Jogjakarta, the Never Ending Asia
If you are culturally-inclined, a visit to Jogjakarta in Central Java is a must. Regarded a second fave destination to visit after Bali, Jogjakarta is a cultural cradle that has the biggest concentration of ancient temples ruin in Indonesia. The city is also one of the only two traditional court centers remaining in Java currently led by the venerated Sultan Hamengku Buwono X, whose forefather founded the kingdom in early 18 century.
It only took forty-five minutes by plane from Jakarta’s International Aiport or nine hours by train from Jakarta’s Gambir Station to reach Jogjakarta (or ‘Jogja’). However, the air of romanticism is felt most when I tried to take a night train instead of plane. Upon arrival in Jogja’s train station very early in the morning, greetings from all kind of drivers from taxi’s to becak’s (the three-wheeled cycled vehicle where the passengers ride in front and the driver behind) were enthusiastically welcoming me.
A 20 minutes ride by taxi gets me to Malioboro, the main street of Jogja which stretches about 2.3 km from the kraton (sultan’s palace). Various types of accommodations from the losmen (cheap hostel) to four-stars scattered around the very congested Malioboro. Along the street are also shops and hawkers selling from traditional batik clothes, wood carvings, silver wares to Britney Spears’ fake CDs.
Malioboro has been the perfect melting pot where modernity and old-tradition meets. A very ancient-looking old lady with deep wrinkles all over her brown face sells gudeg, the Jogja’s food speciality made of sweet mixed mash of jackfruit cooked in coconut milk with eggs and soybean cake. Meanwhile not far from the place where she squats, a Kentucky Fried Chicken’s franchised stall sells hamburger and Texas-recipe fried chicken wings.
On buying stuffs from the hawkers, it is highly recommended to bargain up to 30 to 50% from the mentioned price. Highly courteous the Jogjakartanese are, the hawkers rarely show anger when we back off from buying a bargained good.
Many becak drivers nearby Malioboro were courteously offering me a ride for some ‘becak tours’ visiting batik stores and factories. Finally I was lured by an offer and tried this unusual tour. The driver brought me to various stores and batik factories, even to some remote ones for more than 2 hours. He was very flexible about the length of time for this tour.
Batik is Jogja’s best-known handicraft. The process of tracing designs on cloth and wax, then dyeing in unwaxed portions was invented during the 18th century when the import of high-quality cloth from India and Europe began providing workable material. Originally batik was only for the private use of the royal elite. However in the beginning of the 20th century some small private factories in the south of kraton started the business for public. A piece of batik is now sold from as cheap as Rp 20,000.- (US$ 2) to millions of Rupiah, depends on the material used. The silk one is usually the most delicate but expensive.
At night, should fortunate, we can watch the Ramayana Ballet presented by more than 200 artists at the open air theatre with the magnificent Prambanan temple in the background. We should ask the local agent or hotel’s receptionist to be sure of the exact date as not everyday they stage the performance. Also the theatre located about 16 km from Jogja so it takes quite a while to reach the venue.
But the Prambanan temple itself, believed to be built in 858 A.D caught me in pure amazement. I felt like being transported back to the ancient and old magic land whilst standing in awe in the midst of the shrines’ ruins that encircles the main temple’s towers that soar skywards to the sky. It was said that Colin Mackenzie, a surveyor who accompanies Raffles during the British invasion of Java in 1811, came upon the temple ruin by chance during a journey along this route. Since then it has undergone several restorations which still continues until the present time.
The biggest temple inside the Prambanan temple complex represents Siva, one of the Hindu’s trinity gods. As the matter of fact, the whole Prambanan temple is dedicated to Siva, the god who destroys the world so that it may be recreated. Another name for this Siva temple is Loro Jonggrang which derived from the local legend of a beautiful princess who was cursed into stone by an enraged prince who loved her but felt cheated. Her statue can still be seen in one of the temples which facing the north-side, believed to be the direction of death. The princess’ stone itself represents Durga, the goddes of death.
Ornately engraved surrounding these temples are the series of a very old Ramayana epic’s reliefs which story is made alive through the ballet at the Ramayana theatre. The series begin on the Loro Jonggrang temple to the left of the eastern stairway, proceeds clockwise around this temple and concludes on the south side of the Brahma temple.
By the time I walked out from the temple’s complex, my head was so full with stories vividly live in my imagination. Ambition, greed, jealousy, lust, happiness, and love all mixed up and make the powerful ingredients to this beautiful Ramayana epic. I was brought back to reality when the guide telling me that I should also visit Borobudur temple, one of the world’s seven wonders.
Early morning is the best time for a visit as we can see sunrise that dawns upon Borobudur which stands majestically in the lush rice fields, about 41 km to the north of Jogja. Based on the brief inscription covering the base of Borobudur, many scholars say that the temple was built around 800 A.D when Central Java was ruled by Samaratungga, king of the Sailendra dynasty who adhered to Mahayana Buddhism.
Jeremy Allan in his book entitled “Yogyakarta” claims that Borobudur is the largest Buddhist stupa ever built and also remains the largest man-made artifact in the Southern Hemisphere. Consisted of two million cubic feet of rock wrapped around a small hill, it is estimated that the edifice was worked out by 30,000 stonecutters and sculptors, aided by 15,000 carriers, who laboured for a half century on the 1.3 million stone blocks which make up this collosal monument.
The first time I visited the temple, it was in mid-afternoon when the sun shined very brightly and torturingly. Also the large throng of tourists who flocked in the temple made it difficult for anybody to freely breathe and appreciate Borobudur’s depth of beauty. But in early morning, the air is so serene and almost majestic, especially when we throw our view to the misty sky and nearby mountains that surrounding the temple.
Within 5 km of this giant temple, there are 30 other archaeological sites from the Borobudur’s period. These sites, but also other places of interest within Jogjakarta will make the story never reachs its ending. But the Sultan of Jogja currently brands the city as “the Never Ending Asia”. He is right in the sense that there are too many fascinating stories to tell about Jogjakarta. Some are still buried deep down on the ancient earth of Java, to be discovered someday by the adventurous and imaginative ones. **
Published on 8/19/02