Yogyakarta

Yogyakarta is a city located in the central part of the island of Java, one of more than 17.000 that comprise Indonesia. It’s the island’s soul and therefore an absolutely obligatory destination for those who travel to the region.

The 1st leg of my trip to Indonesia was focused on exploring the western and central part of the island by land, between Jakarta and Yogyakarta. I really wanted to visit the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan, after hearing so much about them.

The city – Philosophical meaning

The city of Yogyakarta was founded in the 18th century by Sultan Pangeran Mangkubumi, as the hub of his sultanate. The principles of cosmology and Javanese philosophy were taken into account during the construction of the city center, influenced by Hinduism and Islam. This makes this place unique and different from so many others. This alone justifies a visit, in my opinion.

Few cities in the world can say that they have a certain philosophical meaning in every component, concerning the cycle of human life, from the beginning to the reunification of the soul. For instance, if we look at the city from north to south (and vice versa), we find that there is a main axis. We then see Malioboro, the most popular street, which represents the way towards an enlightened life. The Margotomo and Margamulyo streets are aligned with Malioboro and are part of the journey to achieve excellence and dignity, respectively.

When I got there, I had already been to other cities on the island and the difference was particularly noticeable. The shambles and chaos felt in the other locations of Java are not replicated here. I was left with the impression that its construction was particularly attentive and careful.

The city’s plan was not left to chance and its location was also cautiously chosen. The place of edification was chosen to reflect the microcosm. Yogyakarta lies in a flat area, between the Merapi volcano and the South Sea, flanked by three rivers to the east and west. This context was regarded as the reflection of the universe.

Over the centuries, Yogyakarta underwent some changes, yet the sultan’s original plan remains the same today. In my perspective, this is a masterpiece worth knowing, also allowing you to see the magnificent temples around. Most likely, it will be the only place in the world where a city materializes a philosophical perspective about the nature of human life.

3 days in Yogyakarta

Yogyakarta is a quite interesting city, with plenty of unmissable places and activities, so I booked a 4-day stay. I spent one day visiting Borobudur, another in Prambanan and in the other two I decided to calmly explore the city itself. My recommendation is to book three days, if possible. If you have less time than that, just check what it’s available and what your priorities are.

Borobudur

Visiting the Borobudur temple is probably the main reason that makes people go to Yogyakarta. It’s a magnificent place that I thoroughly enjoyed visiting.

Based on the photographs I had checked of other travelers who had been here, I imagined that the temple would be in an isolated place, perhaps a little difficult to reach. I was immensely surprised when I arrived at the complex and realized that it’s a very well explored (touristy) area and easy to get to. Obviously, this didn’t stop me to love the visit, but I must confess that I was a bit disappointed, taking into account my expectation about its whereabouts.

A few years ago, I visited Ankgor Wat in Cambodia and I had a fantastic sensation of being in a beautiful location in a stunning setting, even in the heart of a forest. I know you should not compare locations, but one cannot avoid thinking about it. I liked this natural and wild context much more.

In Borobudur, we arrive at the ticket office and we quickly notice, due to the map on display, that this is a complex that provides many attractions, like train rides, museums, some animals, shopping and a restaurant. I spent a whole day at this complex. I took advantage of the green area, had lunch with a direct view of the temple and watched Borobudur for a long period. If you can, I advise you to get to the temple at sunrise, I didn’t, but I think it’s quite worth it based on the pictures and reviews that I encountered.

What is Borobudur

The Borobudur temple is one of the world’s most important Buddhist monuments. It was built between 780 and 840, during the Syailendra dynasty, who ruled the central region of Java at the time. The temple was edified to glorify Buddha and intended to be a location of pilgrimage, to guide mankind to enlightenment and wisdom.

If you have time, visit the other two temples, much smaller, which comprise the Borobudur complex, called Mendut and Pawon. They are quite close to the main one (but outside the park) and it is believed that there is a religious relationship between them.

This monument was built in the Mandala style, which symbolizes the universe in Buddhist teachings. You will see that it has a square-shaped structure, with four entrances and a circular center point that stands out immediately. By accessing one of the entrances, you can see that there are three different levels that match the three levels of consciousness, the central being the unconsciousness (nirvana). Do not go straight to the top, walk calmly through these levels.

Access stairs to the top of Borobudur
Access stairs to the top of Borobudur

1st level: Kamadhatu, the world of ordinary people

This first level depicts the place where ordinary people live. It has 160 reliefs, where we can know the scenes of Karmawibhangga Sutra’s life, related to human behavior. Walk around this area and look for images of robbery, torture and defamation.

1st floor of Borobudur
1st floor of Borobudur

2nd level: Rapudhatu, the sphere of transition

Humans are freed from worldly issues in this second level, so this is a transition plane. Here we see 328 Buddha statues, 1300 heavily worked reliefs, decorative panels and Sanskrit words.

2nd floor of Borobudur
2nd floor of Borobudur

3rd level: Arupadhatu, the dwell of the gods

This level allows you to see the most well-known images, this is the top of Borobudur. This area consists of three circular terraces with a huge central dome (stupa), depicting the elevation above the world. You will probably notice its simplicity. In this level, the elements are not ornamented, contrary to what happens in the first two. The purity of the forms is what rules this place, which look like inverted bells.

There are 72 perforated stupas in the terraces, each with the image of Buddha inside, the postcards of this temple. Not only the temple is beautiful, but also the landscape, displaying a lush green color.

Top of Borobudur
Top of Borobudur
Detail on top of Borobudur
Detail on top of Borobudur

 

Prambanan

I only knew about this temple when I began to research information on Yogyakarta. From what I realized, it has fewer visitors, but, based on the pictures, description and meaning, I quickly attach it to my stay. It was a place that surprised me a lot and I really loved it.

It reminded me very much of the style of the monuments that I saw in India, which, in my opinion, is the most interesting of all that I have ever seen.

Like Borobudur, the park where we can find it offers some attractions, but not as many as the first one. It may not have that many attractions, something I was not interested in anyway, but the area occupied by the temples is much larger. The park comprises the main one and many others, in groups of three, apart from each other. I started with the most distant monuments and, in one of them, I lost a shoe, so, after that, I saw everything even more slowly than what I already wanted 🙂

There are small cars available, which some people use to quickly check the temples, but I would advise doing everything on foot. It’s the best way to see the details of the largest complex of Hindu temples in Indonesia.

I advise you to book at least one morning or afternoon to visit the entire temple complex. If you can arrive at sunset, the light is fantastic.

What is the Prambanan

The Hindu temple of Prambanan was built in the 9th century, 50 years after Borobudur, also during the Syailendra dynasty. It’s quite interesting to see that, at the same time, two magnificent temples from different religions were built.

Main temple of Prambanan
Main temple of Prambanan

In addition to the main temple, which you will see first, there is another group that is part of the complex: Lumbung, Brubah and Sewu. Don’t be satisfied with the most famous one, the others also justify a visit.

Once you enter the park, you will have access to all the temples, unlike the Borobudur, where you can still visit the smaller temples, but on the outside.

Main temple

As we approach the main temple of Prambanan, we see 16 high structures, three of which stand out, since they are a few meters taller. One of these structures is dedicated to Shiva, another to Vishnu and the last to Brahma, who are the destroyer, the guardian and the creator of the universe, respectively. This is the triad of Hinduism. The remaining structures are dedicated to the transporters of the mythology of the three major gods.

In Shiva’s structure, which is pivotal and the highest of all, at 47.6 meters, there is a statue dedicated to its goddess, which is three meters tall. It’s also the most beautiful structure, much more elaborate than any other, both outside and inside.

Central area of the main temple of Prambanan
Central area of the main temple of Prambanan

 

3 parts

The way this main temple is organized also abides by the mandala style, like it happens in Borobudur. Both complexes are divided into three parts, which represent the way the universe was viewed. In Borobudor, the existence of three levels makes this principle more blatant, because we climb 3 levels. In Prambanan, we must see the main temple as a whole, not just as an individual structure.

Therefore, in Prambanan, the 1st part that corresponds to the underworld is the basis of all existing structures. The 2nd part is the central part of the structures, which corresponds to the average world, and, finally, the 3rd part is the top of the structures, depicting the kingdom of the gods, the most sacred of all.

Look closely at all structures and let yourself be amazed by the beautiful Hindu bas-reliefs, beautifully crafted, particularly the structure dedicated to Shiva. Be acquainted with the story of Ramayana, which gave birth to a dance/theater that you can see in Yogyakarta and Prambanan in some days.

Access the temples through the stairs as well (quite steep), besides the inner chamber you can see from up-close, on the outside corridors, the elaborate work that decorates the structures.

Lumbung, Brubah and Sewu

The structures that are part of this group are a bit distant from each other, but taking a walk is a reasonable option. They are part of the Prambanan complex, so if you visit only the main temple, you will not see the entirety.

I really enjoyed visiting these less visited and not so well-known temples. The atmosphere you feel here is outstanding, the structures are extremely beautiful and there are hardly any visitors. Just good reasons;)

Lumbung Temple in Prambanan
Lumbung Temple in Prambanan
Bubrah Temple in Prambanan
Bubrah Temple in Prambanan
Sewu Temple in Prambanan
Sewu Temple in Prambanan

Other things to see and do in Yogyakarta

After visiting the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan, you can also enjoy many other things that the center of Yogyakarta and its surroundings can provide:

  • Visiting the Goa Jomblang cave;
  • Going to the Merapi volcano – when I was in Yogyakarta, it started to erupt and so I couldn’t visit Kraton, which was closed!
  • Visiting the Kota Gede district;
  • Visiting the Sultan’s Palace and Water Castle;
  • Attending a Ramayana dance/theater show;
  • Visiting the Ullen Sentalu Museum;
  • Learning how to do the Batik art;
  • Shopping on Malioboro Street.


Traveler Advice on Java

When to go: Between April and October.

Documents: Passport valid for 6 months from date of departure from Indonesia. Entry visa exemption in Indonesia provided entry takes place through one of Indonesia’s five major airports or nine seaports. This type of visa is valid for 30 days (not extendable), for tourism, culture, business visit, or official purposes, but not for any other type of work activity.

Currency: The local currency is the Indonesian rupiah.

Time zone: The western zone (Jakarta) GMT + 6 (Summer) and + 7 (Winter).

Language: There are a large number of languages in the country, the official language being Indonesian or Bahasa Indonesian. The most common foreign language is English.

 

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