Lured by sacred temples and the Nirvana Sunrise, Hanna Hussein heads to Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

THE base site at Punthuk Setumbu is ordinarily crowded, especially during the wee hours of the weekend. I am here to catch the first blush of the day from the summit.

It’s almost 5am and still dark. From the distance, I can hear the azan (call to prayers) and the sound of loud engines from vehicles going up and down a hilly narrow road.

It’s really busy during dawn because Punthuk Setumbu is one of the best locations in Yogyakarta, Indonesia to watch the sunrise.

Punthuk Setumbu is popularly known as the Nirvana Sunrise because you’ll get to see the golden sun rise in between the Merapi and Merbabu volcano.


View of Borobodur from Punthuk Setumbu

DIFFERENT KIND OF BEAUTY

As it is still early, I take my time on the hiking trail. The entrance fee is cheap, just Rp30,000 (RM8.50) and it is a 20-minute climb on steep stairs to the observation point.

There’s nothing much to see along the dim trail but it’s safe to make a stop at any point along the way.

Once at the peak, there’s quite a vast space to hang out. Be sure to place your tridpod at the terrace as it may get a little crowded.

“The Borobudur Temple also offers a sunrise watch package which costs Rp380,000. But here is where you can get the best view of the sunrise, at higher ground, 400 metres above sea level,” says my guide, Heri.

Of course, I have to patiently wait for another half an hour for the sun to rise. Meanwhile, I can hear the birds chirping and insects. Oh, it’s really tranquil up here.

Unfortunately, the sky is not so clear today. The view is misty and cloudy. I can barely spot the mountains, what more catch the sun?

I see a hint of orange hues from behind the clouds. Heri says that the best time to get a sight of the perfect round sun is during the dry season, as the sky is clearer from mid-April to September.

But the sight of Borobudur Temple from afar blanketed in mist shows a different kind of beauty — mysterious and unique!


Borobodur, best to come on weekdays

MAJESTIC STRUCTURE

Wanting to find out more about Borobudur Temple, I head towards the Unesco World Heritage site which is 20 minutes’ away from Punthuk Setumbu.

Upon arrival, I head to the tourist gate to buy my ticket. Adults pay Rp325,000.

It’s quite pricey but it’s a huge complex

and worth to spend a whole day to

discover.

As it is a weekend, the sacred temple is crowded. From a distance, I spot groups of visitors in bright coloured tops, climbing the steep stairs of the Borobudur.

“It’s best to visit the temple during weekdays,” says our guide, Pak Adib.

He guides us to a less crowded route. While we leisurely walk towards the majestic structure, he briefs us on the world’s largest Buddhist temple.

Built in the 9th century during the Sailendra Dynasty, the then ruling empire in Central Java, Borobudur Temple consists of nine stacked platforms, topped by a central dome.

It is constructed in the style of the mandala, a square-shaped structure with four entry points and a circular centre point which symbolises the universe in Buddhist teachings.

The temple was said to be abandoned and hidden for centuries under layers of volcanic ash and thick jungle growth following the 14th century decline of Hindu Kingdoms in Java.


There are 504 Buddha statues here in Borobodur

But it was later discovered by famous British voyager Sir Thomas Stamford

Raffles who was then the British ruler of Java, in 1814. Since then, it is being preserved through several restorations.

The temple is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues in meditative pose and six hand positions.

The central dome is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues, each seated inside a perforated stupa.

“It was and still is a sacred temple for the Buddhists,” says the guide.

We climb the steps to the base called Kamadhatu, which represents the world inhabited by common people. Most of the details on the walls illustrate atrocious human behaviour — robbery, murder, rape and torture.

In the second zone, the Rapudhatu represents the transitional sphere where humans are released from worldly matters while the third zone, which is the highest sphere, called the Arupadhatu is the abode of the gods.

Unlike the first and the second zones which are square terraces, the third zone consists of three circular terraces that lead to the central dome. This is where you see a unique inverted bell-shaped perforated stupa, containing sculptures of the Buddha.

RATU BOKO

Another popular site to catch the sunset is Ratu Boko. Sometimes misrepresented as a temple, Kraton Ratu Boko was once a palace for Ratu Boko, a legendary ogre king in Loro Jonggrang folklore.

Legend has it that a war broke out between Ratu Boko kingdom and the neighbouring Pengging. The king lost to Pengging warrior Bandung Bandawasa who later fell in love with the charming Loro Jonggrang, the human daughter of Ratu Boko who was kept hidden in the palace.

He asked for her hand in marriage but Loro rejected him. But under rising pressure from the Pengging, Loro eventually agreed on condition that Bandung Bandawasa dug a well a thousand paces deep and constructed a complex of 1,000 temples in one night.

Well, the drama did not end there. Bandung wanted to marry her so badly that he summoned the same demon that helped him win the war and succeeded in digging the well.

Loro then asked him to descend into it to measure the depth, and when he was at the bottom, Loro ordered her retainers to fill it up with stones and earth. But Bandung was very powerful and he managed to escape.

He continued building the temple, still convinced that he could win her heart. He almost managed to build the temple in a flash with the help of the devil.


The hidden mosque of Taman Sari

Loro, in fear of losing her bet, ignited a huge fire of hay in the east of Ratu Boko palace and called upon her maidens to start pounding breakfast rice — making the villages’ roosters cry and crow.

Alarmed by the fuss, the devil diverted focus and was unable to construct the last temple as the sun had already risen.

Loro Jonggrang now had a reason to reject the proposal but Bandung later found out that he was manipulated by the princess. He cursed her to become part of the last temples she had asked for.

Located on a plateau, 196 metres above sea level, the palace covers 16 hectares and from the highest point on the site, you have a panoramic view of Prambanan temple.

The complex consists of four parts. But, since we are short of time, we get to see only the central part where the main gate, crematorium temple, a pool and stone pedestal are located.

This is where visitors relax on the grass, and wait patiently to catch the sunse in between the massive main gateway with three doors.

However, we aren’t lucky enough to catch the sunset as sky is a bit cloudy. But, against the background, we spot extraordinary pinkish hues against the blue sky — magical!

The complex also consists of miniature temples, public hall, women’s quarter and the place for the royal princess. There are also caves in hill slopes known as Gua Lanang (male) and Gua Wadon (female). According to local belief, the caves can help those who desire a child.

WATER CASTLE

Wanting to see more exotic palaces, I head to Taman Sari, the former royal garden of the Sultanate of Yogyakarta located within the present Kraton grounds.

Taman Sari was built in the 18th century as a resting and meditation area, a workshop, a defence area and a hiding place. The complex was effectively used between 1765 and 1812 until it was destroyed during the British invasion.

Today, only the central bathing complex is well-preserved, while the other areas are occupied by the local settlement.

It was also known as a water castle because when the watergates are shut, the complex is immersed in water and becomes a hiding place.

First, I stop at the bathing complex known as Umbul Pasiraman. It’s an enclosed space surrounded by tall structures.

Inside the courtyard, you will see two main pools divided by a central pathway known as Blumbang Kuras. The pool on the left is for children while the right side is for women.

There’s a balcony at the top where the sultan sits and watches the women bathe. He will then choose one to be his concubine who will pamper him for the day at his private area called Umbul Muncar. Looking at the grand structure, I can almost imagine the scene during those days.


The one-hour performance showcases two dance rituals — Lagenda Golek Ayun Ayun and Bedhaya Jatiwarna

Inside the sultan’s private area, there’s a pool, a massage room and his changing room.

The other remaining part of the Taman Sari is the underwater mosque at the man-made Segaran lake. There were buildings on artificial islands in the middle of the lake. This buildings were connected by an underwater secret tunnel.

Although the lake has been drained, the underwater tunnel can still be accessed, leading to the mosque. It’s a unique mosque with natural light — very photogenic too!

On the ground level of the platform, there’s a small pool that is used for ablution.

I head to the present Keraton area, not far from Taman Sari, to see watch a Javanese dance performance that only happens on Sunday.

The one-hour performance showcases two dance rituals — Lagenda Golek Ayun Ayun, which is about coming of age of a woman, and Bedhaya Jatiwarna, a dance about the environment.

MARRIOTT STYLE

While I am here in Jogja, I check out the new Marriott Yogyakarta. Located in a prime location in the heart of Jogja city, the hotel is 20 minutes’ away from Adi Sutjipto International Airport.

It’s a stylish hotel, linked to one of the biggest malls in Jogja, Hartono Mall. So, you can expect where I will be at when I have time to explore.


Soto ayam, a must-eat at Marriott Yogyakarta

My room for the three nights is super spacious! It’s a Deluxe Room with a pool view, but I have a panaromic view of the city. The room has a high ceiling window, so natural lighting is on point!

The room has a king bed — plush, luxury and sleek. It also has a long sofa bed by the window where I spend my night time reading. The huge bathroom feels so luxurious.

I pamper myself at the newly opened Quan Spa. It’s a modern spa located by the pool and psst... prices are so affordable!

My treatment consists of an hour massage and scrub — a basic yet satisfying indulgence. It costs less than RM200.


Spa treatments at Quan Spa are cheap

To satisfy my craving for Indonesian food, I go to Yogyakarta Kitchen. Here, you can savour delicious international cuisine as well as local favourites.

You can have rice in the morning with assorted local dishes and selections of sambal, noodles, pastries, and even order steak and egg. I spend more than an hour trying everything.

For a la carte items, try sup buntut, soto ayam, bebek goreng and more. They are delicious. Don’t worry about the price too, as it’s really affordable. nhanna@nst.com.my

Pictures by Hanna Hussein

1,023 reads

Related Articles

Most Read Stories by