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.

10 hidden treasures in Jakarta

You have some time in Jakarta and you don’t know what to do. You check on the travel magazines and blogs and all say to avoid it. Here are 10 hidden treasures which can make your day fun in Jakarta, because there are places in this city which are worth to visit!

1. National Monument

The country’s national monument can be found at the Merdeka Square. It is a 132 m high tower which symbolize the fight for the independence of Indonesia. There is a nice park around the monument with lots of flowers and trees, which gives shadow and a place to rest in the hot Indonesian weather.

2. National Museum of Indonesia

The National Museum of Indonesia is next to the Merdeka Square. On the ground floor the museum introduces prehistorical life, archaic humans and evolution of the human specie, including the Java man which has local relevance. On the above floors we can see the development of tools, transports, housing and religion.

In the garden of the museum you can see the elephant statue which the building got his name as Elephant Building and a piece from the Indonesian
sculptor, Nyoman Nuarta. You can see more works from him at the
NuArt Sculpture Park in Bandung and in Bali. Garuda Wisnu Kencana, the tallest statue in Indonesia and the 15th tallest in the world is the work of
Nyoman Nuarta as well . It is in South Bali, completed on 31 July and inaugurated on 22 September 2018. The statue itself is 75 m high but with its foundation in total it is 121 m high.

3. Kota Tua – Oldtown

Kota Tua is the downtown area of Jakarta, originating from the time of the Dutch colonization.

Here you can find European measures, the streets and buildings are not huge and you can have a nice walk. There is a big life on the Fatahillah Square, many locals and tourists are riding their colourful rented bikes, visiting museums or cafes. On the Jalan Lada street there is a food market, women are sitting on the street, selling typical Indonesian dishes and disappearing within a second for the alert of police.

4. Monumen Selamat Datang

The monument is located in the middle of a fountain in the intersection of the main roads of Jakarta, close to several big hotels and malls. Selamat Datang in Indonesian stands for ’Welcome’ and this is the gesture what the two figures of the monument express.

Originally the monument symbolized the openness of the Indonesian nation to visitors to the Asian Games IV, which was organized in Jakarta in 1962. The Asian Games are organized since 1951 in every 4 years, the most recent (18th) was held in 2018 again in Indonesia. During our holidays we have seen the preparation for the big event.

The area around the fountain is separated from the sidewalk by the road, there are not pedestrian crossings and the traffic in the roundabout is huge. Even so there was a big amount of people next to the fountain, walking, sitting, chatting and taking photos.

The atmosphere was really nice and we sat next to the fountain for a while as well. We left when we realized that two guys were trying to take photos about each other with me next to them. I really didn’t like the experience. It was way different from other experiences we had in other parts of Indonesia, when people came to us shyly asking, if they can take some photos with us together.

5. Skye bar

There is a great nightlife in Jakarta as well. We visited the Skye bar which is at the top of the mall Grand Indonesia. The bar has nice cocktails, beautiful views to the city, but it is very fancy and expensive as well.

6. Other museums

In Jakarta there are many other museums to visit as well:

  • Jakarta History Museum
  • Wayang Museum
  • Museum Bank Indonesia
  • Museum Bank Mandiri
  • Museum of Fine Art and Ceramics
  • Museum Bahari Jakarta

7. Malls

There are many huge shopping centers in Jakarta, so you can spend your remaining time with shopping or window shopping. You can find cheap, local clothes and famous luxury brands as well.

Some malls: Grand Indonesia, Plaza Indonesia, Thamrin City, Central Park Mall, Mall Taman Anggrek

8. Thousand islands

In Indonesia there are many words to express island due to the mixture of different languages. Some examples: pulau, pulo, nusa (Sanskrit origins), gili. The group of islands is called pulau-pulau or kepulauan.

Not so far from Jakarta, there is a group of islands called Thousand Islands. In case you have a couple of days in the city, you can visit them as well. Usually the Pari Island is the main destination of the travelers.

9. Good restaurants and hotels

In Jakarta many different nations’ cuisine is represented and you can find very good restaurants for the price of a normal restaurant in Europe. The same stands for hotels as well, there are many nice hotels in Jakarta with nice views and rooftop swimming pools.

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10. Sunda Kelapa

The city’s old port played an important role in its development. It has been the main trade location between the Portuguese and the Hindu Sunda Kingdom of Pajajaran. The Indonesian trading ships, the pinisis are all around in the port.

On the land of Waterfalls, Volcanoes and Earthquakes – Indonesia

Indonesia is a colourful country in Southeast Asia with more than seventeen thousand islands and many different ethnic groups, religions, culture and nature.

The islands of Indonesia lay around the Equator, this makes the climate tropical and the temperature and the length of daylight changes very few through the year. On the coastal areas the average temperature is 28 ºC, and in the mountains it can decrease until 20 ºC. The sunrise is changing between 6 AM and 6.30 AM, and the sun sets between 6 PM and 6.40 PM. In Java there is not a big nightlife, therefore we tried to adapt to the sunlight, wake up early and use the sunny hours. There are possibilities to go out in the capital, Jakarta, there are some bars in Yogyakarta and of course in Bali, but generally the alcohol is quite expensive everywhere in the country and you can only buy it in bars and specialized shops.

In Indonesia there is a rainy and there is a dry season. The monsoon generally lasts from November to March, while there is few rain from June to October, which makes this period the high season with more tourists and travelers, especially in August and September.

Wherever we go in Indonesia we can find a bit from its historical past.

The island of Java was inhabited by a subspecies of the Homo erectus, the early human fossils discovered here are also called the Java Man. Some thought the discovery represented a transitional form, the missing link between the apes and the humans while others said that it is an extinct side branch of the evolution. The current consensus of anthropologists is that it is a subspecies of the Homo Erectus, and it is scientifically known as Homo erectus erectus. Another subspecies of the Homor erectus, the Homo erectus ergaster is considered as the ancestor of Homo sapiens.

In 2003 several fossils were found in the island of Flores and they have been identified as a different, previously unknown species of the genus Homo, the Homo floresiensis (Flores Man).

You can learn more on this topic in the National Museum in Jakarta where you can see some archaeological findings as well.

The sea always played an important role in the life of the kingdoms and city-states, there were relevant trade routes towards Asia and Africa. The Buddhism and Hinduism reached the area through the same routes as well. Several dynasties raised, ruled and collapsed, letting behind such great monuments as the Buddhist and Hindu temples, Borobudur and Prambanan.

The Islam religion spread through the country between the 13th and 16th century, mixing with previous religions. By today the country became the first with the highest Muslim population (and the fourth country with the highest population after China, India and USA). Majority of the population is religious, the main religion in most of the islands including Java is Islam, while in Bali the 85% of the people are Hindus. The Balinese Hinduism differs from the Hinduism in India, simplistically because it includes local animism, ancestor worship and reverence for Buddhist saints as well.

From Europe first the Portuguese traders had permanent contact with the area in the 16th century, followed by British and Dutch traders. The Dutch established the Dutch East India Company (VOC). You can see the effects today on colonial architecture in Jakarta in the Oldtown and in the harbor and in Bali in Singaraja.

People from the archipelago started to develop a national consciousness as “Indonesians” at the beginning of the 20th century which triggered independence movements. During the World War II Japan occupied the area ending the Dutch rule. The country’s independence was declared after the surrender of Japan in 1945.

Thanks to the tropical climate the flora and fauna is very different from Europe and it gave a great experience to explore it. Our favourite day plan was to rent a motorbike and go around the area. And while there are some interesting cultural memories in the towns, the best was to leave the inhabited areas and go to the nature. In Java, close to Yogyakarta Kalibiru is worth a visit, while in Bali the waterfall hunt was very entertaining.

Indonesia’s archipelago is separated by the Wallace Line, which defines a border between two different zoogeographic realm. This means that on the western area of the country the fauna is largely of Asian origin, while on the eastern part is of Australasian origin. This difference was discovered by Alfred Wallace, British explorer, geographer, anthropologist, and biologist, co-discoverer of natural selection.
This second zoogeographic realm is also called Wallacea.

Wallace’s interest in natural history led him to be one of the first scientists to raise concerns over the environmental impact of human activity. This impact is still huge today. Luckily nowadays we can hear more about the issue and be more aware of the impact we cause especially regarding plastic waste. This is a great problem in Indonesia as well. We saw so many plastic waste thrown on the streets, in the forests, on the beautiful beaches as we have never seen before. It is very important to raise awareness all over the world, because the majority of the population doesn’t know about the consequences.

There are many sport activities which you can try in Indonesia. While at Nusa Penida and the Gili islands the snorkeling and scuba diving are popular and there are many surfers in Bali, you can do hiking in the volcanoes or sandsurfing in the sand dunes of Java.

There is a fact which shadows this amazing place and its beautiful nature and people and it is being part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. The Ring of Fire is a circle formed by borders of tectonic plates causing that there are many volcanoes in the area and the earthquakes are very frequent.

During our visit Mount Merapi in Java close to Yogyakarta and Mount Agung in Bali both were likely to erupt and their surroundings were closed from public. As well there were 4 strong earthquakes (6.4, 6.9, 5.9 and 6.9 Mw) close to the island of Lombok, which forced us to change our plans and to not visit this island and as well to avoid the Gili islands and long distance boat trips.

From the 400 volcanoes of the country 150 are active.
Two of the most violent volcanic eruptions in modern times occurred in Indonesia; in 1815 Mount Tambora in Sumbawa erupted killing 92,000 and in 1883, Krakatau, erupted killing 36,000 people. This eruption of the Krakatau volcano is the ever heard loudest sound on Earth which could be heard 5000 kilometers away. The eruption caused tsunami which arrived until the coast of Africa and America. One theory says that the famous painting, The Scream from Edvard Munch, Norwegian painter shows one of the spectacular sunsets of the following years after the eruption which could be seen all over the world thanks to the volcanic ash in the air.

On the place of the famous Krakatau volcano a new island rose from volcanic activity on August 1930. Recently the Anak Krakatau (“child of Krakatoa”) erupted on 22 December 2018, the southwest sector of the volcano had collapsed and triggered a tsunami in the area. The volcano lost the two-thirds of its height.

These issues are parts of the everyday life in Indonesia and still people are happy, garteful and very kind.

We visited Java, Bali and some of the smaller islands close to them. We returned to home with many experiences, we saw amazing places, but I don’t know if ever it is possible to say that someone saw everything what Indonesia has to offer. The nature is incredible, orangutans live in Sumatra and Borneo and dragons in Comodo and Flores, there are beautiful coasts, mountains, jungles and volcanoes and colourful fishes and coral reefs in the sea. You can find different cultures and traditions in each island or at the same island as well.