Tana Toraja, literally means land of Toraja, is a highland situated in the region of Southern Sulawesi, Indonesia. It is well known as the Land of Heavenly Kings. A place almost lost in time, it spans with green lush rice terraces, tall limestone and bamboo graves with misty blue mountains as backdrop.
The Toraja people still practices many ancient rites, despite many adopting Christians beliefs after the Dutch colony, and many say that they are obsessed with the idea of death, not in a morbid way but as something significant to them. You may find cave graves, hanging graves, tau tau (life-sized wooden effigies), baby tree graves and even mass slaughter of buffaloes, all these bringing you a sense of strangeness yet captivating.
Where is it
In the central highlands of South Sulawesi, about 328km north of Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi Province.
To see the rare, ancient rites and unique of the Toraja people, almost impossible to find nowadays in accessible areas.Tana Toraja, almost unchanged for the last 100 years, is set in a stunning setting far out from globalisation or tourism, but still accessible given some small effort.
When is the best time to go
June – September is the dry season here and you may see more influx of tourists at this time too. This is the season where children are home from school, rice is harvested, and complex funeral for ancestors are done.
What to see
Observe the burial rites of Toraja people. After the person’s death, the body is kept for several years while they save the money for actual funeral known as Tomate!
Marvel at the traditional Tongkonan houses. These houses with upward-sloping roofs are decorated with intricate design, and they are used as center for Aluktodolo (an old Toraja people’s religion or belief) rites. The Aluktodolo rites are like storing harvest in a carved rice barns or water buffaloes slaughters for ceremonies. Places with houses, granaries and / or ceremonial grounds and burials are Pallawa, Bori Parinding, Kande Api, Nanggala, Buntu Pune, Londo, Lemo and Tumakke.
Visit Ke’te Kesu as it is nominated for having the most complete settlement with houses, granaries, burial place, ceremonial ground, rice fields and water buffalo pasture.
Pala’ Toke’, for although principally only a burial place, the location with towering limestone hill with rice field extending all around is almost sublime.
What to do
Take walks around the place to visit various grave sites or other popular sites, normally around 1 – 3 hours walk. If walking is not your thing, you may try taking short bemo (minibus) rides from Rantepao
What and where to eat
You may find restaurants in Rantepao or Makale and they serve mostly local Indonesian Food and some Chinese or western food. Remember to try the Torajan specialty called pa’pion which is chicken / pork / fish cooked with vegetables in bamboo tubes while washing it down with local Torajan palm wine known as ballok. Coffee lovers may also find that Tana Torajan region is famous for their coffee and drinking it here is not only fresh but really cheap as well!
Where to stay
You may find ranges of guesthouses to hotels to homestays here easily, as although they are more remote than your usual tourist place, it is well known enough to receive enough travellers to have accommodations set up.
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How to get there
Fly into Makassar, Sulawesi, Indonesia. The Sultan Hasanuddin International Airport is located 20km away from town and has domestic flights from various points in Indonesia while international flights from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Singapore.
From Makassar, you may take the bus to Tana Toraja, which is 300km away with at least 8-10 hours drive away. It would cost 80,000 Rp for an air-conditioned bus from Makassar to Rantepao, with a choice of morning or overnight bus. To get to the bus terminal, you may hop on the frequent bemo (minibus) and would take about 40 minutes.
How to get around
Walk to feel the surroundings and blend with the people. But if you are going further or covering large areas, you may take a ride in bemo (minibuses) that cost around 2000 Rp to 10 000 Rp.