At first glance, the geographical shape of Sulawesi reflects its baffling combination of cultures and religions. Landscapes show the same variety. En route to the north from booming Makassar, the gateway to eastern Indonesia, you will pass coastal villages, where Indonesia's famous phinisi ships are being built directly on the beach. On the other side of the road, endless lowland are interrupted by what appears to be prehistoric menhirs. Giant limestone cliffs, shimmering in the tropical light, create a dramatic effect. Tanah Toraja itself is a fascinating destination, with elaborate feasts and unique funeral ceremonies. Nowhere else in the world people put that much effort in giving the dead a final resting place. Deceased are buried in laborious carved rock tombs, always guarded by rigid-looking tau tau dolls.
From the time of their ancient arrival from South China on the Toraja held onto the typical saddle roofs for their houses and rice barns. The detailed polychrome decorations are pearls of ethnographic art. In many places, Tanah Toraja with its sloping hills and idyllic rice terraces, reminds of a forgotten Shangri-la.