I had never heard of Yogyakarta before my friend Abraham suggested it a few weeks back. Even then, I was a skeptic – “How good could a place possibly be if nanamoose did not know about it?” the obnoxious moose was thinking. However, apparently even Starbucks knew better. When I arrived for transit at Jakarta airport I was pleasantly surprised to find a “Yogyakarta City Mug” at Starbucks with prints of its famous Borobudur stupas on it.
I was not able to track down any Starbucks in Yogyakarta (which sparks the question – what are city mugs for and does having a mug mean that there will be a Starbucks in the city? Some food for thought), but what I did find was even more valuable. Yogyakarta is home to two of Indonesia’s architectural marvels, the Buddhist Borobudur and its Hindu counterpart, Prambanan temple, both located within an hour’s distance from Yogyakarta. Visiting Prambanan temple by sunset was a serene affair, especially after a tumultuous ride on Garuda Air the same morning. The Prambanan temples were built around 8th to 10th century AD in dedication of Lord Shiva, when Java was ruled by the Hindu Sanjayas of Old Mataram in the north. Our guide, the auspiciously named Nono, told us that despite Prambanan being one of the most outstanding remaining examples of Hindu art and despite it being listed as a Unesco World Heritage list in 1991, it had not been granted the funds to allow full restoration. On the day we visited souvenir vendors easily outnumbered the few tourists who were there, and our group (consisting of the eight of us) was easily the largest in the complex. Under the grey ominous skies the Prambanan temples looked like something that could have come straight out of the Lord of the Rings with their overpowering black façade carved straight out of volcanic stones, yet in a matter of two hours the setting sun had completely engulfed the ghostly figures in its golden light.
Borobudur, on the other hand, was built slightly before Prambanan by the Buddhist Sailendra dynasty in the South, some time between 750 and 850 AD. We arrived late on a Friday morning having just missed the sunrise. Nevertheless, the Borobudur in front of us, encircled by an ethereal morning mist, was mystifying as ever. In the depths of rural Java, Borobudur soars quietly in the midst of lush green forestation and lifting fogs on a 118m x 118m base like a giant tantric mandala. Six square terraces are topped by three circular ones, with four stairways leading up through finely carved gateways to the top where 72 Buddhas sit serene-faced and partially visible from latticed stone stupas. I have never seen anything quite like this. As if suddenly hit by a wave of calmness (and despite the hordes of schoolchildren trying to chat up foreigner all around me), I decide to find a quiet location behind one of the stupas to do some meditation. Meditation proved hard with the fanfare around me, but instead I found one of the most beautiful spots in Java. The morning mist had long dispersed, yet behind me ancient Buddhas were smiling, children were laughing, on my left palm trees were swaying and on my right “luminescent green rice paddies” lay outstretched as if to infinity. Perhaps I did not need to meditate. Being in Borobudur is already a meditation in itself.
Unless you can afford to stay at the Amanjiwo right in front of Borobudur, stay at the Dusun Jogja Village Inn in Prawirotaman area. According to the Lonely Planet this boutique hotel has acquired somewhat of an institutional status in the city, and I believe rightly so. Small and quaint with a distinct exotic Javanese feel, this hotel boasts a mini massage parlour, movie room, restaurant and decent pool by which you can sit sipping a glass of red wine while counting stars through shuffling palm trees. Rooms are clean and rustic with a friendly staff. The hotel can arrange transportation and itinerary for surrounding sites.