INTRODUCTION
West Sumatra is one of the most beautiful areas of Indonesia; it is mountainous and divided by three valleys. There are lovely lakes and spectacular volcanoes. But the land of the Minangkabau is very special and has the most friendly population group of Indonesia. They love to talk with visitors and will tell you about their unique society, the Minangkabau are one of Indonesia's most interesting and influential ethnic groups. The Minangkabau are flexible and intelligent people who lead a community and family life based on a matrilineal system which gathers around mosques and traditional houses. It is the women who own property and the men who choose to wander. Travelling is considered a mark of success and therefore many West Sumatrans are found in other parts of the country. Proof of this is the many Minang or Padang restaurants, serving very spicy food, found in all major towns across the nation. The people are friendly and expressive with a poetic style of speech and colourful ceremonies and festivals. Legend has it the Minangkabau are descendants of the youngest son of Alexander the Great, King Maharjo Dirajo, more commonly known in Indonesia as Iskandar Zulkarnain. They originally settled in the Padang Panjang region and gradually spread out over the rest of Western Sumatra. West Sumatra's centre of culture and tourism is Bukittinggi, nestled in the highlands, north of the provincial capital of Padang. This hinterland has a range of high mountains which dip into picturesque valleys and lakes. Amongst them are the remains of the old Minangkabau kingdom of Pagaruyung, which now is the centre for art, silver, hand-weaving, embroidery and woodcarving.

PLACES OF INTEREST

Padang
The capital and gateway to West Sumatra is Padang, a thriving commercial centre. 90% of its more than 500,000 population are ethnic Minangkabau. Padang is the home to the largest seaport on the western coast of Sumatra, Teluk Bayur, nowadays being busy loading ships with coffee, tea, cinnamon, coal and wood. The town has several houses built in traditional architecture, including the Padang Museum which houses objects of cultural and historical interest. Padang is mostly famous for very spicy food, Padang restaurants can be found in every corner of Indonesian archipelago. All food is freshly prepared every morning and displayed for customers. On sitting down hot seam rice, warm tea, a finger bowl ( usually with slice of lemon on it ), and a selection of every type of dish available in the restaurant is quickly laid out on the table. That can be up to thirty plates. You only pay, however, for the dishes you eat.

Bukittinggi
The heart of the highlands and heart of Minangkabau culture is Bukittinggi. Bukittinggi means "Tall Hill", stands on 930 metres and is surrounded by the volcanic peaks of Gunung Agam, Gunung Singgalang and Gunung Merapi. A centre of attraction is the town's clock tower topped with a horn-shaped roof and referred to by the people as Jam Gadang, it was erected on the Hill of Kandang Kerbau in 1827. It overlooks the market square and the city's magnificent surroundings.

Ngarai Sianok Canyon
Ngarai Sianok lies at the outskirt of Bukitinggi. It is a steep canyon of about 100-150 metres high, very colourful and surrounded by a green valley with a winding river at its bottom. The beauty of this panoramic landscape is hard to describe as if no words can precisely express this geological wonder. The canyon contains a pathway that leads to the traditional silver-making village of Kota Gadang.

Harau Canyon
Harau Canyon is a lush reserve surrounded by 100-metre high granite walls and home to monkeys, deer, honey bear, leopards and tigers.

Lake Maninjau
Perhaps the most beautiful lake in Sumatra, Maninjau is far smaller and less developed than its neighbour Lake Toba. This deep crater lake is known for its unusual serenity and beauty. The lake is punctured by pretty mosques, and small and friendly villages.

Kerinci Seblat National Park
Kerinci Selabat National Park is the largest in Sumatra, running 340 km along the Bukit Barisan range. It is the stretch of jungle of mountains covering almost 1,5 million hectares. It is dominated by the dormant volcanic cone of Gunung Kerinci that rises 3,800 metres, making it Indonesia's second-highest peak after Gunung Puncak Jaya in West Papua. Kerinci is host to most of the island's largest mammal barring the elephant, rhinos, sun bears, and tapirs.

Mentawai Island
Four islands make up the Mentawai cluster oh the West Sumatra coast: Siberut, Sipora, Pagai Utara and Pagai Selatan. The people of these islands still live in comparative isolation, maintaining their age-old ways. Siberut is well known for its untouched forests, a part of a nature reserve inhabited by a number of animal species not found anywhere else, among them some rare monkey species. Beautiful coral reefs are found offshore.
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