Most visitors to East Sumbawa come and go without ever visiting the sculptured seaside cliffs of Wadu Pa’a. How this ancient archaeological site has stayed so far off the tourist radar is a bit of a mystery but it’s certainly worth a visit.
Literally meaning “carved stone” in the local Bimanese language, Wadu Pa’a features a mix of Hindu and Buddhist reliefs believed to have been carved into the cliff side sometime around 700AD. Several carved inscriptions at the site provide the biggest clue as to the age and origin of the carvings. The characters come from one of the world’s oldest alphabets used in Pallawa script which originated in southern India and was in use from the 7th century to 10BC. Additionally, one of the inscriptions clearly states “631 Saka” which is a reference to the Hindu Indian calendar and aligns to the year 709 AD. The significance of the site is that it is a tangible record of the eastern most extremity of Indian, Hindu and Buddhist influence across the Java Sea, which began with the emergence of Indian and Chinese maritime trade during the early centuries AD.
Wadu Pa’a site consists of two groups of engravings. The larger of the two is Group I located at the northern end of the bay. It includes at least 21 reliefs in various forms including a statue of Agastya, a revered Vedic Hindu sage, below which are the inscriptions referred to above, a phallus-shaped niche, Buddha on a pedestal, Shiva, several tiered stupas and other effigies.
Group II is located about 100m to the south (although this is the first group you will encounter). It includes carved reliefs depicting pedestals and 16 stupa niches flanking a statue.
Wadu Pa’a is located on the west coast of Bima Bay, just to the north of Sowa village. It can be reached by land from Bima via a winding horseshoe coastal road around the bottom of Bima Bay (approximately 60km, 1.5 hour drive). Look for a overgrown signpost nailed to a tree about 2km north of Sowa village. The site is only a few hundred metres via a rough dirt track but you can easily walk in if your driver would rather not tackle it. Alternatively, you can charter a speedboat from the wharf at Bima. The crossing is approximately 10km and takes around 1 hour.
Note, Wadu Pa’a is sometimes referred to as Batu Pahat, meaning “stone carving” in Indonesian.