Tourist Spots in Ngada Flores

Ngada District lists Flores’ most quoted destinations among the art and culture-interest tourists, as well as in travel guidebooks. Bena, Bajawa, Wogo, Gurusina, and the recently discovered, Belaraghi, boast Florinese culture and tradition long preserved in a beautiful countryside setting. You may choose to explore the warmer side of Flores at Mangeruda hot springs; enjoy the scenery of Mount Inerie and Wawomuda Crater Lake; or indulge yourself in beach hopping or amazing dives around Riung 17 Islands.

BAJAWA


Bajawa, the capital of the Ngada district, is a small charming town located in the middle of the Florinese highlands.

As the regional center of the Ngada people – who still keep their long-standing culture firmly anchored in communities – Bajawa is a perfect starting point to explore the past and present Ngada way of life.

As Bajawa is the highest (around 1500m above sea level) and coolest town in Flores, this area is ideal for hiking and trekking adventures in comfortably refreshing surroundings of utter natural beauty. If you are in good shape, you can choose to climb one of the nearby volcanoes or simply take a relaxing hike to the natural hot springs.

Plenty of local cultural events take place in Bajawa and its surroundings. The most popular ones are ‘reba’ and ‘sagi’. Reba is held in Bajawa, Bena, Mangulewa, Wogo, and many other surrounding villages. It is the traditional new year celebration and one of the most important thanksgiving festivals, accompanied by extensive ceremonial and ritual activities. From May until July, traditional boxing, called sagi, determines the Ngada (and also Nagekeo) ceremonial life. These, and other ceremonies and local events, are usually scheduled and take place at a fixed date. Being part of such events will definitely be an unforgettable highlight of your Flores journey.

BENA VILLAGE


Bena, a community that is situated about 16km from Bajawa at the foot of Mount Inerie, is the most famous and also most visited village in the Ngada district. With its impressive stone formations and ancestral shrines, as well as traditional houses, Bena has turned into a signpost for Ngada culture.

The village consists of two parallel rows of traditional, high thatch-roofed houses. Highly visible in the center of the village are ngadhu and bhaga, pairs of shrines – one for each clan of the village – representing the clan’s ancestors. The ngadhu is an anthropomorphic umbrella-like pole embodying the male ancestor of a clan. The trunk is decorated with carvings and is topped with a warrior-like figure. The ngadhu symbolizes fierceness and virility. After a new ngadhu has been carved out of a special tree, the men of the village carry the pole in a ceremonial way into the village.

The bhaga, a female ancestral clan shrine, is a small hut with a thatched roof that resembles a miniature of a traditional house. It symbolizes the sanctuary of the house and the female body. The bhaga offers enough space for one to two persons to hold rituals for female ancestors.

Another distinct feature of Ngada culture, of which Bena offers an awesome sight, are the megalithic formations in the village center. Megaliths are a means to connect with the supernatural realm and to communicate with the ancestors, often by animal sacrifice. As with the ngadhu and bhaga shrines, there is also a stone altar to every village clan. Additionally, a massive pile of flat stones, called lenggi, represents a court where the different clans of the village settle their legal disputes. If you look closer at the houses in Bena, you often find them decorated with skulls and horns of water buffaloes and pig jaws which were sacrificed at different ceremonies.

Visitors can buy locally crafted ikat, or tie-dyed woven cloth, in Bena. The sarong, which is a large tube of woven cloth, is often worn wrapped around the waist, both by men and women. The ikat weaving motifs range from animal patterns like horses, chickens, elephants, and the sacred ngadhu and bagha symbols.

At the end of the village, elevated on a small hill, a viewpoint with a Virgin Mary shrine gives you the opportunity to have a bird eye’s view over Bena and a wider view of the beautiful surrounding landscape, including Mount Inerie and the Savu Sea. The visit to Bena can also be combined with a hike that passes the villages of Tololela and Gurusina before ending at the Malanage Hot Springs.

MANGERUDA HOT SPRING


Located in the Soa sub-district, about 23.5km from Bajawa, Mangeruda Hot Springs offer you the Florinese highlands at their warmest.

Travelers coming to Ngada often visit Mangeruda Hot Springs to escape chilly Bajawa and enjoy the warm water that flows from a river under the shade of coconut trees. The spring water is believed to have curative effect for those suffering from skin conditions. Howsoever, the experience of taking a warm, soothing bath in a beautiful, natural atmosphere is definitely a true delight for your body and soul. Some pools are especially designed for visitors, including a large, artificial pool that offers space for quite a lot of people.

If you prefer to enjoy a more untouched scenic view of the hot springs, ask a guide to take you for a walk to where the hot water originates, along the descending river across rice fields and coconut trees to a canyon with beautiful drop-offs that almost look like little waterfalls. If you continue to walk, you will finally arrive at Soa Poba Polo where the hot spring water meets the river.

While in Soa, you may have the chance to enjoy ‘sagi’, a traditional boxing performance which is the pride of the Soa community. Usually held after harvest or during the dry season from May to July, sagi is performed continuously throughout the Soa sub-district, starting from Mangeruda and continuing to other nearby villages. It is performed as one of the local traditional festivals inspired by ancestral migration journeys in centuries over the distant past.

RIUNG


Riung, a small fishing village on the north coast of the Ngada district, is the starting point for trips to the Seventeen Islands Marine Park Riung 17 islands, famed for its fantastic coral gardens. Many of the islands have beautiful white, sandy beaches and vivid reefs with an interesting underwater world that can be discovered with a snorkel and goggles.

However, it is not only the marine park that contributes to the area’s special atmosphere. The charming village of Riung is rich in cultural heritage and thus makes a perfect place to encounter the Riung’s exciting ceremonies around the traditional hunting and boxing activities of its people.

The local people show a quite heterogenous ethnic profile. Most of them are Bimanese and Buginese Muslims, Manggaraians, or people from Bajawa. This creates a unique and dynamic community with a diversified cultural output.

The local people show a quite heterogenous ethnic profile. Most of them are Bimanese and Buginese Muslims, Manggaraians, or people from Bajawa. This creates a unique and dynamic community with a diversified cultural output.

RIUNG 17 ISLAND


The sub-district of Riung, located to the north of Bajawa, is famed for its beautiful coral gardens. The coast and the surrounding area of the town of Riung have become a national conservation area, and were even given the status of a national park and named Pulau Tujuhbelas, or ‘Seventeen Islands’. In fact, the national park consists of more than 20 small and larger islands. The local people, though, have named the area ‘Riung Seventeen Islands’, a label that is easy to remember as it refers to the personification of a beautiful 17-year-old girl and also Indonesian Independence Day on the 17th of August.

The national park area is inhabited by various exotic species, e.g. the Timor deer, hedgehogs, monkeys, ferrets, the Timor monitor lizard, marsupials, and partridges. The large variety of birds, such as eagles, white herons, black storks, partridges etc, make the area a great spot for bird watching.

Even a moderate-sized species of a Komodo dragon named Mbou is said to exist in some regions such as Torong Padang, where it has been spotted in particular seasons only. It has hardly ever been encountered by either the conservation management or tourists.

The marine park status has been established to preserve the area’s underwater world. The Seventeen Islands area encompasses a rich coral-reef ecosystem where you can count up to 27 different species of coral. The Riung waters are home to plenty of exciting animals, ranging from marine mammals such as dolphins and whales to various colorful fish. The crystal-clear water makes it a perfect place for swimming, snorkeling, and underwater photography.

The biggest island is the hilly Ontoloe, which is covered with short grass and a few trees, as well as fringed with mangroves. On the north coast of Ontoloe, you can observe the famous large fruit bats, called ‘flying foxes’, flying over the mangrove trees.

A visit to Kalong, the ‘Flying Fox Island’, gives you the opportunity to see these fascinating animals as they fly into the sunset. The island of Bampa Barat is a temporary home to several fishermen, who sometimes sell their catch of the day directly from the boat.

If you plan to see the national park, you should also take some time for visiting Riung Village (Riung), as it offers you the possibility of unique cultural encounters. Lively celebrations of the Ngada people’s traditional hunting and boxing is just one part of their manifold cultural life.

BELARAGHI VILLAGE


If you want to experience Ngada culture beyond the more popular Bena and Wogo, and if you are ready to invest a little time and physical effort, you should dare to hike to the extraordinary village of Belaraghi and spend the night in this amazing place.

The sixteen beautiful traditional houses stand tidily in two parallel rows in a secluded forest clearing, exuding natural harmony. They are renovated in the traditional Ngada architectural style on a regular basis and are therefore in very good condition. Five of the sixteen houses are so-called sao pu’u, first or original houses, which are indicated by a miniature house on the roof; the other five distinct buildings are sao lobo, ‘last houses’, which feature a miniature human figure on the roof.

Five is also the number of clans living in Belaraghi at present. Besides the buildings mentioned, the Belaraghi clans are also affiliated with another house type: the sao kaka (kaka means ‘to share’). These houses are considered ‘children’, the descendants of a clan’s sao pu’u and sao lobo. Some of the sao kaka are even located in other villages. The kaka inhabitants support their families in the sao pu’u and the sao lobo financially, materially, and with labor.

At the back of the village there is a ritual site with five bhaga-like houses called loka – one for each clan. The loka face the watu lanu, a construction consisting of an elevated stone court framed by ijuk-covered poles. This site is mainly used by the Belaraghi people for the ‘bui loka’, a ceremony to initiate reba, the Ngada-wide new year festivities (link cultural events).

To the Belaraghi people, visitors from abroad are guests, not tourists. Therefore, guests are traditionally welcomed with a ceremony called ti’i ka ebu nusi, which translates as ‘give food to the ancestors’. It is about introducing the guests to the host’s ancestors, to ask for their blessings so that no obstacles may come in the way of the traveler, and to ask the evil spirits in the mountains not to cause any harm to them. The ritual takes place in the ‘sao one’, the most sacred inner part of a Ngada house.

After ti’i ka ebu nusi, it is time to sit together for conversation and a shared meal. As there is no electricity yet in Belaraghi, the soft light of the oil-lamps brings a very cozy atmosphere inside the neat and clean wooden houses. At night, enjoy these rare moments of silence, with only nature’s sounds to lull you to sleep. As Belaraghi is already close to the coast, it does not get as cold as in Bajawa at night.

WOGO VILLAGE


Lying to the east of Bena, Wogo is another picturesque village which features all the richness of the traditional Ngada culture. The village of Wogo is actually a new comer in the Ngada landscape. Indeed, it has been inhabited only since 1932, when the inhabitants from the ‘Old Wogo’ decided to leave their original village with their ancestral megaliths behind.

As in Bena, Wogo’s vivid ceremonial and ritual life reflects the interplay of the animistic belief system with the Catholic religion. If you are lucky enough to take part in one of the lively house-building ceremonies, you will experience the Ngada house as a space divided by seniority and gender, which expresses itself clearly in the order of seating at ceremonial events.

A characteristic of Ngada culture, the village hosts impressive ancestral stone altars called ture lenggi. In the center of the village you can also see the well-known ancestral shrines Ngadhu and Bhaga, a pair that is owned by each clan. These shrines depict the symbolic status of the community. Thus, a massive and expensive ceremony has to be held for the construction of each one of these shrines.

Interestingly enough, weaving cannot be found in Wogo – due to a division between weaving and non-weaving villages which were structuring the trade relationships between neighboring communities in the past. Women in Wogo used to focus on basketry, while men’s most popular handicraft was black smithing.

GURUSINA VILLAGE


Gurusina is another Ngada village where you can get acquainted with all the wealth of Ngada culture. As it is quite easily accessible by car or motorbike (the road can get bumpy, though), it offers a good alternative to the more popular Bena for visitors who are short in time.

Gurusina’s traditional houses are situated around a wide courtyard, which displays several sets of ture lenggi, the ancestral stone altars. The village was founded in about 1934 by people coming from the highlands. At present, 33 families live in Gurusina, belonging to the three clans of Ago ka’e, Ago Gasi, and Kabi. Conforming to the Ngada adat, each clan owns its own sao pu’u (original or ‘trunk’ house), a sa’o lobo (youngest or ‘tip’ house), a ngadhu, and a bhaga ancestral shrine. Up to the present day, the staple crops grown by the inhabitants of Gurusina are corn, tubers, coconut, and banana, as well as coffee, cloves, candlenut, and cocoa as popular cash crops. Ikat weaving is an important daily activity for Gurusina women.

As in other communities across Ngada and other parts of Flores, Gurusina’s inhabitants used to be divided into three different castes. The authority of the ruling class, the ga’e, was justified by their descent from Gurusina’s original ancestors. Commoners were called ga’e kisa. At the bottom of the community stood the so’o – who used to be kind of thralls. In the past, heavy sanctions applied to women who married men of a lower status. Nowadays, the caste of so’o does not exist anymore, and the social borders of the caste system in general are almost dissolved.

A visit to Gurusina can also be combined with a nice medium-impact hike starting from Bena, which leads through beautiful natural surroundings – including a neat bamboo forest – and passes through the village of Tololela. As it is easy to get lost in the forest, especially after heavy rainfalls that make the small paths hardly visible, it is highly recommended for inexperienced hikers to do this exploration with a local guide.

Mount Inerie and Wawomudha Crater Lake


Mount Inerie with its beautiful, harmonic pyramid shape, is an eye-catching peak in the Florinese ‘mountain skyline’. With an altitude of 2245m above sea level, Mount Inerie is also one of the highest volcanoes in Flores.

If you would like to climb to the top, you do well to start your trip at night or in the very early morning. You will be rewarded with a magical moment when the sun slowly rises up behind the hills. From the top of Mount Inerie, you have a stunning view that sometimes even goes as far as Sumba Island in the south. Starting from an altitude of about 900 meters, the hike will take you about 2½?4 hours. Be aware that climbing Mount Inerie demands a good physical condition, and the expertise of a local guide who knows about the safe trails and weather conditions.

Besides mountain climbing, the area around Mount Inerie itself has much to offer. Exploring the slope of the mountain in surroundings of lush green trees is refreshing for both body and soul. As in many mountainous areas in Flores that are of high biodiversity, you can also observe the endemic birds and listen to their amusing songs here. If you wish to enrich your Inerie explorations with some cultural experiences, nearby traditional villages such as Gurusina or Bena offer you opportunities to experience the fascinating Ngada culture.