Exploring Java’s cultural soul

With sleep severely lacking Marie had to have a power nap before she could consider shipping out. Having splashed out on nice accommodation Emma decided to make the most of it and instead have a swim in the pool and gaze over the rice paddies.

We’d decided to take the cheaper option of catching the bus back to the city. Our accommodation dropped us off for free at the bus station. It was deserted except for half a dozen people hanging around, however they assured us we were in the right place and a bus would be along in the next half hour. Sure enough it was, and we boarded with a handful of other passengers.

After a 2 hour uneventful journey and we were in Yogyakarta (also known as Jogja).

It is said that if Jakarta were the heart of the nation, powering the economy and the industries, Yogyakarta is the soul, keeping the spirit in balance and harmony. It is one of the most historically and culturally rich cities in Indonesia.

With over 140 million residents Java is the most populous island in the world, and is home to over half of Indonesia’s population. It also has the traffic that goes with it and most of it seems condensed in Yogyakarta (Jakarta and other cities apparently are in fact worse).

We stuck out the crawling bus until the stop we thought was closest to the hotel we’d booked. We got off into the chaos of Malioboro street, the most famous shopping street in Jogja. We rather enjoyed the walk with our rucksacks, even when we worked out we could have stayed on the bus and probably saved ourselves a good 500m.

After checking in we cooled down and had some late lunch. After much indecisiveness we finally decided to head to Prambanan Temple. Just outside the city it is on the route we’d be leaving by, but given it was a key sight we wanted to visit we thought we’d prioritise it. We also figured it likely would be easier without the rucksacks.

We easily navigated to what actually was the closest bus stop and finding the right bus was easy. It was Sunday and the bus stop was rammed but we managed to get on the 2nd one that came along. After crawling for an hour we came to a complete standstill. We’d had enough of buses and we were not going to make it there in time to explore before the gates closed so we decided to bail and head back to the city. The means of getting back was obvious to us we wanted scooters so we could weave through the traffic. We both hit “order” on the GoJek app at the same time. It took both drivers a little while to find us as we were on a random road not far from the airport but they persevered and both showed, helpfully almost at the same time.

We’d picked a big hotel to head to at the top of Maliboro Street and before we set off we got the drivers to speak and confirm so we knew it was the same place. We didn’t need to worry though as they enjoyed riding in convoy, with an ever changing lead. It was obviously a novelty for them. The traffic was not so bad heading into the city but we loved the freedom of being on the back of scooters and weaving through everything in our way, sometimes so close we’d breathe in in an attempt to shrink your knees in.

We arrived happy and exhilarated. We’d planned our drop off point so we could walk the length of the street back to our accommodation. It was heaving with people. We got street snacks and window shopped the beautiful batiks the city is renowned for, watched street performances and found a coffee shop for a rest. That evening we went back out and did the same again in the dark, loving the hustle and bustle.

The next morning we were up early and visited the key tourist sights of the city. We’d deliberately chosen to stay nearby to them to save time. Some were closed on Mondays but the Water Castle and Royal Palace were the key places we wanted to visit and both were open. We enjoyed walking there in the early morning calmness. The temperature was perfect. We got lost down some backstreets but found a great coffee shop and we enjoyed both places. Naturally at the end we got scooters back to the hotel.

With now having to take the rucksacks to Prambanan Temple we decided to order a Grab and with great traffic we seemed to be there in no time at all. The only downside was the heat of midday. There was no queue at the international visitor entrance and they were very helpful in directing us to a free left luggage room, evaporating our concerns we might have to visit in relay while one of us baby sat the bags.

Prambanan is one of the largest Hindu temples in South East Asia.

Dedicated to the Trimūrti (the Triple deity of supreme divinity in Hinduism in which the cosmic functions of creation, maintenance, and destruction are personified as a triad of deities; Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer). Prambanan was built around the same time as Buddhist Borobudur temple. Like Borobudur it is also a UNESCO world heritage site and like Borobudur it was also abandoned at some point and left to be consumed into the landscape (Prambanan was never hidden to the same extent so its rediscovery by the British in the early 1800’s was far less dramatic).

A large complex, originally it would have had 240 temples but most were relatively small and were located around the edges. In what would have been the centre are 3 large temples dedicated to each of the 3 deities and 3 slightly smaller temples dedicated to the animals who serve them (Nandi, Garuda and Hamsa) flanked by 10 other temples. All are adorned with panels of narrative bas-reliefs telling the story of the Hindu epic Ramayana and Bhagavata Purana.

The largest of the structures is the temple dedicated to Shiva which stands an imposing 47m high, with the other two deity temples at 33m high.

It many ways Prambanan blew us away more than Borobudur. Maybe because we had no expectations so to walk into this huge and beautiful complex was quite amazing.

We explored slowly, hugged the shade where we could and cursed the harsh midday sun for providing the worst photography light.

A short distance away are 3 buddhist temples; Lumbung, Bubrah and Sewu. You can easily walk but with a wide traffic-free sealed road and a pavement loop round them you can also hire bikes. The tyres had seen better days and the brakes barely worked but it was a fun, faster and easier way to get around them. They were quiet, we were surprised at how few tourists were making the short side trip to visit them.

On the way out we grabbed a drink and some food from one of the vendors and then set off to find a bus to our next destination; Solo, also known as Surakarta. Basically the next city down the road and from where we’d got a train tickets out of the next morning. A temple worker told us just to head to the main road outside the temple. Once there we asked the people working on a mobile phone stand and they helpfully flagged a bus for us.

It was the most ‘local’ of all the buses that had gone past: small, cramped, tatty, loaded with luggage and no luxuries like aircon. We squeezed on and got seats, with our rucksacks standing (blocking) the aisle. It took twice the time we’d expected thanks to some roadworks that ground everyone to a standstill. Our driver did his best to keep moving and a number of times we drove down the side of the road dirt / shop frontages. We love buses for providing opportunities to interact with locals, but when you’ve only got one bum cheek on the seat and your knees don’t fit and you’re at a standstill it does get rather testing.

We weren’t sorry to finally arrive. Unfortunately we’d lost most of the afternoon so we got to our homestay, dumped our stuff off and headed straight out to explore what we can. We just walked the streets with no particular destination. When it got dark we stuck to lit main streets. We found a juice shop with a lovely young enthusiastic seller who made us instagram stars, found a supermarket to stock up on train snacks and a street kebab vendor for dinner. With the street fully explored we got a Grab back to our digs.

The next morning we got up early to explore a little more before we needed to leave for our train. Our host family got us a local dish for breakfast – rice and egg and some kind of curry and of course chicken. It smelt and tasted just amazing! We were close to the Fort and our host family told us how to get there easily down the backstreets. It was a really lovely walk in the early morning light and we passed a big rundown batik factory which was fascinating. We can’t say the same for the Fort museum, it wasn’t really worth the time but it was quiet and different.

Click on any photo to enlarge and scroll through

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