By Shweta Ganesh Kumar
We are Javanese first and everything else after that!” our guide proudly told us as she led us to the Javanese cottage where my husband and I would be staying in Yogyakarta. We were in Indonesia for a week and were all set to explore this reg ion in Central Java. Stepping into the house with a black-oxide floor and a thatched roof replete with wooden beds covered by mosquito nets, Java did not seem all that different from rural India. Yet, we soon realised that the sort of religious harmony that exists here is something that our country is yet to achieve. And everything we saw during the course of our travels only reinforced that.
Flourishing under the shadow of the active volcano Mount Merapi, Yogyakarta or Yogya, is what many would call Indonesia’s soul, the culture capital of sorts. We had six days and therefore no time to waste. Determined to experience the town as the locals did, we set out on a walking tour with our guide. Before starting the actual tour though, we spent an agonising ten minutes attempting to cross the road while Yogyakarta’s manic and trademark traffic rushed on. That adventure behind us, we followed our guide into an alley that turned out to be a peaceful residential colony. We walked past grandparents sunning themselves in their patios as their toddler grandchildren stumbled and crawled away. Our guide had a smile and a greeting for every person we met. They returned the greeting, not only to her but also to us, teaching us that a smile goes a long way in these parts. We made our way to the Alun-Alun or the South Square and then walked down a cobblestone path, to the back door of the Kraton or the Sultan’s palace. This was not our destination for the day though. We walked on to a small shack just beyond the back gate. There, hanging from the walls and casually left on a worktable were the famed Indonesian puppets in various stages of formation. As we looked at the Krishnas and Hanumans and other characters of the great epics, the puppet maker told us that his family had been creating them for seven generations. With the white paint coming from the crushed horns of the Caribou and the black from the volcanic ashes of Mount Merapi, a ‘Walang Kulit’ puppet as they are called is all Yogya.
As is the Kraton, that we visited the next day, armed with the mandatory palace guide who dutifully pointed out the artefacts and the Sultan’s family tree. Yet what caught my eye were the ‘offerings’ that the Sultan had left at odd corners of the vast palace. Freshly plucked flowers placed on a cut banana leaf were something I would have expected in a Hindu temple, but certainly not in a Muslim ruler’s residence.
A stroll through Yogya’s traditional bird market later, we were ready for the sights that travellers come to Yogya for. The temples of yore! Ever ready to take us to our destination, our guide and her friend revved up their bikes and whisked us away to the ninth century Prambanan temple complex. Standing proudly erect, apparently unaware of the small town that grew around it, we caught our first glimpses of Prambanan while waiting for the signal at the junction.
Getting there: One can get into Yogyakarta via air, bus or train. There are plenty of low cost flight options from Jakarta. If you have the time, you can also take the train down or even rent a car. The travel time ranges from eight to ten hours. Accommodation: Yogyakarta offers a wide range of accommodation from expensive hotels to home stay options. For an authentic Javanese vacation try reserving at Via Via Yogyakarta. Get more information here — http://www.viaviajogja.com/ Food: There is a wide range of food available in Yogya. From cafés to roadside stalls, you can afford to get adventurous here without worrying about either your stomach or the price. Remember to carry your Indonesian phrase book though as not all menu’s are in English. Season: The best time to visit Yogyakarta is from the end of April to October, which is the dry season