A Palava in Java
Trip Start Jan 02, 2009
34Trip End Dec 07, 2009
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Where I stayed
Needless to say, we checked out the following morning. We spent the entire morning traipsing around the guesthouses and hotels of the Sosrowijayan area. Again, this being August and the high season in Java, most of the hotels were either full or only had availability for one night. Finally, after checking with around 10 hotels, we found a guesthouse that had a room available. The room itself was small and fairly basic, but it was clean and the hotel was in a very convenient location. Unfortunately, although away from the train station, it was still pretty noisy. We had to endure the constant sounds of a thousand motorbikes from the road at the back, the very inconsiderate French people who would hold lengthy discussions whilst sitting on the chairs directly outside the front of our room at 3am, the call to prayer from the mosque at 4:30am, and then the cleaners (not wanting to miss out) would start vacuuming and moving furniture around at 5:30am. We had to snatch a few hours of sleep whenever we could during the daytime to make up for the lack of continuous sleep during the night. Not only that, but the entire staff seemed to be suffering from swine flu and, keen to share, would cough, splutter and sneeze constantly without covering their mouths. Breakfast was included in our room rate, but due to the amount of germs and phlegm flying around, we decided to eat out.
Yogya is a pretty laid back city and the people are friendly, warm and helpful. However, there isn't a great deal to see or do within the city itself. We spent one morning wandering around the Kraton (the Sultan's Palace). The buildings themselves were not exactly spectacular (they appeared to be based on the style of turn-of-the-century European railway stations) and the exhibits on display were rather dull. We had made a point of getting to the Kraton early enough to watch a gamelan performance, which is a traditional Javanese orchestra with a large percussion section consisting of brass kettle drums and gongs, xylophones and bamboo flutes. Dean was recovering from a bad headache from the previous day and, unsurprisingly, it was not long before his head was pounding again. We left after two rather unmelodic renditions and headed instead to the nearby bird market with its hundreds of ornamental cages full of a wide variety of birds. What we weren't expecting to see, however, were the numerous tiny cages housing puppies, kittens, rabbits, monkeys, lizards, hedgehogs, pythons and various other creatures. Dean decided to hurry Tracey out of the place after she started getting upset and was threatening to liberate them all. We then visited Taman Sari, or the Water Castle, a short walk from the bird market, which was once a pleasure park of palaces and bathing pools for the Sultan and his entourage. It was originally built in 1758 but was ruined over the years by war and earthquakes and is now in the process of being restored.
The main reason for our visit to Yogya (well, Tracey's main reason) was to visit the archeological sites of Borobudur and Prambanan. Borobudur is 42km outside of the city and is the largest Buddhist monument in the world. It was built around 750AD and was abandoned soon after completion. It lay buried under volcanic ash for centuries until the site was cleared in the 19th century and it has now been fully restored. It is built around a small hill in the form of a massive symmetrical stupa. There are 72 Buddha images that sit inside a series of latticed stupas and there is amazing decorative sculptural work on the panels along the corridors which depict Javanese life as it would have been a thousand years ago. On the way back to Yogya, we visited the Mendut Temple, which was built in the 10th century and which houses a large figure of the Buddha, unusual in that the statue is sitting Western-style with both feet on the ground rather than in the usual lotus position.
Prambanan is 17km north of Yogya and is the site of the largest Hindu temple complex in Java. We visited one afternoon with yet another Dutch couple, Sebastian and Merelina. All the temples were built during the 8th and 10th centuries and were ruined during an earthquake. Some have now been restored, but the work is ongoing and there is scaffolding over many of the temples and access is forbidden. We spent a couple of hours wandering around the complex until sunset. At the end of our visit, Dean held a small thanksgiving ceremony and prayed to the goddess Shiva that he'd never have to set foot inside another bloody temple ever again! That evening, we went Dutch with Sebastian and Merelina on dinner on a candelit terrace overlooking the beautiful Shiva Temple and afterwards watched a performance of the Ramayana Ballet at an outdoor theatre with the floodlit temples as a backdrop. The ballet tells the story of Prince Rama and his beautiful wife Shinta. Shinta is abducted and Rama fights to rescue her. It was mesmerising to watch and the costumes were stunning. We weren't really sure what was going on for most of the time, but there was a lot of fire and fierce fighting involved which was good as it kept Dean awake during the entire two hour performance.
After a total of 6 days of culture in Java, we left for some adventure (and hopefully some sleep) in Sumatra.