Yogyakarta and Borobudur: Two days is too short!

Strolling down Malioboro Street in Yogyakarta

As we landed into Yogyakarta after a whirlwind trip to Bali, we had no idea what to expect.  I had come down with a cold and was in no position to go running around on a motorcycle, or go on walkabout in the big city. Thankfully, Malioboro Street, the main street in Yogyakarta, harbouring souvenir shops, food stalls, local restaurants, and most mid-range hotels, is a mere 30-45 min drive from the airport, so we didn’t have too far to go. As we worked our way through the city,  the first thing we noticed was the slower pace of life in Yogyakarta. Bali had been so fast paced that our heads had literally been entirely spun in the wrong direction and back again, but the cars in Yogyakarta seemed to stay in their own lanes with room to breathe on either side… and thus, so we did, take a deep breathe that is, and prepare for our short visit to what was once (between 1945-1949) the capital of Indonesia.

Colonized by the Dutch,  administrative buildings dotted the sidewalk as we completed the last few kilometers to Rumah Boedi Pavilion where we had booked for $67/2 nights and pretty much got what we paid for. The rooms at our hotel were relatively clean, and we were graciously upgraded to the “suite” thanks to our status as newlyweds. The staff was kind enough to decorate our bed with flowers, but even the scent from the rose petals couldn’t mask the horrible odour that escaped from the bathroom despite our best efforts to fan it out. On a positive note, the hotel is centrally located and is in walking distance of Malioboro (10 min) and some incredible local eats! One of the coolest things about Yogyakarta is when the shops start closing and the food stalls open for business.

Strolling down Malioboro, it’s impossible not to  give in to the scent of fried chicken, spicy noodles, and blends of spices that work their way into your nostrils and beckon you take a seat on the floor and enjoy a sip of fresh juice, coffee, or tea (no alcohol – while Bali is heavily Hindu, Yogyakarta reflects the Muslim majority that makes up almost all of Indonesia). If you’re lucky, you may even catch the tunes of a minstrel working their way from stall to stall and filling the air with music that sets the tone for night on the town. And if you’re in the market for a souvenir… that’s just where you need to be, the market! In addition to great food options, Malioboro offers the best shopping in town. From small time souvenir stalls to art galleries boasting ‘limited time exhibitions’ that never really have an end-date, be sure to visit the these shops before leaving town.

Basking in the brilliance of Borobodur

Our first day in Yogyakarta was spent reading on the terrace at our hotel, partially because I was sick as a dog, and partially because contrary to the heat wave we experienced in Bali, it was rainy season in Yogyakarta and poured the second half of the day. This meant missing out on seeing one of the two major attractions in and around the city, the temple at Prambanan. Prambanan is a UNESCO heritage site and an accumulation of Hindu temples built around 850 AD. Thankfully, on our second day in Yogyakarta, I was well enough to make the 1.5 hour trip to Borobodur, a Buddhist temple (also a UNESCO heritage site) dated around 825 AD that is about 1.5 hours from central Yogyakarta and something you definitely don’t want to miss.

The temple itself is situated in the middle of a park for which there is a fee. Note, as a foreigner, you will pay an increased fee, don’t let it throw you. After enjoying a welcome drink at the park entrance (tea or water for your excursion through the temple) be sure to invest in a guide. Unless you have an extremely detailed book, you are sure to miss out. This isn’t a museum; this is a monument chalk-full of history but in order to fully grasp the significance, you will need to have someone take you step by step through the complex.  We hired a guide for peanuts and learned some fascinating tidbits about the history of the temple. For example; Borobudur was covered in Ash for thousands of years and was only rediscovered in 1814 by Sir Stamford Raffles (the founder of Singapore) who hired the Dutch to excavate the ruins. Many of the Buddhist statues are now headless thanks to the throngs of people who flocked to the newly discovered site and decided to take back a head for a souvenir.

As you  make your way through the park on a clear day, you may get a glimpse of Mount Merapi, the most active volcano in Indonesia. Unfortunately, we weren’t so lucky, but we forgot all about the mountain once Borobudur came into our view. The actual monument reflects the 7 steps taken by Buddhists as they follow the path to enlightenment. The journey to Nirvana (or the top of the monument in this case) requires novice monks to circumvent the structure from East to West, reading the stories engraved in the panels that reflect the life of Siddhartha (Buddha).  For example, the lower level of the structure is filled with panels depicting the base level desires and temptations faced by humanity. These include the sins of drinking, gambling, fornicating, etc. Now, to us Westerners, this may be no big deal. But in Indonesia where Islamix influence shapes what is/is not appropriate to show-off as history, these panels are threatening to a way of life and thus remain mostly covered.

As the clouds began to gather after a scorching day spent exploring the temple, we made our way back to Yogyakarta with the public bus. The trip is very straight forward with one change en route to Malioboro and is much cheaper than taking a taxi all the way back to town. As we packed our things and readied to head towards our next destination, we reflected fondly on our time in Yogyakarta, the only objection being that we sincerely wish we had more of it!

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