No room at the Inn, the amazing hostel cafe and Prambanan & Borobudur.
18.11.2012 - 19.11.2012
Our very early start from Gunung Bromo was just the beginning of what turned into a marathon travel day which comprised a rediculously fast bus down the mountain to Probolingo (he he, mentioned it again), an executive coach to Surabata (very nice), a local bus to the train station and then a 6 hour train ride to Yogyakarta.
Once we arrived it took us ages (even with the assistance of a wonderfully helpful and generous local chap) to actually find the tourist/backpacker area of the city and then another 2 hours of tramping the streets to discover that Java's second city had exactly NO rooms, beds, mattresses, floors or even stables available, again due to the muslim holiday weekend!! Fed up and dispirited we eventually referred to the Lonely Planet and phoned Vogels Hostel in Kaliurang, some 32 km away up near Mt Marapi, where the proprietor Christian Awuy (already famous through his mention in the LP) said that he had room available and agreed to wait up for us. We finally arrived after midnight to find the place being heavily renovated but we happily took the triple bedded veranda room and collapsed for some much needed sleep.
Awakening the next morning we took stock of our surroundings - a good sized hostel in a very small village with mountain views and complete with it's own cafe/restaurant ( also praised in LP). At breakfast we took advice from Christian himself and had an amazing feast of toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches (on home made bread) and banana pancakes. In hindsight this was a big, BIG mistake as the portions were absolutely huge, the plates and dishes completely engulfing our decent sized table for four!
After following the backpackers code of NEVER leaving any food and stuffing ourselves stupid, we wandered literally next door where we were lucky enough to witness the Kaliurang International Food Festival, in which a couple of dozen plucky teams of cooks prepared dishes of rabbit, to be judged by the chef of a 5 star Yogyakarta restaurant. There were many beautifully presented entries, some of which looked good enough to eat!
Later we strolled to the Ullen Sentalu Museum for a delightful tour and history lesson on the four kingdoms of Yokyakarta and the development of batik designs for which the region is famous. On the way back to the hostel we encountered the traditional afternoon monsoon thunderstorm which kept us penned in the hostel but with the food being so good this was hardly a punishment. Sadly the rainy season was well and truly underway and had already claimed its first victim, with an enormous landslide making Mount Marapi unapproachable for hikers, so we had to settle for views from a distance, the pictures in Christian's dining room and using our imagination about what the hike would have been like..
The next morning heralded departure day for us and Christian's brother/cousin/neighbour/friend (or maybe he was all of the these) was procured, for a reasonable fee of course, to take us to Prambanan, the Hindu temple complex and then on to Yogyakarta. So after a more modest breakfast and purchasing some of the small local bananas we departed Kaliurang - my last memory being our exiting the town past its only roundabout which had a huge sculpture of crayfish or lobsters as its centrepiece! Very strange these hill folk!!
This is the largest, and probably the most stunning, Hindu temple complex in Indonesia. The point of entry point is large, somewhat clinical and very strictly controlled - also you can see nothing of the complex until you have paid your (expensive) entry fee. That said, once you have paid, been processed and entered the grounds you get your initial sighting and, as you approach and your field of view becomes wider, the full scale of the temples are revealed in all of their splendour, the number of temples and shrines seeming to multiply right in front of your eyes. This site is a UNESCO World Heritage site dating back some 1200 years or more, as well as being of significant religious importance. Understandably buildings of this age can be somewhat structurally suspect and Prambanan is no different, with some areas having been restored and others being supported whilst remedial works are conducted - some sections are less stable so numbers and visiting times are limited and hard hats are provided to all visitors. The complex is visually impressive on many levels - not least in terms of its concentric square layout, the sheer size of the central building which scales some 47 metres high and the incredibly detailed stonework on most of the individual shrines and temples. As a foreign tourist one thing to bear in mind is that many, many schools arrange for coachloads of their pupils to visit and all of them are encouraged to talk to anybody who even looks like they speak english in order to improve their language skills. As a result you will be continually approached by individuals, small and large groups who want a couple of minutes of your time to complete a short questionnaire - they all ask the same questions and it can be repetitive but, if you do say no, they do take rejection extremely courteously. After clambering around the complex for a few hours it is always nice to be able to stroll around outside and, whilst the place has some nice neat grounds and a reindeer enclosure, there is little else to do until you decide to fight your way through the large commercial crafts, souvenirs and tat village which you have to walk through to get to the exit.
Once we had exhausted the photo opportunity and run the gaunlet if the innumerable stallholders we rejoined our driver who took us into the heart of Yogyakarta and dropped us in the backpackers area. This time our search for a hotel was easier and much more fruitful this time and we booked into a room at the very nicely appointed Monica Hotel (a double room with a 3rd mattress squeezed in on the floor for yours truly) before we headed into town. Walking around in the intense heat was enegry sapping but we did manage to fit in a good few sights before heading towards the bus station to get our tickets for the onward trip to Jakarta the next evening. We were still some distance from the ticket office when the afternoon rains began and we got caught in an absolute deluge which instantly had the streets flooded and saw us wading against the flow. We huddled under any available shelter (along with the hundreds of locals) and tried waiting the rain out but it soon became apparent that this would not happen any time soon so, in the end we hopped, soaking wet, into a tuktuk and even this was occasionally in danger of being swept off the road by the torrents of water. Tickets procured we again battled the weather to return to our hotel to dry out.
Some time later we followed the recommendation of the LP and dined at the Bedhot Resto where the food was good but the decor was the star. In addition to some amazing murals on the walls the star of the dining area was a beautifully restored Lambretta scooter which we all had a wee sit on for photos.
The next morning saw us head off to the Buddhist temple at Borobudur.
The early start saw us all packed into a minibus and on the road in the pre-dawn light. The journey of around 40km didnt take long and we arrived at around 6.00 am. After queueing briefly to buy our tickets, we headed into the complex in the early morning mist to seek out the temple. The grounds are extensive, very well laid out and beautifully maintained so our first sighting of the temple itself took several minutes and was seen through the trees. As with Prambanan this temple was built around the 9th century and it is also absolutely enormous. Where it differs from the hindu complex is that this temple is effectively one single huge edifice as opposed to the 240 shrines and temples originally built at Prambanan. Oh, and look out for the steps at Borobudur, there are about 100 as you approach the East Entrance and then more inside the complex as you follow the route up the various levels to the top. There is ongoing repair and restoration work going on but, given the sheer scale of the building, you dont notice this too much.
Two things that really grabbed my attention here are 1) that the whole temple is built of millions of interlocking pieces, like an enormous 3D puzzle and 2) there are literally thousands of beautifully detailed carved stone relief panels depicting everything from sailing ships to birds and elephants to court scenes.
We followed the tourist route round and through the whole temple (steps, tunnels, ramparts etc) to the top where we played among the beautiful stupas (containing figures of Buddha) and even saw an advert for tv being filmed. As with our hindu experience there were large groups of schoolchildren but they seemed less of an interruption than Prambanan - indeed they preferred to have their photo taken with the white folk to asking loads of questions.
The views from the top are panoramic however we were somewhat limited by the lingering morning most. The grounds are much bigger than at Prambanan and they include two museums and a number of what can best be described as side-shows. We stopped to watch one of these shows which appeared to be the re-enactment of the excorcism of possessed or crazy young people - it was very convincing and lifelike, and quite disturbing, sufficiently so for me to move on rather quickly. We wandered around the Kapal Samudraraksa museum which houses the Borobudur ship, a full sized replica based upon a ship relief carved into the temple walls. It was built in the 1980s, built using traditional methods and materials and completed a journey from Jakarta - Madagaskar - Cape Town - Ghana before being returned to Yogyakarta and retirement in the museum. Our tour to Borobudur also included stopping off at a much smaller temple (in some disrepair) and another site where we were able to wander (briefly) amongst statues, lotus pools, bells, shrines and flowering trees and shrubs - visually stunning and very relaxing!
Overview of Yogyakarta:
This is the second city of Java and is a large, sprawling mass which, in itself, has little or no real charm or beauty. It is redeemed however by the close proximity of the Marapi mountain range and the two extraordinary temples.
Unfortunately for us the recent heavy rains had caused a very large landslide which effectively shut the mountain to visitors, even from a distance!!
Prambanan is a fantastic example of Hindu temple architecture but, for the price, it was a bit of a disappointing experience for this scribe. Hugely commercialised, you are treated like a number (or an ATM) and there is really only the temple complex itself and a huge tourist market to see there.
Borobudur however was a complete experience by comparison. Although the entrance fee was the same, in addition to the temple itself there are the beautifully designed, planted and maintained extensive gardens, oodles of space to wander around, side shows enacting bizarre exorcism plays, a couple of museums and the tourist trinkets and food village markets. Wonderful!
Our onward destination was the metropolis that is Jakarta and getting there was a harrowing experience in itself...........