holland for many years and had become quite Dutch. She was called Ibu De. When she first saw the estate she stepped out of the car and exclaimed, “Ik ben verleifd op Kaliandra! Ik kan het niet helpen!” (“I have fallen in love with Ka­liandra. I cannot help myself!”).

The other was a Javanese lady who was very much influenced by “Kejawen” or Javanese spiritual be­liefs. “They were like sisters to me,” Atmadja explained “and they always shared the same room when they came to visit. One night the Javanese lady woke Ibu De to tell her that she saw a “naga mas” or golden dragon in the room and that it was convers­ing with her. Ibu De who had lived so long in Holland simply yawned and fell back asleep again, unimpressed by golden dragons. The next morn­ing the Javanese lady told Atmadja that the golden dragon had left her a message to convey to him. “It had a message for the people who live here namely, that you must look well after all the buildings and grounds and the whole area because it is full of drag­ons. Then they will also look after the people living here…”

The grand diningroom at Villa Leduk. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

The “naga mas” is the king of “na­gas” or dragons and they are reputed to be invisible deities guarding trea­sures underground. Atmadja contin­ued the story by saying that one day a Rinpoche or important teacher of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition came to rest and recuperate at Villa Leduk. The word Rinpoche in fact means “precious jewel” and they maybe compared to abbots or monks. “He had a restful stay and the wonderful thing is that as he was leaving one of the younger monks came running up to me with a message from the Rin­poche. He told me that the Rinpoche asked him to tell me that the grounds and buildings must be kept clean and well maintained because they are full of nagas!” Then he added, “I believe many of the Kejawen beliefs were influenced by Buddhist beliefs…”

Rumah Kolonial 1880 with Mount Arjuna and Mount Ringgit in the background. Photograph courtesy of Krisandari Yuningrum. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

However, Atmadja never forgot his dream of recreating his ancestral house in Pasaruan and two weeks ago the Kaliandra Estate celebrated the opening of the Rumah Kolonial 1880 hotel. Atmadja believes that houses need stories attached to them to really come alive and the house in Pasuruan too has a story attached to it. Atmadja’s grandfather was from a family who obtained their wealth from sugar in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They lived in the colonial mansion in Pasuruan and Atmadja’s grandfather was a bit of a lad who liked to gamble, go horse racing and womanizing. It drove his poor grandmother to distraction until she finally could not stand it anymore and fled leaving her husband and children behind. It seems that their love did not die and later his grandfa­ther and grandmother met again and wanted to rekindle their marriage. His great grandfather heard of this and in a rage ordered his servants to not allow his grandmother on to the prop­erty when she tried to return and had them gather and burn her clothes. Atmadja’s grandfather did not dare to disobey his father and eventually married another lady. His mother re­members a lady coming to her school once and standing outside the fence and crying. The story and the house have always haunted Atmadja and when he decided to build a hotel as a way to try to make Kaliandra self-sus­tainable, he built a house modeled on his family’s old mansion in Pasuruan that he loved as a boy.

The beautiful Nina Tanjung, Ratna Sari Dewi and Inti Subagyo grace the event with their
presence. (photo: IO/Krisandari Yuningrum)

The hotel was opened by the beau­tiful Ibu Ratna Sari Dewi Sukarno, Ibu Nina Tanjung and Ibu Inti Sub­agyo. The opening began with the ar­rival of Dewi Sukarno in President’s Sukarno’s original car with a red and white flag that Atmadja had man­aged to procure from an Indonesian vintage car club for the event. The village provided a parade with danc­ing and music and enthusiastically participated in the dangdut singing that was arranged to entertain the guests during their meal on the back verandah of the hotel. “For me that was the biggest achievement that eve­ning that the Japanese guests that Ibu Dewi brought, the guests from Jakarta and the local villagers were all able to participate and enjoy the celebrations together.”

Later Atmadja reminisced a lit­tle about Ibu Dewi. “I first saw Dewi Sukarno with my younger brother during a New Year’s Eve dinner at one of the grand hotels. My parents had hired a table in the dining room and Dewi sat at the centre table with many friends. She was stunning; so, beautiful that you really couldn’t see anyone else. She wore a light green dress with a pale green shawl hang­ing from her chignon and only pearls. I asked my friends who she was and they said to me in amazement, ‘Don’t you know who that is? Its Ratna Sari Dewi!’ Sukarno was completely besot­ted with her.”

Many years later Atmadja was resting in his house in Jakarta when his friend Peter Saerang asked if he could come by to pick some helico­nia blossoms from Atmadja’s garden. Atmadja agreed but asked not to be disturbed as he was resting. However, after Peter arrived a servant knocked at his door with a message from Peter that he had brought a visitor and that Atmadja must come down. When he did so to his surprise he saw Dewi Sukarno in his house. “I said hello to her and she responded by saying, “I am Dewi.”

“Would you care for something to drink? We have tea, coffee, water?”

“I would like some champagne…”

“ But I am afraid that we have none..

“No champagne! But how is that possible?”

And thus slowly they became friends. “You know people don’t real­ize that we have hearts. They can be so superficial. I found that Dewi has a very kind heart and it was then that I truly came to like her. You know she was speaking to me once about Peter Saerang and she told me that he has a very noble heart but you know only people with noble hearts themselves will recognize it in another…”.

Atmadja paused for a moment to contemplate then continued, “Dewi is highly intelligent and very strong. She works extremely hard with the televi­sion program that she hosts in Japan and various other things but still she went to all the trouble to bring twen­ty Japanese to stay at the hotel for the opening. That is her good heart,” said Atmadja – a man who recognizes goodness in others. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)

Next week the Kaliandra Estate se­ries continues with Part II: Virtus Vera Nobilitas