Prambanan and the Dieng Plateau
This post recounts a journey I made to Yogyakarta, Indonesia in 2009.
We woke early and headed to the nearby Dieng Plateau, once the centre of a Hindu civilisation. The bus ride there was about two hours, although at that time of the morning it seemed an eternity. The only respite was a stop at a service station where a lone woman, resplendent in her colourful hijab was working the pumps and manning (or rather, womaning) the counter all at the same time. The Dieng Plateau was once home to hundreds of temples; today only eight remain.
We arrived in the late morning to a group of five temples which were fairly unremarkable except for the hoards of excursioning school students teeming around them. We were invited to take part in a few pictures and swapped a few email addresses. The girls seemed much more confident than the boys, desperate to introduce their friends to us. Later that day, on the Dieng Plateau, we visited a smoking crater which smelled like Rotorua in New Zealand, ate the oiliest hot chips for lunch, stopped by a bright turquoise lake which was coloured by volcanic mineral deposits and sampled a local delicacy of sweet fried crispy shredded potato. Our arteries are still trying to forgive us for Monday.
On Tuesday we drank fresh coconut water (which we found surprisingly hard to get in Java – there’s lots of coconuts on trees but few on menus) and visited Prambanan, a ruined Hindu civilization near Yogyakarta, built about fifty years after Borobudur. Prambanan was rather disappointing in that it was mostly covered in scaffolding for rebuilding after it was damaged in a recent earthquake. To entertain us while we were at Prambanan however were our fellow tourists. We shared a bus with a glut of Eurotrash who, by all accounts, had not been informed that the colonial days were over. After complaining to the tour bus driver that the tour was too expensive, they looked incredulous when they were asked to pay to enter the historical site of Prambanan, asking “What are we paying for? Why is it costing this much? Why do WE have to pay? Why do YOU get to tell US how long we have here? We’ll meet you back at the bus when we’re ready.”
The next performance came at the historical Hindu site of Boko, on a hill nearby, where we were asked to pay 75,000 Rupiah (about $8). That included entry and tea or coffee with a snack while sitting at a hilltop restaurant watching the sun set. We entered, while the chorus of complaints reached a crescendo. “We are NOT paying for this! This is outrageous! We’ve already booked a restaurant for dinner. So if we don’t buy a ticket, we can’t even set foot on the premises?”
An hour and a pretty (although cloudy) sunset later, we were wrapping things up at the restaurant when a woman who looked like Andre Rieu somehow came got in and fairly directly told us “if you’re finished can you please hurry up because we’re all waiting outside.” We were stunned. Back on the bus, Andre turned and told us that for them, not entering the site was “a principle decision”.
From there we drove to an outdoor theatre which used the Hindu temples of Prambanan as a backdrop to watch a performance of the epic Hindu drama-tragedy classic, “the Ramayana”. The Indonesian version of the Ramayana goes something like this; Shinta, a beautiful woman, is taken by the villainous Rahwana from her loving husband Rama. Rama declares war on Rahwana, in an attempt to get his wife back. Eventually Shinta and Rama are reunited, but Rama finds her tainted and spoiled by her time with her kidnapper. Shinta, broken-hearted, makes the ultimate sacrifice and sets fire to herself, saying that God will save her if she is still worthy of being loved. This version of Ramayana ends happily; other versions are more tragic. The performance we saw was in ballet form, although the ‘ballet’ of Hindu scripture is very different from what one might call “ballet” in the west. The costumes were spectacular, the setting was truly magical, the music was enchanting and the pyrotechnics dramatic.
Wednesday was spent walking the muggy streets of Yogyakarta, hunting down the perfect cold dessert; were not sure that we found it, but the Ministry of Coffee’s Double Chocolate Milkshake came pretty close. Our stay in Yogyakarta was topped off when a nearby cafe owner let us handle his pet lemur for a while, a highlight we could never have planned for.