After a two-hour flight from Lombok, I set foot in Yogyakarta, Java. Half of Indonesia’s population lives on this island (143 million people), making it one of the most populated places in the world, and I can feel it. I begin my stay at EDU hostel, which is unlike any other hostel I’ve stayed at. My initial reaction is that it feels more like a hotel than a hostel – a huge lobby, multiple levels, elevators, new beds, free breakfast, and it was only 50,000 rupiah a night ($5 USD). Aside from being big, modern, and clean, EDU hostel is different than others I’ve stayed at. One is that many local Indonesians stay at this hostel as they vacation in Yogyakarta from other parts of Indonesia. This perhaps results in the hostel having a policy of gender-segregated rooms. Lastly, the hostel has motivational posters everywhere, giving it a unique charm. The hostel uses the opportunity to connect their English-speaking patrons with the local school children. Upon check-in, the receptionist asks me to come by around 5pm in the lobby to interact with local school children and help them practice their English. Later at 5pm I arrive to find around 30 young Indonesian children, around 7-10 years old. They ask me basic questions like “what’s your name?” and “how old are you?” Later on they have me speak some words in Indonesian, and giggle at my mis-pronunciation.
I reflect on how this is a unique opportunity for these children get to meet travelers from all over the world through this program; how when they would grow up, they would perhaps feel more connected to different countries when hearing about events on the news, remembering the faces of volunteers from the respective countries.
I begin an all-day tour to see the two most popular temples in Indonesia. In the SUV with me are a couple from Spain, on a one-year backpacking trip, and two local Indonesian women on vacation for a few days. Our first stop is Borobodur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple. This temple has nine levels, 504 buddha statues, with 72 iconic Buddha statues on top (wait until you see it in the photos below!). Built in the 9th century, there was a period where this temple was abandoned for a few centuries, to be re-discovered by the British around the 1800s, who cleared away the jungle that shrouded such a magnificent monument. It’s odd to me how epic monuments like this end up abandoned, only to be re-discovered by Western archaeologists. Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu are two other sites that also were re-discovered by Western archaeologists in this way. The iconic Buddha statues. Each statue is seated inside a stupa; this one is uncovered for us to see. As I wander through the temple, I’m approached by a local boy who asks if I want to talk. He explains that he is on a field trip with his classmates, and they are learning to speak English. We have a basic conversation in English, where he asks where I am from, my age, how long I am staying in Yogyakarta. One of his classmates comes along and has a similar conversation with me. And then everyone’s favorite part: photos! After the photoshoot, I continue wandering around the large temple grounds. I wish I could sit and meditate here for an hour, but since I’m with a tour group, we only get to spend two hours at this site.
Prambanan is the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia, and one of the largest in Southeast Asia. This site is dedicated to three Hindu gods: Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the sustainer), and Shiva (the destroyer). As I walk around, I feel like I’m in a smaller version of Angkor Wat, the architecture and style of the buildings being very similar. While the main temples have been restored, there were many shrines around the area that are just a pile of rubble, awaiting restoration. Me rocking a shirt designed in the local Batik-style art. The sarong is not my idea of being fashionable, instead its required by the temple as a form of respect. 154-feet of epic ancient architecture towering above me.The temple walls are crafted in this level of detail.
The Ramayana Play
One evening I come to see the Ramayana play at Prambanan; a perfect spot to re-tell the Hindu epic. It’s way too long to summarize, but here are some video clips for your pleasure.
In the scene below, Sri Lanka is set on fire by Hanuman.
Yogyakarta is perhaps the most spiritual and artistic part of Java. Having one of the greatest Hindu and Buddhist temples in the world near one another makes this a place definitely worth visiting. And if you speak English, there are many people eager to practice speaking with you!
Next stop: Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta