It is 5:40 a.m. and, directly on cue, the
sun rises slowly over the horizon, silhouetting volcanic Mount
Merapi and casting early-morning light on the majestic Buddhist
temple of Borobudur.
silently as sun rays clear the morning mist and add color and focus
to the 504 statues of Buddha that dominate this remarkable
structure. Built between 750 and 842, it is Indonesias most
recognizable tourist attraction.
Situated about 25
miles northwest of the old Indonesian capital of Yogyakarta -- also
known as Jogyakarta, Yogya or Jogja -- in central Java, the temple
fell into disuse around 1000 and was not discovered again until
An expedition the
following year led by the British governor of Java, Sir Stamford
Raffles, unveiled Borobudur from a covering of undergrowth that had
hidden it during centuries of neglect. Borobudur again fell into a
neglected state before further restoration by the Dutch in the
early 20th century.
Built on a small
hill, the 390-square-foot Buddhist monument has six square-stepped
terraces, topped by three circular ones
with a bell-shaped chamber at the summit.
A Unesco World
Heritage site, Borobudur is often compared to Angkor Wat in
Cambodia. Built of 2 million blocks, the structure, which features
over 1,400 bas-relief carvings in addition to hundreds of Buddha
statues, is a monument to the craftsmanship of the sculptors,
masons and laborers who constructed it.
A mile away lies
Mendut, a temple worth visiting mainly to see its unusual 10-foot
statue of Buddha, who sits with both feet on the ground rather than
in the usual cross-legged lotus position.
While nearly 90%
of the Indonesian population now profess Islam, the equally
impressive Prambanan temples, about 10 miles east of Yogyakarta,
remain centers of Hindu worship.
Built around the
same time as Borobudur, Prambanans eight large and eight smaller
temples, all intricately carved, rise from the surrounding
From May to
October, the Ramayana Ballet is held at an outdoor theater close to
the temples, the largest of which -- the floodlit Candi Shiva
Mahadeva -- provides a spectacular backdrop to the production of
gamelan music and dancers.
Prambanan temple perimeter lies an incredible array of souvenir
stalls where vendors battle to attract customers.
Prambanan is so
close to Yogyakarta that the city makes an excellent base from
which to explore temples and other attractions in the surrounding
the center of the island of Java, is synonymous with Indonesian
culture and artistic heritage.
It is a famous
university city, with more than 60 centers of learning. Many
students come from abroad to study language, dance, music and arts
and crafts, with batik particularly popular.
performances of traditional Indonesian gamelan music and wooden and
leather puppet plays are refreshing and different.
The old part of
the city around the kraton, the palace of the sultan of Yogya, is
like a small village, complete with its own market, craft shops and
Visitors can stop
at the kraton reception hall and museum, home to an interesting
collection of heirlooms and musical instruments.
attractive is Taman Sari, or the water castle, on the edge of the
kraton, with its ornate pools. Close by is the Pasar Ngasem, a
noisy market for the caged birds that are extremely popular in
Batik cloth is
the local product most sought after by tourists. There are two
varieties: batik cap, or printed batik, and the much more expensive
tulis, which is hand-made batik.
Silver is a major
industry in Yogyakarta, and the best place for top-notch examples
of silversmith work is in the old town district of Kota
main thoroughfare Malioboro Street, named for the Duke of
Marlborough, becomes a seething market of hundreds of stalls
offering the widest range of clothing, watches, batik, souvenirs,
silverware and leather in the city.
A number of other
worthwhile places to visit, besides the aforementioned temples, are
within a two-hour drive of Yogyakarta. It is a land where time has
stood still and traditional ways of life continue unchanged, except
for the constant roar of thousands of motorbikes.
To the north,
volcano Gunung Merapi towers over the surrounding plain. As it has
been rumbling in recent months, and has erupted a few times in
recent years, tourists cannot get too close. But there are great
views from the hill resort of Kaliurang.
northeast of Yogyakarta, beyond Prambanan, lies Solo,
another old hub of Javanese culture.
Solo is the
hometown of former Indonesian President Haji Mohammad Suharto, who
ruled for 30 years. His house, and the palace of the local sultan,
can be visited.
Solo, once known
as Surakarta, is a good base from which to tour the surrounding
hilly countryside of rice fields and tea plantations clinging to
the steep slopes.
Two more temples,
Candi Cetho and Candi Sukuh, perch serenely on the top of rugged
hills about an hour east of Solo.
Yogyakarta can be
reached from the U.S., from Los Angeles, via Thai Airways, China
Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Japan
Most fly to their
respective Asian hubs and then on to Bali or Jakarta in Indonesia.
From there, visitors connect to Yogyakarta on Indonesian national
carrier Garuda or one of the local low-cost airlines, such as
There are a host
of excellent hotels in Yogyakarta, including international brands
such as Novotel, Mercure, Sheraton and Hyatt. For something
different, the Puri Artha Hotel is in a restored Dutch
rates are remarkably low for the high quality of service offered.
Many hotels have excellent restaurants, and there is a vast
selection of other places to eat. Consult your hotel
For more on
travel to Yogyakarta and Java, contact the Indonesia Tourist
Promotion Office in Los Angeles at (213) 383-5126 or visit www.my-indonesia.info.
the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].