The streets and valleys of Jogja are full of surprises. From cock-fighting to active volcanoes, this part of Java has it all. Of course, Jogja is the affectionate name for the town of Yogyakarta here in the middle of Java, around a 5 hour train ride east from Jakarta, and about the same south of Surabaya. It is a lovely little town, most famous for its nearby temples, but the people here make it what it is!
Malioboro Street is the main thoroughfare of Jogja, and it is here where you can find a hive of activity all day and night long. Many horse-drawn carts ply the roads to give you a little journey (for a price, obviously), and there are so many shopping outlets selling batik in particular. One guy I met, who was obviously trying to drumming up trade, asked me where I was from and then pretended to have a family member living there. As the conversation continued, he begged me to buy something from his shop as his mother was sick. I wondered why he didn’t just say that first of all, rather than making up a story about my neighbour in London!
One thing you can always be sure of in Jogja is colourful decoration of the town. From the lampposts to the railway gates, and from the exterior of the homes to the garden furniture, everything just screamed “happy”! The locals in Jogja are very protective of their homes and possessions, as well as each other, yet they are very accommodating to tourists, as this is a major source of income to the area.
The Taman Sari Water Palace is one of the few tourist attractions in the city of Yogyakarta, and it makes for a nice change of pace from the temples and the shopping. The place is not very well upheld, and is beginning to look a little run down. I was lucky enough to see a Ramayana ballet dance during my time in Jogja, too, which was being performed at a nearby hotel quite close to the airport. Most areas of Indonesia have traditional dances, and here in Jogja the Ramayana ballet is a sight to behold. For something a little different in the way of a tourist attraction, why not check out the Yogyakarta Bird Market, which I am told is the largest of its kind in Java. This is not a aviary, but rather a real market where birdlife is bought and sold all day long. There is even the “opportunity” to buy cockroaches to feed to the birds!
I didn’t get the chance to climb Mount Merapi, which is the fearsome VERY active volcano that looms large over the city. I don’t know if I would have wanted to climb it, either, as it is very unpredictable and the next eruption is probably not too far away. There was a huge eruption from Merapi in 2010, which killed thousands of locals. You can go on a so-called “Lava Tour” and see the many troughs that were dug through the earth as the lava moved its way down the valleys, and you can also see some emotional items from the perished villagers that have been reclaimed from the ash in the nearby museum.
Of course, no trip to Yogyakarta is complete without a trip to the Hindu temple known as Candi Prambanan, which is one of the few Hindu monuments in Indonesia. Indonesia is, of course, now a predominantly Muslim nation, with Buddhist and Christian influences due to politics in her colonial days, although the island of Bali remains chiefly Hindu itself. Regardless of your religious orientation, however, Prambanan is remarkable for its rigidly pointy architecture. Most visitors to Yogyakarta will see Prambanan and its Buddhist cousin Borobudur during the same trip, although the latter is a good one hour drive outside of Yogya’s city limits.
As time goes by, and you get closer to leaving Jogja, you will begin to get emotional that you have to say goodbye to such a lovely little regency like this. In all my travels around the main islands of Indonesia, I have yet to find another place quite like Jogja. The people, the handicrafts, the way of life, everything seemed to be just right for me – and one day I shall return to take in more sights and sounds of the area!