Yogyakarta, derived from Yogya meaning “suitable, fit, proper”, and karta, “prosperous, flourishing” (i.e., “a city that is fit to prosper”) is named after the Indian city of Ayodhya from the Ramayana epic. And we (my wife and I) were here for a short visit.
Yogyakarta has a very special history, it was the centre of a refined and sophisticated Javanese Hindu-Buddhist culture, the Mataram Kingdom, for about three centuries (8th – 10th century CE). It was during this period that the beautiful temples of Prambanan and Borobudur were built. Till date, Yogyakarta is treated as a Special Region, with a King in-charge of the city. Often regarded as the cultural capital of Asia, Yogyagarta has stood the test of time. Mount Merapi, the most active volcano of Indonesia stands just to the north of Yogyakarta, threatening its existence.
We landed at Yogyakarta airport around noon on an Air Asia flight. The beauty of these small city airports is that you can walk on the tarmac and take photos of the planes up close. I have always been fascinated by the various modes of mass transports – buses, trains, planes and ships (well I have yet to ride a proper ship!). And I never miss an opportunity to take a photo when up close.
Our Airbnb host – Ali was at the airport to pick us up. We liked him instantly. He showed us around the city while on our way to his house.
Ali’s house was at the South Western end of Yogyakarta and slightly outside the main city area. We settled into our bungalow, relaxed for a bit and grabbed a scooter from Ali (he rents those out at less than market rates) and were off to the city. While on our way out, we noticed that a famous local artist had set up an exhibition of his ceramics just next to Ali’s house. The exhibition depicted the ills of the society and we stopped by to take a few shots.
After spending sometime at the exhibition we took the scooter to Jalan Prawirotaman. With a lot of lodging and eating options around, this place is a hit among the tourists. We grabbed a coffee at the Cinema Bakery. Its a vibrant cafe, done up with Hollywood stars all around, even the tables had the celebrities imprinted on them!
After the much needed coffee and lunch at the cafe, it was time to hit the city centre – Jalan Malioboro. We parked the scooter close to the street and walked around on foot. The place reminded so much of Home (read India). In-fact Indonesia (or rather a lot of developing countries) reminds us of India. Jalan Malioboro was packed with locals and tourist. It is a stretch that extends from North to the South and has a lot of local stalls lined up along the footpaths. We were lucky to be there in the month of Ramadhan as we could soak in the festive air and witness the collective act of breaking of the fast in the evening. We roamed around for sometime and ended up buying a couple of things. One: a local Yogykarta rickshaw souvenir and two: Batik (Pekalongan Bakit) shirts for the both of us with similar prints (you will find a picture of us in Batik shirts a bit later :)).
Post our Malioboro visit we went back to Jalan Prawotiraman and picked ViaVia for dinner. Via Via, a very lively yet relaxed spot, serves scrumptious food with local flavours and live music at dinner time. Its a place I suggest you keep in your itinerary for the trip. A few shots from the day below.
For the next day, we had a lot of things on our list. We started by visiting the Yogyakarta Palace (Kraton). The Palace has mainly been converted to a museum and visitors are allowed to access most parts. Giving it a miss would not be the worst idea.
There are a few interesting things to do in the vicinity of the palace. We went to look at Batik paintings and took a tour of the horse carriage museum followed by Taman Sari Water Castle. This royal bathing area was a treat to the eyes with soothing blue water pools and lush green garden areas.
Next, it was time for Prambanan temple, dedicated to the Trimurti, expression of God as the Creator (Brahma), the Preserver (Vishnu) and the Destroyer (Shiva) The temple compound, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the largest Hindu temple site in Indonesia, and one of the biggest in Southeast Asia.
I have been wanting to come here for quite sometime. The temple complex is huge and houses a couple of other hindu and Buddhist (Sewu) temples. We spent a couple of hours in the complex, visiting various temples and soaking in the beauty. There is so much history associated with these places that you find yourself in another era. Calling these places ‘the passive time machines’ is probably taking it a bit too far but you get the idea 🙂
After Prambanan, plan was to watch the Ramayana ballad that plays in the evening in the same Prambanan temple complex. We had some time before the ballad started so we went to Kraton Ratu Boko to watch the sun go down. The sunset that day was ethereal. Kraton Ratu Boko is situated at a height south east of Mount Merapi (an active volcano), giving amazing vistas. Do not miss it!
Post our Ratu Boko detour we were back at the Prambanan complex to watch the Ramayana ballad. It just amazes me how a Hindu mythology epic is being played in a Muslim majority country to full house – learnings of the Ramayana being enacted in spirit.
Next day was a bit light and we went down to Parangtritis, a black sand beach some 30 kms south of Yogyakarta. And we were blessed with some clear skies! We roamed around the beach and enjoyed the sun go down. The Sun looked so tantalisingly close, as if wanting us to take it in our arms!
The last day was planned for the Borobudur temple. We had planned to watch the sunrise from the temple so were up really early since the temple is a couple of hours away from Yogyakarta. Few experiences on earth are as remarkable as watching sunrise from the pious Borobudur temple. There are a total of 72 Buddha statues surrounding the main dome. Each statue is seated inside a perforated Stupa. It is a magnificent work of architecture attaining meaning through its philosophical and geographical position. The tranquility, that these sights infuse into my mind, is what draws me towards them. Temples in the other parts of the world (Golden temple, Amritsar and Birla Mandir, Delhi) have the same effect on me. I have spent hours at these holy places, just sitting and contemplating life.
Post our Borobudur outing, we spent some time at the Medut temple complex, a couple of shots below.
Post Medut, we returned to the city and went for a jeep tour of Mount Merapi. This was a tourist trap, but for non-hiker tourists like us :), this was the only possible way of getting close to the active volcano (well Nicole Kidman has done the tour too :D).
With this, our sweet little Yogyakarta sojourn came to an end. With each such trip, I feel more and more thankful for getting the opportunity to visit such beautiful places on the planet and capture them in my mind and my camera!