Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
It’s always, always super nice to get what you want. I may sound like a little spoiled brat here, but you gotta admit that it’s true. And in my case here, I had wanted to see the Ramayana ballet since 2009 when I found out about it in this trip. The reason was simple and personal: Ramayana epic was one of the few bedtime stories my dad told me when I was little, and it always feels nostalgic whenever I hear about it since Dad’s such a great story teller. Plus, I think the ballet would be something interesting to tell you guys. As for the Borobudur sunrise, well let’s just say that I’m easily provoked. I heard that it’s a grand view you’ll never forget, so I went for it.
The show was performed at a lot with Prambanan temple as the backdrop. The temple was beautifully illuminated in colors and had a hazzy aura around it. Add to that, the almost full moon in the corner of the sky. Too bad, only Abud’s sophisticated camera could capture (I love you oh Canon D10, but you’re outperformed this time).
Picture by Abud
Ramayana is one of the great epics from India, depicting philosophy teaching of the Hindu, originally told in Sanskrit. As the Javanese were greatly influenced by the Hindus, they also have their own version of the epic, that’s only slightly different from the original. In brief, the plot goes something like this: King Rama (short for Ramayana)’s wife, Sinta, is kidnapped by the demon king Ravana. In the quest of saving the beautiful beloved wifey, Rama had an encounter with Hanuman, an ape-like humanoid, who later helped him locating and saving Sinta.
Picture by Abud
The ballet at Prambanan Temple performed several times a week (check the schedule, fares, and contact numbers here). We were lucky to be in town on Saturday, when the full version performed. But the Ramayana epic is so long that even the so-called full version adapts only a chapter of the whole epic, performed in almost 2 hours. And the part that we saw was where Sinta got kidnapped, then Rama met Hanuman and they saved the defenseless beauty, and supposedly lived happily ever after.
The Javanese dances are known to conduct slow motions, as they do in everyday life. “It’s better to get things done slow than to fail in a rush” is sort of their motto. And that was mostly applied in the ballet. Quite unfortunately, the dance routines were performed not so neatly by the rows of dancers. We could see that a few of them didn’t memorize the moves too well, and would stand a little off the spot. Mumun butting in: I think some of them weren’t even ballet dancers. But love the chubby kid ‘trying’ to dance in the back row.
Picture by Abud
Hanuman, however, was AWESOME! As an ape, he had the most energetic and quirky moves. And he added some high-skilled breakdance moves, also some funny moves adapted from the popular comedy show that only Opera Van Java (a national TV show) Indonesians would get. I didn’t know what that move was until Mumun explained to me, but even so I found it funny just looking at the moves 😀 Mumun: I’m a big fan ot the comedy show. It’s just plain dumb LOL!
Picture by Abud
The Ravana entourage was also throwing in some comedy in the ballet, especially when they were fighting off Hanuman and Rama. A little bit of vulgarity didn’t hurt at all 😛
We got great VIP seats facing the stage, just behind the VVIP. Our VIP tickets were IDR 175,000 / each, if I’m not mistaken.
Picture by Abud
Waking up before sunrise is not something that I, and you too I bet, am fond of. But doing so for the purpose of watching the famous beautiful sunrise with Borobudur temple in sight, I’m up for it like hell!So there we were, 3ish AM on our way from Yogyakarta to Magelang.
For some reason, Borobudur is thought to be located in Yogyakarta, when it’s in fact built on the Menoreh hill in Magelang, an hour drive between Yogyakarta and Magelang city. It’s probably because Yogyakarta is a much more famous tourism city than Magelang, so most tourists would base in Yogyakarta before departing to Borobudur. Just like we did.
There are a couple of spots where you can view sunrise around Borobudur. One is from the temple itself, which is a rip off for us budget travelers. It costs IDR 200,000 to see the sunrise from the temple, organized solely by the Manohara Hotel. God gave the the beauty of a sunrise for free, humans charge a fortune for it. Darn us humans! And then one is at the Setumbu Hill where you can see the sun rising behind the temple, and that’s the one we chose. And another option, which we found out later from my friend Arya who lives in Yogyakarta, is from the Suroloyo Hill, the tallest hill around Menoreh hill.
To get to the top, we needed a guide to show us the way. Mumun made some phone calls given by Sasha of Yogyes.com, that connected us to Pak Wasidi. This man guided our car up the hill about 20 minutes to the parking spot, which was across Pak Wasidi’s house. Coincidently we met Pak Wasidi there who then guided us to the top. It was obviously still dark and we were panting up the hill. Hail to Abud who had to walk the same path WITH his camera, tripod, and portable slider! Mumun: Oh man! I complained so much on that hike. It was 4 in the morning and I’m hiking???
The walk took us 20 minutes and Abud directly set up his equipment to get a time lapse shot of the sunrise. Yes, that was one of the reasons why we forced our lazy asses to do such trip. Meanwhile, I continued my sleep in the gazebo, and Mumun was taking ugly pictures of me sleeping. And guess what. The sky was gray, the sun was next to a no show. Hohohoho….
We didn’t get the perfect footage, but it wasn’t really that bad. You can take a peek of some of the shots here. Later when the sun had risen, we had some interactions with Magelang guys who were there to shoot some sunrise pictures, and Caucasian tourists started to show up. But the most memorable interaction was with a 77 year-old local named Pak (Mr.) Sandung as told by Mumun here.
Overall, though we didn’t get the sunrise footage that we aimed for, it was a great experience for us. Seeing Borobudur from up there amongst the clouds and fog was absolutely breathtaking. It was like seeing a painting of the divine stories that I’ve often seen in Thai Buddhist temples. It was somewhat mystical… * lotus positon*
*If you’d like a tour of the Setumbu Hill, you can contact Pak Wasidi to his mobile, +62 878 7575 375. Note that sometimes the phone is used by his children, so it might not always him that picks up the phone, but you could leave a message.
Morning slid in and we were set to hike down the hill. Some part of the path was paved, making it kinda slippery that I preferred to walk on the dirt part of the path. Little did we realise, we were also walking on remains of the volcanic dust from the 2010 erruption. Who knew, last year this area was covered with white dust?
We were meaning to stop by at Pak Wasidi’s house for a quick toilet stop, when Pak Wasidi’s wife was done cooking a big breakfast for us! Wow!
This kind of hospitality is something that you could expect from people in small towns and villages when traveling in Indonesia. Offering meals in their little living rooms expecting nothing in return (or so I felt) is their way of welcoming visitors. And it’s only polite to accept the offer. Have a talk with them, ask them about their family, and genuinely admire the authenticity of anything you see in the house (Pak Wasidi made most of the furniture’s in the house himself!). That’ll make them happy and appreciated. It’s the least you can do to kind people like them, don’t you think?
But OK, we offered a tip for the parking spot, the guided walk, and the breakfast. It was the least that we could do.
The name derived from Sanskrit language; bara (later transformed to Boro) means vihara and beduhur (later came into Budur) which means above. So, Borobudur can be interpreted loosely as “the praying house up on the hill”. It is open from 7 am for public. We were there at about 8 and already there were so many people. We weren’t surprised considering it was Sunday and the fact that Borobudur has gained an international fame as it used to be one of the 7 Wonders of the World and is listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
When you visit Borobudur, you’ll be asked politely to wear a piece of batik cloth, and you can wear it anyway you like. This is meant for showing some respect to the temple and I guess a way to get people more familiar with batik. The guide usually wears the caping or conical hat. They don’t lend them to you unless you ask for one like Mumun did. We can’t guarantee that they always have one in stock though. On a hot day like this, the best hat is the caping! It has the coverage you need and environmentally friendly, not to mention stylish. *comercial tone and smile *
Learning from our previous trips to historical places and museums without hiring a guide, this time we hired one so that we know what’s behind the sophisticated carved and piled stones. One of the few reliefs’ interpretations that our guide told us was about how Buddha would sacrifice his own flesh as a replacement of a poor bird to be eaten by a hunter. And there’s also a depiction of people’s way of life; agriculture, fishing, etc. You can go here for more about the temple.
Mr. Guide (um, forgot the name, sorry) told us that Borobudur is actually built around a hill slope in Kedu Basin. That saved quite many works of building a foundation. And it has been renovated a few times until today. When it was first found, the temple was buried in the ash of Merapi volcano and the sprawling jungle. When we were there in October 2011, some parts were being renovated, and they made this puzzle system so as the stones would be put back in the exact position as they were.
What amazed me is that these 9th century people who built the temple “only” used the locking system between stones, didn’t use any other material like cement or whatever to glue the stones together. I can see your jaws are dropping and eyes are bulging now.. Exactly how I reacted when I first heard about it.
The saying about eggs being the glue of these rocks is not as literal as we thought. Eggs were the food for the workers who put the temple together, as said by our guide.
There was a lot more explanation about this vast stack of stone from our guide. But the very hot sun had failed my brain to memorize much of what he said. * sure, blame it on the sun*
Tip: It can get pretty hot during the summer, bring a lot of water, wear a hat or use an umbrella, and splat an extra dose of sunblock, extra SPF! Oh, don’t forget your sunnies!
These two temples, Prambanan and Borobudur, are the most prominent temples of the Indonesian heritage. They are massive, delicately carved, cleverly built, and hold so many mysteries no matter how frequently and comprehensively they are being studied and researched. Brief visits like we did in this trip (not to mention that we only saw Prambanan from a distance as the ballet backdrop) surely wasn’t enough to really get in depth with everything that the temples stood for. And the law of traveling applies here: the more you see, the more you don’t know, hence the more you need to travel back to the place you’ve visited. One day, my friend. One day.
There was no holding us from having lunch although it wasn’t 12 o’clock yet, more because we needed a place to hide from the sun and gulped down glasses of cold drinks than because we were hungry.
And guess what. We were too soaked up in the sun that we forgot to take pictures of the restaurant. This restaurant was also the closest gate from our point at the moment. It’s a part of the Manohara Hotel, which is under the same management that’s responsible for the care of Borobudur temple.
It’s a middle-upper restaurant, we saw a lot of ‘comfortable tourists’ dined there. We had our meals at a round table in the open area of the restaurant, with the full view of Borobudur temple in sight. Our menu were tom yum soup, fruit salad, and a lot of water. The whole lunch cost us about IDR 200,000 or 300,000 including the driver’s lunch, and they accept cards.
To get to Prambanan temple is to get to Yogyakarta. Fly in, and then get on the TransJogja bus.
We headed to Prambanan from GunungKidul by car, and traffic was dreadful around the area because of the Opera Van Java comedy group/TV show that went live on air from another stage in the Prambanan complex. Plus, it was Saturday night. Everybody went out and wanted to see the free and top-of-the-game show, including the youngest son of Pak Wasidi. We were dropped by the Yogyes team that day, after the fun in the sun. We had to hop off the car in the middle of traffic jam and then rushed to the arena to see the show on time. Unfortunately, the Yogyes team got stuck there, even until the Prambanan show was over. Sorry guys, and thanks so much for the ride. We really didn’t mean to.
How to Get to Borobudur
If you leave from Yogyakarta, hire a car. With a driver, preferably. Especially if you’re going in the wee hours. You can continue sleep on the way. If you’re going in normal hours, there are buses between Yogyakarta and Magelang.
We rented the car from Rully car rental that we got from Yogyes, with the driver Pak Amin. More options of transportation you can get from here.