The final leg of my very hot and humid two-month Asian travel was a well planned and luxurious cultural tour, “Java & Bali: Indonesia’s Mystical Islands”, with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT). A separate blog on Bali will follow. As usual with OAT, the tour was extremely comfortable with amazing meals and accommodations and a thoughtful and generous guide, Manik, educating and herding me and the delightful 10 ladies and 3 gentlemen on our tour.
The key is The Hand. Don’t underestimate The Hand, it has the power of Moses parting the Red Sea. I raised out The Hand to the oncoming traffic, puffed up my chest and just started walking. Somehow, these cars of all sizes and motorcycles miraculously deftly swerved around me. Jaywalking, I admit, took guts and skill, but most of all, The Hand. Without it, motorists will just assume you have a death wish, instead of the drivers’ interpretation of the gesture as a polite way of saying “Excuse me, Kind Sir, I would greatly appreciate it if you didn’t smush me.”
Next, we flew an hour east in Java to Yogyakarta (pronounced ‘Jog-jakarta’ and called ‘Jog-ja’ for short). It is renowned as a center of education including a world-class university; and classical Javanese fine art and culture such as batik, dance, drama, music, poetry and puppet shows. Visiting important archaeological sites like Borobudur, Prambanan, and Sambisari Temples presents an overwhelming amount of sculpture and masonry to teach the history and its ways of life of the area. We also walked 12km around the active Mount Merapi, visited the local arts and crafts producing neighborhoods, met with a number of kind Indonesian veterans, and dutifully shopped like good Americans at a gorgeous batik production site.
Borobudur (above & below) and Prambanan, are 9th-century Buddhist and Hindu temples, respectively, and UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Centers. Both were built some 300 years before Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Also, the close proximity of the two temples tells me that on Java, Buddhism and Hinduism lived peacefully together, or felt no need to destroy the other religious icons when one became more dominant.
The magnificent Borobudur temple is the world’s biggest Buddhist monument, an ancient site widely considered to be one of the world’s seven wonders. It is built from over two million stone blocks in the form of a massive symmetrical stupa, literally wrapped around a small hill. The nine-level monument is massive; imagine an 11-story building on less than 3 square city blocks. The six layers at the bottom, represent the everyday world; the top three layers represent enlightenment. At the base layer, there were series of bas-reliefs representing the world dominated by passion and desire, where the good are rewarded by reincarnation as higher forms of life as you ascend, while the evil are punished with a lower life form reincarnation. There were richly decorated narrative panels (below) carving out a virtual textbook of Buddhist doctrines as well as many aspects of Javanese life 1000 years ago. Plus some 500+ serene-faced Buddha images staring out from open chambers, as well as inside many latticed stupas on the top three tiers. Once a year, Borobudur is used for pilgrimage; and today, Borobudur is Indonesia’s single most visited tourist attraction.
At the apex, we watched smoke emerging from the nearby Mount Merapi, the most active volcano in Indonesia that erupted in 2014.
As the largest Hindu temple complex (above) in Southeast Asia, the beautiful and graceful temple of Prambanan is a magnificent spectacle. The height of a 14-story building, the highest Hindu temple in the world is dedicated to Shiva – the destroyer, and the two smaller ones are dedicated to Brahma – the creator, and Wisnhu – the sustainer. More temples nearby are dedicated to the animals (below) who served them. This temple complex is surrounded by some 200 ‘Guardian Towers’ all crumbled except two, recently restored.