Yogyakarta 2 - Kraton, Borobudur & Prambanan
28 Nov 2005
|NOV 26 & 27 - BUDDHISTS & HINDUS: BOROBUDUR & PRAMBANAN
We are off to Borobudur, a Buddhist temple complex today. We have the option to go by public bus or on a tour. The tour, remarkably, is cheaper, as we get a discounted price on our entry tickets. We then have a choice of an 04:45 departure (to see the sunrise) or 14:00 (to see the sunset). Germans seem to like their sleep so we go for the later departure. This also gives us the chance to see another sight, in Yogya.
Yogya's sultan has held and continues to hold a good deal of sway. His palace or kraton is at the centre of a city within a city. It is open only until 14:00. We decide to go by becak, if only to get the annoying people off our backs. I know they are only trying to make a living but sometimes we strange Westerners want to WALK.
CAN'T I JUST WALK?
Nobody seems to walk anywhere in Yogya - it is all bikes, motorbikes or becaks. Mind you if you saw the state of the pavements you can understand. It is not that they are badly maintained as such but they are used as parking bays and stall holder space and have so many other obstructions. They also have frequent breaks in them which means stepping off the kerb every 10 feet and these curbs make those in Aleppo look positively puny.
THE BECAK DRIVERS ARE NOT HAPPY
We spend a good deal of time agreeing a fare. On arrival at the kraton they tell us they will wait to take us back. They are not at all happy when we decline. We don't want to be ferried around everywhere and we don't want to have to keep to appointed times and places.
THE KRATON (OR SHOULD THAT BE CRECHE?)
We get a guide for the bargain entry fee of 7,000 rupiah (70 US cents). As with all the guides we come across in Jave she is both knowledgeable and speaks good English. As we enter, there is a gamelan (orchestra) and shadow-puppet show in full flow. Apparently the performance will last about 4 hours or some such.
My guidebook describes the palace as being one of the finest examples of Javanese architecture. It is quite impressive and covers a much larger area than I expected. Originally built in 1756, there have been considerable additions since. The current sultan has just one wife and five children - all girls. Several of his ancestors seem to have been rather busier, with Sultan Hamengku Buwono II having 75 children and rather a lot of wives. I wonder if he remembered all their anniversaries? Our guide noted, with admirable understatement, that there was no birth control in those days and anyway it's a big palace!
TAMAN SARI - THE WATER PALACE
A kindly stall holder, from whom we buy water, takes us to the water palace, seemingly by the rural route. There is no signposting and no way we could have found it ourselves. It is moderately interesting. Built in 1758-65 it was a near ruin until just a year ago (earthquake and war damage) when a joint effort by UNESCO and the sultan paid for its restoration.
PSST - WANNA BUY SOME BATIK?
There is no official guide here but a guy kind of latches onto us and shows us around. He is an employee of the sultan, playing in a gamelan. He offers to show us back to our hotel, the route naturally enough involving walking past the front of his house from where, remarkably, his family run a sideline business of batik. It is a very nice house indeed. Turns out his father is a big cheese in the palace. Basti and I are talked into buying a little something. Very good price - no tax!
We set off on an organised tour to Borobudur. The sky darkens dramatically as does my mood. The weather has seemingly turned against us again. We pass through a torrential downpour and then through it to brighter weather and then turn again towards heavy cloud.
All of a sudden we grind to a halt in a rural lane. It seems the rain has caused a little local difficulty: it has brought down two trees, one of which has snapped in two and is bent over what are either power or telephone cables running along the side of the road. A man with a chainsaw is already at work and quite a crowd has gathered to watch him sweat away. Further down the road cables are down and two more trees at the Mendut temple complex 3km east of Borobudur.
BOROBUDUR AT DUSK
Tickets on the door are $11. We have paid the equivalent of $8.50. Our guide is Atin, all 4'6" of her and she is very good. Well she has been doing the job for 11 years so I guess she should be by now. She gives us as much detail as time allows, against a backdrop of thunder rolling around the distant hills, which makes it jolly atmospheric. It stays dry throughout, something I did not think likely.
The camera copes remarkably well with the fading light - it is almost dark in some of the pictures, not that you would believe it.
MOUNT MERAPI - IT GIVETH & IT TAKETH AWAY
Borobudur is estimated to have taken 80 years to build, starting late c8th, marking a high point in Java's Buddhist history. It was built with stone from Mount Merapi 30km distant. The name means 'monastery on a hill' although in reality it is a giant stupa. It is a huge, solid structure (i.e. it has no interior space for worship for example) of 10 levels. It was built for learning and has 1500 2m panels of bas relief (stone carving) telling stories. Once a year it is closed for 30,000 monks to descend on it in a pilgimage similar to the Muslim Haj.
The place fell into decay as Buddhism faded and Mt Merapi erupted violently. It was rediscovered in 1814, in Raffles' time and much later was reconstructed. Much more recently it was threatened again through subsidence and $25m was spent propping it up. Two million blocks of stone were moved during the work. Interesting fact: There are 73 stupas on the upper levels, seven being the Buddhist lucky number and 3 being the number of levels of nirvana there are.
27 NOV: AFTER THE BUDDHISTS, THE HINDUS - PRAMBANAN - AND A CLOSE ENCOUNTER OF THE PINK KIND
I am totally determined to visit one of the main sites by public bus. In many ways it is the travelling that has been most rewarding and interesting, at least when it has not been in a manner sealed off from the local populace. The hotel manager tells me I need a number 2 bus from the bottom of the road. I am to head for Girwangan terminal (it's brand new). After a short wait a no. 2 arrives and I get on. After a lengthy discussion between the conductor and the driver they agree I am on the right bus. At a crossroads they tell me to get off and point to the left. I walk round the corner and all I can see is a dual carriageway stretching into the distance. I am NOT going to fail at the first hurdle!
WHAT'S IN A NUMBER?
Two buses have stopped at the lights where I was dropped and the conductor of the first points me in the direction of the one behind which speeds off to the left. A bit more promising. It's a no.15. A few km later it pulls into the terminal and the conductor points me in the direction of the bus I want for Prambanan.
THERE ARE PRAMBANAN BUSES AND THERE ARE PRAMBANAN BUSES
I think I want a Solo bus which stops in Prambanan. Being once again the only white face around people are helpful. As I have a white face the only reason I am here must be because I am going to Prambanan, stands to reason. One of the helpful people points me at a bus and the conductor confirms it is a Prambanan bus. Before we have even started moving, the hawkers are on board and have a tactic different from the one I experienced on the Bandung-Pangadaran bus. This time they walk the length of the bus handing you stuff and then walk back collecting either payment or, as seemed far more common, the item. Only one of three bothered with me though.
Anyway this bus proceeded to drive around every little local village there was. The driver did not mess around, nor did the conductor. He would lean out of the door and if a potential fare grabbed his attention would shout at the driver, bang the hand rail or utter some guttural sound that the driver seemed to understand as an instruction to stop. The conductor then jumped off and the passenger got on with the level of assistance needed e.g. elderly lady with heavy shopping or produce for market was helped with the load. However, whatever your age, once you had set foot on board the bus was off as the conductor leapt back on and once again told the driver to be on his way. This often resulted in passengers being thrown around as they had not yet found their seats. All took it in good humour, laughing as they fell on top of another passenger. It took an hour to get to Prambanan terminal from where the conductor pointed me in the right direction to the temple.
I declined the offer of a taxi or motorcycle ride and walked the 1km or 2km depending on which person was trying to get you to let them transport you.
NICE TRY CHEAPSKATE
The entry I discovered was a small gate in the railings surrounding the site. There turned out to be a main entry for vehicles a little further along. I have to negotiate a huge complex of market stalls. I find what looks like somewhere to pay but as I can't provide proof of Indonesian citizenship am pointed at the correct office, not the one for locals, which is rather cheaper (15x so in fact) than that for we foreigners. Prambanan (meaning 'many priests') proudly announces itself as World Heritage site no. 642.
THE INFORMATION BIT
My guide is again knowledgeable. It is definitely worth paying the extra even though on this occasion I am on my own and so can't share the cost. The tour lasts 1.5 hours. You might be pleased to know that I do not have time to go into too much detail about the site except to make the following quick points. It is Hindu, with temples to the three deities of Shiva (the destroyer), Vishnu (the protector) and Brahma (the creator). As with Borobudur, the stone came from Mt Merapi and was effectively destroyed in the same massive eruption of Merapi in 1006. Unlike Borobudur it is not entirely solid, the main temples having rooms, Shiva's having four. The Shiva temple was only restored in 1937-53. It is 47m high.
IN THE PINK
A camera-toting father speaks to my guide. Once again the family wants a picture taken. I agree but this time turn the tables and take a photo of them too. My guide tells me they wanted my picture because I am so handsome. Okay. I look like Robbie Williams. Right, well even though I have my cap on I'm not quite getting where he is coming from. The main tour is over. I enquire about another building on the site and he offers to take me across. He is married with a 3-month old daughter. But life is complicated for my guide, living in a small village. How so? "Well", he said, "I like men". Clang. That is the sound of the penny dropping. Anyway I got a longer than normal tour and at no extra cost!
AND NOW THE GIRLS ARE AT IT
As I was leaving the site three school girls came up to me and started talking. They asked if I could come to their English class. As this was something in excess of 10km away I politely declined on the grounds of practicality and turned into the street. I had gone barely 200m when three more girls called to me from inside the site and asked to take my picture. Happy to oblige.
AND TO COMPLETE THE TRIP
I catch a big bus from the main road by the terminal. It costs Rps 5,000 (as against 7,000 for the outbound) and takes just 30 minutes. Barely 2km down the road it has been raining heavily. It seems I have again been lucky with the weather. For much of the journey a schoolgirl, with her mother, talks to me about anything and everything, again keen to practise her English. You see you don't get this on a tourist minibus tour. I successfully negotiate the journey from terminal to my hotel, having explained as best I could to the conductor where I needed to get off. Another small triumph!
The rain finally catches up with me and I have to take shelter outside a shop until it stops.
NOT GOING SOLO
I catch up with the German boys who had a lie in this morning after their partying last night. The Aussie Alana is arranging a 'cheap' minibus to Malang and the boys feel that is a good way to move towards Bromo, the only 'must-see' I have left on my list for Java. I agree to go along and so will now not go to Solo.
I have finally managed to get some more pictures downloaded. Yet another obstacle came my way when the PCs in both Internet centres I tried did not recognise my camera. So I downloaded drivers from Canon's web site and they worked. Triumph no.2 for today.
CALL THIS FOOD?!
We go out for dinner but find nowhere that looks great. In the end we stop at a Chinese sort of place that has a few customers, always a good sign. Only trouble is there is no translation of the menu - it's all in Indonesian. So we pick three dishes to share. Two are fine but the third - sumsum - turns out to be literally a plate of bones sat on an oily sort of broth. Oh well it was exciting waiting for the dishes to arrive!
P.S. It took a shade under 2 hours to type the above and as I finished the session crashed. Fortunately I had sent the content to myself in two e-mails otherwise I would have lost everything!!