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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

December 1st: Yogyakarta

On December 1st 1981 I was in Yogyakarta, the old cultural centre of central Java.  It was the rainy season and ash from a recent volcanic eruption caused the clouds to hang over the city for days on end.

On Top of Borobudur:  My picture
This was the day I visited Borobudur, the 9th Century Buddhist temple.  Even in the rain, even with the cranes and other signs of work being undertaken, even with the restricted access, even with the tourist trappings, the temple retains a great deal of majesty.  It is really a giant stupa, with terrace after terrace of sculpted friezes leading up to the airy platform above.  It is a wonderful conception, and the reliefs are  astounding, even if I could see only a portion of them.  I stole behind one of the No Entry signs and managed to see about a third of the second terrace which seems the finest and grandest, myths adapted to 9th Century Javanese ordinary life, with some magnificent ships for instance, and sitting through it all peaceful Buddhas.  In fact the statuary in general had a most peaceful and tranquil effect, as one has the right to expect from a Buddhist stupa.  Up on top one gets above the reliefs of the ordinary world to a platform where Buddhas (largely beheaded unfortunately) seem to float in their miniature stupas.  I sat for a good time looking over green fields to the ridge of hills opposite and soaked up some of the present energy.  The day before I had visited the Shiva temple of Prambanan which dates from a similar period.  Almost as impressive, with fine statues and realistic reliefs, it has a beautiful smooth Nandi and views beyond to the green of rice fields and coconut palms.

That night I went to a cultural performance as it was billed, of wayang kulit, the shows of shadow puppets accompanied by music, which is an important part of classical Javanese culture. It was interesting enough, though a little too static for enjoyment; most of the effects were in the fighting and were simple.  The music had interest as well and some of the singing was really good.  Just to see the puppets in action was the main thing.

Dancer at the Kraton:  My picture
The main part of old Yogya is the kraton, the Sultan's palace.  There are streets of traditional houses which are pretty and a market for caged birds which is picturesque and characteristic even if it was upsetting to see it.  I also took a tour one day of the kraton to watch the dancing rehearsals, which like the shadow puppets was interesting if not exactly fun.  The women's dances I found rather stilted and precious, small steps, most was in the gestures, the men's dances freer and with more movement, even some leaping in a fighting ritual.  The gamelan played by older men was good to listen to.  It was all very stately and courtly, men and women acting out their roles as if in the sultan's presence.

Finally I got away from Yogya and went to the little town of Parangtritis on the coast to the south.  It was really quiet there as there is no through road, it was out of season and only got the day trippers on Sunday.  Otherwise it was just empty restaurants and a few farmers.  The dunes were good, a couple of them quite high, with good views over the crashing impenetrable surf and the steep cliffs where the hills go into the sea.  The women in the fields were slow and methodical, with peaked sunhats, and a pair of white Javanese cattle were being used for ploughing.  The overriding memory is of the beach where the waves were high and incessant in this season, impossible for fishing; it was hard to imagine there could ever be a time when tourists strolled along here let alone went swimming.

Parangtritis:  My picture
I found Parangtritis peaceful and this helped my frame of mind for the journey back to Yogya and on to Jakarta.  A train journey in Indonesia was essentially middle-class even in third, as the poor stay put or go on the day buses.  As the dawn rose there were people coming out into the fields with ducks and buffaloes against a backdrop of a volcano, and then we were passing the shanties and filthy shelters  without any sanitation that people lived in along the railway line into Jakarta. 

Patrimonium Mundi:  Panoramas of Borobudur and Prambanam.
In the Kraton:  My picture

Frieze at Borobudur:  My picture

Java Street Scene:  My picture

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