Madura Island: A hot spot for pilgrims

Being renowned as the home of countless Islamic boarding schools and highly respected religious leaders, Madura has an abundance of well-preserved graveyards of respectable spiritual figures, making it an attractive pilgrimage destination.

Places like Madura have become more and more popular these days, especially ahead of the Islamic Ramadhan fasting month, which will fall on August 21 this year according to the official calendar.

More and more tour agencies are offering such pilgrimage package tours to the Island of Salt, as Madura is popularly nicknamed.

Chairman of the East Java chapter of the Association of Indonesian Tours and Travel Agencies (Asita), Haryono Gondosoewito, said his association had predicted a rise of more than 20 percent in religious tourism, especially following the inauguration of the Suramadu bridge.

"However, support from regional administrations is urgently needed, especially in the form of road infrastructure to the destination sites," said Haryono, adding that many of the attractive pilgrimage sites in the island were often inaccessible.

Provincial tourism agency head Djoni Irianto added that local communities should also actively participate in the effort, for example by helping create clean, well-ordered and secure environments to help make tourists feel comfortable during their stay in religious tourist destinations.

"More importantly, the local community must adopt a more tourism-friendly attitude and eliminate or minimize its begging culture."

"This is not just the responsibility of the regional administrations but also of the community in general."

Djoni said his office had prepared some concepts to develop a number of pilgrimage tourist destinations in the island, following the operation of the Suramadu bridge, to be implemented step-by-step.

"This year, for example, we have proposed a Rp 600 million project to the Culture and Tourism Ministry to develop the Batu Ampar graveyard compound in Pamekasan," he said.

Most of the pilgrimage sites in Madura are in poor condition, as local administrations are little concern and scarcely involved in the maintenance of the potential religious tourism sites.

Numerous groups of beggars flock to the sites and operate on graveyard complexes. Many of the visiting pilgrims often consider the presence of beggars disturbing, and find the sites chaotic with street vendors sprawling everywhere.

In fact, many of the pilgrimage sites are considered unique in terms of the way the religious figures buried in the complex lived their lives, or in terms of the sites themselves and the objects existing around them.

Some objects are often considered as sacred and possess particular supernatural powers, such as the water from a well in the compound of the Air Mata Ibu graveyard in Bangkalan, believed to have healing powers for various diseases. (Achmad Faisal)

Summber: The Jakarta Post, Mon, 07/27/2009

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