I just returned from a whirlwind trip to Indonesia. It was my first time to Southeast Asia and I wasn't sure what to expect. My interest in Indonesia started when I saw photos of Borobudur. It looked as grandiose as Bagan or Angkor Wat, although I never knew anyone who had actually been there. It looked so exotic - the largest Buddhist temple in the middle of a jungle landscape filled with volcanoes in a predominantly modern-day Muslim country. Where else in the world can you experience something like that? When I saw a travel deal to go during the less touristy "rainy season", I knew I had to jump on it.
In this tour we visit central Java in the city of Yogyakarta (often called “Jogja”) to see Borobudur and Prambanan, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We saw all this on a day trip from Bali with Bali Agung Tours.
When we landed in Jogja, it was clear that we were in an entirely different place than Bali. Same country, yet so different. First off, the airport had a mix of Western and Asian toilets, which if you haven't seen before are basically a porcelain hole in the ground. When I exited the airport, I saw motor scooters buzzing about the streets, one of which was carrying a pack of raw chickens hanging off the bike. The call to prayer could be heard at different times in the day. Welcome to Java!
Visiting Bali and Jogja are like visiting two countries in one. Unfortunately, many tourists only visit Bali and miss this unique cultural opportunity. Bali is predominantly Hindu and the rest of the country is predominantly Muslim dating back to the days when Indonesia was a popular trading zone for Arab, Indian, and European countries. Instead of Hindu temples, Jogja has mosques. And instead of beachwear and Hindu sarongs, there are colorful hijabs. Also, Jogja is recognizably less "Western" - although I did spot a Dunkin' Donuts and a McDonalds. In addition, Java has their own cuisine, traditions and customs.
We start at Prambanan, the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia dating back to the 10th Century when the country was predominantly Hindu and Buddhist (only Bali remained mostly Hindu). It contains temples dedicated to the three main Gods of the Hindu Trinity - Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The carvings on the outer part of the temple depict the love story of Rama and Sita.
Outside the temple, we saw many school children who came up to us to say hi and practice English. It was clear that we were the only English speaking tourists at the site. They were so friendly and sweet, and their English was great. We took selfies with them - many, many selfies.
Next we head to the Sultan's Palace where we see a glimpse into the Indonesian heritage and customs passed down through history. The Sultan is famous for traditionally having many wives, whose pictures were adorned throughout the grounds. In fact, our guide mentioned that he chooses his wives during a dance performance by pointing at the girl that he likes.
We watch the Wayang, or Shadow Puppet performance, which is an Javanese art form listed with UNESCO. The puppets are etched in intricate designs and the stories are accompanied by the traditional gamelan music, which is a gentle gong/percussion sounding music.
We visit a batik art shop to watch how this unique Javanese art form is created using wax and color on cloth and silk. This is a significant art form for the Indonesian culture. The batik technique is also applied to clothing in Indonesia. We went home with two batik paintings for our walls.
Next we try the local cuisine including snake fruit. This fruit is found in Southeast Asia and has a skin similar to a snakeskin, which you peel to reveal fruit that looks like garlic cloves. It tastes similar to a pineapple or Asian pear.
Finally, we reach Borobudur, one of the top three temples in Southeast Asia. Built in the 9th Century, it is was built as a monument to educate about Buddhism. It is the largest Buddhist temple complete with nine levels topped by a central dome, making it 10, a number signifying perfection. There are 504 Buddha statues, each in different positions ranging from meditation, teaching, to enlightenment.
The ground level of Borobudur is filled with motifs and carvings depicting temptation and as you walk clockwise, it tells the story of the Buddha's life. When you reach the top, all desire has been controlled and you reach enlightenment, or the heavens. At the top, you walk clockwise three times for good luck, as well as view the stupas (or bells) and take selfies with the locals.
Central Java was a dream come true. In fact, I have never seen such a unique country filled with so many friendly people. I hope that you get the chance to travel there soon. Comment below on your favorite destination in Indonesia!
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