Saturday, May 12, 2012

Yogyakarta Trip Day 1 - Prambanan

We took a 4-day-3 night trip to Yogya (pronounce as Djog-ja, or Jog-ja). Our brief itinerary- first day, we reached Adisutjipto Airport at 9:30 am, settled and took our early lunch at our hotel, followed by a 3-hour tour around Prambanan. We took our first dinner at Malioboro night market. The second day, we departed early to Borobudur and spent a whole morning there. Then, Kraton Palace and Tamansari Water Palace in the afternoon. We went to Malioboro Mall at night. On the third day, we went shopping at Malioboro in the morning, then we went back to Tamansari Water Palace to catch some of the interesting parts that we missed on our second day's visit. After that, we spent the rest of the afternoon time at Ambarrukmo Mall, the largest shopping complex in Yogya. We had our very wonderful dinner on the top floor of our hotel. Fourth day, we took our early flight back to Kuala Lumpur.

Yogyakarta is a city built on the old kingdom of Sailendra and Mataram. Beside the city are two prominent religious edifices. Borobudur, 40 km north west, and Prambanan, 17 km east, are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Overall, the trip to Yogya was more leisure than our previous trip to Siem Reap, with more time to spare and to rest. The weather in the month of April during our visit was hot and humid, which we had no problem to get along with it, as we enjoy the same weather condition in Malaysia whole year round. Hot weather is a blessing in the sense that, we could take beautiful photos with clear blue sky.

So, let's start with our trip to Candi Prambanan (Temple of Prambanan). 17 km east of Yogya, the temple is in fact located in the province of Central Jawa (not in Yogya). We took a taxi from our All Season Hotel, with RP 70,000 (approx. RM 24 or USD 8) and extra RP 5000 for the entrance to the parking area. The journey took us 25 minutes. The taxi driver refused to wait for us at Prambanan. He gave his company's business card to us and instructed us to call for another taxi to return to the hotel. We paid RP 125,000 per person for the entrance ticket of Prambanan National Archaeological Park (approx. RM 42 or USD 14). The local name for the park is "Taman Wisata Prambanan", which means "Prambanan Tourism Park".

Candi Prambanan is believed to be built by Rakai Pikatan and other Kings of Mataram at 850 AD, 300 years earlier than Angkor Wat. As a counteract to the great Borobudur and Candi Sewu of Buddhism, the purpose of building the temple itself made it had to be huge, majestic, and a wonder of architecture. With the highest point of 47 m, it is considered one of the largest Hindu temple outside of India.

The temple faces east- a sign of the dominancy of Shivaism. So, it's not a surprise for us to know that the tallest tower at the middle of the temple is dedicated to Shiva. Flanking the Shiva's tower are two lesser towers dedicated to Brahma and Vishnu respectively. These three huge towers are called the Three Trimurti. In front of the Three Trimurti are three small towers dedicated to the Vahanas- Nandi the bull for Shiva, Hamsa the goose for Brahma, and Garuda the eagle for Vishnu. The tower dedicated to Shiva was closed to visitors during our trip. The main temple complex is surrounded by 224 small pervara towers (the guardian towers). However, by far, only two of the pervara towers have been restored.

We can see all six major towers from the main entrance of Candi Prambanan (facing east).

Our photo with Candi Prambanan a hundred meters away.

The towers of Vahanas, dedicated to the Nandi (right) and Garuda (left). The photo taken from the tower of Brahma.

Story of Ramayana starts at the Shiva's tower and continues to Brahma's tower, depicted by the bas-relief at the inner side of the balustrades, starting from left to right. So, the correct order to read the story is to follow the bas-relief in clockwise direction. Story of Krisnayana is depicted at the bas-relief at the Vishnu tower. As we didn't hire a guide, what we could only try our best to figure the story behind the aging stone works, by ourselves. Anyway, the bas-relief somehow brought our memory of Angkor Wat and Bayon back to us- same stonework, but at different period of time, at different places, by different civilization.

The staircase is not as steep as the temples at Angkor. We had no problem climbing to the upper levels of the tower of Brahma. The first level of the tower of Brahma with panels of bas-reliefs depict the stories from Ramayana (upper right). The lower row shows two of the panels available at Brahma's tower.

A part of the Shiva's tower with great detailed artworks.

There is a legend that connects Candi Sewu (Temple of a thousand towers) to the statue of Durga in the tallest tower of Candi Prambanan. The legend tells that there was once Prince Bandung falled in love with Princess Lara Jonggrang of Boko,  and pressing for a forced marriage. The princess succumbed with a term- the prince had to build a temple with a thousand towers in one single night. The task was not too hard for the prince as he summoned spirits from the earth to help him. At the very blink in completing 999 towers, the princess deceived the spirits by faking the sunrise- pounding rice and setting fire at the east of the temple, which lured the cocks to crow, and drove all the spirits back to the ground. Mission failed, and the prince drove mad. He cursed the princess and turned her into a stone statue. Well, the story ended sad, the unfinished temple turned to be Candi Sewu, while Lara Jonggrang, turned to be Durga statue in Candi Prambanan.

We spent more than one hour at Candi Prambanan, admiring to architectural wonder and the wisdom of the past. We were lucky to have the chance to witness the greatness of Candi Prambanan with our very own eyes. One of our friends went to Prambanan a year earlier in 2011, with the construction of recovery was undergoing. He couldn't see much as the protective curtains had blocked many parts of the temple. Well, our advice to all our readers, go and visit the temple as soon as possible before next quake hits it (touch wood).

Towers of Prambanan from the west- backside of the temple.

A closer look on the temple.

Most of the guardian towers are still lay in ruin. Many years are required to restore the temple to its former glory.

This is how Prambanan looks like from the northern side of the temple. This photo is taken at the opposite side with the previous photo.

There are other three temples in Prambanan National Archaeological Park- Candi Lumbung, Candi Bubrah, and Candi Sewu. Lumbung and Bubrah were literally lay in ruins. The restoration was still ongoing during our visit, but we could anticipate that the full restoration is still a long way to go. These two temples could be seen along the way from Candi Prambanan to Candi Sewu. We took around 20 minutes to walk from Prambanan to Sewu. Shading trees and the resting areas had made our journey by foot bearable (we were indeed quite tired after staying for more than one hour at Prambanan).

This is how Candi Lumbung looked like during our visit.

The condition of Candi Bubrah was even worse. We couldn't even see any gathering stones that resemble a temple. However, we could see the restoration work was ongoing (upper right).

Candi Sewu (Temple of Thousand Towers) is around 800 m away from Candi Prambanan. It is the second largest Buddist temple complex in the area (which the biggest is Borobudur). The temple is believed to be built 100 years before Candi Prambanan. Although named a thousand, the actual number of towers are 249, with the main tower building errects about 30 m above the ground. Candi Sewu is a temple that worth a visit. We stayed and roamed around the temple for 20 minutes.

This is how the second largest Buddist Temple looked like from the main entrance during our visit. The main tower complex have been restored. 

A close look on the main tower complex. The highest point of the tower reaches 30 m high.

We climbed to the top level of the main tower complex, turned around, and this is what we saw.

Photos taken inside (left) and outside (right) of the main tower complex.

Most of the small towers surrounding the main temple complex were still in ruin.

Candi Sewu is badly damaged over time. But not all of them by nature. The missing head of the Buddha is believed had been taken by somebody as a private collection (upper left). Many of the missing pieces of the puzzling temple has been found in the villages nearby. On the same type of the towers, the photo on the lower left shows the one with many of the original stones found, while the lower right shows the one with the replacement stones.

On our way back to the entrance (park operator office), we visited the park archaeological museum and audio visual presentation. The archaeological museum was quite attractive (free entrance), which many of the statues and pieces of the ruins discovered were displayed. The audio visual presentation, on the other hand, was not in good quality. However, with RP 5000, the presentation was proven a bit helpful for us to understand more about the background of the temples. The air condition helped to cool us down after a long walk.

The park was quite densed with trees, so travel by foot is not a problem, even under the blazing sun (upper right). Many artifacts were displayed in the museum (lower left), which includes many stones and sculptures which their origin are yet to be identified. A part of the museum has the photos on display, showing how Candi Prambanan been discovered and restored. The photo on lower right shows the condition of Candi Prambanan in 1923.

The entrance to the parking area of Prambanan Archaeological Park (upper left). We need to pay RP 5000 to enter the parking area. The ticket counter is around 100 m from the entrance (upper right). Food stalls and souvenir shops are available only at the exit of the park.

After we left the park, we call the hotline number writen on the business card, which was given by our taxi driver. The operator requested our location and handphone number. Our experience was, we have to understand a little bit of Indonesian Language (which thank God, is quite similar to Malay Language) in order to communicate with the operator, and we had to tell the operator that we are the tourists with oversea handphone numbers, or else, the operator will keep on asking and confirming our handphone number. Our taxi reached within 15 minutes.

Our advice to all of our readers, if you can endure the hot and humid (like us), a visit in the afternoon can be a good idea. We arrived at Prambanan around 1 pm and went out around 4:30 pm. There were less visitors during that period of time and we had a lot of opportunities to take good photos with all the temples. Bring along a foldable umbrella or a hat is a good idea. A pair of comfortable shoes or sandals is a must. Bringing a bottle of mineral water is really essential, as the one-and-the-only-one canteen in the park is the only place that we can buy drinks and food. Tram service is available from time to time, but walking around might offers different experience to us. Last but not least, if you can't understand any of Indonesian Language, rent a car might be the safest way for you to visit Prambanan. Or, get a taxi, deal with the driver to get him wait for you at Prambanan. Most of the taxi drivers that we encountered were not good in English. Try to use simple language when you deal with them.

Trip to Prambanan was a great experience to us. We would like to recommend that your trip should start with Prambanan first, before you step your foot on Borobudur. Borobudur is much more "monumental" than Prambanan. So, if we start with Borobudur, we might get so called "anti-climax" experience. 

Second day in Yogya, our trip to Borobudur started early in the morning. Please follow us to Borobudur now.

[Yogyakarta Trip Day 1- Prambanan] [Yogyakarta Trip Day 2-Borobudur]

Yogyakarta Trip Day 2 - Borobudur

Day 2 in Yogyakarta, 7:15 am, we set out from our hotel, going to Candi Borobudur by car. We rent the car with driver with RP 350,000 for 5 hours from Nusantara Tour and Travel (email: Borobudur is located in the middle of Jawa Province, 42 km north west of Jogya. The whole journey to Borobudur took around one hour. The English speaking driver, Febri was very informative. We gained many valuable information from him (contact him by email at Through Febri, we enter the park with RP 125,000, instead of normal RP135,000, the discount given by the park to travel agencies.

We hired a park tour guide, Jamel, with RP 75,000 for one hour and a half. He is a very experienced tour guide with fantastic English. He brought us through strategic photographing locations, told us the legends of the park, the history of the Borobudur, even the restoration process of the temple, which includes the weakness and the improvement of the restoration process. According to Jamel, his father and elder brother were involved in the restoration of the temple many years ago.

The sign of Taman Wisata Candi Borobudur or "Borobudur Temple Tourism Park" marks the destination of our one hour travel by car (upper left). The tickets for the park were bought from the park office (upper right). In the international visitors' office, free coffee, tea, and mineral water were served (lower left). Our English speaking tour guide, Jamal, is very informative. His excellent communication delighted our trip as well.

Borobudur is huge. We were astonished by its size even with extensive mental expectation. The colossal Borobudur is a square building, with the base of 120 square meter. It has 9 levels (6 lower square levels and 3 top circular levels), with the uppermost stone raises 35 m above the ground (approx. height of 11-storey building). UNESCO estimated a sum of 60,000 cube meter of stones had been used to build this temple, and no doubt, it is the biggest built-in-one-piece religious monument in the world. Completed around 750-850 AD by the kings of Sailendra Dynasty, Borobudur was built 300 years earlier than Angkor Wat. 

Candi Borobudur shows its prominency to us, even we were still hundreds of meters away from it (lower). When we turned back, the active Mount Merapi which lays distance away can clearly be seen (these two photos were taken from a same location).

Our group photo at the small stone signage stating that this is a UNESCO Heritage Site.

After helping us with our group photo at the UNESCO's sign, Jamal brought us to the far left off the main route. The reason he said, "This is a good location to take photo...". We agreed.

Stairs... the journey to the world heritage always start with climbing something...

We reached at the foot of Candi Borobudur at around 9:15 am. There were not many visitors there yet.

What amazed us the most, the whole temple in fact tells the story of Buddha. The whole built-in-one-piece temple alludes a gigantic stupa and represents the Buddism cosmology and nature of mind. The 9 levels of the temple are catagorized into three different divisions- the first base level represents Kamadhatu (the world of desire), followed by 5 levels of Rupadhatu (the world of forms), and on the top of Rupadhatu, 3 levels of Arupadhatu (the formless world). The stories of these three worlds are depicted on the bas-relief on each of the levels. To read these stories in right direction, we need to enter the temple through the east gate (the main gate), and start from left to right (clockwise direction).

First level of the temple with Kamadhatu, depicting the consequences of having few children and having many children (upper left). The family with few children lives in peace, while the family with many children suffers. The gossips and talking bad things about the good people is another feature in Kamadhatu (lower left). The photo on the upper right shows the traditional treatment of massage. All the bas-relief of the lowest level are covered by the additional basement of bricks, which is believed to be the way to stabilize the temple. 

Second level of the temple is decorated with the bas-relief of Rupadhatu- the journey of Siddhartha Gautama to become a Buddha is extensively told (upper row). Besides, the Buddha in the form of animals can be found at the second level of the temple.

Buddha statues with different poses have their distinct symbollic meanings. The one at the upper left shows Dhyana mudra, a symbolic of concentration and meditation. The galleries along the walkway of the temple tell us many stories about Buddha (upper right). The cannon-like structure at lower left used to be the drainage system of the temple. The whole Candi Borobudur was built without using any nails. The interlocking bricks hold the integrity of the temple.

Finally, we reached the level of Arupadhatu- the world of formless (haha). The spade stupas represent the unstability, the square stupas represent the stability, while the big stupa at the centre of the temple represents the wholeness or the perfectness in Arupadhatu.

According to our park tour guide, Jamal, the uniquess of the statues of Buddha in Borobudur is, all of them are in sitting of medidating position. None of them are in standing, or reclining position, like what we can see in other places in Asia. Besides, Borobudur contains no relics of Buddha. So, the builders put the statues of Buddha in the stupas with see-through holes. The central stupa contains no hole, and it is empty. The whole Candi Borobudur has no roof on top of it, showing the possibility that the temple is not built as a house of worship, but as an open-book for the Buddhists. The pilgrims and the monks will walk through the galleries of bas-reliefs to learn how to enter the world of Arupadhatu.

One of sitting Buddha statues in the uncovered stupa. The stupa was designed in such a way so that the believers can put in the candles or flowers. However, the candles and flowers are banned nowadays to preserve the temple.

This is one of the scene that we saw from the top level of Borobudur.

2010 Mount Merapi eruptions left a thick layer of highly corrosive volcano ashes on Borobudur, where the clean up work done by UNESCO later gulped USD 3 millions and the temple partially closed down for more than one year. We heard that the upper part of the temple was re-opened in November 2011, so, quickly, a tour to the temple arranged. Our advice, visit this World Heritage as soon as you can, while you have the chance to see it standing in one piece, before the next eruption occurs.

The active Merapi can be seen clearly from Borobudur (the right peak). On the left, is its sleeping brother, Mount Merbabu. In fact, there's another sleeping volcano on the western side of Borobudur- Mount Sumbing. We wonder why the rulers of Sailendra had chosen such a place to built their wonder. 

We went up to the temple from the east, and came down from the west. This is our photo with our tour guide, Jamal at the western side of Borobudur.

We made brief stops at Candi Pawon, Candi Mendut, and a silver factory on our way back from Borobudur to Yogya.

Candi Pawon and Candi Mendut are both small candi. These two temples form a straight line with Candi Borobudur to the East. Both of the temples are located just beside the main road between Borobudur and Yogyakarta. 

Borobudur is definitely a must visit site for all archaeology lovers. It is a sacred site for Buddhists as well. So, we need to wear sarung, or a batik cloth that wraps around the waist. The batik cloth is provided free of charge at the ticket counter. However, we need to return the sarung once we had completed our trip. There are many promoters selling poscards, handicrafts, and other souvenirs all around the site before the entrance to the international visitors office, on our way up to Borobudur, and on our way back to the office. The promoters were so call highly motivated (we hope you know what that means). However, they still knew when to leave us- when we rejected them politely, but firm.

The locals selling all sorts of products. We didn't buy any, as one of our drivers advised that we could in fact buy anything that we wish to get from Malioboro with fair price.

Lucky for us to reach the temple early around 8:30 am. There was less crowd at that time and we still managed to get some nice photos. After 10 am, the crowd make us almost impossible to take a good picture without any homo sapien in it. However, if you are patient enough to wait for the right moment under the hot sun, you will still get some nice photos. The photo with the sitting Buddha inside the stupa was taken with more than 5 minutes of waiting and trying.

The crowd on the temple. We need to line up in order to move from a level to another (right).

Be noted that Candi Borobudur is dark in colour, which absorb heat quickly. Our advice is, be early. Sufficient drinking water is important to keep us hydrated. We can get the mineral water from the international visitors office, free of charge. A hat or a small umbrella is helpful. Sport shoes or comfortable footwear is essential. A experienced tour guide is highly recommended (such as Jamal). The tour guide is proven to be helpful to us to learn much information about the temple- location, history, legends, facts, restoration, and destruction, and many more.

We stayed at Borobudur for nearly 3 hours. We returned to Yogya and our driver dropped us at Kraton Palace. Follow us to Kraton Palace and Taman Sari Water Castle now.

[Yogyakarta Trip Day 1-Prambanan] [Yogyakarta Trip Day 2-Borobudur] 

Yogyakarta Trip Day 2 - Kraton Palace and Taman Sari Water Castle

Prambanan and Borobudur are the names that always been mentioned with Yogyakarta. However, both of the temples are actually not located in the province of Yogya, but in Central Jawa. Our second day in Yogya, after spending 3 hours visiting Candi Borobudur in the morning, we went back to Yogya to visit two of the most historical sites within the city- Kraton Palace (or Karaton Ngayogyakarta by the locals) and Taman Sari Water Castle.

Kraton Palace was built in 1790. It is the symbol of the king and the sultanate of Yogyakarta, successor of Sultanate of Mataram. The palace was built facing Mount Merapi, with Tugu Monument stands in line between them. We read in an article, saying that the monument was served as a mark for the sultan to observe the condition of the volcano in early days. After the independence of Indonesia in 1949, Yogyakarta has been given the autonomous in administration under the king and formed the Special Region of Yogyakarta. The Palace is located at the southern end of Malioboro Road, and it is quite easy to be reached (20 minutes by foot from Dagen Road). The entrance fee is RP 15,000 (tour guide is included) with additional RP 1000 for our camera. The palace is open to public from 8 am - 2 pm daily. The palace is closed to public one hour earlier on Friday.

Once we got our tickets checked, we went into the compound of Kraton Palace. The palace is dominated by Jawanese architecture, art and design, with a blend of Hinduism and Islamic influences. This white in the photo gate leads to the main palace compound. There are two guardian statues at the side of the gate, the left one is guarding the good events while the right, bad events.

There is a theater at the right side of the white gate, with traditional dance and Royal Gamelan Musicians on shows. That was the first time for us to see a full set of Gamelan. Gamelan is an assemble of traditional musical instruments originated from Jawa.

After we entered the white gate, we could see the stage of modern music (upper left) on the left, where the modern music players perform in royal occasions. Behind the stage is the house of the musicians (lower left). To the right is sultan's residence (upper right). Sultan is in his residence if the lamps in front of the residence are turned on. We grabbed an opportunity to take photo with one of the palace's guards. The palace guards are still wearing the traditional costumes and equipped with keris (traditional Malay dagger), and walk in bare foot.

Many of the equipments which were used in olden days are still displayed. The large wooden box on upper left used to be the place for sultan to store his puppets for wayang-kulit show. The big drum on upper right was used to remind sultan about the time to pray. The small litters (or sedan-chairs) on lower left were the vehicles to carry the dowry during royal marriage. Our English speaking guide was super friendly. She even showed us how the fire alarm was sound during the olden days.

The golden museum is one for the many buildings that showcases the collection of sultans, built by one of the sultans of Yogya to commemorate his own "golden era". This dark wooden building is eye-catching in the middle of white buildings.

Many antiques are displayed in the palace. One of them is the light bulbs used many years ago in the palace (left). 300 years old gamelan which is played only during Prophet Muhammad's Birthday (upper right) and the cameras used by the sultans are displayed as well.
With the mind set of how a "palace" should look like (such as the sultanate palaces in Malaysia), the modesty of Kraton Palace impressed us in a different way- that's why the people here love their sultan very much- live an ordinary life.

Taman Sari (or Tamansari) Water Castle is situated inside Kraton compound. The castle used to be the royal garden of the sultanate. Built around 1750, the castle is believed to be an area for the former kings to rest, meditate, defence, and even to escape from the enemies. The castle is believed to be a place for the kings to accommodate their concubines.The entrance fee is RP 7000 (RM 2.50 or less than USD 0.80), with additional RP 1000 for camera. The castle is opened to visitors 9 am - 3:30 pm daily.

Taman Sari consists of four different area - the first in the middle is a large bathing area with 2 pools, to the west is an artificial lake (the water has been drained out), smaller bathing pool for the sultan at the east, and a compound for royal function at the south (just after the entrance).

According to our tour guide, most of the area of Taman Sari have been occupied by the village folks, whom many of them are working for Kraton. However, in future, all the village folks will have to move out of the area in order to give Taman Sari a place on the list of World Heritage Site.

The current entrance of Taman Sari Water Castle was originally the back door of the castle. The main entrance was closed as it is not easy to be reached by visitors.

The entrance lead us into compound, where the sultans used to conduct their royal ceremony there. The small pavilions were once used as the performing stages for the musicians.

This is the picturesque scene that we saw at the center of the water castle. This is the scene that appears on many postcards. The tower used to be the location where the sultans looked for the "right one" to spend a night with.
Photo taken with LS's parents by the pool, where the concubines of the sultans used to swim inside.

Going in deeper and this is what we saw- the main entrance of the water castle. The other side of the wall has been fully occupied by the village folks. This closed entrance marks the furthest point that we could access in this castle. Lead by our tour guide, we turned right to visit the artificial lake and the underground passages.

This is one of the entrances to the underground passage. The artificial lake has been filled up by the villagers and turned into the settlement of the villagers.

Walking down to the underground passage, which once upon a time, the underwater passage.

This is how the underground passage looks like.

There is a structure lay in ruin on the top of a hill (upper and lower left), which used to be the place where the concubines live. Looking down the hill, we can see a row of white structures lined in the middle of village cottages (upper right). The white structures serve as the ventilating holes for the underground tunnels. The water used to cover until just a few inch below the windows of the white buildings. Then, led by our tour guide, we went underground again. Once we surfaced, we had reached the dock where the sultans used to embark and sail to the hillside far behind (showed by the green arrow).

For Tamansari Water Castle, hiring an English speaking tour guide with RP 20,000 per trip is highly recommended, as some of the places at Taman Sari, such as the seclusive artificial lake and the hidden underground passages are not easy to be found without proper guidance. We missed these two parts of the castle in our first visit, as the site is too big for us to explore by ourselves. We easily found the hidden area of the castle the next day, with a tour guide by our side. 

Both Taman Sari Water Castle and Kraton Palace can be accessed by becak (trishaw), andong (horse carriage), or by taxi. We found a becak driver who was willing to send us with RP 20,000 from Kraton Palace to Taman Sari, then from Taman Sari back to our hotel at Dagen Road.

After we had visited Prambanan, Borobudur, Kraton Palace, and Taman Sari Water Castle, we reserved the rest of our time to roam around Malioboro Road and Ambarrukmo Mall on our last day at Yogya. Follow us now to know more about our story about shopping, food,  and accommodation at Yogya now.

[Yogygakarta Trip Day 2-Kraton Palace and Taman Sari Water Castle]