Culture-rich Yogyakarta enchants with its temples, historic structures and natural wonders
Yogyakarta (pronounced Jogjakarta, and also called Jogja) is a Special Region in Indonesia and was once its capital, between 1945 and 1949. It is one of six cities located in Central Java and was named after Ayodhya, an ancient Indian city from the epic Ramayana. It covers a total area of 833.6 square miles and its city centre is densely populated. As for its people, well they are among the friendliest we’ve ever met.
Numbers aside, Jogja is blessed with some of the most fascinating natural locales and man-made structures in the region, from the menacing Mt Merapi and the beautiful Jungwok Beach to the ancient beauty of the Prambanan and Borobudur temples. These made it one of the most popular tourist destinations in Indonesia, second only to Bali.
BorneoTalk had the opportunity to fly to Yogyakarta on a ‘Visit Fascinating Yogyakarta’ familiarisation trip organised by the Indonesian Consulate in Kuching recently. We took a connecting flight onboard XpressAir Indonesia from Kuching International Airport to Supadio International Airport in Pontianak, Kalimantan, then from Pontianak to Adisutjipto International Airport Yogyakarta.
On arrival in Yogyakarta, our tour guide Pak Ariffin (a jolly chap who speaks English with a rather thick Indonesian accent), ushered us to our tour bus that took us to dinner at Sultan Agung Cuisines, hosted by Indonesian Consul-General in Kuching Jahar Gultom. After dinner, where we had the chance to meet representatives from the Yogyakarta Special Region Tourism Authority, we proceeded to Jogjakarta Plaza Hotel for some much needed rest.
The adventure begins
Day 2… an exciting day for us as we were about to go see the world-famous Borobudur Temple in Magelang, Central Java. We boarded our bus right after breakfast at the hotel and travelled 25 miles northwest of the city to get to the temple.
Words cannot express how we felt when we caught sight of the magnificent Borobudur Temple. Looking at it, the mind wondered – how did they do it? Build something of such scale and splendour, and one that could last through the times.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ancient temple of the Mahayana Buddha was built in the 9th Century at the height of the Sailendra Dynasty’s rule. Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world and features Javanese design with some Indian influences.
On our way to the top, we made stops to admire the bas-reliefs on its inner walls. There are altogether more than 2,600 reliefs, detailing the life of the local folks in the 8th Century as well as Buddha’s teachings. Their intricacy is astounding. “This calls for a group photo,” a tour group member suggested.
The three upper levels hold over 70 stupas (bell-shaped domes with a Buddha statue inside), but no relief. The 72 statues here are just some of the 504 Buddha sculptures found in Borobudur Temple. The temple’s centrepiece is a large stupa that symbolises nirvana.
We left with a sense of satisfaction having climbed to the top of this man-made marvel. We’ll be back of course. And next time during sunrise when the view will be no less than stunning.
Thrills and chills
Roughly 28 miles away from Borobudur lies Mt Merapi, an active volcano that has devastated nearby villages and claimed many lives on several accounts. The most devastating series of eruptions occurred in late 2010, where hundreds of villagers were killed. Among them was Mbah Maridjan, the spiritual gatekeeper of Mt Merapi who lived some 4 km from the peak of the volcano.
Despite its reputation, Mt Merapi attracts thousands of tourists every year. Us included. The best way to get a closer look at the volcano is via the Merapi Lava Tour, which takes tourists on a thrill ride through some seriously rugged terrains on the way up.
We took a jeep up Mt Merapi from the lava tour base in Kaliurang. The ride was fine in the beginning, but quickly turned into a nail biting experience the second we went off-road. There were some really scary moments, but we soon realised that our driver deliberately chose the roughest parts of the road to drive on, for fun’s sake. So we ended up having the time of our lives.
We did not get dangerously close to the top of the volcano of course, but we got close enough to witness the aftermath of the 2010 eruption. Our first stop, Musium Mini Sisa Hartaku (My Mini Museum of Remaining Treasures) in Petung, Kepuharjo, Cangkringan, Sleman is an eerie reminder of what happened during the eruption of Nov 5, 2010.
The private museum is what remains of a house belonging to Bapak Riyanto and his family. Parts of the walls are completely gone, and inside you will find household items and furniture, some severely damaged and molten from the extreme temperatures when the eruption occurred. There is a clock on the wall with the time that reads 12 o’clock, 4 minutes and 42 seconds, around which the volcano erupted.
It was saddening to see, but it reminded us of nature’s awesome powers and how disaster could strike at a moment’s notice.
Next on the tour, we visited a lookout point where a path carved by molten lava during the 2010 eruption could be seen from high up. The path measures 18 kilometres in total and is surrounded by a mix of bare rocks and vegetation on both sides. There is a platform at the edge of the lookout point for those who want to take a better picture of the valley or take selfies with the path in the background.
Some of us took the opportunity for a selfie next to a peculiar looking rock called Batu Alien or Alien Rock. The rock was said to have hurled out of Mt Merapi during the eruption and landed on its current spot. The rock is famous primarily because if you look at it carefully, you will see a face.
Our final destination on the tour was a village called Kaliadem, just 4 kilometres from the peak of Mt Merapi. The main attraction is an old bunker that survived an eruption in 2006. It was once a beautifully decorated bunker meant to keep people safe in the event of an eruption. But that proved ineffective when two volunteers trapped in the bunker lost their lives due to the intense heat.
You can go down and into the bunker for a bit of exploring, as long as there is a guide to bring you in. Otherwise, there is always the option of posing in front of the ‘Bunker Kaliadem’ sign just above the bunker itself.
The Merapi Lava Tour was the last of our adventures for the day. But it did not end there. The next two days of our trip promised more thrills and excitement. However, first thing’s first, we headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep and get ourselves well rested for the next day.