Jakarta (Antara News) - Tourists in Batam city, Riau Islands Province, can revisit the experience of the heroic sea voyage once undertaken by legendary Chinese Admiral Cheng Ho that led him to nine cities in Sumatra and Java Islands.

The admirals silk road expedition is being replicated in a new marine tourism attraction called, "The Cheng Ho Sea Route: Archipelagic Sailing," which covers Batam, Aceh Darussalam, Palembang in South Sumatra, Bangka Belitung, Jakarta, Semarang in Central Java, Cirebon in West Java, Surabaya in East Java, and Bali.

Admiral Cheng Ho, whose original name is Zheng He, his Arabic name is Haji Mahmud Shams, and his Indonesian name is Dampo Awang, was a famous Chinese sailor and explorer who had sailed to Malacca in the 15th century.

In fact, the Chinese Muslim from the Ming Dynasty had led seven expeditions to 37 countries in Asia, the Middle East, and East Africa between 1405 and 1433 under the auspices of Emperor Yongle.

The admiral has sailed through Indonesias archipelago on five occasions during his over 28-year world exploration.

Ancient Chinese traders had considered "Nusantara" (Archipelago or now Indonesia) as very important and had significantly influenced the Indonesian culture.

The cultural influences are reflected, among other things, in Indonesias batik designs, cuisine, dance forms, architecture, and fashion.

The Cheng Ho sea route attraction was inaugurated by Coordinating Minister for Maritime and Environmental Affairs Indroyono Soesilo in Batam, Riau Islands, on Feb. 21, 2015.

"This is an important asset, particularly for attracting tourists from China. The Chinese respect their ancestors and their cultural heritage," Minister Soesilo stated.

Using a replica of Cheng Hos ship, the Tourism Ministry offers tour packages tracing the sea routes taken by Chinese Admiral Cheng Ho in the nine regions.

The Golden Cheng Ho II, the replica of the admirals ship, is a three-deck wooden ship adorned with red and gold colors. The ship has intricately carved ornaments depicting heroic stories from the Ming Dynasty in the 15th century.

In Batam, tourists will be taken to Golden City in Bengkong, one of Batams top tourist spots, where the Cheng Ho sailing ship monument is located, and a mosque dedicated to the admiral is being built.

Similar trips will also be offered in Aceh, Palembang, Bangka Belitung, Jakarta, Cirebon, Semarang, Surabaya, and Bali, which were visited by the admiral.

The admiral had even visited Palembang, South Sumatra, on four occasions, respectively in 1407, 1413-1415, 1421-1422, and 1431-1433.

In his honor, the inhabitants of Palembang have built the Cheng Ho Mosque. South Sumatras Kingdom of Sriwijaya had owed Cheng Ho for his contribution to paralyzing the Cantonese pirates led by Chen Tsu Ji that had often committed crimes in Malacca waters.

A giant "Cakra Donya" bell hangs at the entrance of Aceh Museum in Indonesias westernmost province of Aceh.

The stupa-shaped bell, bearing Arabic and Chinese inscriptions, was a gift from Emperor Yongle and was brought by Cheng Ho to Aceh in 1414.

The Central Java capital of Semarang was believed to be the first place where the admiral had landed and stayed in Indonesia.

During one of Admiral Cheng Hos expeditions, one of his trusted lieutenants, Wang Jing Hong, had suddenly fallen very ill. The admiral decided to make a stop in Semarang and used a cave as a temporary shelter.

Later, the inhabitants of Semarang built a temple to commemorate Cheng Ho at that site, and it was known as Sam Po Kong temple, or Gedong Batu.

The beautiful Sam Po Kong temple complex includes five temples showcasing a blend of Chinese and Javanese architectural styles.

The temple underwent massive renovation in 2006 to commemorate the 600th anniversary of Cheng Hos voyage to Semarang.

Visitors can refresh those memories of the Chinese admiral when they opt for the new tour package, which is expected to boost the number of foreign tourist arrivals, particularly from China, which is a major tourist market for Indonesia.

"The sea route is part of Admiral Cheng Hos important history, which brought the Chinese empires peace message," Tourism Minister Arif Yahya noted.

Riau Islands, the third-largest foreign tourist entry point after Bali and Jakarta, also offers white sandy beaches, deep sea fishing, and undersea panorama of fish and coral reefs to tourists.

The current government has identified a huge potential in marine tourism, but it has so far been overlooked.

"It is ironic that marine tourism just contributes 10 percent (of the total tourism earnings)," Tourism Minister Yahya stated at the Bogor Palace, earlier this year after attending a limited cabinet meeting on tourism led by President Jokowi.

The Indonesian government has set a target to earn US$4 billion from marine tourism this year as compared to US$1 billion recorded in the previous year.

The Indonesian Government has set a target to receive two million foreign tourists in Batam in 2015, but the Batam administration hopes to receive 1.4 million foreign tourists this year.

China is a potential market for Indonesia. On an average, more than 100 million Chinese travel overseas every year.

Almost one million Chinese tourists visited Indonesia last year, and in this year, Indonesia has set a target to double their number.

Therefore, Garuda Indonesia has been focusing to increase its international flight services to China.

"China is the main focus of Indonesias tourism industry, besides Australia, Japan, Korea, and Russia," Arif Wibowo, the CEO of the five-star airline, stated recently.
(T.F001/A/KR-BSR/A014) 19-05-2015 16:55:42

Reporter: Fardah
Editor: Fardah Assegaf
Copyright © ANTARA 2015