The third stop this summer holiday was Yogya. There are various spellings for this city: Yogya, Jokja, Djogja, Yogyakarta, Yogyakarta hadiningrat (its official name according to Javanese) or DIY an abbreviation of Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta (Special Region of Yogyakarta).
It feels coming home for me whenever I visit Yogya cause my late father had his roots here. Being a Yogya native my late father often told me about the mystique surrounding the city. How people of Yogyakarta really admire their sultan. Yogya has my favor because it is laid back, full of high culture (fine arts, poetry, batik and silvercraft, dance), beautiful nature and not unimportantly, good food.
The journey through rice fields
From Bandung the group took Argo Wilis executive train. It departed on time early in the morning at 7 am. This comfy train rode through breathtakingly scenic landscape of West-Java which was endlessly decorated with rice fields. Entering Central – Java Cotton and Cassava plantations swapped by. After a relaxing trip of 7 hours in total, we arrived at Tugu train station, Yogyakarta. I gladly recommend taking the executive train to first time travelers in Java. It is a cheap, relaxing and beautiful trip. To add more fun and adventure you can also take economy trains for a bit of couleur locale. Another tip: the food on the train is nothing to shout about. So the day before we bought breads, fruit, snacks and lots of water in Bandung to consume en route. My sincere sorry I didn’t take any pics of the train as I was really enjoying the trip.
The history of Yogyakarta goes way back to the 9th century. At the east of Merapi volcano was known that at that time a kingdom of Medang existed. In the 16th century Panembahan Senopati established Mataram kingdom with its center of power in Kotagede only 15 minutes ride from the current palace of Yogyakarta. During Dutch occupation Gayanti treaty split Mataram kingdom in two: East Mataram and West Mataram. East Mataram has been known as Solo (Mangkunegaran) sultanate and West Mataram as Ngayogyakarta = Yogyakarta since then.
Why a special region?
Out of 33 provinces in Indonesia only 5 are called special region. In the case of Yogyakarta it is because of the role of the city. Yogyakarta played an important role during the war after the declaration of independence in 1945. It was once the official capital of the young republic. And the Dutch military tried to capture the city twice during the clash in 1947 and 1948.
Where to stay?
Along Malioboro and in its side streets (Dagen, Sosrowijayan) there are super cheap, cheap, middle class, expensive and more expensive hotels. If you love to shop, stay there. Or else you can also choose Pasar Kembang a street opposite Tugu station with its cheap accommodation. Luxury chain hotels with stars are further spread in the direction of the airport. This time I slept at a hotel nearby the backpacker area and Batik kampung (village) of Prawirotaman. It was a nice stay at casual part of the city. A small charming family hotel with surprisingly many Dutch guests too.
What to see?
A must see site is the sultan palace (Kraton) and the adjacent water palace (Tamansari). Vredeburg fort beside Beringhardjo market is a place to learn more about the city’s history during Dutch occupation. Traces of Dutch period are visible through some big buildings in the city center. You will recognise them right away.
The main boulevard of Yogyakarta is the Malioboro street. It is a straight road stretching from north to south between the sultanate palace (Kraton) and the Merapi volcano. Natives of Yogyakarta believe this axis is very important for the balance of the city. In this street there are vendors, hawkers and shops during the day. They sell batik clothes, dresses, art craft and other typical Yogya souvenirs varying in quality and price level. Be brave and haggle. The sellers find it a challenge if you dare to haggle. It is a kind of play for them. Beware of the notorious pick pocket here. At night the street transforms to a boulevard. Souvenir stalls are replaced by eateries selling city’s specialties like Gudeg (sweet jackfruit curry), satays and deep-fried chicken. Please check te price before placing the order to avoid shocking bill after dining. What makes these eateries special is that all guests sit on the mat on the floor. It’s called lesehan. During dining some street musicians sing serenades for you.
Most tourists both domestic and foreign use Yogyakarta as the homebase to visit two giant temples: Borobudur in Magelang (1 hour ride) and Prambanan (30 min ride from Malioboro street without traffic). I planned this temple sightseeing carefully for the group to avoid the heat. So we visited Borobudur very early at 7 am (depart from our hotel at 6 am). After 2 hours we were finished admiring this giant edifice. The same we did to our Prambanan visit. We came there at late afternoon around 4 pm. Prambanan park closed at 6 pm. So there was enough time to set our eyes on this finely built Hindu temple. Besides avoiding the heat, a late afternoon visit to Prambanan came handy cause we went to see the Ramayana epic ballet show afterwards. This amazing cultural performance began at 7.30 pm. It was presented in an open air theatre with enlightened Prambanan in the background. See pics of some of the characters I took after the performance. Ramayana is one of the epics I love and know some parts by heart. I highly recommend you to come see this excellent show.
Yogyakarta has been promoting its beaches. The most popular beach is Parang Tritis 35 km down south of the city. There is a legend about reigning beautiful mythical queen, Nyai Roro Kidul in Parang Tritis. This beach is also special due to its volcanic black sand. Other beautiful beaches one can admire are Glagah, Baron, Kukup, Krakal etc.
If you are more a mountain type, go to Kaliurang. It is a nature park with a waterfall popular among the locals. There is a charming little market also. You will get a view of rice fields with Merapi volcano on the background. I went to see ruins of Umbulhardjo village in the foot of Merapi volcano. It was once a lively village before eruption in October 2010 swept it away from earth together with another 2 neighbouring villages. Dead victims: appr 800 people. In the picture Merapi volcano is unseen in the mist. According to the locals I talked to tourism has been ironicly flourishing post eruption. The emerging simple guest rooms and guesthouses along the route confirm this. As you see in the pic, the victims are still busy rebuilding their houses cause they do not want to move to other area.
What to buy?
Batik clothes or ready to wear apparel are available almost everywhere in the city. For silvercraft pay a visit to neighbouring Kotagede. Most souvenirs are available in the stalls and shops along Malioboro street.
This long post is a proof how I love Yogyakarta very much. There are many things to share but I decide to stop here. You ought to visit this beautiful city yourself.
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