CRUISING ANCIENT TEMPLES
An hour Southeast of Jakarta by air lies Yogyakarta, which to hear it told is confusing as hell because it sounds a lot like some alternate version of “Jakarta,” and to see it spelled looks nothing like “Jo-jee-karta,” which is they way it’s pronounced. Then there’s the truncated everyday nickname “Jojee.”
All that aside, we found it to be a place with distinctions well-beyond its (for us) nonexistent reputation. It’s got a lot of the usual tropical stuff going for it–banana trees, palms, sarongs, sandals, batik, mynahs. What’s not usual, (except for the batik fabrics, about which more in another chapter) are the recovering ruins of two ninth century temples within virtual shouting distance of one another. And they’re not even of the same religion.
First off, Borobudur, world’s largest Buddhist Temple. It sits high up, hence one version of its name as “temple on a hill.”
If you walk around its various levels clockwise and are learned enough to know what you’re looking at, you can read in the thousands of fascinating reliefs every imaginable version of every imaginable event in the life of Buddha. For those of us not quite so scholarly it’s still an impressive artistic display. And it’s 1100 years old. And here we all are happy to be there.
From Borobudur, it’s only a few miles down the road to Prambanan, the largest Hindu Temple in Central Java. Still ninth century–lot of religion going on in those days. The name means “many priests,” and apparently there were Buddhists in residence also at some point. However, the main dedication of the site is to the three main Hindu dieties, Dharma, Shiva, and Vishnu. We know from our Indian travels that the temple was once brightly painted. What’s as impressive here as all the artistic magnificence is that it was once buried in lava, this area being located in one of the hottest spots in the ring of fire. How it is begin recovered and reconstructed we can’t imagine, but so glad that it is.
A surprise bonus of the kind that makes you glad to travel was this group of girls who approached us obviously as part of a school English-learning project.
The leader (Cute, isn’t she? They all are.) asked some basic questions like name, place of origin and copied the answers in a notebook. Then came the cherry on top–“Do you like music?” “Of course.” “We will sing you a song.”
Their opening number was “If You’re Happy And You Know It, Clap Your Hands.” They went on to “The More We Get Together, The Happier We’ll Be.” I was willing to let them exhaust their entire repertoire, whatever it was. But I was overruled. The video is too long to include here. Pity. But wonderful that at it happened.
And that wasn’t even the whole day, but more than enough for now.