Yogyakarta in the heart of Java

Ramayana is an ancient Indian epic explaining the life of Rama, the legendary prince of Kosala Kingdom. The story takes place in the city of Ayodhya in India. Yogyakarta in Indonesia has got his name after this Indian city and the importance of the Ramayana epic for the Indonesians didn’t change during the centuries. We have seen a traditional Javanese dance performance near the ancient temple, Prambanan, which explained a part of this epic. Generally the performance contains the whole story, but at full moon they play a longer version and they divide the epic in four parts during four nights. The experience was really interesting, the show, both the dance and music, was very different from what we can see in Europe. During the performance we could see in the background the beautiful illuminated Prambanan temple, we were surrounded by local families and lost in a different world. After a while the performance and the music become monotonous, it is quite repetitive, however it is still a show what you can’t find elsewhere.

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Prambanan is the largest temple site of Hinduism in Indonesia, it is dedicated to the Trimurti, the trinity of the three major gods of Hinduism, Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. The first temple was built in the 9th century to honor the Hindu god, Shiva. The story of Rama is carved on the relieves of the temple. There is a supposition that the temples were built as answer to the nearby Buddhist temples, Borobudur and Sewu and to demostrate the power of the Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty in contrast to the Buddhist Sailendra Dynasty.

In the 10th century the area and the temples were abandoned due to eruptions of the volcano Merapi and a strong earthquake and only have been rediscovered in the 19th century during the colonization. Today it’s an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Legend of Roro Jonggrang explains a mythological origin of the temples, a war between two kingdoms and the built of Prambanan by spirits and demons. The story was created by the locals who didn’t know about its historical background or it may be originated from the Hindu Sanjaya and the Buddhist Sailendra Dynasties.

Prambanan is located 17 kms northeast from Yogyakarta, we arrived by taxi for the traditional show and the transport back to the city was a service which we could request as extra from the organizers of the show (request it at the counter before the show!). At the show there is a small shop to buy some drinks and snacks, but it is not suitable for dinner. I advice to have dinner before in Yogyakarta or in the restaurant next to the theatre.

Borobudur is the other attraction of the area, the biggest Buddhist temple in the world. It is really huge, full of relief panels, stupas, Buddha statues, and stairs. We signed up for the sunrise tour, but we didn’t have luck and the sky was cloudly therefore the experience was not as good as we expected. The temple is magnificant though and it is really worth to go, we could enjoy the views the most after the morning crowd left.

The temple was built following Javanese Buddhist architecture design in the 9th century, during the reign of the Buddhist Sailendra Dynasty.

Similarly to Prambanan, Borobudur was also abandoned for centuries  under volcanic ash and vegetation. But unlike Prambanan’s mythological stories, about Borobudur the folks stories explained bad luck and misery.

The most likely explanation for the abandonment of these magnificent monuments is the move of the Medang Kingdom to East Java, as well the conversion to Islam.

After the temple visit we rented some bikes and explored the village, the local life and entered to some restaurants to enjoy the local food.

Most of the tourists are coming to Yogyakarta to visit the mentioned cultural heritage sites, but there is even more in the area. The beauiful hills and nature of Kalibiru or the black beaches and sand dunes at Parangtritis.

At Kalibiru there are many waterparks built around waterfalls.

On our last day in Jogja we went to the coast where we found black sand, abandoned buildings, some beaches with lot of garbage and sand dunes where we tried sand surfing.

From Yogyakarta you can visit some caves as well, which seem to be great day trips. Unfortunately we didn’t have time for this.

We don’t know the reason but the Indonesians love selfies and photos about themselves. There is a big industry built on this. We found many places on the road where they offer a stage with stunning background, so you can take selfies or get some photos of yourself in exchange of some money. Furthermore there are whole parks built for this activity.

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It is worth to spend a day in Jogja itself as well. It is very different from Jakarta, it is a big village, more 2D than 3D.

I loved the Taman Sari water castle, the place is beautiful and represents a calm island in the crowded city. It has been a royal garden of the Sultanate of Yogyakarta, both serving as resting and meditation area and a place for defence and to hide.

The construction has European style because the architect traveled more times to the capital of the Dutch East Indies to learn about European architecture.

The area of the Segaran lake was the main part of Taman Sari, but nowadays the artificial lake doesn’t exist anymore, most of the buildings from the islands are ruins and only some of them can be visited.

The best preserved area is the Umbul Pasiraman bathing complex. The gates are decorated with birds and flowers.

Many other parts of the complex are unfortunately missing and new buildings are standing on their place.

Besides the Taman Sari water castle, you should visit the Alun Alun square and the best if you do so at the night. You will find many colourful, decorated neon cars making rounds around the square. This is the best fun for both tourists and locals. Don’t miss the food trucks neither!

Alun-alun means a large, central lawn square which is common in Indonesian villages and towns. It is usually next to the Kraton. It was a place for punishments and execution but nowadays it is used for spectacules and entertainment.

Kraton means royal palace in Javanese, and there are two alun-aluns belonging to the Kraton. In Jogja there is the Alun Alun Utara where you can access to the palace from and the Alun Alun Kidul where you can find the neon cars at night.