by Johnson K Saai
I FELT both honoured and excited when Alexandri (Alex) Legawa, an officer from the Indonesian Consulate General office here, informed me the Consul General Djoko Harjanto had personally invited me to join a familiarisation trip for Sarawak’s journalists to Indonesia.
I was eager to go on the outing, organised in collaboration with Jogjakarta Province Tourism Department as I have never been to Jogjakarta, our ultimate destination, before.
The problem, however, was the trip would start on May 6, the next day after the 13th general election – not an opportune time to leave since there were stories to follow up on after a very tight polls.
I was really happy when the bosses gave me the nod. My dream of visiting Jogjakarta to see first-hand the places of interest in the Indonesian Special Province had, at last, come true as I enrolled for the five days and four nights trip (May 6 to 10).
Our entourage left Kuching International Airport (KIA) by MasWings at 8.15am to Supadio Airport in Pontianak for connecting flights to Jakarta and Jogjakarta.
We arrived at 9am and since our flight to Soekarno Hatta International Airport, Jakarta, was scheduled later in the afternoon, we decided to tour Pontianak.
We considered ourselves lucky because when we arrived at Supadio Airport, Alex’s father was there to fetch us and drive us around the town.
At Pontianak, we exchanged our ringgit to rupiah and not surprisingly, some of us became instant millionaires. At the time of writing, RM1 was equivalent to about 3,000 rupiah.
When it was time for us to check in for our next flight to Jakarta, Alex’s father again drove us to Supadio Airport. Unfortunately, our flight was delayed and we had to wait at the airport for a bit longer.
We flew out to Jakarta by Garuda Airlines, and after landing at the Soekarno Hatta International Airport, straightaway boarded another Garuda flight to Jogjakarta. We touched down at Adisutjipto Airport (Jogjakarta) at about 9pm (Indonesian time).
A driver was at the airport to pick us up. He had been awaiting our arrival for hours – due to the delay earlier at Supadio Airport.
An experienced tour guide, Nunik Kurniawati, was also assigned to us by the Province’s tourism authority. We were booked at the Jayakarta Hotel during our stay.
After a restful night, we woke up feeling refreshed the next day and before 8am, Ibu Nunik was already waiting at the lobby for our first day tour.
Our first destination was Mount Merapi, the most active volcano in Indonesia on the border between Central Java and Jogjakarta, which has been erupting at regular intervals since 1548 – the last one on November 2010.
It was while on our way to Mount Merapi that Ibu Nunik shared with us the background and history of Jogjakarta and its places of interest.
She started by saying: “Welcome to Jogjakarta, also known as Jogja or Yogyakarta, and I hope you all will enjoy your trip.”
She then told us all about Jogjakarta, a city in the Yogyakarta Special Region, Indonesia, and is renowned as a centre of classical Javanese fine arts and cultures such as batik, ballet, drama, music, poetry and puppet shows.
“Yogyakarta was the Indonesian capital during the Indonesian National Revolution from 1945 to 1949 – while the city of Jogjakarta and the Kingdom of Jogjakarta were established as a result of a Gianti war treaty (Perjanjian Gianti) initiated by Prince Mangkubumi who later became Sultan Hamengkubuwono I.
“Officially, the creation of the Kingdom of Jogjakarta dated way back to October 7, 1756 – a result of the civil war among the bloodline of the Kingdom of Mataram that saw the birth of the Kingdom of Jogjakarta and the Kingdom of Surakarta,” she explained.
Based on history, she added, the civil war started when Sunan Pakubuwono II agreed to cooperate with the Dutch colonial government and submit to foreign (western) powers.
The younger brother Prince Mangkumbumi (Sultan Hamengkubuwono) stood against the concept, fearing his people would become slaves under Dutch rule.
Back then, Javanese slaves, were forced to work for companies, owned by VOC and the Dutch colonial government, and exported to present- day Suriname in South America.
Prince Mangkubumi defeated the Pakubuwono forces and declared sovereignty in the Kingdom of Jogjakarta, south of the original Kingdom of Mataram, and because of this historical act of bravery and sacrifice, Jodjakarta was given Special Administrative Region (SAR) status, making it the only province in Indonesia to be headed by a monarchy until this very day.
Ibu Nunik further explained there were many places of interest and popular tourist destinations in and around Jogjakarta but due to time constraint, we were able to visit only a handful but still hoping have a look at the Borobudur Temple, Prambanan Temple, Parangtritis Beach and some more.
Without realising it, we had arrived at the foot of Mount Merapi, about 30km north of Jogjakarta city centre, to see for ourselves the aftermath of the most violent series of eruptions in 2010.
Ibu Nunik told us in the 2010 eruption, over 300 people were killed while scores were made homeless.
“Fast moving clouds of super hot gas and ashes scorched entire villages as the people raced from the crater down the volcano’s slopes. It was one of these pyroclastic flows on October 26, 2010 that killed Mbah (grandfather) Maridjan, the legendary keeper of Mount Merapi after he refused to evacuate,” she recalled.
Ibu Nunik said now that the fiery Merapi was expected to remain dormant for at least another 100 more years, the area has become another tourist attraction in the region.
“Visitors come to have a closer look at the volcanic mountain and see for themselves the aftermath of the most violent eruptions in 2010. It has now become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Jogja.”
The Mount Merapi trip took up the whole morning and in the later part of the day, we were brought to Borobudur, the 9th century Mahayana Buddhist monument near Magelang, Central Java.
THIS glorious Buddhist temple, 42 km from Jogjakarta, is a world heritage archeological site and has seven levels and 1,460 carved stones.
It comprises six square platforms, topped by three circular platforms, and is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues.
A main dome at the centre of the top platform, is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues seated inside perforated stupa.
The monument is both a shrine to Lord Buddha and a place for Buddhist pilgrimage, beginning at the base of the monument and following a path circumambulating the monument while ascending to the top through the three levels of Buddhist cosmology – Kamadhatu (the world of desire), Rupadhatu (the world of forms) and Arupadhatu (the world of formlessness).
Worldwide knowledge of its existence was sparked in 1814 by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, then British ruler of Java, who was informed of its location by native Indonesians.
Borobudur has since been preserved through several restoration processes with the largest undertaken between 1975 and 1982 by the Indonesian government and Unesco following which the monument was listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site.
On June 27, 2012, the Guinness World Records officially declared Borobudur Temple in Central Java as The Largest Buddhist Temple.
Other places of interest include Prambanan Temple, Sultan Palace, Taman Sari Water Castle, Parangtritis Beach and Kraton Ratu Boko or Ratu Boko’s Palace.
THIS is the most famous – also the most magnificent – of Central Java’s temples or more precisely, complex of temples.
About 15km from Jogjakarta, the top of the main shrine is visible from a great distance and rises high above the scattered ruins of the former temples.
Prambanan is the masterpiece of Hindu culture of the 10th century, built by King Balitung Maha Sambu in the middle of the 19th century.
Its parapets are adorned with bas-reliefs, depicting the famous Ramayana story. This magnificent temple derives its name from the village where it is located.
Keraton of Yogyakarta
THE palace court with its grand and elegant Javanese architecture, lying in the centre of the city, was founded by Prince Mangkubumi in 1755.
The Prince was the called Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono I and he chose the right location of the compound between Winongo River and Code River.
The palace stretches out from north to south with the frontyard called Alun-alun Utara (the north square) and the back yard called Alun-alun Selatan (the south square).
The layout shows the Palace, the commemorative column and Mount Merapi all lie in one line.
The palace meeting hall – Pagelaran – is where formal meetings of palace officials are held while the Manguntur Tingkil hall is the place where the Sultan is seated.
Visitors can enjoy the atmosphere of the Keraton in former times by visiting the life-size diorama of wedding ceremonies on the palace meeting hall, performed by puppets, intentionally arranged to create such an atmosphere.
The palace is now the dwelling place of Sultan Hamengkubuwono X and the family.
Taman Sari water castle
THE garden of Taman Sari was an intrinsic part of palace life and remains an intriguing sanctuary in which tourists can relax and leave behind the noise and pace of the city.
Meaning, literally, fragrant garden and once a secret enclave and pleasure park, Taman Sari is still a garden with waterways and hundreds of flowering trees.
PARANGTRITIS Beach on the edge of the Indian Ocean is 37km south of Jogja city. The legend behind this beach is that it was the meeting place between the Queen of the South Sea (Ratu Kidul and the Sultan of Yogjakarta. Many people believe the relationship remains until today.
People are prohibited from wearing green when going to the beach because it’s believed to be the Queen’s favourite colour.
We also had the opportunity to visit Rorojonggrang Batik Industry, centre of leather industry in Manding, Bantul, Jogjakarta, the busy Malioboro – the main centre of shopping in Jogja.
Walking around was a bit tough at times and tiring, especially during our visits to Borobudur and Prambanan temples but the short vsit in Jogjakarta was so exciting that we all didn’t realise it was already time to say goodbye to Ibu Nunik.