Iran Jaya is a land of contrasts, with some of the impenetrable jungles in the world and snowcapped mountain peaks towering over glacial lakes. Irian Jaya is Indonesia's largest and easternmost province and covers the western half of the world's second largest island. It is a land of exceptional natural grandeur, with beautiful scenic beaches, immense stretches of marshlands, cool grassy meadows and powerful rivers carving gorges through dense primeval forests. The most heavily populated and cultivated parts of the island are the Paniai Lakes district and Baliem valley to the east.
The people of the island can be divided into more than 250 sub-groups, including the Marind anim, Yah'ray, Asmat, Mandobo, Dani and Afyat. Those in the central highlands still, maintain their customs and traditions, virtually untouched by outside influences. The different tribes have lived, for the most part, in isolation from even one another, resulting in an incredibly diverse mixture of cultures.
The coastal regions of Irian Jaya, however were visited as early as the 7th century by traders from Sriwijaya. European traders looking for spices began arriving in the early 16th century, and have left historical footprints in the area with names such as Bougainville, Cape d'Urville and the Torres Straits. It was the Dutch who made the most lasting impact on the island, when 1828 they formally made Irian a Dutch Territory, which it remained until 1962.
The Provincial capital of Jayapura is situated on hills which overlook the sea, and accessible by boat and plane. It was here that General Mac Arthur assembled his fleet for the invasion of the Philippines during the world war. Regular flights to other major parts of the archipelago are available with Garuda and Merpati Nusantara Airlines.
Jayapura is the capital and the biggest city of this easternmost province. It is a neat and pleasant city, built on the slope of a hill overlooking the bay. General Douglas Mc Arthur's World War II quarters still stand here. The Museum Jayapura is located on the Cenderawasih University campus. Tanjung Ria Beach known as base G by the Allies during World War II, is a popular holiday resort with facilities for water sports.
A short trip from Jayapura, Lake Sentani is still virtually untouched by tourism. The people who call the shores of this magnificent lake home still lived in a traditional manner, and a renowned for their wood-working and pottery.
Biak, a town on an island of the same name in Cenderawasih Bay, is Irian Jaya's main gateway. It has a better infrastructure than most other places in the province. There are some good beaches on Biak island, the most popular of which is good for swimming and sky-diving, and Korem on the north coast, where one can watch young men dive for pearls. Supiori Island, just north of Biak, has a wilderness reserve and traditional villages where visitors are welcome.
Named after the big casuarina trees which grow in the area, Kasuarina Cape is just two kilometers from Sorong, on the Birds Head peninsula of northern Irian Jaya. Good for swimming and recreation.
The Asmat people, who lived along the remote southeast coast, are famed for their artistic "primitive" woodcarving. Modern civilization did not reach this area until recently. Agats has an interesting museum filled with woodcarvings and objects. Amats craft received a boost in the late 1960s under a United Nation supported project encouraging local craftsmen to keep their art alive. Much of the area is still untamed wilderness.
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