13.02.2013 - 17.02.2013
Jogja, Yogya, Jogjakarta, Yogyakarta.... all different yet the same! All standing for the mystical city in Central Java that is the cultural capital of Indonesia.
After quite a long time we were heading to a destination that wasn't predominantly beaches and this had me eagerly looking forward to the holiday! (Although I do love beaches, but I was quite saturated and needed a break! ;-) how ironic!! )
We did our research online and got a customised itinerary through Great Tours. They were very prompt and professional during the planning stages. Their approach gave us the confidence that out trip would surely be a wonderful one!
After a 2 hour flight from Singapore, we landed at the tiny Adisucipto International Airport. A visa on arrival costs 25 USD here, and by the time you clear the immigration(there is a separate queue for Visa on Arrival passengers) your luggage would have been neatly removed and stacked near the baggage belt, ready for you to collect. Well, that's because there is just a single conveyer belt for all the international flights and its about 10 ft long without even a loop to keep the bags circulating! One of the most interesting international airports I have visited, I must say ;-)
Deni and Eddy from Great tours were there to pick us up and straight away start us off into temple run mode! Yep! We weren't checking into a hotel so soon!!
First stop was Mendut Temple, a ninth century temple and the oldest of the three important Buddhist temples; Borobudur, Pawon and Mendut.
The walls of the Mendut temple are richly decorated with reliefs from the Jataka Tales. The Jataka Tales are stories of the previous lives of Buddha in human or animal form. A huge Buddha statue in seated posture flanked by two boddhisatvas is found in the main sanctum of the temple.
The temple was most definitely interesting but what was more fun was the shopping procedure outside the temple. A number of ladies walk after you selling handicrafts and kaftans. HAGGLE furiously, start at less than half their quoted price and they will almost always accede, even though it might be after quite a few times of them shouting "No profit Ma'm" !!
Do take time to visit the beautiful Mendut Buddhist Monastery right outside the temple. The serenity, scenic beauty and sanctity of the atmosphere there is almost like a precursor to the upcoming spiritual journey through Jogja.
An hours' drive later, we were at the one and only resort inside the single largest Buddhist temple complex anywhere in the world, the Manohara Resort. And did I mention that the temple complex was Borobudur!! Dating from the 8th and 9th centuries, this UNESCO World Heritage site was built during the Sailendra dynasty over a period of 75 years. Regarded as one of the greatest Buddhist monuments in the world, this outstanding piece of architecture is truly a hidden wonder.
The temple is essentially divided into three sections; the Foot, the Body and the Head. These symbolize the three realms or 'Dhatus' in Buddhism, the Kamadhatu, Rupadhatu and Arupadhatu. The journey to the top of this temple represents the path to Nirvana.
The reliefs at the Foot of the temple are hidden from view but as we climbed to the Body, the striking reliefs etched all around the periphery left us awestruck! The panels depict the story of Siddhartha, the young price who attained enlightenment and came to be known as Buddha. The Buddha's former lives have also been recorded on the lower halves of the panels.
Five levels and thousands of reliefs later we reached the 'Head' of the temple. A narrow opening leads into the first circular platform of the three platforms that make up the head. The moment we stepped out onto the platform, a tornado of emotions swept through me: Wonder, Ecstasy, Bewilderment, Astonishment... 72 perforated stupas each with a Buddha statue inside it are placed in three concentric circles leading up to One mammoth stupa right in the centre. The final stupa, hollow on the inside, signifies Enlightenment, detachment from worldly pleasures and attainment of liberation or Nirvana.
After a heavy dose of spirituality, the evening was spent with a relaxing Indonesian dinner and dance ballet program at the resort.
The next morning started with a second peek at Borobudur (we decided to skip the Sunrise tour since it was overcast) and our goodbyes to this wonder of wonders!
On agenda for the day were 3 spots, all located on the Dieng Plateau, 2000 metres above sea level. First up was the Warna Lake, a mysterious and gorgeous sulphur lake amidst dense forests. Emerald green in colour, with slight bubbles rippling on the surface due to the sulphur and an odour that reminded me of my Chemistry lab, Warna lake is surely a place I will not forget soon!
Next we headed to the Sikidang crater, one of the many volcanic craters on the Dieng plateau. As we entered the area, a strong stench of sulphur hit us that only got stronger as we made our way towards the smoking cauldron in the distance. As far as the eye could see, there was a stretch of barren, rocky land with minimum vegetation and water bubbling at our feet through cracks in the earth.
We navigated ourselves(with a little hopping and skipping ) to the centre of attraction. Thick gray mud mixed with water, foul-smelling, boiling and jumping out in little splashes, and lots of puffy white smoke. Sounds familiar? It was the sort of stuff that witches would probably stir in their pots with an evil laugh!!
This place is a "goldmine" for sulphur miners and the steam generated from the hot crater is used for production of energy.
Next up, was a very interesting set of Hindu temple ruins. The first was a small,independent temple for Gatotkaca.
We were stunned when we heard the name, since even in India (where there are countless temples) there is just one known temple for Gatotkaca, the son of Bhima. After this we proceeded to the main complex called the Arjuna Temple Complex.
8 temples still stand here of the original 400, noteworthy considering the fact that the Arjuna temple is over 1000 years old and is one of the oldest temples in Java. Semar, Srikandi, Puntadewa and Sembadra temples complete this complex.
After the Dieng Plateau tour, we drove downhill towards the main city of Yogyakarta, which was to be the base for the remaining leg of our vacation. On the way , we stopped at the third important Buddhist temple, Pawon. The temples of Borobudur, Mendut and Pawon lie in a straight line with Pawon at the centre. Regarded as the jewel of Javanese temple architecture, this small temple holds much significance for Buddhists in Indonesia.
Just two days into our trip and we were already craving Indian food! Having done our online research, we headed to Sangam House, one of the apparently better Indian restuarants in Yogyakarta. Disappointment would be an understatement. The Dosa (a south Indian delicacy) looked vaguely like a crepe (not surprising,considering the owner was French!) , the tomato shorba(soup) was just an under-cooked puree and I don't even have words to describe the masala chai (Indian spiced tea). The main course was slightly decent. It's a shame considering the restaurant was actually very tastefully decorated and had a beautiful ambience. An Indian chef in their kitchen would have made all the difference in the world!
The next day, we decided that we should learn a bit more about two things that make Indonesia famous worldwide: Batik and Silver. So, our day started with a visit to a traditional Batik factory.
Batik is a dyeing technique widely known as a symbol of Indonesia. In fact, even today, every Indonesian (be it the King, a shopkeeper or a taxi driver) wears Batik clothing to work. Batik is almost like a national uniform for Indonesia! A visit to the Batik factory helped us understand the nuances of the labour-intensive process of traditional Batik printing. We saw two different procedures of applying melted wax on the cloth before dipping in dye.
The first process was Batik using a 'tjanting' tool which is like a pen. This is a very time consuming process as the artisans manually draw the entire design on the cloth using wax.
The second was Block printing using 'batik cap' (copper stamp) into which melted wax is poured. This is a faster process since each Batik cap comes with a particular design that is stamped onto the cloth to get a repetitive pattern.
Next we proceeded to Anson's Silver factory. There we got the opportunity to look at artisans producing outstanding filigree and silver sheet work. The attached retail store had an exquisite collection of animals, birds, Indonesian puppets as well as replicas of Borobudur & Prambanan temples, all done in silver!
After the factory visits, we drove to Sambisari, a 9th century Hindu temple. As it is located 6.5 metres below the ground, this temple should have ideally been called the "Sunken Temple". Buried under volcanic ash from Mount Merapi, it took archaeologists 21 years to excavate and rebuild the temple. The compound of the temple is huge with a vast lawn surrounding the main shrine of Lord Shiva. We were the only ones at the temple, so we enjoyed a wonderful half an hour of tranquility there.
From there we made our way to another landmark monument of Yogyakarta, the Prambanan Temple. The architectural prowess of the architects during those times is sheer genius, we realise, when we look at a building such as the Prambanan. Similar in style to the Angkor Wat in Cambodia but 300 years older, you will not be able to take your eyes off this masterpiece!
The largest Hindu temple complex in Indonesia and one of the biggest in Southeast Asia, this UNESCO World Heritage site is more than 1000 years old. Dedicated to the Trimurti of Hindu religion, Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva; this temple complex originally consisted of a staggering 240 temples! The innermost zone consists of the shrines for the three main deities and 3 shrines for the 'Vahanas', Hamsa(Swan) for Brahma, Nandi(Bull) for Shiva and Garuda(Eagle) for Vishnu. There were 224 'Pervara' (guardian) temples surrounding the innermost zone of which only 2 remain standing today!
An interesting feature of this temple is that unlike most Hindu temples where Shiva is represented and worshipped as a 'Lingam', the Shiva Temple in Prambanan has a 3 metre tall statue of Lord Shiva. Unfortunately, parts of the Shiva temple were under renovation and we couldn't see the statue, but we did see statues of Brahma and Vishnu in the adjacent temples. As in Borobudur, the walls surrounding the temples in Prambanan are also carved with exquisite reliefs. Stories from the Ramayana and the Bhagavata Purana (Krishnayana as the locals call it) can be seen here.
The last item on our itinerary for the day was the famed Ramayana Ballet. Ramayana Ballet at Purawisata is performed in an open air theatre when the weather is favourable and luck was on our side that day. The dance ballet commenced from the point in the Ramayana where Ravana sends the evil Mareecha in the form of a magical deer to lure Rama and Lakshmana away from Sita. Susbsequently Ravana kidnaps Sita and imprisons her in Ashoka Vatika in his kingdom of Lanka. In his search for Sita, Rama encounters various characters like Jatayu, Bali, Sugreeva and Hanuman. The monkey army of Hanuman aids Rama's search and finally Sita is found. A battle between Rama and Ravana ensues, leading to the defeat of Ravana.
Graceful movements, colourful costumes and a live orchestra all together made this experience a very memorable one.
This was our final day of sightseeing and we started off early in the morning towards the infamous Mount Merapi. If you wish to take a good look at this volcanic mountain, it is best to reach there as early as possible since mist covers it up later in the day.
We reached the village of Kaliadem at the foothills of Mount Merapi. This village was destroyed in 2010 by the eruption of Merapi, which by the way is still active and smoking hot! :-) Burnt stubs of trees, rivers of volcanic ash left by flowing lava and volcanic stones strewn all around the area serve as a constant reminder of the immense destructive capacity of Mother Nature.
After this gruesome sight, we headed back to Jogja city to the Sultan's Palace. Kraton or 'Royal Palace' is home to the King of Yogyakarta. An old world charm exudes from this palace complex bustling with tourists.
A tour guide exclusive to the palace took us around and she was well informed and enthusiastic (overly so at times! ). Luckily, when we arrived, the traditional Wayang Kulit shadow puppet show was being performed. This show is held at the palace only once a week, so we took some time to admire the puppeteers at work.
The museums were quite interesting with pictures of the past Sultans and their stories and collections of gifts from other countries to the Sultan.
A short way away from the palace was the Tamansari. Tamansari(Water Castle or Beautiful Garden) is a partially ruined bath house, part of the royal gardens of the Kraton complex. The bathing complex is made up of three pools, one for the royal family, one for the Sultan's mistresses and one for the Sultan himself.
Lunch that day was at a highly recommended international Cafe called ViaVia. After reading several positive reviews and still recovering from the disappointment of Sangam House, we bravely ventured into this unknown territory. And what we saw took us completely by surprise! A quaint little all-in-one travel agency, cafe & guesthouse, this delightful restaurant has some excellent vegetarian dishes on offer. While you wait for your order, pick up a travel book from their library or browse through their Fair Trade Shop,an initiative to promote environment-friendly products made by locals.
An absolute must do in Yogyakarta is shopping at Jalan Malioboro. The street is sure to drive anybody crazy with the number of batik and handicraft shops!! But that also makes it the best place to fill your luggage with souvenirs. Shops like Batik Keris with exclusive and exquisite Batik clothing to Mirota Batik where every possible Indonesian souvenir is sold under one roof, its all there in Jalan Malioboro!
On our way back from this street we decided to ride a horse carriage (It's a common form of transport in Yogyakarta for tourists). To say the least, the carriage driver fleeced us! I strongly advise taking a taxi in Jogja, its much cheaper, faster and safer!!
Too very soon, we were posing outside our hotel with our guide and driver for a final farewell photo and with packed bags and heavy hearts, it was time to bid goodbye to the splendid Indonesian city of Yogyakarta. What struck me most was that in a predominantly Muslim country, so much effort is being put in to preserve and promote the rich history of Hindu and Buddhist cultures that shaped Jogja into what it is today. Hoping to explore much more of this gem of a country! Till then, it's Selamat tinggal from me!