Java

Ok, I know. I have slacked off writing my blog over the past 4 weeks. But those of you who have backpacked know how it is: between all the sightseeing, touring around, planning and organizing you sometimes don’t have much time (or energy) to sit down a few hours and recap all your experiences. But now I am in a heavenly quiet place North of Chiang Mai in Thailand and will try to catch up with what has happened over the past 4 weeks.

Our next destination after Borneo was Indonesia. Our plan was to start in Java to see some temples, then fly to the island of Flores and from there visit Komodo National Park.

I have to admit that I knew close to nothing about Java (except that there were a few impressive temples) and was all the more surprised to learn that with its population of more than 135 million people Java is the world’s most populated island! As we arrived late at night in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, we decided to stay at a hotel close to the airport since our connecting flight to Yogyakarta was at 8 a.m. and we figured that it would take forever to get into and out of Jakarta with its population of 10 (ten!) million people. And in hindsight we were very happy that we had made that decision because it was already a little tour-du-monde to get to our hotel. First the greedy taxi drivers wanted crazy amounts of Rupees to drive us to the hotel so it already took us quite a while to bargain with them and when we finally found a driver who agreed to bring us there he got out of the car after a 10 minute drive, said “wait a minute”, ran to the other side of the street and after a short conversation with an old man he came back, told us “this man will drive you there” and swapped with the old man. So far so good we thought – which turned out to be another one of those interesting adventures which make you smile (in hindsight). We realized quite soon that the old man had NO idea where the hotel was, NO idea where we should drive and did not speak a WORD of English. So I made him stop at a gas station and asked a young guy on a scooter if he knew the hotel and if he could explain the way to the old toothless man. After a vivid 3 minute conversation between the 2 of them (and me still getting the feeling that the old man didn’t understand where to go) we continued along the road and after another 4 stops and asking-around we FINALLY got to the hotel! Getting back to the airport the next morning was surely easier:).

In Yogyakarta (also called Jogja) a friendly guy from our hostel picked us up at the airport and we were very happy about our choice of accommodation – a tiny cute hostel in a quiet backstreet of busy Jogja. In our 3 days in Jogja we enjoyed simple but good Indonesian food, cruised around town to experience some of the busy street life, went to see the Ramayana Ballet  (based on an epic Hindu poem, the story of king Rama was adapted to become an important local dance, encompassing the Javanese style, culture and music. Whilst the story originated in India, the Javanese version is truly representative of the local art and culture) and visited 2 major temples – Borobudur and Prambanan. Borobudur temple (build some time around 800 AD) is the world’s largest Buddhist monument and one of the major tourist attractions in Indonesia. The temple is a massive step pyramid structure made from giant stone blocks, surrounded by valleys and hills. The levels rise up representing the stages of enlightenment. I know that you should never compare places or countries you visit or things you see but I sometimes find this very hard (in this case having seen Angkor Wat in Cambodia is simply impossible to top so there aren’t many temples that can still get my heart race as much as Angkor). Borobudur was very pretty in terms of the fine stone reliefs all along the walls and the views from the temple but what I was truly missing was the atmosphere in and around the temple. It had more of a Disney World flair to it than a wholly site. Almost all visitors (mostly from some other Asian countries) were focused on one sole thing: taking pictures and posting around the temple in the quirkiest poses. Not one monk, not one person praying or meditating, not one incense stick or candle. So to me Borobudur is a pretty monument to see but in terms of serenity and Buddhist vibes this is not quite the place to find it. The 9th century Hindu Prambanan temple on the other hand touched my soul more.  Dedicated to the Trimurti, the expression of God as the Creator (Brahma), the Sustainer (Vishnu) and the Destroyer (Shiva), this temple compound once consisted of 240 temples. Today only the main 8 temples and 8 small shrines are standing and 2 out of the 224 small temples are renovated, the rest of them have deteriorated and all that is left are scattered stones. The massive 2006 Java earthquake took its toll so a lot of the temples have been damaged and only a little portion of them have been reconstructed. It was only in 2009 that the site was re-opened for visitors. Although there were just as many photo-hungry visitors as in Borobudur I still enjoyed this site more (can’t really say why) and I was guided through the site by 3 young shy girls who study to become a guide and who were practicing their English and little knowledge they had about the temple.

All in all it was a good time in Java, seeing some beautiful temples, getting a glimpse of busy but still relaxing Jogja and having wonderful encounters with very friendly locals.

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