Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Exploring Yogyakarta, Indonesia

I have visited Bali several times since 1998, however this was to be my first visit to what I had started to think of as the “real” Indonesia. With 255 million people and 88% of the population Muslim, it has the largest Muslim population in the world. Yet although it has been an Islamic country for the last 500 years, it also has a strong history of both Hinduism and Buddhism, making it a fascinating country to visit. While obviously Islamic, with most of the women wearing hajibs and with bacon nowhere to be found in the breakfast buffets, the history of Hindu and Buddhism seemed to be integrated into the culture.

I liked Yogyakarta. Despite the manic motorcycles and scooters and the cacophony of horns it has a laid back feel to it. The city seemed to be covered in graffiti – some of it art and some of it not, but it gave Yogya a cheerful, chilled out and optimistic feel.  The main street, Jalan Malioboro, was easy to meander with no purpose, just soaking up the atmosphere. The roads were lined with stalls selling batik clothing, jewellery, bags all manner of touristy knick knacks and food markets. A pervading smell of clove cigarettes lingered in the air.

There seemed to be two main attractions in Yogya – the Royal Palace (Kraton) and Prambanan, a Hindu temple, so this was our mission for day two. We took a becak – a bicycle rickshaw, to the Kraton, weaving in and out of the traffic to get to our destination, enjoying a gentle breeze, and enjoying the relaxed pace of our travel as we eyed up the local sights.

The Kraton was much more interesting than I was expecting. We were assigned a guide on arrival who didn’t overload us with too much information, and seemed to instinctively know what would pique our interest the most. We were taken with the beautiful batik and the stories which explained each of the patterns, each of which has its own significance. I loved the stories about the Sultans – the current Sultan is number ten, and he and his wife live at the palace, while the Sultan works in Government. Apparently this Sultan is a very modern one, as he has only taken one wife, unlike some of his predecessors. One of them had three “official” wives and 22 concubines, resulting in 78 children! The current Sultan’s father, Sultan number nine, had four “official” wives (the guide pointing out wife number three, “the beautiful one”) and 21 children. Sounds very expensive to me! Despite the current Sultan’s modern example and nod to women’s rights, with five daughters it means that when the current Sultan dies, the next Sultan will be his brother. Only men can be Sultans!

Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Prambanan is one of the largest Hindu temples in South East Asia, and recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It is just on the outskirts of the city and on the weekends (we visited on a Sunday) we discovered it to be a very popular spot for locals. The grounds were beautiful, and the temples themselves were fascinating. It was badly damaged by an earthquake back in the 2006 and although it has largely been restored, there are still ruins ringing the main temple complex.

We also visited a bird market, where the noise of the birds was almost overwhelming. There were also rabbits, puppies, kittens, lizards, snakes at the market. I’m not sure all of them were “for training, not eating” as the guidebook promised, which made us a little sad, so it was a quick visit.

By early afternoon the heat was overpowering and our hotel had a gorgeous pool to enjoy – happy hour was calling!

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