JAKARTA: Millions of Indonesians, braving every conceivable discomfort on creaky and congested public transport, are flocking home from cities in the annual exodus that marks the end of Ramadan.
City dwellers, in a tradition known as mudik (going upstream), travel to their home villages or towns to celebrate Aidilfitri festival tomorrow and Wednesday with family and friends.
Transport Minister Agum Gumelar has estimated the number of public passengers at 18.86 million during the week before and the week after Aidilfitri.
In this city alone, some 2.1 million people or a quarter of its population are expected to leave town. More than half the country's 212 million people live in cities and more than 80% of Indonesians are Muslims.
Some 120,000 police have been deployed to safeguard the exodus and the holiday season. Police chief Dai Bachtiar has warned of possible terrorist attacks during Aidilfitri.
Police have said they are carrying explosives and are planning fresh attacks.
Crowds began converging on city train and bus stations last week, testing the limits of a public transport system notorious for its inadequacies.
Some rail travellers even perched on buffers between carriages.
Whole families spent the night in ticket queues.
Even though staff at Senen railway station here said all tickets had been sold, “I will stay here and wait, hoping for a miracle,” textile worker Robi told the Jakarta Post last week.
Others packed cars to endure long traffic jams, bad roads and heavy rain on their way home. Newspapers reported seeing parents with three children and their bags on a single motorcycle, and three-wheeler motorcycle taxis bursting with people and luggage.
Since the opportunity to go home is rare, people do not travel light. A tradition of giving gifts, coupled with the need to impress the folks back home, means bulky boxes and bags and a debt burden.
Some 31,744 buses, 261 trains, 553 ships and 168 aircraft had been readied across the country to handle the exodus and the return to the cities, Gumelar said.
The government has stepped up its war on ticket touts, offering free tickets for those who report scalpers and extending the reservation period.
The exodus eases the congestion and traffic jams here but the return home always brings more people than the number who left.
Hopes of finding a better life in the city, fuelled by boasts from visiting relatives, prompt many people from the countryside to accompany them back here after Aidilfitri.
Sylviana Murni, the head of the population office here, said 231,528 newcomers came here last year after the festival, putting further pressure on the already strained infrastructure. – AFP
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