Tambling Nature Wildlife Conservation
TOMY Winata may be one of Indonesia's wealthiest men, with a business empire that stretches from Sumatra and Java to Kalimantan, Bali and beyond, but the place where he's most at home is miles from any corporate boardroom or mobile phone network. His peers travel the earth; Mr Winata, 54, just wants to save it. Despite the considerable demands of the business world, Mr Winata - who as head of the Artha Graha conglomerate has 35,000 employees and diverse interests in the real estate, banking and mining industries - makes it a point each month to move from the concrete jungles of Jakarta to a remote forest reserve about 200 kilometres away in Lampung province on the southwestern tip of Sumatra.
There, exchanging his office clothes for rumpled shorts, polo shirt and scruffy slip-ons, he presides over Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation (TWNC), a beautifully unspoiled 45,000-hectare tract of coastal lowland forest where he energetically spreads the word about nature conservation and preserving endangered species. It's a place that might otherwise be called Tomy's World.
Tambling, which includes an additional 15,000 ha of marine reserve, was originally part of a larger national park but is now operated independently by the Artha Graha Peduli, the group's community service arm, and funded privately by Mr Winata. He estimates he has spent about US$25 million on the project since he first started clearing land in 1997. Maintenance costs average US$150,000 per month.
Tambling is also unique because - apart from being a natural domain of endangered species such as the Sumatran tiger and rhino, it also houses a Tiger Rescue Centre, where "conflict" tigers - those that have been captured after attacking humans or livestock - are rehabilitated and in some instances, released to the wild.
It is a highly unorthodox - and controversial - approach to wildlife conservation but because Mr Winata has shunned financial support from international organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund, he can operate outside of the established rules. There are perhaps only 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild (with an estimated 20 in the Tambling area) and he says he has precious little time for red tape.
In other areas of conservation however, Mr Winata - a self-made tycoon whose father was an automotive spare parts dealer - has made more conventional choices. Officials from the Singapore Botanical Gardens have visited Tambling in recent months and supplied seeds from extinct native plant species, which Mr Winata plans to reintroduce in Sumatra. He says there have been unofficial talks about future collaboration, joking that Singapore - a few hundred kilometres to the north - stands to gain from all the clean air produced at Tambling.
Skeptics wary of Mr Winata's maverick reputation have accused him of wanting to exploit the mineral wealth at Tambling - the region is rich in iron ore as well as gold - but he wants people to judge by his deeds, challenging doubters to visit and see for themselves that he intends to do his part to save the earth.
"My hobby is to protect the environment," says Mr Winata, who estimates that he spends 60 per cent of the profit he makes in his businesses on Tambling and other community-related projects. "A lot of people don't believe that we do all this, but anyone can have access to Tambling," he says.
During the early days, he cleared makeshift villages that had sprung from illegal logging and fishing and promoted the benefits of subsistence farming and nature conservation to the locals. These days, only a single village (Barisan Selatan with about 150 families) lies within the reserve's boundaries. Mr Winata provides free health care and sponsors the local school, while guards on horseback and four-wheel-drive vehicles patrol the park to ensure that unwanted intruders - including poachers - stay out.
Mr Winata says he learned to love nature at an early age, when he worked as a military contractor in remote areas of Kalimantan and Irian Jaya. "Basically, I love the forest," he says. "I am very, very lucky because I did not come from a rich family, so I had the chance to go everywhere while looking for jobs."
He first visited the park in 1994, when he witnessed hunters shooting deer. "I did not feel good about it," he recalls, so when the government offered him the opportunity to turn the place into a conservation area, he did not hesitate. The government subsequently asked him to incorporate the tiger project. "If you can save just one person - even if it's an animal, you just do it," says Mr Winata.
As a businessman who thinks Green, Mr Winata wants his peers to do the same and suggests that it ought to be mandatory - no small task for a country where the opposite is often the case. "In the future, businessmen must be pro-Green," he says. "As businessmen we seek to make profits, but the profit must come after saving the environment. After 16 years, the profit is to improve the quality of this environment. We have 28 million hectares in Indonesia - there's a lot of chance for businessmen to show they care."
He adds: "I am doing this by instinct. We never stop breathing, but how is it that we are always doing things that spoil the air? All living things need air. If we save the environment we save the air - it's very basic. As humans, we tend not to respect things that we don't need to pay for."
The biggest challenge, says Mr Winata, is how to raise awareness across all classes, from the grassroots to the wealthy. "It's a very long road but we must not stop. I approached Singapore agencies for advice. I saw how they look after the environment, visited their parks. I looked in detail and they also came here to look." A boutique hotel group has also looked at the possibility of a luxury eco-resort within the reserve.
Mr Winata is aware that his way of doing things may alienate some people. "I agree that I do things from the heart and I also agree that I need to know how to do it better," he says. "Tambling is not mine, it is owned by the Indonesian government. If we can make it successful, it is for Indonesia and after that maybe the world. A project like this, you don't talk about ROI (return on investment), but I proved I can make a small contribution."
Maharaja Gaj Singh II of Jodhpur
Ahichhatragarh, the fort at Nagaur
INDIA may be home to the Taj Mahal and an impressive array of royal palaces but Nagaur, a once-forgotten, derelict fort in the arid desert region of central Rajasthan has become the unlikely focus of an ongoing restoration and a shining example of how to preserve a historic site.
Gaj Singh II, the current Maharaja of Jodhpur and owner of the fort, or Ahichhatragarh (which means 'cobra-hood fort'), located in a dusty desert town about 135 km from Jodhpur, recognised the value of a sensitive restoration and embarked on a 20-year journey to return it - at least in part - to its former glory.
In 1993, an initial grant of US$250,000 from The Getty Foundation allowed for a survey and documentation of the fort buildings. This was followed by additional grants from The Getty, the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, which helps with continuous restoration work on various royal properties and - after the project was given a conservation award by UNESCO - various other international foundations.
The fort, which covers about 35 acres, was first built by the Mughals in the 12th century on the ruins of an ancient trading post and was a significant stop on a well-travelled caravan route. Various dynasties, including the Rajputs, built on the original. By the 17th century, it was back in the hands of the Rathore Rajputs - ancestors of the current Maharaja - who progressively expanded the fort until the mid-18th century when one of its most famous sons, Bakhat Singh, transformed it into a pleasure palace for himself and his wives, with magnificent gardens and buildings, open pavilions, multiple pools and a sophisticated water system.
Bakhat Singh's garden palace can be appreciated in detail by visitors now that several of the fort's havelis (homes and apartments) have been turned into hotel rooms - without detracting from its architectural heritage. Along with several royal properties in the state, Nagaur Fort is part of a private charitable trust named in honour of Hanwant Singh, Gaj Singh's father and the last ruling Maharaja of Jodhpur. It is operated by an in-house hotel management arm.
For many years, the fort was rented out to the Rajasthan state government. "When we got it back in 1980 it was in very bad condition - they treated it like a fort, not a palace," says the Oxford-educated Maharaja, who is affectionately known as Bapji. He applied to the Getty Foundation for help and got an architectural conservationist to take on the project. "We did a survey and some minor repairs and applied for more grants." New life is breathed into various sections of the palace as more funds become available.
Hadi Rani Mahal, the main residence at Nagaur, contains some wonderfully evocative murals depicting women of the palace playing in the gardens or bathing in the waters. Next to it is Bakhat Singh Mahal, a diwan khana or private audience hall and a vital part of any Rajput palace. Nagaur comprises several complexes with interconnecting courtyards and pools, including the Baradari, an open-sided pavilion overlooking a large water tank with an island pavilion in the centre.
Benefactors such as Lady Helen Hamlyn (of the UK publishing giant Hamlyn) have taken a personal interest in the project, which the maharaja describes as a laboratory for painting conservation - spectacular murals depicting palace life are currently being restored by specialists from the Courtauld Institute in London.
"It's an ongoing process - we call this place a scholar's retreat, not a hotel, which is an adjunct to the conservation activities," says Bapji. "I like to think of myself as an unofficial ambassador for Jodhpur, an instrument of cultural continuity and change."
He adds: "This project has been a statement of cultural revival. In India, we ignored our cultural heritage in the past - people like us are the custodians to show what we can do. There are very few projects in India of this size and scale which are still in private, or semi-private, hands - it's been great to see it come alive."