Aishwarya and I had always wanted to travel together. With several failed plans, eventually, the day arrived. The destination was Yogyakarta, Indonesia or JOGJA, as the locals call it.
We sketched a rough plan and attracted a couple of more tourists. Pratik, Aninda and Dipanwita instantly joined and everything was in action. Flight tickets and accommodation were booked. And, we were all excited to climb Gunung Merapi, catch sunset at Prambanan (a Hindu Temple), see Indonesian version of Hindu mythology- Ramayana Ballet, admire sunrise at Borobodur (a Buddhist Temple) and experience nature’s creations in Dieng Plateau.
With a tight itinerary to be accomplished in three days, we left Singapore on 19th September. I caught the rising sun that morning and left home when everyone else was still sleeping. After reaching Changi, at row 14 we were directed to the queue for flight to Jakarta. I insisted that we are going to YOGYAKARTA and not JAKARTA but the ground staff directed me to that queue only (Having some bitter experience in Jakarta, I have always refrained from visiting or even talking about Jakarta). I later realised that he was saying, ” JOGJAKARTA”.
After completing all the formalities and having food, we slowly started moving towards Gate D38 to board our flight. It was still 45 mins for the flight to take off. Suddenly, Pratik saw the screen and said that it is the “final call” for boarding flight QZ 658. That was our flight!!! None of us believed him as it was still 45 mins to go. Another screen came.. Final Call for Air Aisa flight QZ658 and we increased our pace to the 4th gear. We made it in time! Post-security check, we moved on to the seats in front of the gate, only to realise that we were being asked to hop on to the aircraft as soon as possible. Intrigued with the hurried nature of the ground staff of Air Asia, we thought that probably the flight is empty and they want to fly as soon as possible. Comparisons were drawn with Indian buses, where they keep shouting the name of the buses’ destination and always show haste in starting the journey but eventually leave only after the stipulated time. 😉
Flight from Singapore to Yogyakarta was peaceful. There were some bumps on the road but as soon as we moved to the ‘highway’ everything seemed smooth. It is just that the ‘highway’ route was little longer and the flight was delayed by 15 mins. Bags in hands, we moved to the Airport entrance to find a lost crowd of people trying to figure out what and how to do. And, suddenly someone handed me a dark and photocopied version of embarkation form. It took us a couple of seconds to imbibe the idea that that was an official form and meant for IMMIGRATION. After the airport formalities, we were introduced to the idea bargaining. “Taxi to Jambuluwuk: Rp. 130.000 but, we can do it in Rp. 100.00o”. Moved to next counter. “We can do it in Rp. 60.000”. Fact #1 of Indonesia: Must Bargain!
Within an hour we had checked-in to our hotel: Jambuluwuk Malioboro Boutique Hotel. A very welcoming and helpful staff introduced us to beginning of a comfortable stay. We, then, went out to get some local food and book the tours for the next two days (Trek to Merapi was already booked). Looking for food, we reached Jalan Malioboro. After wandering around for 30 mins, like true Singaporeans, we decided to go to Mal Malioboro and dine at Pizza Hut. Stuffed ourselves as much as we could. Had some of the best drinks of our lives. Fact#2 of Indonesia: every menu card has at least 20 cool drinks to offer and all of them are amazing.
Next, we went to the tourist information centre, which was of no help. Eventually, after searching for an hour, we found the backpacker’s street, which was full of tour agents. Happily, we booked the tours to Prambanan, Borobodur and Dieng Plateau at the cheapest price possible. We were becoming good at bargaining. 🙂
After getting some recovery sleep, we geared up ourselves for the trek to Gunung Merapi, an active lava volcano in the fire belt of Central Java, Indonesia. All of us knew it was a difficult trek, but still our first question to our driver and two of our guides was, “Is it a VERY difficult trek?” and every time the world echoed itself, “YES”. Consoling ourselves, we left for the trek. Ate some bread on our way, which we called dinner. At our guide’s home, we were, then, greeted with warm Jasmine Tea, a perfect drink to beat the chillness of the weather. We finally started climbing Merapi at 1 pm. The road to base camp was made of concrete but inclined at about 45-50 degrees. From the base camp, we had 4 hours to reach to the summit to catch the second sunrise of the trip. We started with all our will power accumulated in our feet, knees and heart, as will power was the only training we had as trekkers. For a couple of us, it was the first trek of their lives. From the base camp, there were only sand moving pebbles beneath our feet on a narrow walkway inclined at more than 50 degrees now. If one stayed at a place for more than a minute, the soil started sinking. We were running short of breath, but continued climbing. It was a real test of endurance. Falling… crawling… slipping.. but continued climbing. All through that slow climb, only one question kept hitting my mind.. “how will you climb down this mountain?” After reaching half way, we realised it will be too late by the time we will make it to the summit and post-sunrise heat will make it even more difficult to get back to the ground. So, practical decision was to climb down the mountain. Our guides taught us to move like crabs. Some of us were also sliding and crawling on their hands and back. We felt like Spiderman with no webs. “With no power, we bore no responsibility”. Finally, in an hour and a half, we were at the base of Merapi. On guide’s suggestion, we went up to another hill with some 300-350 stairs to catch that second sunrise of the trip. Just in time for the sunrise, we saw the colours changing in the sky and the saw the rising sun rays shining the summit of Gunung Merapi. It was a beautiful view. We looked at the terrains in Merapi, standing tall in front of us, and found it to be fading gradually as one goes up. And, with no prior training we had made half way through. Another sun was smiling on our lives and we started climbing down to get back to hotel.
Food search began like true Indians this time. We searched for an Indian restaurant in vicinity, but, upon reaching found it to be closed. Disappointed, we started looking for other places to eat and reached Foodfezt in Jalan Kaliurang. We, again, stuffed ourselves with food, as that was our first proper meal in 24 hours. Vegeterians in the group were also contented. All of us were already in love with Indonesian drinks, so we ordered 2 drinks for each of us and were extremely satisfied.
Next, we set out to view sunset at a 9th century made, Hindu temple, Prambanan, which is a temple of Lord Shiv, Vishnu and Brahma. In front of each Lords’ temple, there are individual temples dedicated for their mounts, Nandi (Bull), Garuda (Eagle) and Hamsa (Swan) respectively. This temple is made of stones with grooves which complement each other and fit well with each other. The top of the temple dome is a key that keeps all the blocks in place. The architects of the temple designed the dome in such a way that, when faced with earthquake, all the blocks fall outside the inner chamber saving the main shrine. Even though we could not visit the under construction Shiva temple, we were told that the shrine is in the human form, unlike the “linga” representation of Lord Shiva in India. Folklore says that the Indonesians of that era believed that the king is the incarnation of Lord Shiva which could have influenced the representation of Lord Shiva in human form.
The Sun had already started to set and we managed to get the best seats to observe the Sun bringing an end to the day. That was the moment we personified the Sun and realised how uncomfortable the Sun would be feeling about so many people observing it get up and getting to bed every day. And, probably that’s why some days the Sun prefers to stay inside its cloud blanket. 😉
The day ended with an awesome Ramayana Ballet. With beautifully lighted Prambanan in the background, Indonesian dancers danced on Indonesian music and portrayed the age-old story of Hindu mythology. To my surprise, except for a few changes in the name, most of the story was same as the one told in India. We fell in love with the Marich when she danced as a golden deer to attract Rama away from Sita (or ‘Shinta’ in Bahasa). The archery skills of Rama and Lakshmana were also commendable. But, the best scene was the one in which Hanuman burns down Lanka, where they had arranged some hay stacks to be burnt. Remarkably, in the end, when Rama and Sita reunite, they kissed and live happily ever after. 😉
To view our third sunrise of the trip, we left the hotel at 3:30 am for Borobodur, a majestic Buddhist temple which is still fighting to be on the list of world wonders. The big stony stairs of the temple took us 10 floors above to the serene and tranquil environment of main stupa, Arupadhatu. Soon we realised that Sun was lazy that day and wanted to stay inside the clouds, so the sunrise was not very clear for us. But, still that was a beautiful sunrise with clouds changing colors every moment.
Borobodur is also a 9th century made Buddhist temple made in three strata: Kamadhatu (foot), Roopdhatu (Body) and Aroopdhatu (Head). According to locals, Borobodur and Prambanan were made at the same time by two different kings. Borobodur occupies more area and is philosophically attractive, while Prambanan is taller and is aesthetically more appreciable.
Like Prambanan, Borobodur is also made of stones and has 100s of bell shaped stupas with holes having Buddh statues inside them. Each of these statues has different mudras or body postures, depending on the direction it is facing. The reliefs on the outer walls of the temple were extremely impressive. On a clear day, one could also see Gunung Merapi on the west side of the temple.
Next in plan was a volcanic plateau with three active volcanoes and several dormant ones. It was a 3 hour ride from Borobodur on the majestic hill side of Indonesia.
Sulphur Lake or Telaga Warna
Sulphur Lake, aptly called Colour Lake, demonstrates varying colours owing to varying sulphur concentration. To get a better look at the lake we climbed a small mount next to the entrance and by this time we were THE TREKKERS. You just tell us that there is a mountain that could be climbed, we would start climbing it. 😉
The smell of sulphur was very repulsive but the beauty of the lake kept us spellbound. Upon getting closer to the lake, we had an interesting encounter with the locals. Even though Indians are uncountable, they still treat us as celebrities and want to get pictures with us. Probably, Pratik resembled ShahRukh Khan and we of course had Aishwarya (Rai) with us. 😉
Sikidang Crater or Kawah Sikidang
Thereafter, we went to see a crater with poisonous gases and water boiling at 170 degrees Celsius. We were warned, “Do not swim, you might burn”. 😀 Gas was coming out of small fissures also and we were walking on them. And were then informed that the pressure of these gases to generate geothermal energy.
Later, we tasted a local fruit, Carica, which looks like a Starfruit and tastes like a Pineapple.
According to the folklore, this place was inhabited by Hindu Brahmins with schools and rest houses and around 400 temples. Most of those structures have fallen down. Upon discovery, the surviving ones were named after the names of the characters of the puppet show, Wayang Kulit: Arjuna, Srikandi, Puntadewa (Yudhishthir), Sembadra (Subhadra) and Semar (one of the Javanese characters).
We, then, returned back to Jogja and finished our day with some souvenir shopping in Jalan Malioboro and dinner at Pizza Hut in Mal Malioboro.
Early morning, next day, we packed our bags and left for Singapore. Luckily, we caught the fourth sunrise of our trip on that day. With Gunung Merapi on our left side and Sun in the front of us, we said good bye to Jogja. Fact #3 of Indonesia: 5 people can hire one taxi. 🙂
Upon completing the airport formalities and giving away some fruits to the airport security officers, we realised that our seats had been split up into groups of 3 and 2. And, after getting into the aircraft we found out that 3 of us had got upgradation! I and Aish, still stuck in the economy class, inquired the in-flight staff if we can move to the empty seats next to our friends. We were denied because apparently, one needs to pay for upgradation. Flight took off. We again got a glimpse of Gunung Merapi and asked ourselves, “what were we thinking??”
Eventually, Pratik got off his seat and used some of his convincing skills with the flight attendant. Interestingly, with just a formality to fill a feedback form, we happily moved to the upgraded seats (free of charge). Notably, the deal asked us to come back to our original seats during landing (I still do not understand, why?). Anyway, we did.
Finally, after visiting some natural and man-made marvels, the trip of sunrises and treks came to an end and we were back to the world of escalators and elevators. No more climbing for a while, I guess! 😉