Getting Lost Amid The Markets Of Yogyakarta

Trip Start Oct 20, 2009
Trip End Apr 01, 2011

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Flag of Indonesia  , Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta,
Thursday, December 16, 2010

A pleasingly-short train journey and some instructions from a local delivered me straight into the heart of Jogjakarta, Java's second biggest city that competes to also be the capital of Java, being crowned a "Special State" whatever that entails. Straight away I liked this place. There was a lot going on in one place, having a city centre which I could wander through and get lost in amongst the market stalls and the bustling atmosphere.

There is pretty much one main street about 2 miles long, Marlioborough street, which as absolutely packed, down both sides, with shops and market stalls selling almost everything I could think of. The city had a really nice atmosphere to it, making me feel comfortable and welcome, but, alas, I would be jetting off straight away, at 5am the next morning, to see both Borobudur and Prathalam, two of Indonesia’s most famous and largest temples, in one day. This freed up a day to see Mt Merapi, the volcano that has recently erupted, a month ago, killing around 343 people and coating Jogja in volcanic ash.

I was extremely disappointed not to be allowed to climb up on top of Borobudur, which I had been looking forward to for months now, but because of Mt Merapi's eruption, it was closed for cleaning. It would appear to be a bad time to come. Borobudur is one of the largest temples in the world and consists of, essentially, a pyramid shaped construction with concentric layers climbing up to the three circular highest levels capped by the largest Stupah (bell shaped construction) in the world. Viewed from above it is apparently the shape of a lotus flower and represents a giant Mandala, which is an artist’s representation of the universe. As Buddhists walk up it in a clockwise direction, around each level, the 5Km route presents them with stone carvings which tell the story of enlightenment. From being obsessed with material things on the bottom level, right up the 9 levels of enlightenment, which I didn’t get to see because of the ash, up to Nirvana at the top. The place where the ground touches the sky, where true understanding of existence is achieved and a pure soul is forged.

Unfortunately due to the volcano, we would have to stay at the lower level, stuck in the folly of man, for now. It was still an impressive sight to behold, but I think being able to ascend to the top level would have been quite a humbling experience. A couple of the guys in our group hired a guide, so I stuck with them and got some free information. This actually made the trip worthwhile, as he showed us around the local plants, pointing out different trees like Mango, Papaya, Cinnamon and Almond trees. He also showed us a very small fern-like plant which, when touched, folds up to protect itself. Simple yet amazing to watch. Without this guide I think I would have been pretty disappointed, but as it was, it had been a good trip.

We now headed off to Prathalam? This was a more fulfilling experience as we were able to walk amongst the temples and to go inside them. A bit more interactive than Borobudur. Each temple was fairly small compared to Borobudur, but still pretty large, rising vertically out of the floor like a carved stone stalagmite, with similar carvings around each one to indicate what it represented. The largest temple in the middle was dedicated to Mana, the one on the left to Brahma and the one on the right to Wisnu, the three most important aspects of the Hindu God. The whole complex consisted of about 250 temples which had all been collapsed by an earthquake. Only about 7 had been rebuilt so far, like monumental jigsaw puzzles, the rest looked like square heaps of boulders. To rebuild the whole complex they predict it may take up to 100 years and that’s just to put the pieces together again, so it must have taken a massive effort to carve and construct the whole thing in the first place.

All in all, a very nice day and I’m happy to have seen these amazing feats of architecture which baffle the mind when I really think about just how much effort and planning has gone into carving each and every block like a jigsaw and piecing them all together. They are perfect examples of how much human beings can achieve when they focus their efforts and creativity into a positive and productive common goal.

Returning back to Jogja, I spent that evening and the following morning marvelling at the market stalls, finding it difficult not to buy everything I saw. My main criticism of Jogja is that most people I walked past would approach me pretending to be an instant friend and then after a lot of talking and hassle, it would surface that all they really wanted to do was lure tourists into Batik Art shops to buy overpriced art. I had been pre-warned about this so I knew what to expect, but it was still extremely annoying as they really don’t take no for an answer and some followed me around for 15 minutes while I tried to shake them. The Batik art itself was very impressive, being handmade with wax and natural dies applied to silk and fabric. It’s just a shame that the essence of it all was tainted by everyone and their stray cat trying to push it on you at extortionate prices.

My time here in Jogjakarta was extremely enjoyable and at times I couldn’t stop smiling at having found such a nice place. I think the time I spent here has been perfect. Any longer and the batik sellers would have driven me crazy I think. But as it is, this city is the shining gem in the tangled concrete streets I have seen so far of Java. I could have literally spent all of my money here on the fascinating arts and crafts on display. A beautiful city that has definitely made this intriguing trek through Java worthwhile.

I was happy to have found Jogja so I decided to spend a third day here instead of moving onwards to one of the more obscure cities in the North. I had been playing with the idea of climbing Mt Merapi, purely because of its notoriety and recent activity causing so much devastation. This caused much turmoil in my mind as my memories of Rinjani resurfaced in a desperate attempt to remind me of just how much pain I went through the last time I tried this. I was still tentatively curious, but thankfully... I mean unfortunately, the decision was taken out of my hands, as it was closed for climbing due to the very reason I wanted to climb it. What a shame.

This now left me with two days remaining in Indonesia. One day to travel to, and arrive in, Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, and then one day to explore it and finally leave this amazing country. The train journey would be long - 11 hours long to be precise and I had booked an overnight train to save on accommodation, plus allowing me a few hours after I arrive to get a quick look around. This would be a long long journey and I approached it somewhat apprehensively.
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