Thursday, June 07, 2007

Indonesia: Yogyakarta, cradle of Javanese culture

I arrived in Yogyakarta early in the morning of June 5. The train station was a heritage building, as it is with most of the major train stations in Java. My batchmates in Jakarta had made arrangements for Dimas, a PY in 2004, to meet me at the station. Since I was starving after that long trip, he took me to this Nasi Gudeg place for breakfast.

As with most Central Javanese dishes, Nasi Gudeg was a bit sweet. It’s actually a complex dish composed of several component dishes. I appreciated it more after I visited their kitchen, learning about the overnight cooking process. The first component dish, duck eggs are first hard-boiled, then shelled, then re-boiled again with different ingredients and spices until it reaches a dark brown color. Another component is the chicken dish. They were also grating coconuts and chopping some young jackfruit at the back for another dish. There was also a tofu and cow skin dish. The last component was white rice. They prepared large servings beginning the night before for sales the next day.

We met up with Happy, a PY in 2005, and proceeded to the Kraton, the historic palace complex of the Sultan. Yogyakarta is actually a special region in Indonesia since its top officials are not elected. Rather, the reigning Sultan of Yogyakarta and Prince of Pakualaman are governor and vice-governor respectively. This resulted from a statement by the rulers of both principalities during the declaration of Indonesian independence that the Sultanate of Yogyakarta and Regency of Pakualaman would be part of Indonesia. There have been issues though, with the Indonesian central government failing to honor the agreement in 1988. But to make the long story short, the current sultan is also governor of Yogya.

Among the places we visited were the coronation hall and a part of the main palace. You could see the servants of the sultan in traditional Javanese attire walking around the palace barefoot since they are not allowed to put on footwear. And male servants have a kris knife tucked behind them.

In one of the halls, there was a gamelan performance. It was lucky there was one that day since they don’t perform every day. In another hall was a museum dedicated to the life of the previous sultan, Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX, who even became vice-president of Indonesia from 1973 to 1978. After the touring the palace, I took a bus to Borobudur.

I arrived back in Yogya late afternoon June 6, after visiting Borobudur and Prambanan. I first looked for a place to stay for the night in the Jalan Sosrowijayan area where most of the budget hotels can be located; then took a stroll around the Jalan Marlioboro area to do some souvenir shopping. I got myself a pair of wayang golek (puppets) and masks among others.

Then for dinner, I went to one of the warungs which appear along Marlioboro every evening. You sit on woven mats while eating dinner. One of the favorites is the ayam goreng (fried chicken) which they say is marinated in coconut milk. I also had lalap (fresh vegetables) and sambal (chili) to accompany the dish.

The next morning, after purchasing my ticket to Bandung at the train station, I took a walk around Yogya. First stop was Vredeburg Fort which is located in an area of fine colonial buildings. The fort was built by the Dutch in 1765 to protect the governor. From Vredeburg, I walked to the Kraton then to Taman Sari or the Water Castle, a pleasure place for the royal family, with bathing pools where the sultan relaxed with a bevy of beautiful women. It was quite a walk and the hotel was a bit far. So I decided to take a becak (rickshaw) back to the hotel.

In the afternoon, I took a one-hour train to Solo which cost me Rp7,000. It was a big risk since I might miss my train to Bandung, but I had wanted to visit the Sangiran Early Man Site, which is the third UNESCO site in Central Java. From the Solobalapan Station, I took a becak to the Solo Bus Station. My plan was to take a Purowadadi-bound bus and get off at the junction to Sangiran. But good thing I asked for some advice at the tourist information counter.

They offered that I take an ojek (motorcycle) straight to Sangiran for Rp35,000 (US$4) which sounded expensive at first. But they explained that the bus would cost Rp5,000 one-way and when I got down at the junction, I’d have to haggle with an ojek for the four-kilometer trip to the museum which could amount to Rp15,000 or even more since I was a foreigner. Add the time factor and uncertainty since the bus was slower and finding an ojek to take me to the museum might have been a hassle. So this turned out to be a good deal.

Few people actually visit the place because there’s nothing much to see except a few fossils and replicas of Java Man skulls. In fact, I was the only visitor at the museum that day. But for a UNESCO World Heritage addict like me, it was a must visit. I was back in Solo earlier than expected which meant I would be early in Yogya and had a lot of time to spare before boarding the train to Bandung.

More photos in 2007-06-06 Yogyakarta, Indonesia and 2007-06-07 Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

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