There are several very exciting tourist destinations across the world but this one is truly wacky. It’s not very common for small ponds to have their own Instagram accounts, let alone tens of thousands of followers, but then again Umbul Ponggok is not your usual village pond.
Located in Indonesia’s Central Java region, Umbul Ponggok is a small pond measuring just 20 meters by 50 meters, but boasting the cleanest water imaginable. It is continuously fed with fresh water from 40 different springs, at a rate of 800 liters per second, so the water is always crystal clear. It’s this fascinating property that makes Umbul Ponggok an ideal location for underwater selfies, and in the age of Instagram you’d best believe people are taking advantage of it.
About 15 years ago, Ponggok was a poor, obscure Indonesian village, and its immaculate pond was a dirty, polluted cesspool where locals used to bathe and wash their dirty clothes. Unemployment was high and locals barely earned a living farming and mining in nearby quarries. Today, that same village ranks among the 10 richest in Indonesia, unemployment is almost non-existent, and tourism drives the local economy. And it was all possible thanks to Umbul Ponggok and Instagram.
The rehabilitation of this underwater Instagram attraction can be credited to Junaedi Mulyono, who took it upon himself to turn Ponggok into a tourist attraction soon after he was elected village head, in 2006. He started by bringing in students from a university a few dozen kilometers away and asked them to create a database of the village’s problems, potential resources, and possible solutions.
Based on the information offered by the students, Mulyono founded a village-owned business called Tirta Mandiri, and asked locals to invest in it, promising that they would reap the rewards for many years to come. While many were reluctant to follow his advice, of the roughly 700 families in Ponggok, 430 became investors. Those that didn’t invest in the beginning changed their minds after Umbul Ponggok was cleaned up and tourists started coming in.
Each of the families that invested in Tirta Mandiri put up 5 million rupiah, and has seen returns of 400,000 to 500,000 rupiah per month, for the past 10 years. The extra income has helped locals improved their quality of life and offer their children better education. Plus, the economy built around the popular village pond has all but eliminated unemployment, with most of the available workforce having been absorbed by Tirta Mandiri.
The South China Morning Post reports that back in 2005 Ponggok had an annual income of some 80 million rupiah. Today, Tirta Mandiri’s annual revenue from its various businesses – all centered around the pond – reaches 14 billion rupiah. It has also become known as one of the must-see tourist attraction of Klaten Regency, and a magnet for Instagram influencers in search of the hottest selfie spots.
Thousands of people travel to Umbul Ponggok every weekend, and the local authorities make sure that they are not disappointed. As underwater selfies are the most popular among visitors, they’ve set up all kinds of props on the bottom of the pond, such as motorcycles, benches, even old TV sets, all things designed to make photos stand out. And it even has its own Instagram account, with over 40,000 followers, where the coolest underwater photos are featured.
Influencers from all over Asia, politicians and entertainers all travel to this small Indonesian village to have their picture taken, further boosting its reputation as a unique selfie destination.