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Priding on the past

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This is not about Bali. There is much more to the archipelago nation of Indonesia; an exploration beyond the island will be enthralling and exhilarating. Like any other developing nation the disparity between the haves and have not is distinct. Yet in a nation with Islam as its predominant religion, the familiarity of the elephant headed God comes as a surprise. While Hinduism and Buddhism remain just a meagre minority, Indonesia seems to take great pride in its past; most of their monuments are protected and history collected in glass boxes of museums. Not just harping on the past, Indonesia also is a progressive growing nation and on the wish lists of international MNCs. Simple example are the hotel brands – Kempinski, Mandarin Oriental, Hyatt, Ritz Carlton, Shangri La, etc – in the nation’s capital Jakarta proves this. The real magic however will only be unraveled on venturing beyond the razzle dazzle of the cities.

One such excursion will lead to Yogyakarta. Locally known as Jogja, it is the second most popular tourist destination of the country and barely explored by Indians. As the smallest province of Indonesia, Special Region of Yogyakarta and its nearby places gives a traveller a power packed punch of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, active volcanoes and pristine beaches. So many facets in themselves open doors to myriad tourism products to promote. Good air connectivity, low cost and full service airlines, makes getting around the maze of islands simpler. If zest and zeal permits, straight headway has to be the Hindu temple of Prambanan. Called Candi in local language, the temple complex is home to the Hindu trinity of Bramha, Vishnu and Mahesh as well as their vahanas – Nandi the bull, Garuda and Hansa. For those who have the palatial grandeur and exquisite craftsmanship of Indian structures ingrained in them, may not be completely impressed by the structures themselves. But the larger picture with the temple’s deep foundation, grand heights and sprawl, all laid out in the open does leave a sense of awe.

Rakai Pikatan the Hindu ruler who came back to power, began building the complex in 856 AD as a sign of rebirth of Hindu influences. The main Shiva temple, at a height of 47 metres, is known Loro Jonggrang. However, the more popular tale is of the princess Loro Jonggrang and a man named Bandung Bondowoso. This man wanted to marry the princess, who was the daughter of king Prabu Boko. The princess did not wish for the union and laid a condition – build 1000 statues in one night. To achieve this feat Bondowoso took the assistance of genies and as the night came to a close the number of statues kept increasing. Seeing this, the princess and her entourage started a fire on the eastern horizon spreading a red haze and beat rice mortars to create signs of dawn. At this sight, the genies retreated with the work incomplete and one statue less. Bondowoso furious at this treachery, cursed the princess to be a statue herself, and hence completing the 1000. Within the same park enclosure around 800 metres away from Loro Jonggrang is Sewu temple, a Buddhist temple built by Pikatan commemorating his wife’s beliefs. This has 240 small temples surrounding a polygon shaped main temple, with a diameter of 29 metres and a height of 30 metres. Prambanan was almost lost due to an earthquake in the 16th century and very recently again in 2006. Restoration started in the 1930s and is still on. The outer perimeter today is in rubbles, but once used to be a maze of smaller temples. Loro Jonggrang, too is not open to visitors, thanks to the damage from the earthquake. It would be a good idea to plan the visit on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday so as not to miss the Ramayana Epic Ballet which takes place in the evening.

Next on list is the famed Buddhist temple of Borobudur. Considered to be the largest Buddhist temple in the world Borobudur is built atop a hill as an extension. The architecture is the unique facet; the ten levels start of as a square, after the sixth level the next three are circular and the top most level holds the main stupa surrounded more than 500 smaller stupas. These levels depict Buddhist interpretation of the universe – Kamadhatu, Rupadhatu and Arupadhatu. The walls have carvings which depict the life of Prince Siddhartha and his evolution to become the Buddha. The massive structure was built by the Syailendra dynasty between 8th and 9th century and has two more temples – Mendut and Pawon. Together they form the Borobudur Temple Compounds. Mendut and Pawon temples are located to the east on a straight axis to Borobudur. Ravished and damaged by nature’s wrath, it was Theodorus Van Erp who started the initial phase of restoration in 1907. These temples are great examples for India to emulate, with sprawling acreage the archeological park has separate entry and exits, its parking space segregated at a distance, utilities and conveniences at various points, easily accessible information centre, even food hawkers and souvenir pushers have a space to themselves. This provides the temples the breathing space they deserve.

Moving on, the sunset at Ratu Boko must not be missed. Three kilometers south of Prambanan, Ratu Boko are the remains of an ancient palace complex from the eighth century. They are also said to be the only Hindu and Buddhist mixed-architectural archeological site. The palace is named after the folklore of Prabu Boko creating a connection with Prambanan, however the true inhabitant has not been traced yet. Most magnificent of these are the stone gates, beyond which lie the remains of fortifications.

Meetings at Makkasar
Located in South Sulawesi, it is the gateway to the region. Still in the early days of tourism, the tourism department of Indonesia is keen to develop the location as a MICE destination. Undoubtedly, almost all hotels in the city have MICE facilities and are keen on promoting them too. Hotels are also willing to cater to special needs and dietary requirements of Indian clientele. The city with a small town charm has a lot of history behind it too which is on display at Fort Rotterdam and La Galiago museum. The regional culture can be understood better at the Somba Opu, albeit it could do with some better upkeep. There is also the Losari and Akkarena beach. The boardwalk and the benches at Akkarena make for a perfect setting to see the sunset. On the outskirts of the city is also the indoor amusement park TRANS Studio which is also capable of catering to MICE requirements. Away from the city are the islands of Samalona and Lae Lae; the Bantimurung national park and Tana Toraja famed for the burial rituals.

Halfway between Bandung and Yogyakarta is the Pangandaran. The black and white beach is said yet not to have lost its charm to commercialisation. Caves both natural and man made – by Japanese soldiers during World War II as bunkers – and waterfall with its mouth to the ocean are to be spectacular sights. Similarly, there is the active Mount Merapi. Literally the fire mountain, it is set 1700 metres above sea level and trekking up is an experience of a lifetime. The three hour trek starts from the Selo village and leads right up to the rim, the danger itself pushes adrenalin soaring.

The city of Yogyakarta, the cultural capital of Indonesia, is also the only region headed by a monarch in the country. The city offers great shopping on Malioboro street for local handicrafts which go from the famed Batik to silver filigree; bargaining is a must. Accommodation is also not a challenge with all major brands present in the city. For Indians who find experimenting with food a challenge there are also Indian restaurants, albeit more timid in tastes and flavours.

Hotels also are willing to equip themselves with Indian food on advance notice. To the east of the city Jomblang cave; the vertical cave was created due to geological changes is a sinkhole, The bottom of the cave is said to have surprisingly lush vegetation, however to climb down on has to be trained climber. There are many other events and festivals that take place in the city, keeping track with them and then planning a holiday may prove to be an experience unlike any other.

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