Swept away by the Asian African Carnival
The street was a swirling sea of people. Bodies brushed against me in every direction- left, right and all around. I felt like a road cone stuck in heavy traffic, unable to move and uncertain of what to do next.
The mass of humanity that had appeared when I turned the corner on Braga Street surrounded me, swallowed me up and swept over me. I searched the crowd for a familiar face but I couldn’t see any. My guide and the other bloggers I was walking with had been swept away as well. They had disappeared. Dude, where’s my guide?
I was in Bandung, Indonesia on a press trip for the 60th anniversary of the Asian African Conference. Having visited Bandung before, I was glad to be back and noticed that the city had been spruced up and made prettier with flower baskets, buntings and flags in readiness for the celebrations.
This year’s conference is a big thing for Bandung and her people – when the very first meet was held here in 1955, the involvement of newly independent nations like Indonesia, India, Pakistan and Burma was credited with stirring up other nationalistic movements in the region. In short, the first conference was a good thing for Asia and Africa.
History, however, was far from the minds of the swelling crowd on Asia Africa Boulevard. They had gathered for the here and now. The people around me were here for the carnival and open-air concert that was taking place.
Not far from where I stood, a makeshift stage had been erected and on it, a band was playing. The bodies and heads of people surrounding me made it difficult to see who exactly was playing (I am, after all, only five feet tall) but – wait. Was the band in army uniforms? It sure looked like it. They began singing the first lines of what seemed to be a popular song, judging from the response. The throng erupted in cheers and shouts and pushed its way forward, taking me with it. I decided to move away from the heaving mass and headed for the buildings that lined the street. I took another look at the stage and saw that the band members were indeed dressed in army uniforms.
In early 2014, the city of Bandung introduced its fleet of open-top, double-decker tour buses called bandros, short for ‘Bandung Tour on the Bus’, which provide free rides to Bandung’s tourist attractions. After walking a few hundred yards I spotted one of these buses and climbed up one of them to get a better view of what was going on around me. To my relief, I saw that a few of the bloggers were already on the bus, leaning over the side and taking photographs.
Bandung was in full party mode. I saw another stage to my left- this time a man was spinning music and speaking on a microphone. Another two bandros buses were parked behind mine, packed with photographers and media.
Later that afternoon, a colourful street parade wound its way through Bandung, much to the delight of those present. Countries like China, South Korea, Iran and Jordan were among those that took part. Indonesia was represented by delegations from Solo, Jogjakarta and South Sumatra.
I didn’t know it then, but Asia Africa Boulevard also has a history. Its origins go back some two hundred years, making it one of Bandung’s oldest roads. It was in 1809 when the Dutch began constructing a thoroughfare to link west Java with the east coast. A year later, this road passed through Bandung and became known as De Groote Postweg (the ‘main post road’). It would later be renamed ‘Asia Africa Boulevard’.
My first visit to Bandung two years ago had been a frivolous shopping holiday, spent in and out of the outlet stores that the city is famous for. In a way, I’m glad that my earlier visit had been so different. Visiting for the second time has allowed me to reflect and make comparisons. This time I was able to see more of Bandung, and to appreciate her history, people and culture.
Losing my guide and getting trapped in a crowd? That was just part of the experience.
*My press trip to Bandung was courtesy of the Ministry of Tourism, Indonesia but as always, all opinions expressed here are mine. A big ‘Thank you’ goes to the Ministry and the organising committee for their help. Some of the photos you see here were provided by the organisers.
© 2015, Anis. All rights reserved.