August 24th, 2008
Our train left Jakarta today at 8 am, and even though it was executive class, it didn’t feel quite as so! The seat kept reclining, so we couldn’t sit up straight. Needless to say, our backs paid for it. It was exciting to try train-food! Fried noodles, and some sizzler! The A/C wasn’t given the chance to kick in, as the doors that lead out of the car kept opening. We made sure not to drink too much liquid, to avoid having the need to use the bathroom.
We got here at 3:30 in the afternoon, and were happy that we had reservations for an apartment for only $30/night. We took the taxi there, and checked in. After being in the apartment for about 3 minutes, we had had it! There was no way we could stay here for another minute, let alone 5 days. We strapped on our backpacks and walked out of that apartment in a hurry, told the reception desk that we didn’t like the place, and hopped in the taxi that was dropping other people off at the entrance. We asked the driver to take us to the hotel we had seen on the way. Beautiful and trendy place, and affordable, but had no available rooms! Shucks!
On to the next – too filthy, and then the next – bad bathroom, and then the next – too noisy due to construction, and then the next – filthy, and then the next – no availability, and then the next – way too expensive, and then the next – too expensive even after making a deal, and then the next – no availability, and then back to the “too expensive even after making a deal”.
We decided to stay here, at the Inna Garuda, a palatial building turned to a hotel and convention centre. Since they didn’t have any regular rooms available, we got the upgraded suite at the regular discounted rate. We got the discounted rate because Karthik talked to the manager, telling him that he is a writer and if given a good rate, would re-write their poorly written English content. Excited we got there, and too exhausted to care that it was more that what we needed. Also, the room was so large that even the A/C took forever to cool the place. But yeah, we slept. After being in that taxi for over an hour, having checked out so many hotels, we just wanted to sleep. So we did.
August 26th, 2008
Yesterday we moved to a newer room – renovated, smaller, and cleaner. We walked around the Malioboro Street, the main street in Yogyakarta (our hotel is right on it), checked out a Batik exhibit, and bought a painting from the artist, and booked a tour to see Borobodur (the reason we came to Yogyakarta) for today. So this morning, we woke up bright and early, ready to be picked up at 4am. As soon as we came out to the hotel courtyard, we saw a tour bus leaving the main gates. Thinking it was our bus (as we were 5 minutes late), Karthik sprinted after it, only to find out it wasn’t our bus. What a morning work out!
After a long ride to Borobodur in the bumpy van, we were finally there, at the break of dawn. The temple looked pretty basic from afar, but the view got better as we reached closer. It wasn’t until we stepped inside that the feeling of peace came over. The temple was beautiful. It had 6 main levels, and 3 top levels. Each of the 6 levels was surrounded by walls that had intricate etchings of Hindu and Buddhist stories. Also, all along the walls, of each level, were statues of Buddha, in his meditative position. Not all the statues were restored, however a lot were. Seeing all these statues of the Buddha, and the beautiful etchings on the walls, all on and of plain grey stones brought about a sense of simplicity and beauty. And perhaps because it was so quiet (it being so early in the morning), feelings of peace and serenity were meant to be felt.
We walked around the perimeter at each level, admiring the walls and hoping to catch as many intact Buddha statues as we could. Then finally we were at the top 3 levels. These levels didn’t have etched walls around it, instead they had large Stupas (a Buddhist word for bell shaped hollow structures) all around. Each of the stupas had one Buddha statue inside. Only two of the stupas were open and of those two, only one of the statue was fully intact. We spent a lot of time taking pictures there, and then just sat to take in the simplicity, beauty and serenity.
Then, out of nowhere, more people started to flow in. Lots of Indonesian students actually. And there were these three girls, talking to all the “tourists” and asking them annoying questions like, “Where are you from?”, “Why did you come here?”, “How long have you been here?”, “What do you think of the temple?”, “Where are you going next?”, and then finally, took pictures with them (1 girl at a time, so 3 pictures). We were glad that we weren’t white, and so didn’t look like tourists. But then Penny’s sunglasses gave us away. They came over to us and started asking us the same questions. Quite annoyed, we were giving one word answers and didn’t encourage them. After they took pictures with us, we realized that the place was getting quite busy now, and that we did have to meet the tour group, and so we left.
August 28th, 2008
Yesterday we relaxed and then took a horse-cart to the Sultan’s Palace. The palace is home to the Sultan of Yogyakarta, who lives there with his family, and has the palace open to public until 1pm everyday. The ride was fun! The entrance fee included an English speaking guide, and we had to also pay a fee to be able to take pictures inside. The residential area was off limits, but the rest of the buildings were open to public. We got to see the open concept banquet facility that was just so beautiful, the dining hall for gatherings, the many gazebos, mini museums with historic artefacts, and a stunning room built for the previous Sultan by his kids. The heat was tiring us out, and so we were happy when the tour was finished. We got outside and were bombarded by rickshaw drivers, offering us a ride. We decided to sit in the shade, grab a drink and catch our breaths, hoping some of them would go away.
They didn’t! So we told them we just wanted to walk, even though we didn’t. We walked to the street where it was quieter and asked a rickshaw driver to drive us. Two of the rickshaw drivers from the palace saw and ran over to us screaming at us in Indonesian. We decided to walk away and look further. Finally away from the crazies, we found a horse-cart and headed back to the hotel.
Today our tour started at 2pm, and we were headed to the Prambanan Temple (a Hindu Temple), and then to watch the much talked about Ramayana Ballet held right opposite the temple, using the temple as its backdrop. It was hot and humid! After walking only a few minutes on the grounds we were tired and getting grumpy. So we decided to sit in the shade, and take it easy. We had a lot of time to check the temple out, especially since the play didn’t start until 7 in the evening. So we did. We took it slow. But we soon got annoyed again by other tourists who didn’t seem to respect other tourists – bumping in front of others in line to walk up temple steps, walking in front of us when we were taking pictures, standing around a spot that was a perfect spot to take pictures from just chatting away.
We found our happy place somehow, and continued walking around. We were also annoyed by the fact that the temples weren’t completely restored (from earthquake damage). The stones were all over the place, and this was not mentioned in the brochures or didn’t show in the pictures in the brochures. The restoration was poorly done, and we overheard a tour guide explaining that the government is not interested in spending too much money on this monument (it being a Hindu temple).
After about an hour or so, we were done with the main temples and so decided to check out the other 3 that were in these grounds. After a long walk, we came across one. It was in complete shambles. Disappointed, we walked on to the next. Even worse. So we headed to the last. Not that bad, but still not worth the long walk in the hot and humid weather. Tired and frustrated, we decided to look for the shortest way out of the grounds to grab a taxi to head to where the play was going to be performed. We thought we could at least hang out at the restaurant there and rest until the play started.
The restaurant was fully reserved for some big party. It made sense, as all the good seats for the play were also sold out. We couldn’t get a table with the beautiful view of the Prambanan Temple, so fought for one with comfy chairs at the very least. Now that the sun was down and we were able to sit comfortably, we felt better. Because of the big party, the dinner was a buffet. While wandering around the buffet tables, we came across one at a far corner where fresh fritters were being prepared. We picked up the fried bananas, and other fried veggie fritters and were returning to our table when one of the waiters angrily asked Penny where she got the fritters from, and went on to say that those were reserved for the party only. “Whatever!”
After dinner we went over to get good seats, since we didn’t have numbered seats having bought the only available tickets for a side section where we had to sit where we found a place to. The benches were of concrete, and the play was 2 hours long! We found good seats having been there early enough, and our behinds thanked us when the play was finished. The play itself was interesting, with the Indonesian version of the Ramayana that we both knew quite well. We used to watch it every Sunday morning on TV in India! The music was traditional Javanese, and the costumes were colourful and pretty.
The Javanese dancing style was different and quite cool. We enjoyed it, and also enjoyed commenting on the written narrative that was being displayed on screens beside the stage, written in quite terrible English. We thought of writing to them to offer our services, but dropped the idea later (guess we were too tired after a long day out and just wanted to get back to the hotel).
The ride back felt quick and we were happy to get to sleep after packing up for our train journey to Surabaya the next day. We had planned to spend the night in Surabaya, from where we’d go to Mount Bromo by road.