Jogjakarta/ Yogyakarta or Jogja/ Yogya located at Java’s center is the beating heart of Javanese history, fine arts, and culture. Jogja is a city rich with tradition and proud of preservation, evident in its enduring tradition of sultanship. It is a city of gamelan music, wayang legend puppetry, of batik fabric design, and traditional dance, where even the Javanese people come to reconnect with their heritage. To experience Jogja is to experience Java’s past and present simultaneously.
The first thing that crossed my mind when I landed in Jogja was that the city had a unique cultural magic about it that I hadn’t experienced before in my travels in Indonesia. The taxi ride from the airport took me along streets lined with storefronts selling really beautiful handicrafts from traditional Javanese masks and wood crafts, to rattan furniture, to hand blown glass and silver jewelry. Experienced craftsmen and their apprentices were either hard at work or enjoying a meal from one of the many Javanese food carts. The cultural vivacity and pride is palpable in Jogja.
The city is crowned by it’s two UNESCO world heritage site temples: Borobudur and Prambanan. Although both were built in the 9th century and are some of the oldest sites in Indonesia, these two temples each have a distinct architectural and cultural uniqueness that make them both must visit sites in their own right, and had been on my list of places to visit for too long.
After a good night’s sleep, we were ready to dive headfirst into ancient Java. Skipping the sunrise crowd, we started at Borobudur temple at about 11 am and bought tickets for both sites. Which are both definitely do-able in a single day, and cheaper if done so.
Borobudur is the world’s largest Buddhist temple and a site of international pilgrimage situated about an hour out of the city of Jojgakarta. The drive there is like being transported back in time as the modern signs and storefronts of the city gradually give way to rice paddies, and corn fields, oxen plow farms, and the roads are lined with green.
Borobudur itself is surrounded by a well kept park with walking paths leading the way. As I approached I couldn’t help but be more and more impressed the close I got to the ancient temple. Steps up to the first level lead to a plateau of intricate stone reliefs and images of Buddha that were awe-inspiring. Each subsequent level seems to tell its own story of imagery and craftsmanship. Exploring the way to the top level of iconic latticed stupas each housing an cross legged image of Buddha is half the fun. Circling our way around we managed to find some areas that were quiet and almost completely deserted, making for some quality appreciation time.
Prambanan is the largest Hindu temple site in Indonesia that once was home to 240 temples all arranged in a mandala formation with the largest eight in the middle. Today, after hundreds of years of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes only the central temples remain surrounded by mossy stone rubble. Walking in the grass among the piles of stones is an adventure in itself. The central temples stretch pinnacles of ornate stone carving towards the sky. I climbed the steep stairs to the dim stone chamber where an altar once stood, entering and breathing the damp air for a quiet moment was one of my favorite experiences. It felt like I was briefly connecting with the ancient world a way, imagining what it would have been like in the dim stone chamber thousands of years ago.
Both Borobudur and Prambanan temples completely surpassed my expectations, and I expected to be impressed. These stone monuments open up a window into what ancient Java was like in all its glory. They are the perfect crowning jewels to Jogja, where Javanese art, culture, and history meet to be experienced.
- Go on a Friday, it is the least crowded day of the week.
- Set aside 6-9 hours for both temples
- Buy the tickets as a package (prices)
- Student discounts are available for International Student Card holders
- Dress with knees covered, or you’ll be donning a park issued sarong at Borobudur
- Sunrise at Borobudur is only available through the Manohara Hotel and is a bit pricey.
- If you plan on hiring a driver, arrange it a day before either directly, or through your hotel. Hotel rates will be more expensive. It isn’t hard to find a driver just by walking around the city.
- Average cost of a car and driver (not through hotel) for the day is 500,000 Rupiah. Prices may start higher and are typically open to negotiation.
- Here’s a link to set up the tour in advance online , if you wish.