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Published: August 6th 2007
Gamelan forge, Solo.
Gamelan are traditional Javanese musical instruments.
I rushed through the island of Java because I only had 10 days left on my Indonesian Visa. The Visa on arrival is only for 30 days, which is totally inadequate for the archipelago of islands which make up the state of Indonesia.
So, I didn't really do justice to Java, I just visited some of the cultural highlights of the island, which
included the cultural heart of the island around Yogya (Yogyakarta) and Solo (Surakarta).
Java is the political and economic centre of Indonesia. It is the most populous island in the archipelago.
Java alone has a population of 120 million. In fact the island is one of the most densely populated
places on earth. It has a population twice the size of Britain in a land area half the size. This is possible
because the land is fertile. The soil is very rich because of the string of volcanoes that line the island. It
is also near the equator with plenty of rainfall, the farmers can manage 3 rice harvests a year.
I ended my last blog
entry in Aceh, Sumatra; another leg in my multi-year around the world
trip. From Banda Aceh I flew back to Medan
with Adam Air, a very cheap Indonesian Airline. Although it was a Boeing 737 it was very battered - the Exit sign on the emergency door was held on with sticky tape! In Medan I wrote up the last blog entry. Medan is one of the few places in Sumatra with Internet speeds adequate enough for uploading a blog.
“People visit Jakarta as they visit Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Milan, and any other economic capital
of a country. Jakarta is best described as a bustling and ironic metropolis: a sweltering, steaming,
heaving mass of some 10 million people packed into a vast urban sprawl, the contrast between the
obscene wealth of Indonesia's elite and the appalling poverty of the urban poor is incredible, with
tinted-window BMWs turning left at the Gucci shop into muddy lanes full of begging street children
and corrugated iron shacks. The city's traffic is in perpetual gridlock, its air is quite polluted and
completed by the peculiar combination of the smells of burning garbage and open sewers.”
After a few days in Medan I flew to Jakarta the capital of Java and Indonesia.
It was a very cheap flight that arrived in Jakarta at 3am on Sunday 8th of April. At that time in the
morning I wasn't going to make my way into the city. So, I found a bench in the airport and tried to get
some sleep until the sun rose.
When the sun rose, I caught the airport bus into Jakarta.
Jakarta is a huge, sprawling, hot and humid, smoggy and polluted mess. Although I arrived in the city
in the early morning it was already very hot. I perspired profusely as I walked the streets looking for a
place to stay. Once I found a hotel, I took
Gamelan forge, Solo.
Gamelan are traditional Javanese musical instruments.
a shower to wash the salt off my body and went to bed at
I was intending to get straight out of the city the next day but that didn't happen. I went sight seeing on the Monday morning. It took longer than I expected. When I got back to my hotel at midday I was so
hot and sweaty I couldn't face catching the train. So, I decided to hide from Jakarta's heat and humidity
for the afternoon.
Instead I caught the train the next day on Tuesday the 10th of April.
Java has an extensive and efficient train service. It was a 3 hour journey from Jakarta to Bandung
through the beautiful countryside.
Bandung was a much more pleasant city than Jakarta because it wasn't so hot. It is at 750m above sea
level which moderates the temperature.
Once upon a time, Bandung was considered the 'Paris of Java'. The Dutch colonists even considered
making it the capital of the Dutch East Indies. The colonial grandeur has long since been buried under
the usual unplanned sprawl and grime of a poor Asian city.
The city though does
still have some examples of grand colonial and Art Deco buildings. It was briefly
famous as the venue of the Asia-Africa Conference in 1955. The Bandung Conference resulted in a
document which became a guideline for colonial countries fighting for independence. It was also a step
towards the formation of the non-aligned movement.
The non-aligned movement was an attempt by some countries not to take sides in the Cold War
between America and Russia. There may be people reading this that do not remember the Cold War.
The Bandung Conference was therefore an important part of Indonesia's foreign policy in the 1950's. I
visited the museum of the Asian-African Conference when I was in Bandung for a couple of days. The
museum building is the site of the original conference, it is also an example of Bandung's Art-Deco
buildings. You can visit the official website of the museum by clicking here
(President of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono; at the Asian-African Summit
“But now that Asia and Africa are free, we must take on the next phase, of battle for human
2005, the 50th anniversary of the Asian-African Conference in Bandung ).
On Thurs 12th of April I left Bandung on the train. It was a 7 hour journey on a comfortable train.
I arrived in Yogya (Yogyakarta)
it was raining heavily. It continued to rain till the evening.
Yogya is the cultural and tourist heart of Java. It is central to the island's artistic and cultural heritage and is the ideal place to explore nearby attractions, including the archaeological sites of Borobudur and Prambanan.
I spent the next day April the 13th walking around the tourist sites of the city. In the centre of the old
city is the Kraton, the huge palace of the sultans of Yogya.
When the Dutch occupied Yogya in their vain attempt to hold onto Indonesia as a colony; the sultan
locked himself in the Kraton and let independence fighters use the palace as their headquarters. The
Dutch didn't dare move against the Sultan. Yogya was always a symbol of resistance to Dutch colonial
rule - it was at the centre of Prince Diponegoro's Java War (1825-30).
Borobudur and Prambanan
On the 14th I took a tour to the surrounding archaeological wonders of Borobudur
Borobudur is one of the wonders of the world. The only temple I've ever seen that rivals Borobudur is
Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I visited
Making Rice crackers, near Solo.
One of the many traditional cottage industries in the area around Solo.
Angkor Wat in 2001 before my current world trip. If you want to
see pictures of Angkor Wat I suggest you click here which will direct you to Cumberland Sausage's
Borobudur was built between AD 750 and 850. It was abandoned soon after it was built, forgotten and
buried under layers of volcanic ash. The nearby Mount Merapi which looms over the temple is the most
active volcano on the island of Java.
The temple was only re-discovered in 1815 by Sir Stamford Raffles who later became the founder of
the city state of Singapore (see my blog Singapore Sling)
. Borobudur is a massive symmetrical stupa,
literally wrapped around a hill. The monument is a Buddhist vision of the cosmos, starting in the
everyday world, spiralling up to Nirvana.
We arrived at the monument at 6am and spent a couple of hours at Borobudur before breakfast.
After breakfast the tour took us to the other side of Yogya to visit the temples at Prambanan
temples are the largest and most artistically outstanding example of Hindu cultural development on
Java. Prambanan was built between 8-10 centuries AD when Java was ruled by the Buddhist Sanlendras in the south and the Hindu Sanjayas
Borobudur Temple at 6am.
The temple is one of the greatest in South East Asia and is overlooked by an active volcano. It was buried for centuries before it was re-discovered by Sir Stanford Raffles.
in the north.
We could only look at the temples from a distance because they are fenced off. It is too dangerous to
enter the temples as they were recently damaged in an earthquake. UNESCO has an on-going campaign
to restore Prambanan.
There were only 5 of us on my tour. I discovered that one of the other tourists who was American had
been reading my blog. Someone reads this thing!
On Sunday 15th I left Yogya for the nearby city of Solo
. It is only a 1 hour ride on the train but it gets far fewer tourists than Yogya. Solo has a rich cultural heritage. When I arrived I visited the palaces of the city. The next day I went on a tour of the countryside and the cottage industries. It was a bicycle
tour which I arranged with my home-stay, Istana Griya. The tour through the countryside where the farmers were harvesting rice included stops to watch batik production, gamelan making (gamelan are traditional Javanese instruments), tofu production and arak distillation (distilled palm wine).
It was my last day in Java before I had to catch a flight out
of the country.
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