Having written yesterday about Borobudur there was a reference to other such sites being less well known, but equally captivating. So it is with Prambanan, and it shows that sheer ignorance can sometimes be a major bonus when it comes to travelling, for apart from a name on an itinerary, I knew nothing about it. And yet it’s spectacular. There isn’t really an excuse for being so unaware, given it forms part of the usual itineraries around the region but as is often the case the focus falls on what is anticipated to be the expected highlight.
So it was something of a shock to realise that this Hindu temple, from the same period as Borobudur, is one of the largest Hindu temples in south east Asia. It doesn’t get quite the same attention, yet it should because it’s startling in its own right. The towers are massive, with the largest, the Shiva temple, reaching 47 metres up and 34 metres across. There are three main temples but the Shiva one is flanked by two smaller ones plus three others across the main platform and in front of the whole complex are over 200 smaller ones, of which only two have been restored. The remainder consist either of foundations only or simply piles of rubble, yet the overall effect adds to the striking nature of the visit rather than detracting from it.
There’s clearly been considerable reconstruction under the auspices of UNESCO but it is both sympathetic and clearly marked where non original materials hae been used, meaning the real reliefs and friezes are even more startling.
Like most other monuments in the area, damage was done by the 2006 eruption of Mt Merapi, and that is an ongoing risk in the future. Yet the degree of care in terms of what has been done, such as the creation of what amounts to a park around it, is abundantly clear and prevents concern being too high about its future.
If Prambanan represents the past, then Bugisan is very much the present. This small village has created a collective to preserve the traditional ways of life and to turn it into a source of much needed income. Responsible tourism includes attempting to ensure that dollars, euros and pounds spent at least have a chance of going into the pockets of local people. It’s for this reason that interaction has become essential to many visitors, and here it is the entire purpose behind coming.
Unusually, the mode of transport to get there is by ox cart, certainly a first for me, and very different to the norm. On arrival in the village itself you go to the house of the Jamu maker, whose array of herbal remedies, drinks and medicines are still to be seen on Indonesian streets. Or instead there’s her neighbour, who makes a local, and delicious, snack called emping. If that’s not enough then witnessing a gamelan performance by the ladies of the village may even tempt the visitor into having a go. Not this one though.
Written down this could be viewed as being tacky and touristy, yet it is anything but. It’s a real village, with the people who live, doing what they’ve always done, except that they’ve found a way to supplement their income at the same time as monetising that way of life sufficiently to preserve it. Such traditions are important in any society and if this helps to ensure their survival, then it’s well worth it. And for the visitor, that insight into real life is priceless, without ever being forced to intrude.
Next to the village is another spectacular set of ruins, the Buddhist temples of Plaosan. These are diminished from their original scale as some of it has been lost, but still impressive, and by virtue of being less heavily restored than some of the others, provides a pertinent illustration of the passage of time.
Yogyakarta itself is often used as a base from which to explore these sites and little more. Yet it’s a mistake to do that, for the city has much to offer. There is the modern place with plenty of bars and restaurants but there is also the Kraton, or royal palace of the Sultan, both the palace elements themselves or the nearby Taman Sari Water Castle, of which only the central bathing complex is well preserved. It’s still well worth a visit.
The cultural life of the city is also easy to come by, puppet shows and indeed the creation of the puppets themselves can be visited as can batik fabric manufacture. In essence, the city and its surrounds offer far more than initial examinations may make clear.