July 2017 – Jogjakarta, Indonesia
An overly-cheerful, intensely irritating, chorus of operatic “Good mornings” filled the room. I opened one eye, and fumbled around for my phone. 3:15AM. Why on earth had I suggested this? No, not just suggested it, campaigned for it. I cursed myself, turned off the alarm and rolled out of bed. I grabbed my belongings and headed for the door, where dad was already waiting for me. “This had better be worth it”, he muttered, accompanied by a deep scowl. We got into the car and I promptly fell fast asleep again.
An hour later I was jolted awake. We had arrived. We were handed a torchlight, heralded into a waiting area and given buns and tea to occupy us until it was time. Slowly the porch area began to fill with other bleary eyed tourists questioning their sanity, too tired to make small talk. Finally “the time” arrived, and we weaved through the grounds with only the feeble light from our torches to guide us. With no idea or mental picture about where we were, we slowly began our ascent, carefully feeling our way up the stairs, looking for a quiet, empty spot slightly away from all the other fools that had come to watch the sunrise. An impossible task!
Eventually the sun crept over the horizon, gradually revealing our surroundings, and shedding some light on the ancient temple of Borobudur. It wasn’t the magical sunrise that I had been hoping for, the sky was grey, the sun couldn’t quite break through the thick blanket of clouds, and a chilly mist hung in the air. But even that couldn’t take away from the magic of the slow reveal all around us, of this beautiful, strange, unique World Heritage Site. Where we were, at the top of the temple, there were 3 circular levels of stupas. There were 72 in total and each level of stupas had a slightly different design and meaning. Finally, there was one giant stupa at the very top, which represented nirvana.
Finally the sun broke through the clouds. All was revealed. And almost every inch of free space on all of these levels was occupied by camera touting tourists, hoping to capture the moment – myself included. While we jostled, hustled and fought for the best angles and people-free shots, Dad, who had had a Buddhist reawakening several years earlier, had wandered away to a quiet spot away from the sunrise and was meditating. Eventually, after taking about a thousand photos, I found him and settled down next to him. It felt so good to force myself to be in the moment and to appreciate where I sat right then.
All too soon the sunrise slot came to an end, we were ushered off the temple to a feast of banana fritters and coffee. Just in time it turned out, as mega bus after mega bus arrived and the real plague of mainland tourists descended. We hopped into the car and I fell fast asleep again, smug in the knowledge that my bullying had paid off.
IDR450,000 per person for the sunrise entry
IDR325K per person for the normal entry
Place to stay:
We stayed at the beautiful Dusun Jogja Village Inn. The boutique hotel is beautifully decorated to give it a Javanese character and style. It’s environmentally friendly, has beautiful gardens, a salt-water pool and even a little meditation hut! The rooms are gorgeous and luxurious. My favourite part? The little balcony with a cushion seat overlooking the gardens. To round it all off, all the staff were super friendly and helpful. We booked the Borobudur tour and transport through them, and got lots of information about all the other must-see spots.The only downside was there wasn’t a lot of great local restaurant choice in the area around the hotel.
An acquired taste, and definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but Gudeg definitely has to be tried. The official dish of Jogjakarta, Gudeg is a spicy, salty, and very sweet meal where the star of the show is unripe jackfruit that has been cooked in coconut milk and palm sugar.
The House of Raminten is another not to be missed restaurant. The drag-queen owned restaurant is an icon in Jogja, not just for its character, but also for its delicious, authentic Javanese food. The place was absolutely packed, but totally worth the 25 minute wait. Just don’t order the local javanese beer expecting a cool refreshing Bintang – it’s hot and herbally!
Other must-visit spots:
Kraton & Water Palace. Only a 10 minute ride from our hotel, the Kraton and Water Palace is a trip back in time. The sprawling grounds are steeped in history and the free daily performances of dances, puppet shows or traditional gamelan music, really give you a deeper insight into Javanese culture.
Prambanan. We didn’t end up making it to the Prambanan, but heard a lot of good things about the ancient Hindu temples. A little drive outside of the city, it’s recommended you go for sunset to catch some really spectacular scenes.