What a day it was yesterday. It began when I was collected at 8am by Vita, a guide of 15 years experience with Via Via, by motorbike. We headed off immediately through the streets of Jogja heading north. While riding along, Vita made me slightly nervous by wanting to chat with me while driving! I didn’t feel comfortable with her attention divided between me and the road! She was inviting me to join a trial walking tour that afternoon that several guides were testing. I was thrilled to be asked and jumped at the opportunity to be a part of it.
Thankfully once the invitation was accepted, Vita was content to concentrate on her navigating. She proudly took me through the smaller back streets to avoid the major roads. I actually don’t know whether for me I felt any less nervous on the main roads or the side streets. Both have traffic suddenly appearing out of nowhere and it was quite nerve wracking, especially crossing the many intersections. We drove over hundreds of polisi tidurs all with me gripping tightly to the handle on the back of the motorbike wondering if it was better to have my eyes open or closed during the journey! However the most nerve wracking part would have to be a toss up between the drive across a thin concrete bridge over an irrigation weir (subak) and when crossing a busy road and then driving on the road against the traffic, swerving in and out of the oncoming traffic!
The first temple we visited was Candi Sambisari, a recently discovered Hindu temple. Apparently a farmer was ploughing his field in 1966 and discovered it. The archeological office heard about it and promptly took possession of the entire area! They then spent 21 years digging it out, as it was all below the surface of the ground buried by volcanic ash and debris from past Mt Merapi eruptions. Because it had been hidden and forgotten for centuries, it is one of the more preserved and complete temples in Java and dates back to the same period as Borobudur, early 9th century.
As you can see, the whole temple is below ground level!
Vita and I sat down on the steps leading up to the temple and she told me some more legends about the first Sultan and the Queen of the South Seas (Ratu Kidul Pantai Selatan). I just love the stories. In Vita’s version, the pearl is an egg and the sultan being suspicious about the intention of Ratu Kidul put the egg on a table overnight. During the night a servant ate the egg and turned into a dragon. The sultan was both slightly annoyed that the servant had eaten something that was for the Sultan but he was also grateful and to show his appreciation, he gave him the responsibility of being Mt Merapi’s caretaker. Now when Mt Merapi is erupting, locals comment by saying, “Grandpa’s is having a party!” Kakek (Grandpa) is a respectful term for an elderly man.
At Candi Sambisari Vita introduced me to Kala, the God of Darkness. Kala sits over the doorway of the main temple as a protector and I remembered seeing Kala too in the driveway outside the kraton. He has big round eyes to both frighten bad spirits away and to remind you that he is watching you!
Through the doorway leading into the main temple, there is a huge altar upon which offerings are laid during special festivals. Right in the middle of the altar is a huge post as you can see from the photo below. It is a very small room and beautifully cool.
Walking around the outside, Vita talked briefly about the 4 statues in the niches in the outer walls. In one was Durga, Ganesh was in another and a monk, Agastya, in the fourth. Each alcove was topped by a carving of Kala.
We headed back to the motorbike and as we were putting our helmets on, Vita pointed out an old man sitting on a block of stone with his back to us. He was the farmer who had discovered the temple and is now employed as one of the gardeners. He and his sons have guaranteed employment in the vast gardens!
A short drive then to the Kalasan Temple also known as the Tara temple. This temple is Buddhist (can you see the stupas at the top) and the first thing that strikes you is the higgledy piggelty fashion of the stones on the outside.
It is so unusual. Vita says it is because the builders focused totally on the inside positioning of the stone. This temple is falling apart and it seems little effort is being given to halt this in any way. On all sides are doorways to different rooms, however only one has any remnant of stairs remaining. The other 3 have a sheer drop from the doorway to the ground.
We clambered up the ‘stairs’ which is purely the remains of a past stairway but now is little more than a rocky cliff. The inside of the temple is a total ruin and the ‘Tara’ statue after which the temple is known, vanished long ago, probably to collectors. Looking upwards though is a smooth domed celling leading up to a skylight. Apparently the interior of this temple was originally painted gold so that when it caught the morning sunrise it glowed!
This temple is mostly famous for the very detailed surviving stone carving of Kala above the southern doorway. The fact that the doorway has a sheer wall in front of it now probably accounts for the carving surviving so well. I wonder too if the aspect has protected it from the weather.
Our final destination for this temple tour was Candi Prambanan. It too was only a short drive so all 3 temples are very close to each other. Most people only see Borobudur and Prambanan when in Central Java so I am pleased I saw 2 of the smaller ones too. After some mie kuah (noodle soup) I headed into Prambanan by myself while Vita stayed in the air-conditioned ticket office. It was stinking hot at Prambanan, very little shade over the paths and only paving and gravel on the ground.
The umbrellas are for shade!
I was glad to be by myself by this point as I was hot and tired and just wanted to do things at my pace. Prambanan is a huge complex with the main temples in an enclosed area about 10 mins walk from the front office. Instead of following the crowd heading in the front gate, I turned left and walked around the outside to the back stairs stopping now and then under trees. It was so peaceful unlike in the main arena where it was full of domestic tourists all jostling up and down the stairs to get into the temples. I didn’t really enjoy sharing Prambanan with hundreds of others so kept it brief and was easily able to meet Vita by 1pm as we’d planned. The most interesting thing that happened to me while looking around was bumping into a school group from Kintamani (Bali)! They were so polite and friendly unlike most other groups and chatted to me for quite a while without once asking to take my photo! While heading back I heard a call over the PA for 2 groups from Bangli (Bali) to head back to their bus! The only Balinese I have seen the whole time I have been in Java.
All up I thoroughly enjoyed seeing all the temples but can honestly say that for now, I am happy to have a break from any more as a tourist.