Thursday, June 16, 2011

Yogyakarta, Day 3 & 4 (temples and palaces)

Green Garden B&B
The next morning at breakfast, there was a new flag (it looked a lot like the Texas Lone Star) along with the American flag and there were three places set for the guest.  I was told by Nanda that two more guest are interested in going to the temples and that we could all go together in the van instead of the motorbike.  A few minutes later Courtney and Frenanda appeared.  Courtney is an American editor who’d been working in Korea for the last three years, editing English copy for a Korean news organization.  She is moving back to the States, to Texas (the Lone Star State), later this summer with her fiancĂ©, who’s from Scotland.  While he’s finishing his contract, she’d decided to head to Indonesia for a several week holiday.  It turns out the flag isn’t the Lone Star one, as Frenanda is an architect from Chili.  Her brother is an environmental attorney and is married to the Chiliean consultant in Jakarta.  As they were coming to the end of her term in Indonesia, she decided to come and visit them and see the country for a month.  Together, with Nanda driving, we head out after breakfast for Borodudur, which is reportedly the largest Buddhist temple in the world.  

Notice the replacement stones

Borodudur (which seems to have meant “temple hill”) is described as a “university” or place of learning.  We question our guide (Namda stays with the van), who knows a little about the history of the complex and a lot about the plant life around it, but less about Buddhism itself.  He’s Muslim.  He tells us how each level depicts the stories of the Buddha (which are carved into the walls of the rock).  Unfortunately, the temple has been damaged by earthquakes and volcanoes over the millennium, as well as having suffered from theft and vandalism, often requiring new stones (without stories) to replace older ones that have cracked.  The temple is also all outdoors, and one makes ones way around the walls on each level, learning more about the life of the Buddha and the teachings.   Each level has a different significance, starting with karma, then moving on to controlling one’s emotion, then on to the eight level for is heaven.  That is the only level that doesn’t have stories, for by then one has left behind the suffering of (and memory of) the world.  Our guide describes how each of the Buddha’s (there are 504 Buddhas that sit within stuppas on the walls of each of the levels) have different means indicated by their hands and faces.  Those Buddhas facing east , with their open hands and big ears, represent an openness to study.  The south facing Buddhas are shown giving blessings.   The westward Buddhas hands show a control of emotion and the northward Buddhas have their hands out as to protect the temple from evil. 

We spend most of the morning at the temple and find ourselves in more photographs than we take together.   One every level, it seems someone wants to have us in their photos and they all gather around us as a friend takes our pictures.  After a while, it goes from being flattering to being quite distracting.  Several older women (they look old but might be my age) grab a hold of me and have their picture taken.    It figures that the top level (the heaven level) is closed.  Such is my luck!  They allow us to the seventh level, but there are numerous workers there still cleaning the temple from last November’s eruption.  According to our guide the entire temple was covered with several inches of ash.

Only the main temples still stand at Prambanan
We leave the temple a little before noon and, after stopping at an Indonesian restaurant (which conveniently has a store selling silver next door where Nanda suggests we look even though none of us are interested in purchasing silver), we drive to Prambanan, a Hindu temple that was built in the same era as Borobudur.   Although the main temples are still standing and in good shape, they were originally surrounded by hundreds of smaller temples of which only two still stand.  Instead, there are piles of stones all around the main temples.  These temples were extensively damaged by two earthquakes, a thousand years apart (1006 and 2006).  Many are still closed, but a few are open.  We decided to forgo a guide and set out on our own, but soon are approached by two young women who ask if they could show us around and practice their English (in the hopes of becoming a guide).  We agree and are shown the main temples (those that are open).  I find myself thinking more fondly of Hinduism when I learn at the Siwa Temple that a beard, mustache and a full belly is the sign of knowledge. 

 After touring the main temples, we walk back toward several smaller Buddhist temples that are behind the main Hindu temples.  Fernanda and Courtney stop at the first temple, but I continue on to the last one.  It is here that I see my first Buddhist monks, although they appear to be tourists, too.  At the last temple, I talk to one of the workers who know a little English.  I ask if I need to take off my shoes before entering the temple (which I’ve always done in Japan and Korea), but he indicates it isn’t necessary and then asks if I am Buddhist.  I tell him no, that I am a Christian, but wanted to respect the temple and he thanks me and asks if he can pray for me and I agree and he says some kind of prayer and shows me around the ruins.  This temple has also been heavily damaged in the 2006 earthquake and several of the buildings are now closed.  He also points out a number of Buddhas that have been beheaded and blames it on radical Muslims, (but I am not sure about this).    

We get back tired.  I take a short nap.  Courtney isn’t feeling well so later Frananda and I walk down to a local restaurant for dinner.   

The next morning, we all plan to take an easy day.  Around 10 AM, we have Nanda drive us into the city of Yogyakarta.  We tour the Sultan Palace.  The people are proud of their Sultan, the tenth in their history.  Today, its mostly a figurehead position, and this is the first one that only has one wife (which is the law here, now).  Interestingly, as the Sultan has to be Muslim, there are Buddhist and Hindu symbols in the palace.  We watch a shadow puppet show, done with a large number of musicians who play pots, drums and cymbals.  The puppets master is behind a white cloth (and the musicians and various voices are seated behind him).  We sit in the front and watch the shadows tell the story (although I don’t understand the language, it appears to have involved the slaying of dragons and other bad guys).  After touring the palace, we check out the Sultan’s water palace and then walk a bit through the market.  Early in the afternoon, we go back to the B&B.  Courtney and Frenanda go to a local swimming pool.  I stay behind to write and to plan the next section of my trip and then take a nap in the bosom of my friend, the hammock.  After sundown, Nanda takes Frenanda to the airport for her flight to Bali.  Courtney and I go out to eat that evening (in an Indonesian fried chicken fast food establishment—think KFC with rice).  Afterwards, it’s early to bed for in the morning, I’m off to see more volcanoes.

The symbols here in Buddhism make the year 1853, the year the palace was constructed
Mt. Merapi from Borobudur


  1. These photos are amazing, my the temple! A beautiful place for learning...I could spend a whole week there!

    LOL @ KFC with rice. Sounds perfect! :D

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  3. This is what I love about Blog, much better then Facebook as this gives you a sense of "more personal" post.... the pictures are enjoyable to look at , as following people on vacation, is like been there with them... thanks for taking the time to share your world trip...have a good time.....

  4. I'm loving that you're blogging about all of this traveling, but also it's so nice to see the pictures. The top picture of the train is amazing! You're really inspiring me to travel! Thanks!

  5. What a wonderful adventure you are having - I think it is neat that the people wanted to have their picture taken with you. :)

  6. Jeff, I just recieved your email and read your blog. It's fantastic! Your Bromo experience makes me wish I'd not skipped out! The photos look amazing. Thanks so much for posting, and I hope you're having a great journey. Fernanda and I met up in Lovina in Bali for a nice, relaxing evening before we had to part ways. Such a pleasure visiting the temples with the two of you. Take care!