The mystic Java
We continue to the next town Wonosobo, 25 km away where our couchurfing.org host awaits us. A nice man with car takes us and in half an hour we are in the center of the town. Since we entered Central Java we noticed that towns are really clean and well kept. They look to us more like the Malaysian ones than other Indonesian.
There are parks, something not common for most of the towns we passed through. Emma awaits us at the square. She needs to go to work so she tells us how to arrive at her house with the public mini-bus. It is in a nice village 5 km. away from the town. All passengers and the drivers already know where we are headed to. Emma is famous for accepting foreign guests. Her mother expects us at the house and although it is still fasting time she gives us tea and sweets. We spend the afternoon in a nearby Internet club waiting for the fasting to end at 6 p.m.
We have decided to rest tomorrow. We feel like crying only thinking of going in a car or a truck. We don’t get enough sleep because of the constant prayers we hear from the nearby mosques (even in a small mountain village like this there are 3-4 mosques in the vicinity). At 4 a.m. the Muezzin calls for the people to wake up and have breakfast and then the endless singing of prayers goes on. Our heads are pulsating. It feels like the speakers of the mosques are in front of our windows. Emma’s mother dresses with the typical white cloak for the mosque and goes to pray early in the morning. We will maybe never get used to this religious outbursts before sunrise.
We spend the day resting and Internetting. We are ready for the walk on the Dieng Plateau tomorrow.
We hitchhike a truck to the plateau and then second one to Dieng village. The road passes through terraced vegetable gardens situated on the volcanic slopes. There is a thick mist and at 2100 meters (6900 feet) above sea level we are already shivering from the cold. We leave our rucksacks at the nearby hotel and head to the Hindu temples next to the village. They are considered to be the oldest on Java Island dating back to 8-th century. There used to be hundreds of temples but today there are only a few left, some of which are restored pretty badly. There is an entrance fee for the temple Candi Ajurna (25 000 Indonesian Rupees – 1,5 Euro) but we enter from one side nonchalantly.
Down the road is the temple Candi Bima, poking alone among the pine trees, perfectly preserved, reminding of the distant Hindu past of the island.
We continue towards the smoking crater Kawah Sikidang, enveloped in sulfur fumes. Here, as for every landmark in Java, there is an entrance fee. We don’t even get to know how much it is because we pass on an abandoned dirt road that leads directly to the smoking sulfur lake. The bubbling hot water reminds us of pictures of hell. Stinky smoke sifts through through holes between the stones covered in yellow layers of sulfur.
Inside the crater of Sikidang
We take a pathway through some fields to the crater Lake Merdada. The scenery is unreal, enveloped in mists. The terraces make us feel like we were in Peru. The ticket sale office next to the lake is closed. Tourists don’t come here much anymore. The lake is beautiful, surrounded by fields. How come they ever came with the idea to ask for tickets for a normal nature scenery? We go back hitchhiking to Dieng.
Walk in the mountain
We will visit the last landmark here known as the Emerald Warna Lake. The entrance is 150 000 Rp. (5 Euro) per person but office employees have just left back to their homes – hungry and thirsty, ready for the end of today’s fasting. There is a hole in the fence and we enter. An amazing view awaits us. The sulfur crater lake shines in an incredibly phosphor-ish green color that we have never seen before.
The sulphur Warna Lake
We go around it on a mystical path with beautiful trees. It is so silent. We reach a yellow-green hill with smoking holes on it. It stinks of sulfur. Three dead dogs lay with their legs poking to the sky. Why did they die? Maybe they’ve drunk from the poisonous water, or died from the gases?
We continue walking with a faster pace. It starts getting dark. The lake changes its color every few minutes. We reach a Hindu sacred site with lighted incense sticks. The region is Muslim, but obviously there are several local people who preserved their traditional beliefs.
We climb the hill on the other side of the lake. Locals turned it into a tourist attraction with offices for ticket sales. In addition they planted flowers and here and there we see vegetable gardens.
View of the tri-colored lake from above
The view from above is amazing – a good gift for Mr. Shushtari’ birthday. We go back to the hostel, get our rucksacks back from the nice youngsters keeping them and head back to the lake. In the dark we find a good place to pitch the tent. Well, it smells of sulfur, but… We set our bivouac under the light rain.
Hindu rituals, ancient civilizations and bubbling lava fill our dreams.
We leave the Dieng Plateau. We get many hitchhikes at short distances. Like this we cross the 20 km. to Wonosobo for more than an hour. We even catch a public bus for the last three kilometers. Luckily it leaves us at the end of the town where we plan to continue towards the pass where the climb to the volcano Sindoro starts.
The weather gets bad. Rain and clouds hide the volcano. We are exhausted by yesterday’s 8-9 hour hike. So we decide to skip Sindoro as there are quite a lot volcanoes on our way.
Terraced vegetable gardens on Dieng plateau
A truck loaded with mineral water takes us. The driver is nice, but doesn’t speak English. After a few sentences we use all our knowledge of Indonesian and lie back to admire the nice views. The truck drives slowly on the winding road up but we don’t mind. We are so tired that we are in no hurry at all. We get off on the fork for Jogjakarta and hide to eat in a closed restaurant as we are dead hungry. Some guy comes and looks at us disapprovingly, but this turns out to be only our perception as he smiles at us wholeheartedly.
The next hitchhike takes us to Jogjakarta. We stop 40 km before it at Muntilan where Abdul, our host from couchsurfing.org waits for us. He is a very hospitable and nice person. We talk till late night and he shows us pictures of the landmarks in the region.
In the morning we go out of the house and see “every vegetarian’s dream” – a pile of freshly killed 40-50 chickens. It turns out this is the family business of Abdul. In the morning he goes to the market to buy chickens, then they kill them and pluck them off further up the house. The gutting, cutting in pieces and the selling are made in front of the house. Pretty eerie view.
Abdul’s sister gutting chickens
We get on the motor bike and head to the giant Buddhist complex of 7-8 century Borbodur. For the mere 30 USD everyone can visit the UNESCO heritage. For us this is our whole budget for half a month so we decide to challenge our “magic powers” and try to enter, if not we will admire it behind the fence.
Borbodur itself is a giant Stupa 120 m. wide and 35 m. high. It was built with 2 million concrete blocks. The three levels of the Stupa are encrusted with bass-reliefs depicting different episodes and on every one of it there are dozens of small Stupas with Buddha statues inside.
Before we reach the giant complex we come across Pawon Temple.
The ticket to the other important temple Candi Mendut is at normal price of 3500 Rp. (0,25 Euro). So we buy tickets and go inside. It impresses us and especially the Buddha statues and the two Bodhisattva. We stay silent inside for 10-15 minutes. We somewhat miss the Buddhist atmosphere.
Candi Mendut – where is the spider?
The Buddha sttatue inside Candi Mendut
Next to the temple there is a monastery with beautiful gardens and many statues. It feels as if the hand of a Japanese person infused the atmosphere with Zen simplicity. We speak to a Buddhist monk of Chinese ascendants and continue.
Ascetic’s statue inside the Japanese monastery
We go around the whole Borbodur, but decide to not go inside. Instead we head to a nearby mountain to rest from the crowds and the noise and find a nice view towards the complex. We climb on a steep hill through a forest and find a very nice spot to rest and watch at Borbodur encompassed in haze.
It is wicked how we people always go to certain places and form a crowd and just one or two kilometers away one can be in absolutely wild places with no one around. We rest and head back to the house. Chickens are gone but the smell of freshly killed birds is still haunting the air. Fasting is over declared by a siren and prayers from the nearby mosque. We drink a cup of tea while talking with Abdul.
Together with Abdul in front of his house
It is 2 a.m. Today the day starts a little bit early. Local tradition says that during Ramadan youngsters have to go around beating drums and bamboo instruments, to shout and laugh loudly in order to wake up people to cook and eat, as at 4:15 a.m. all consumption of water and food must cease. We just manage to overcome this stress when everyone in the house wake up and they start cooking loudly and talking. We manage to fall asleep again and then we are again woken up by the morning prayer to Allah.
In every village and town neighborhood there are at least 2-3 mosques so you have little chances to be far from any. We are tolerant and we respect every religion on Earth but during Ramadan the constant noises, lack of sleep, thirst and hunger, combined with everyday walking under the hot sun are a little bit too much for us. Whatever. We get up, greet everyone, have a secret breakfast in our room and hop on a motor bike.
Today we will see the incredible Hindu-Buddhist complex Prambanan. We’ve made alternative road in order to avoid the crazy highway traffic and in an hour and a half we are there. We park the motor bike in front of an office and penetrate the complex through a hole in the fence.
Prambanan from behind
The entrance fee is again 30 USD per person and we suppose that Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu are OK with the fact that we can’t spend that money to visit their temples 🙂 The buildings are impressive.
It feels like we have teleport back in time in an ancient civilization. The spirit of the place is invaded only by the crowds of tourists waving selfie sticks and posing in strange postures in front of various sacred figures. There are thousands of bass-reliefs on the walls of the temples. To see the complex in details in a day is not possible.
After Prembanan we go to the Buddhist complex Candi Sewo which is close-by. Only the main temple is restored and some Stupas next to it. The giant piles of stone blocks tell what the size of the complex have been in the past.
It turns out there are many discovered and undiscovered temples in the region. Thanks to Abdul’s kindness and the motor bike he gave us we drive around the dozens of temples here.
A small temple far from the main complex
Candi Ijo becomes our favorite. It is on the top of the mountain opposite Prambanan complex. The view from there is fabulous. It is also the only temple without entrance fee. We manage to visit four or five more temples and head back to the house in Muntilan in the early afternoon.
View towards Prembanan from the near-by hills
The sounds of the drums at 2 a.m. pierce our sleeping brains painfully. At 4 the recall for prayer at the mosque summons people to eat. At seven we wake up dizzy, as usually, as of late. The chicken gutting and killing in front of the front door is at its peak. We have a breakfast in our room accompanied by the vague feeling that we are doing something bad, as it always happens the last month every time we eat.
While I prepare the luggage Mr. Shushtari goes to the near-by market. The traditional neighborhood with the typical Javanese houses offers interesting places. Next to us there is a small factory for tofu and ancient public bath on a river where Abdul and Mr. Shushtari went often to soak themselves.
Traditional Javanese house
We get on the motor bike and head to Selo Village where the climb to the volcano Merapi starts. We drive for an hour on not so good roads till we reach the mountain village 30 km. away. We park the motorbike in a storage for carrots and head on an alternative route on the other side of the base camp in order to avoid the village people who ask for 150 000 Rp. entrance fee (10 Euro) and they force you you to take a guide with you.
The cone of Merapi
Interesting to know:
The Merapi Volcano, 2390 m. (7840 feet) is one of the most active on Earth. Its last eruption in 2011 killed 350 people and 350 000 more were evacuated from the region. All in 50 km. radius was covered in 10 cm. layer of ash.
After climbing a narrow pathway through some vegetable gardens we manage to connect to the main path. We are freezing from the rain and the cold air. Three hours on the misty, steep path and we reach a perfect spot forthe bivouac under the crater. At sun-set clouds clear up and we see incredible views to the volcanic cones of Merbabu, Sindoro and Simbung that stun us with their unreal beauty.
Sindoro and Simbung
We cannot sleep well. It is cold, wet and the energy of the volcanoes permeates our dreams. Somewhere deep under our bodies there is boiling lava. We feel as if the ground is alive. Fat animals scratch on our tent in attempts to steal something to eat.
Merbabu, the volcano next to Merapi
We get up at 5 a.m. in order to see the sunrise. We do so on the ridge called “Bubra Market” having this name because there is a legend that here sometimes voices of people bargaining on a market could be heard. Locals believe that this is a ghost market. The final climbing to the crater on the black sand takes an hour.
Before the top
On the sand
We meet some foreigners with a local guide who asks us tartly where our guide is and if we even have a ticket. There are no other people, maybe due to Ramadan. We reach the edge of the crater. The cone is as if from another planet, clouds of sulfur smoke rise up to the sky. The steep rocks to the ash down is maybe 200 meters (650 feet).
As it happens in the Himalayas this doesn’t evoke feelings of just an ordinary admiration to the beauty of Nature, but awe mixed with a little bit of fear. It is an uncontrolled element with life of itself! The last person to die here was just an year ago.
At the edge of the crater
The admiration, or better said our staying in stupor, on the thin, sandy snow of the crater lasts for 15-20 min. The feeling of being in danger and not safe make us go down fast making big, funny jumps on the volcanic sand.
The crater of Merapi
We pack our stuff and go back to the village. We are back in Muntilan and I get feverish from the constant exhaustion and the busy program of the last few days. Our plan to continue to the capital of Central Java Jogjakarta tomorrow is postponed. We stay one last day at Abdul’s resting and internetting.
We are in the center of Muntilan and it will take us an hour to go out of town so we decide to spare the troubles and catch a bus to Jogjakarta or as they also call it Jogja.
Jogja is the capital of Central Java. The city is ruled by a sultan and has special status because before Indonesia became independent by the Dutch it used to be temporary capital where the revolution had been prepared. So now it has same status of capital as Jakarta. It is considered the cultural capital of the island.
The building of Bank of Indonesia in Jogjakarta
The bus costs 15 000 Rp. (1 Euro) and it takes us to the city in an hour. Our host lives in the central part next to the south side of the sultan palace in a quiet street with luxury houses most of them owned by the aristocracy. Adi is not from here but he has hired a public space and opened a cafe. Jogja impresses us upon entering. We haven’t seen such a city in Indonesia up to now.
We expected it to be like Jakarta, constant traffic jams, smog and madness but we were wrong. The atmosphere is quiet, sleepy and romantic. There are small pedestrian alleys everywhere that make one feel as if in some European town. There is no litter and dust. People often use carriages with horses and rickshaws – the local taxis. The city becomes our favorite in an instant.
Street in the old city and the round mosque
Civet-cat – from the excrement of this animal is made the most expensive coffee in the world – kopi luwak
There are several empty rooms with mattresses on the floor at Adi’s art-cafe where he serves coffee made in Japanese style to his not so many customers. We sit in one of them and start chatting with Adi. Soon two other couchsurfers come – a Brazilian guy and a German girl. This will be our circle for the next few days.
At Adi’s cafe
In the afternoon we go for a walk to see the so called “Water Palace” – Taman Sari, of which only the pools of the Harem and sultan have left, as well as an old round mosque with very untypical form and a fortress wall. We manage to see the pools from a small square as the entrance fee is 25 000 Rp. (1,5 Euro) The atmosphere of the palace, the narrow winding streets, the old Javanese houses, the people sitting in front of them, chatting, make the atmosphere fairy-tale-like.
The pool at the Water palace at the sultan’s harem
The gate of the Water Palace
In front of every house there is a cage with a bird in it. Later we find out that every Javanese man has to have a wife, a horse, a kris (traditional dagger) and a bird in order to be considered real man.
Kris – traditional dagger
Next to the cafe there is a workshop for making traditional leather puppets for the theater of shadows – one of the most popular traditional arts in Central Java called “wayang kulit”. We enter and talk for a long time with the owner – third generation puppet master.
The puppet master creating puppets
Episode from the theater of shadows
Inside the workshop there is a big collection of krises with the typical wavy blades. Javanese respect these knifes as if they are alive and it is considered that if the “personality” of the knife is not a match to its owners character this could threaten his life. Many legends tell of such knifes finding their target by themselves when thrown.
Javanese are very superstitious and though they are Muslims they believe in all kinds of magic and spirits. The good kris can stand on its blade, something they showed us. Then we tried many times to do the trick but we couldn’t. Only the master could do it.
The master puts the kris on the tip of its blade
We continue our walk towards Kratona – the sultan palace. The white walls of the houses, the narrow streets, the rickshaws, the locals in front of their houses, all this makes our walk very romantic. We paid the entrance fee of 12 500 Rp. (0,80 Euro) to the local royal guards who protect the palace dressed in dark sarongs and wear specific hats, krises and are barefooted.
Protecting the entrance to the palace
We feel like we travel back in time again. Tens of pavilions filled with strange musical instruments, gardens and buildings with exotic architecture give so much color to the sultan palace. The sultan himself lives in a luxury house outside of the palace and is one of the few ruling sultans in the world today. He is considered to be the ruler of the city. There is a tradition the sultans have to wear sharpened earrings on the top their ears that make them look like elf.
Sultan – elf 🙂
Royal ladies are dressed in beautiful embroidered with gold and silver pieces of cloth called batik. They wrap the cloth over their bodies with their shoulders left uncovered. They don’t wear veils on their heads – overall their outfit is pretty scandalous for the Muslim world.
The sultan court has kept obviously many traditions from the early Hindu times and the mixture with Islam is quite interesting. There are many rituals performed during the year – offerings of flowers and incense sticks to the gods being one of them. The sultan used a special tunnel to go at the ocean’s beach and communicate with the goddess of the sea Nyi Roro Kidul who was considered to be his spiritual wife.
The rooms of the sultan
With time two varieties of Islam have emerged in Indonesia. One is supported by the organization Muhammadiyah, and is considered to be pure Islam as the one in Saudi Arabia, the other is Nahdlatul ulama which is more tolerant to people from other religions and keeping ancient traditions.
The two organizations have different mosques, different ways of praying and rituals. The two have emerged 100 years ago, but the supporters of Muhammadiyah are getting more numerous by the day. Jogja is the birthing place of Muhammadiyah and this is the first time since we are in Indonesia and we see women with their whole faces covered wearing black burka.
The old city
After the sultan’s palace we go to the main street Malioboro. We are again surprised by the wide streets and the giant colonial buildings that are not typical at all for an Indonesian city. There are carriages with tourists on the streets and rickshaws. Today is the last day of Ramadan and the atmosphere is festive. Markets are full of people. Everyone has to wear new cloths tomorrow. Some people have already started eating whatever they can even though the Muezzin hasn’t yet announced the end of the fasting. We make a good use of the chaos and eat some street food.
In the evening we go back to Adi’s cafe exhausted by the long walk. We are poised to see one more pretty strange attraction, namely the religious carnival organized by the mosques where kids with colored carriages recreate episodes from the time of Mohammed, shouting and singing hymns to Allah. Every street has its own carriage and crowd. Some have generators, lights, musicians and powerful stereos. There is also a jury that votes who the winner is and then prizes are given. Though we have seen many extravagant things such as gay parade organized by schools in Thailand, this carnival praising Allah seems strange to us.
We get up early in the morning. Today is the biggest holiday for the Islamic world Eid al-Fitr, called also Idul Fitri in Indonesia. This is the day when the one-month-fasting ends. People greet each other with Eid Mubarak (let this holiday be blessed). It is believed that after Mohammed had spent a month of fasting and praying in the cave Hira in the mountain close to Mecca, Archangel Gabriel appeared multiple times in front of the prophet Mohammed telling him what the words of God were. This holiday could be compared to Christmas in the Christian world, but here people are more religious so the atmosphere is much more festive.
Prayer for Eid al-Fitr
A multitude of people dressed in official white clothes sit on the square where they have their places previously fixed with rope. The Imam comes and after the melodic religious singing the official prayer starts. This prayer officially ends the fasting. We are one of the happiest people here. Our pains, hunger and thirst will be over. We are surprised to find out that this is a sad day for our friend Adi because during this month he said he had felt closest to God and he could not be sure if he would live to see Ramadan next year.
Before the big prayer every Muslim visits the mosque where they leave a donation of approximately 2,5 percent of their annual income. All poor people and beggars are overjoyed because they receive full bags of all kinds of food and food products. Donating is extremely important and is considered to be one of the most vital techniques for overcoming the ego and seeing the transitiveness of life on earth and its material nature, as well as acknowledging the fact that everything is a gift from God.
Women pray at the back of the square
We go back to Adi’s cafe and start preparing luxury cafes, cappuccinos, juices and continue chatting with him. In the evening we prepare special dinner to celebrate. We already feel that it will be hard for us to part ways with the so nice Adi and the Brazilian-German couple 🙂
On the next day as we do very often we leave in the afternoon. We catch a bus to get out of town (3500 Rp. or 0.25 Euro) to the archeological complex Prambanan 17 km away. Then a family takes us. They are going to visit their relatives who live 10 km away from Solo (Surakarta), our next destination. Because of our late departure and the traffic jam it starts getting dark.
People are so kind to invite us to stay at their parent’s house. We agree and after entering many curves and going in various narrow streets we arrive at an old-style house with big wooden gate. Inside are the brother of the woman who took us and his wife – they are from the tribe Dayak. They came to visit for the holidays from Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). In a short the father comes too, he is the Muezzin of the local mosque. There is a long table in the living room surrounded by wooden chairs with beautiful engravings. The table is covered in sweets and snacks.
Visiting traditional village house in the region Solo
The family from Kalimantan go to shop in the nearby mall and offer us to go with them but we decline politely. Short after dinner the father comes wearing festive white clothes with diagonal buttons, murmurs something and goes out. We ask our host where did he go so late. It turns out there is a traditional puppet show nearby and he is a musician and participates in it.
For people living here this is so mundane and normal that it doesn’t even come to their minds to offer us to go. We can’t believe our luck! We will visit authentic show in a typical village and not one prepared for tourists. We grab a bike and head to the place. The scene is already prepared. Dozen musicians are already seated in the places behind their whimsical instruments.
Twenty elders sit in a circle, eat and discuss things about the universe. There are around hundred chairs and half of them are occupied by viewers. We start talking to a local woman who lives in Jakarta and she tells us that the show will last for 8 hours!!! This means it will end at 4 a.m. The name of the play is “Wisanggini lahir”, it is based on the Indian tale of Ramayana and is about the son of Rama Arjuna.
Preparations for the show
Suddenly the elders start moving. They give the puppeteer wearing a kris (dagger) a brand new puppet. The show begins.
It is incredible. The music is enchanting, the puppeteer changes his voice so masterfully. There is one male singer and two females who accompany. It is awesome how this art telling Hindu tales is still alive after Islam became the dominating religion so long ago. During the entr’acte two singers dressed in sexy outfit come and start singing and dancing in somewhat scandalous way. The people from the village get overexcited. Children from the audience go out to dance on the stage and men change turns to sing with the sexy singers.
It turns out this art called wayang kulit is slowly dying away. The Javanese language is very complex. It has six levels of speech where you use different words depending to who you speak to – what is his rank, is he older or younger, is he a friend, a stranger, a sultan or a royalty. Young people do not learn all this words and respectively don’t understand the show. The young sexy singers are much more interesting to them.
After the singers get off the stage the puppet show continues. Musicians or people from the audience interact from time to time and comment on some of the scenes. It is incredible! They also bring different traditional meals all the time. One of them is made with fermented rice and has alcohol in it 🙂 We can’t stay till the end though and go back at 2 a.m.
Here are scenes from the Theater of Shadows – VIDEO TAKEN IN JAKARTA:
On the next day we go in the car together with the brother’s family, all the kids and the father and head to Solo. Here there is another sultan with a palace but he is not ruling as the one in Jogja. We pay the entrance fee (15 000 Rp. or 1 Euro) and enter the Kratona (palace).
Kratona of Surakarta
The main gate
The palace in much smaller than those in Jogja but very beautiful and quite different. Maybe we even like it more. The soldiers are dressed differently and here they wear shoes. We visit the museum.
Inside the palace
A special ceremony starts. The soldiers who remind us very much of the caste of the Kshatriya in India, dressed in colorful clothes, march accompanied by music. Royalty dressed in motley clothes sit with their legs crossed in the central pavilion.
The sultan himself comes too. All bow before him and if one needs to pass by him they walk squatting. Everything is very official and ceremonial. Royal ladies dressed in purple dresses with naked shoulders and strange hair-cuts as if made in the thirties wait beside.
Sadly we can’t watch the ceremony till the end because our friends have to go back for the noon prayer. They leave us at the train station, but all the tickets are sold. Our plan to travel with train in order to dodge the terrible traffic jams forming after the holidays fails. We have to travel in the traffic. A hitchhiking classic!
We catch a bus to go out of the city and after a quick hitchhike no one more takes us. Cars pass by and an hour passes. It seems as if people here don’t understand what we are trying to do. We see empty looks or they don’t even see us. We hitchhike and they wave back for hello. We decide to change our strategy, put on the rucksacks and start walking and hitchhiking simultaneously. After just five minutes a family with shabby SUV and two sweet girls inside stop. Now we can fully enjoy the total traffic jam.
After 8 hours of non-stop driving we cross 100 km. At one of the stops they make we excuse ourselves, thank the people and tell them we will sleep here. It had been dark for a long time already. We are lucky that there are no rice fields and villages here. There is a very nice forest with great glazes. We enter 100 m. inside to be away from the never-ending traffic of cars and motorbikes.
The incredible Prambanan