DIENG PLATEAU, Central Java: With the pandemic making life harder in the Indonesian economy, authorities and a few locals in a mountainous region of Central Java are taking the novel approach of setting up “selfie decks,” a new fad attracting tourists to the area.
The high-rise platforms offer an undisrupted and panoramic view of the landscape and serve as the perfect backdrop for visitors to take Instagram-worthy photos.
One example is a selfie deck in Sigemplong hamlet in Batang regency, built in 2017 by a group of young locals, with one member saying that they capitalized on the idea after realizing its “potential.”
“We saw there was a potential to attract visitors and generate some economic activities for the hamlet, so we were motivated to pave a track up to the hill. We couldn’t build anything modern in terms of material due to the access here at that time, so we constructed this observatory deck out of wood logs that are available here,” Edy Wirawan, a member of the Pandu Nusantara youth group, told Arab News.
The towering photo deck sits at the top of Derikan Hill, which is about 1,500 meters above sea level and part of the Dieng mountain range.
It offers visitors a backdrop of Java’s northern coastline through the day, while tourists can focus on the lights of the surrounding towns at night.
The idea seems to have clicked, and the photo deck went viral after authorities paved the road with asphalt, providing easier access to the Dieng Plateau.
It garnered more attention after tourists began posting photos and videos on social media on the new road at the ridge of the hill, which offers views of the mountain range along with terraced cabbage and potato fields.
The tower can host up to 10 people at a time, but is now closed for renovation, while another one in the shape of a ship has been set up next to it.
With the spot attracting more visitors, other locals began building more selfie decks along the road and makeshift wooden booths to sell drinks and snacks from.
However, some locals soon complained that the structures were blocking the view of the mountainous landscape.
“Honestly, we are concerned that the booths are blocking the view, but there’s not much we can do to stop it at the moment. It has been a dream, however, for the locals to have our region be accessible and have many visitors. It provides more income for locals,” Wirawan said.
He added that the group was considering coordinating with local authorities to assign specific spots for the booths to avoid blocking the view. Still, he said that they “might not do anything much for those built on the privately-owned fields.”
It is the same situation on the other side of the mountain, along the winding road from the provincial capital of Semarang to the plateau, where patches of land on the fringe of tea plantations at the foot of Mount Sindoro have been cleared to construct resting areas with selfie platforms.
In Dieng Plateau, local environmentalists and nature-based tourism activists have seen their scenic natural surroundings disrupted by selfie platforms, including some in two of the most popular destinations in Dieng, the Sikidang Crater and the Batu Ratapan Angin viewing point.
Aprilianto, the owner of a coffee shop on the rim of the plateau, told Arab News that there are too many selfie decks in Dieng.
“We have had too many visual pollutants in Dieng. The natural view here is already beautiful as it is and it has its own way to show its charm to visitors, but we have been meddling with it,” he said.
A mountain ranger and tour guide in Dieng, Dwi Yono, said a photo spot for pictures with angel wings as a backdrop was “out of touch” with the natural surroundings.
“It was just too much. We don’t need these photo spots when we already have abundant natural scenic views,” he said.
However, the crater’s management was quick to respond to local concerns and persuade photo spot operators to dismantle the backdrops after what they described as “long and persuasive dialogue” earlier this year.
“It is clear now, there are no more selfie decks around the crater. Apart from being illegally constructed inside a tourism destination managed by the local authorities, we have had complaints from visitors that the decks were disrupting the crater’s landscape,” Sri Utami, head of the Dieng Banjarnegara Tourism office, told Arab News.
Dwi Yono said the photo spots provide local farmers additional income during weekends.
“However, it would be better if authorities encouraged local businesses to develop more experience-based tourism activities for visitors to explore the plateau, instead of constructing modern facilities that are out of touch with the region,” Yono said.