Tana Toraja, a highland region of Southern Sulawesi in Indonesia, is an underexplored land with an experience beyond belief. Aside from beautiful mountainous scenery and intricate Tongkonan architecture, Toraja is a place where death is not only embraced but also celebrated elaborately and lavishly.Tongkonan traditional house, which features a roof shaped like an upturned boat
Getting Around in Tana Toraja
Tana Toraja has lots of attractions but they’re scattered quite a distance from each other. Rent a car or motorcycle to get the best out of Tana Toraja.
Where to Stay
Where to Stay in Tana Toraja
Tana Toraja is not a big city, but you can easily find hotels and accommodations with basic amenities. I stayed at Hotel Airy. It may not be a luxurious hotel but has a really great offering for its value. In addition, the hotel is strategically located in Rantepao town, which makes it a very convenient base for exploring Toraja.
Tana Toraja Itinerary
Travel to Toraja via Makassar
We took a flight to Makassar, the nearest airport to Toraja, before continuing by land for 8-9 hours. Most travellers normally take an overnight bus to save time and money, and that’s exactly what we did.
You don’t have to worry about finding a coach here because there are plenty of bus companies serving the Makassar – Toraja route. Unlike the typical basic bus’s condition in Indonesia, the overnight coaches that we took were really cosy to sleep in!
Arriving in South Toraja
We reached Rantepao town centre early in the morning, and met our local guide/driver.
After grabbing a quick breakfast, we headed to Bolu Market. It’s famous for its large buffalo and pig section.
The Torajans believe that buffalo can help the deceased to reach the heaven, and thus the sacrifice of buffaloes during the funeral. The higher one’s social standing, the more buffaloes would be slaughtered during his or her funeral.
Try to spot a Bonga, the treasured special buffalo with a black and white colouration which can fetch exorbitant price!Bonga, a prized buffalo with black and white colouration
We managed to check into our accommodation early to rest before embarking our day-long journey to the southern part of Toraja. The southern area of Toraja has lots of burial sites for tourists to visit.
There are three methods of Torajan burial:
- coffin placed in a cave,
- Inside a stone grave or
- hung on a cliff. An effigy called
Tau-tau resembling the deceased will be placed near the grave. For babies with no teeth, however, their wrapped bodies will be placed inside a tree trunk.
In the midst of a thick bamboo forest, you will find a big tree with several holes that serve as baby graves. These holes are then covered with woven leaves. The locals believe that the tree sap resembles mother’s breast milk and will nourish the babies.
Lemo is truly a sight to behold! Here, a bare rock face has been carved into a graveyard with the tau-taus staring right at us as we stepped into the site. Some people may think visiting Lemo is overdone, but I feel you have to visit it at least once in your lifetime. If you want to beat the crowd, you should come here in the morning before visiting Kambira.
Another rare sight to catch in your life is coffins hanging on a cliff in Londa. The locals believe that the higher you are from the earth (or the closer you are to the sky), the easier it will be for your soul to reach the afterlife. The hierarchical structure of the Torajan society is the reason why people with higher social standing have their coffins located at the higher part of the cliff.
I was genuinely in awe as I stepped into the cave, looking at hundreds of coffins and bones above.
Probably the most preserved and well-known traditional settlement of the Tana Toraja people, Kete Kesu has everything from Tongkonan houses, the granaries, and a burial place to a ceremonial ground, and rice fields. Served as a living museum for travellers, Kete Kesu is said to have been standing for more than 400 years.
It took us one whole day to explore the different burial sites around Toraja, and we were exhausted from the walking. Tme to head back to our rooms to get a good night’s sleep!
Rambu Solo Funeral
This is definitely the highlights of my journey to Toraja. No other place can offer such a spectacular show involving death. While we commonly believe in embracing life and fear death, the Torajans glorify death. For them, death is the most important rite of their journey on earth.
A Torajan funeral is also a celebration to eat and drink well, to meet and mingle, and a family reunion all in one. Due to its importance, many families have to wait for months or even years upon a member’s death to save up in order to throw a big funeral.
Rambu Solo lasts for a few days, and guests are always welcomed. Our guide told us to bring a gift of cigarettes for the family, and we were welcomed to watch the funeral as well as to eat and drink together. We were lucky to find a funeral happening close enough to Rantepao.
Numerous buffaloes are sacrificed during the funeral depending on the status. The higher the social standing of the deceased, the more buffaloes are being sacrificed. However, this is definitely not for those with a weak stomach, as the animals are slaughtered mercilessly as a part of the procession in front of all guests.
Pro-tip: Ask your local guide if any funeral is being held during your stay. We went in December as many funerals are held during the holiday period when other family members return home.
Bori Parinding can be found on the way from Rantepao to Batutumonga, in the middle of gorgeous rice paddies. This site is one of the oldest sites in Tana Toraja, with numerous megaliths standing on a ceremonial ground. You will not miss it, as it is located just beside the main road.
Finally, we reached the beautiful Batutumonga, approximately an hour since starting the drive North.
Batutumonga is located at the slope of Mount Sesehan, and the vast rice fields coupled with Tongkonan houses from afar will leave anyone speechless. Irresistible insta-worthy scenes here. After some photos, I was overcome by silence, standing still to enjoy the moment of peace and tranquility with a breathtaking sight before me.
The last destination of our trip in Toraja was Loko Mata, which is located at Batutumonga, quite a distance from all the other graves that we visited the day before. This burial site probably is my favourite due to the peculiar round shape of the giant burial rock.
Back to Rantepao & Makassar
Our comfortable bus back to Makassar (with its “disco” lighting!)
So now it’s time to get back to Rantepao to have our dinner, buy some snacks, souvenirs, and some Torajan coffee! The bus going back to Makassar departed from the same area where we arrived the day before. It will be another long bus ride, but this time, I dozed off quickly with a smile on my face.
The spectacular scenery, rare sights and eccentric tradition are only a few things that make Toraja a forever unique destination for me. Until next time!