Indonesia Series: Love-Hate Relationship with Yogyakarta 

04-05 July 2015

The train to Yogyakarta we boarded left at 08:45 PM the night before. The trip was preplanned, prearranged and prepaid through Chris of Mau Ke Mana prior to arriving in Indonesia so there’s no way we’ll ditch this Eksekutif train and stay instead in Jakarta. We have eight hours to recover from the Jakarta heartbreak inside a First Class Indonesian train and start anew in Jogja.

It was 04:20 AM when we arrived at Stasiun Yogyakarta. We groggily dragged our bags and ourselves, left the station and took a becak (pronounced be•tsak) to Hotel Jambuluwuk Malioboro where we’ll be staying for two nights. The receptionists seemed disoriented and surprised with our presence in the wee hours since check in time is not until 2 PM. All hotel tours and chartered vehicles to Borubudur and its neighboring temples are fullybooked for the day. We will have to spend our first day exploring Kota Yogyakarta and do the temple tour the next day.

Hate.

While awaiting the check in time, we searched for The Kraton and Taman Sari since these are just within the vicinity. When we finally arrived at the Royal Palace (Kraton) and Water Castle (Taman Sari), we learned that we have to buy an “entrance ticket” even for my camera! My impatience and mood swings during this day may have been intensified by the lack of sleep and abdominal cramps I was feeling. It’s not easy to walk under the heat of the sun in a place you barely know while on that torturous time of the month in a woman’s life. Only us girls would understand.

Visiting Kraton was rather a disappointment. It’s a palace of the Sultan so naturally, we expected something grand. Most of the items in the museum looked poorly maintained. A room which features different carriages only had pictures and just one ordinary-looking carriage was on display. Even ancient royal clothes in what seemed like a huge viewing ‘closet’ were either dusty or covered.

Then, there were locals who constantly approached us while we were on our way to Taman Sari. We initially thought they were just helping us to get to our destination, but later on found out that they are really tour guides (who would later on ask for a fee!) You can just imagine how irritated I was. I don’t have anything against tour guides. In fact, I would gladly hire one especially when visiting historical places like this to have a better understanding and appreciation of its existence. But this approach, where you are not even aware that you already “hired” one, like you are forced to hire one, is no different from cheating. And it’s not fair.

We left the place a bit disappointed, hungry and tired. We rested our exhausted bodies for a while in the hotel and at night, decided to have dinner at Roti Papi. We flagged down a cab, asked if he knew the place, he nodded and we trustfully hopped in. 80,000-rupiah later, we’re still on the road. It turns out the driver had no idea where the restaurant is. He kindly asked strangers we passed by but they too are not familiar with it. It was almost 9 PM. And Roti Papi closes at 9 PM. WTH.

Love.

The following day was a different story. We were picked up by the chartered vehicle at 8 AM. After making arrangements with Mister Marman, the English-speaking guide who came with our driver, about the places we want to go to, we left the hotel for an all-day temple tour: Borobudur, Mendut, Candi Sambisari, Prambanan complex, Candi Plaosan and Kraton Ratu Boko.

Eyes wide open, jaws dropped and goosebumped – That’s how we were every single time upon seeing the temples. I have heard of Borobudur before and most of these temples I’ve seen in pictures while searching for which places to go. But seeing them in person, in real life, with my own two eyes was indescribable. I almost froze when I saw Borobudur the first time – I glanced at it from a distance, only a portion of it in my view, the rest covered and hidden by the lush trees along the pathway.

Our tour guide was a Muslim but he was so knowledgeable about Borobudur and talks so passionately about Buddhism that you may think he’s actually a Buddhist. He told us stories about Siddharta and the birth of Buddha; what some carved relief stones symbolize; about the beheaded Buddhas and how until now it’s like a puzzle they are trying to solve and match the pieces together; how thousands of people helped in its rehabilitation to remove the volanic ash that covered it when Mount Merapi erupted; what different Buddha hand positions meant and a whole lot of other things I never learned in school. He fed us with a lot of information, which may even be too much for our brains to process in one day but it was all beautiful and worth it. I can not tell what about it that gives me the chills, all I know is that it does whenever and wherever I look at it and hear the stories our guide has to tell. At the exit, I took one last look. And for every meter that I walked, I glanced one last time, every time.

Prambanan was also a marvelous sight. Our guide did not seem as natural in story-telling as the one in Borobudur but we still learned a lot nonetheless. He shared the Legend of Loro Jonggrang, the princess daughter of King Boko, who was transformed into one of the statues of Prambanan after she attempted not to fulfill the promise to marry Prince Bandung Bandowoso if he was able to build her 1000 temples overnight; that it used to consist of 240 temples and currently more than a hundred of these are merely pieces of stones stacked on the complex grounds; about the damage caused by the 2006 earthquake and how every temple is rehabilitated, like lego pieces they have to put back and figure out.

Mendut, Candi Plaosan and Candi Sambisari were smaller Buddhist and Hindu temples but are all worth the visit. Most tourists only visit the two huge temples of Yogyakarta and skip or miss these smaller temples because they are less famous. While Kraton Ratu Boko (in English, Ratu Boko‘s Palace), was merely a remnant of what believed to be once a palace of King Boko, the father of Loro Jonggrang mentioned in the Prambanan legend. It was all just archaeological remains of a palace and it did not really catch our attention until the sun went down. We were lucky to have planned to be there during the sunset because that’s when its majestic beauty truly shows and blossoms. The warm rays of the sun shone on the Ratu Boko ruins, giving us a silhouette of the main gates and a view of Mount Merapi on the horizon – aaah, what best way to end the temple tour!

Breakup.

Our second night in Jogja was spent in Jalan Malioboro, a major shopping street, to have dinner and possibly buy souvenirs. At night, several streetside eateries, called lesehan, that serve local cuisine open up on the sidewalks of this street. We once again satisfied our cravings and enjoyed drinking our favorite Jasmine es teh and ate nasi goreng and nasi gudeg komplit while seated on the floor with our legs crossed. The food was good, the place was simple and the price is cheap – definitely something worth experiencing in Jogja.

Then, we spotted some youth band playing and singing Indonesian songs along the street, which I’m not sure if they regularly do or if it had any connection with Ramadan. They are so easy to spot as the beats they produce will definitely attract any curious mind. While listening to them play upbeat music, there we were, saddened by the thought of us leaving in a few hours. Everything, good or bad, whether we hated or loved it, was worth the experience. And this part right here, where we were given the opportunity to feel their culture for a fraction of our time, was the best experience we could ever have and there was no more time for us to immerse ourselves in it.

Once again, here comes the hard part. In love again with an Indonesian city, not wanting to leave and broken, we walked away…

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