Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
From a choo-choo train ride to a kinky looking spiritual temple, a visit to Solo can never lack of things to do. Solo city is packed with cultural excursions, culinary delights and shopping places. Stepping outside the city a little to the north, to Karanganyar regency, historical and adventurous activities await. Here are 10 things to do in Solo and Karanganyar based on what I experienced on my last trip a few weeks ago, on a famtrip held by Solo’s tourism board.
A bike tour operator, Ajib from The A Team, guided us to many iconic places in Solo. We rode from The Royal Heritage Surakarta hotel to the famous market Pasar Gede, the ruins of Vastenberg fort, the Javanese meets Mughal architectured Masjid Agung (Great Mosque), then passing through the Kauman batik village, the field of Mangkunegaran palace, and lastly Triwindu antique market. I found some of these places very attractive, I felt like sketching them. Unfortunately this whole tour took about 3 hours, giving only about 15 minutes stop at each spot. Well, it’s not enough for sketching, but enough to get to know about Solo in a nutshell.
This was not the normal route of Ajib’s bike tour. He was supposed to take us around to the east part of city crossing the Bengawan Solo river, but at that time the river was flooding so we did the plan B. His normal route includes visits to crafty and cultural places, like Gadingan village (the making of rice cracker called karak), Wirun village (the making of gongs and gamelan), and Sentul village (the making of fermented sugarcane beverage called ciu). I have to say this one sounds more interesting! Perhaps a visit to Solo in the dry season would be a better timing for the bike tour.
The Sepur Kluthuk Jaladara (means Jaladara Steam Loco) is a chartered train for tourists to see Solo city on a span of 5.6 km distance, starts from Purwosari station and ends at Sangkrah Station. You’ll have brief visits at a few spots, including the Loji Gandrung (now occupied by the city mayor) and, again, Kauman batik village. The ride includes tour guiding that’s also available in English. The visits were too brief for me to enjoy anything, but the main attraction was actually the steam loco. It was interesting to pass various neighborhoods of Solo city, from the slums to the busy Slamet Riyadi avenue.
The Victorian style loco sits up to 80 people, costing about $300 for the whole loco with 2 passenger carriages, more if you take the complete package with Javanese music entertainment and herbal drinks. The added service made my first choo-choo train ride even more interesting thing for me, I had to sketch It live.
Whether it’s the original Javanese or influenced by western food, Solo has so many kinds of unique food and the way of serving food. Here are 3 of the most memorable foods I had in Solo.
Sate Buntal is made of minced goat meat wrapped in goat fat. A stick of sate buntal contains more meat than the regular satay that consists of several lumps of meat, hence more satiating. Sate Buntal Bu Bejo is one of the most famous ones in Solo, located in Lojiwetan. I really enjoyed the savory meat mixed smeared with sweet soy sauce.
Tengkleng is a soupy dish with goat’s innards, bones and meat, was our lunch on the last day at Tengkleng Yu Tentrem. It’s a 30 year-old business, the owner cooks the tengkleng at the alleyway outside her house, and guests are welcome to dine in the dining room in her house. I’m seeing two things here: they don’t like to waste food and are very open to strangers!
When informed that we were going to Pasar Gede, I was excited. I once had one of my favorite beverages here, Dawet Telasih, and I couldn’t wait to have it again. A sweet beverage consists of black sticky rice, sumsum (rice flour), telasih (chia seeds look alike), coconut milk and coconut sugar. There are a few dawet telasih vendors in the market, and Bu Dermi’s is one of the most famous ones. I tried a few and I liked them all.
Our tour around Baluwarti area, which included the Keraton Solo Hadiningrat (palace), was guided by Fendi, a coordinator of Laku Lampah community. They’ve existed since 2012 and have set up a few routes aside to Baluwarti, such as Karanganyar. As a community that focuses on culture and history of Greater Solo, Laku Lampah also has access to a lot of cultural events that anybody can join for only a small fee.
After the palace, Fendi took us to the grave of the first person that ever owned land in Solo, and the first one who built what then became Solo city. His name was Ki Gede Sala, from which the name Solo derived (with Javanese specific way of pronunciation). And then to a huge house with vast yard owned by a prince, through attractive vintage alleys. Would I recommend the tour? You bet. It’s always interesting to be guided by someone who really cares about where they’re taking you.
It’s a Javanese theater usually performing themes from the epic Ramayana or Mahabharata. The show was about 2 hours long, starting at 9 pm, performing the “Alap-Alapan Sukesi” and all dialogue was in Javanese. I only understood – sort of – the story from the summarized plot on the screen next to the stage. There were some foreigners in the audience. If they hadn’t taken a course on Indonesian language, then I guess they were just enjoying the visuals. There was no booklet, no brochure or anything that could introduce the story to the audience. I struggled to keep my eyes open because I was tired and the play went quite slow, as how everything in Javanese culture is known to be.
What’s more interesting to me was behind the stage. We were welcomed to see the preparation of the play. The actors were putting their own make-up and costumes. And it’s no simple make-up like only powder and lipstick, it’s character make-up. They do this almost everyday because this is their day job, they are civil servants. I haven’t heard of this before. So aside from the lack of English subtitles, I salute Solo’s government for their effort to keep the culture alive.
Solo city has a lot of interesting objects to sketch if you’re into live sketching. Old buildings of Javanese or Dutch style, or mixed, they have it. Art deco, they have it. Or if you’re more into people, Solo has markets full of people with packed activities. Vehicles? There’s cars, motorbikes, vintage bicycles, becak, train, even choo-choo train. Culture? Oh, abundant!
None of my travel mates were into sketching, so I had to steal time whenever I could among our scheduled activities. I mean, I had to! There were too many interesting things to sketch! Live sketching while traveling for me is definitely one of the things to do in Solo.
Karanganyar, a regency within Greater Solo on the north of Solo city, is packed with activities in the nature. One of them is off-road adventure on the slope of Mount Lawu. There are a few communities operating the adventure, such as ASRT and Jangkar.
You can choose the type of route to go, the mild or tough one. We were taken on the mild route, the hardest spectacle was I think the thick fog. I like how dramatic fogs make your pictures look, but it means we couldn’t see the beautiful tea plantation clearly. Best time to go is around midday when it’s the clearest. Mumun went on the hard route a few years ago, and it involved getting in and out of a river with more dramatic turns. Warning: the jeeps may not be equipped with proper safety belts.
Reliefs of penis found everywhere at the trapezoid-shaped Sukuh temple. Built at 910 meters asl, the weather was pretty cool. You’ll be asked to wrap a cloth around your waist that covers at least down to your knees. Not for warming purpose, just to show respect to this religious/spiritual site. Yep, people still come to the temple for rituals at times.
We were supposed to go to Cetho temple as well, unfortunately we ran out of time. It was too late in the day, rain and fog were blocking the view it was too dangerous to continue upward. But we have written about Sukuh temple and Cetho temple before, just head down to this article. It is one of the things to do in Solo, or Karanganyar to be exact, that you should not miss.
Still at the slope of Mount Lawu and within the route of off-road adventure is Tahura Mangkunegoro, which is a forest park founded in 1999 – 2008. It was a pine forest, now planted with various trees, some are original from the mountain area. If you dig birdwatching, let me tell you that the Javan hawk-eagle is seen around here sometimes, as well as a few other endemic birds.
A camping ground is provided, along with the camping gear rentals. A trekking path exists, they just need to put signs so visitors wouldn’t get lost when trekking without a guide. A platform is present that can function as a performance stage.
Deep in the woods of Mount Lawu slope, there is a lake surrounded by eye-soothing green fields and trees. It’s actually not too far from a neighborhood, which local kids like to cannonball into the lake. The way to get there is as beautiful though quite undulating. The Hindu people still do their Melasti rituals there every year; a cleansing self with water ritual prior to Nyepi. To me, this lake and its surrounding is simply a sight for sore eyes. It’s totally one of the things to do in Solo, especially if you’re into the greens.
Also, sceneries to see, food to munch, and history or culture to learn in Solo and the surrounding. But I think you’d need to experience them for yourself and maybe add them to this list. Do tell us when you’re back from Solo!