Ramadan is an Interesting Time to Travel in Indonesia

Ramadan (Image courtesy of Azis Abdullah)

Traveljunkieindonesia.com – One of the most important months of the Muslim calendar is the fasting month of Ramadan. As a profession of faith and spiritual discipline, Muslims abstain from food, drink, cigarettes and other worldly desire (including sex) from sunrise to sunset. Exemptions from fasting are granted to pregnant women, the ill or infirm, young children and those undertaking extreme physical labour.

Ramadan is often preceded by a cleansing ceremony, Padusan, to prepare for the coming fast (puasa). Traditionally, during Ramadan people get up at 3am or 4am to eat (this meal is called sahur) and then fast until sunset. Many Muslim visit family graves and royal cemeteries, recite extracts from the Koran, and spinkle the graves with holy water and flower offerings. Special prayers are said at mosques and at home.

The first day of the 10th month of the Muslim calendar is the end of Ramadan, called Idul Fitri or Lebaran. Mass prayers are held in the early morning, followed by two day of feasting. Extracts from the Koran are read and religious processions take place. During this time of mutual forgiveness, gifts are exchanged and pardon is asked for past wrongdoings. This is the big holiday of the year, a time for rejoicing, and the whole country is on the move as everyone goes home to be with their family.

During Ramadan, many restaurants and warungs are closed in Muslim regions of Indonesia. Those owned by Catholic, Budha, Hindu, Protestant, and the others will be open, but in deference to those fasting, they may have covered overhangs or will otherwise appear shut. Ask around for open restaurants. In the big cities, many businesses are open and fasting is less strictly observed. For night owls the cities come alive for the night meal.

Though not all Muslims can keep to privations of fasting, the overwhelming majority do and you should respect their values. Do not eat, drink, or smoke in public or in someone’s house. If you must, excuse yourself and go outside.

Ramadan is an interesting time to travel but it can be difficult. Apart from having to hunt down restaurants and abstain from imbibing in public, the first few weeks are not too restrictive, but travel is a real hassle towards the end of Ramadan.

Around a week before and a week after Idul Fitri, transport is chaotic and packed to the gunwales. Don’t even consider traveling during this time. You will be better off in Catholic, Budha, Hindu, Protestant areas – eg Bali, East Nusa Tenggara, Maluku, West Papua, Papua or North Sulawesi – but even these areas have significant Muslim population and Idul Fitri is a big national holiday of two days duration for everyone. Plan well, find yourself an idyllic spot and stay put.

Ramadan and Idul Fitri move back 10 days or so every year, according to the Muslim calendar.

Happy Green Travels!

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