The Mountain of Fire and Powerful Dynasties

15 Feb

With four weeks of university over it was time to head down to Yogyakarta to catch up with a friend and have a little bit of time away from Salatiga.

The journey to Yogyakarta was interesting to say the least. Besides the fact I was travelling “sendiri” (alone) a concept which is considered unusual in Indonesia, after an extremely late night and forgetting to set an alarm I finally arrived at the bus stop at 12pm. In my tired state I forgot to read the front of the bus and didn’t notice until I was on the bus that it said BIASA. For those not accustomed to the Solo-Semarang bus line, there are two kinds of buses Parawisata (tourist) or Biasa (normal). Parawisata are quite nice with air conditioning and comfortable seats, Biasa is a case of let’s fit as many people in as possible on a hot, smelly bus and have people get on and try and sell things every five minutes. This was followed by the typical argument with a becak driver and attempting to argue that I knew how much the becak should cost so stop trying to overcharge me. This argument failed as usual and caused me to miss the train leaving me to wait for an hour in the humidity at Solo station which was neither an enjoyable or enriching experience so needless to say I was happy to arrive in Yogya.

My friend Amalia met me at the station and we drove to her house on her scooter (stopping on the way for some ayam bakar) It was a long drive until we reached her house in the rice fields and for the first time in four weeks it was actually quiet at night without the sound of roaring motorbikes or Pedagang Kaki Lima (street vendors). The next morning I was greeted by an unobstructed view of Gunung Merapi, the volcano which shot to infamy two months ago following the devastating eruptionsIMG_0947 which claimed over three hundred lives. The shape of the peak has changed since I last saw it and the mountain has been scarred by the avalanches of hot ash and debris.

We decided to do something a bit different and ventured up Merapi on the motorbike to a museum celebrating Javanese culture and the sultanates of Yogyakarta and Solo. The warning signs that we were entering the danger zone where pyroclastic (hot gas) flows can occur and clearly marked evacuation routes served as a reminder of the recent tragedy as merely kilometres away from Merapi we rode through villages where people had lost their lives. On the way there we also saw a lahar (cold debris avalanche) caused by heavy rains sending debris from the eruption down the river only a few kilometres from Amalia’s house.

The museum was interesting with paintings and artefacts of the lives of the royal family including to my amusement a painting of the royals with some other familiar royalty, Prince Charles (IMG_0963donning a safari suit) and the lovely Princess Diana. We also enjoyed some secret recipe jamu (traditional medicine) which was supposed to help us retain our young looks. Afterwards we set off down the mountain as the clouds rolled in, hiding Merapi from sight.

Next stop was Tamansari, the playground of the King where he would sit in his tower and watch the women bathe in a pool. Should he like one of these women, he would request that they join him in his private pool. The grounds were amazing with intricate stone work dating hundreds of years. Following this we went for aIMG_0982 walk in a kampung and saw batik and wayang kulit artists. The graffiti throughout the kampung was, like it is in most of Indonesia, amazing with batik designs and characters from Javanese epics covering the walls. Then we went to a mosque Amalia wanted to show me due to it’s unique nature. Upon arrival the mosque was actually an old fort with a great deal of it underground formed around a central pond.

After a stroll through the mall to cool off it was time to bid my farewells as I made my way to the train station. Much to my dismay I had missed my train by two minutes leaving me with a ninety minute wait for the next train resulting in another four hours of travelling to go just 100 km.

IMG_0994 People say Solo is the Spirit of Java however I would be inclined to disagree. Yogya has perfected an intricate fusion of modern and traditional culture offering something for everyone. From street art to ancient techniques such as batik and the palaces of dynasties spanning centuries, Yogya is a city which never fails to impress and is somewhere I will never hesitate to return to.

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