Joyful Jogjakarta



Having sighted the sundown moments in Bali’s beaches, we were game for the sunup moments that the ramparts of Jogjakarta promised. 

So we headed for Jogja in the hope of capturing ‘that first golden chink’ on the horizon; to find ‘that’ composure and equanimity that marks the Buddha’s countenance; to rediscover world-renowned sites of immense archaeological credence.
Bali is indeed a bagful but Yogyakarta for most Indians cannot be designed as a stand-alone trip and that’s how it found its way into our itinerary especially after a relative’s suggestion.
Borobudur and Prambanan Temples both of which are the cynosures of Yogyakarta were on our agenda with our intention being ―to offer salutations to the sun at the crack of dawn, follow its course & call it a day as it leaves its fading trail at Yogyakarta’s many baronial architectural marvels. 

Hindu Temples, Prambanan, Jogjakarta, Indonesia

Yogyakarta as it is christened, (where ‘yogya’ means ‘best suited’ & ‘karta’ means ‘prosperous’) is an adaptation of India’s ‘Ayodhya’ and denotes ‘a city that’s prosperous’ or ‘fit to prosper’. Jogjakarta and ultimately ‘jogja’ are the colloquial versions of the original.
Borobudur is incredible for the sunrise views but Prambanan & Ratu Boko ruins are what will offer you the best shots while the sun goes down; in fact photographers wait with bated breath to film the ebbing orb that can be beheld through the various ingresses on the monument’s bulwarks.

We landed in Jogjakarta from Bali on a late April evening. The sight of moist ground & the smell of wet earth that otherwise lift my spirits seemed to dampen my mood. The following day’s celestial clarity & stellar rise were dependent on the prevailing weather.

Our jeep inched through the traffic at snail’s pace. As the weather was intent on playing spoilsport, we decided to reschedule our visit to Borobudur to the second day of our 3 day visit and instead decided to head for Prambanan the very next day. 

The following day dawned with a clarity that erased all traces of gloominess of the previous day but as we had decidedly lazed around while the sun rose, we sped off to Prambanan post breakfast. It took us more than an hour from Jogja to Prambanan, given the heavy traffic.

Hindu Temples, Prambanan, Jogjakarta, Indonesia
As we edged closer to the precincts, the facades of the temple towers rose like flames, to touch the heavens!
Candi Ciwa (for Shiva) in the center facing east, towering tall and proud (47 metres tall), has an undoubtedly electrifying appeal as it looms large dwarfing the milling populace. It is flanked by the Vishnu Temple in the north & Brahma in the south. 
What Herculean efforts the artisans & laborers of yore might’ve put in, cannot be fathomed, for the humongous edifices that stand today, have stood the test of time! 
Candi Brahma
The temples are distinct in design, symmetry and character and some of the bas-reliefs bear Indian motifs of sages and nymphs.
Prambanan Temples are Hindu temples that were deified by the Mataram Kings who reigned over Central Java & nearby kingdoms.



Statue of Vishnu




Each main temple has a shrine on the opposite called Vahana Temple. The Nandi Temple is posited opposite the Shiva shrine, the Garuda Temple faces the Vishnu Temple & the Angsa Temple (Hamsa) stands facing the Brahma Temple. 





Pervara Ruins



Sewu Buddhist Temple
Scattered farther afield the Hindu temples, are a few Buddhist temples which aren’t exactly crowd-pullers, but a visit to these is a must, for it’s here in their desolate yet divine environs that time stands still. 



This triumvirate is dedicated to the Hindu Trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu & Shiva. 

Ijo Temples
Candi Plaosan
The shrine was a gift from a Hindu Prince Rakai Pikata of the Sanjaya dynasty to the Buddhist Princess Pramodavardhini of the Shailendra dynasty. The couple was united in wedlock ―their union arranged for political reasons.  

Candi Plaosan

In spite of both kingdoms having nursed inimical sentiments, the Plaosan Temple is a monumental symbol of love & peace! 

The name was enough to cause momentary nostalgia! 
While strolling around the complex, a calliopean sound echoed across the lawns, accompanied by the sounds of percussion. Perched on a dais was a band playing an exotic tune to which a little lass crooned melodiously. Seated next to her was a couple of well-dressed local women, their hair done in a typical chignon and diademed gracefully. We paused awhile, heard their song, exchanged pleasantries & clicked snaps for posterity before bidding them farewell. 


Enclosed within the premises is a zoo with a modest variety of animals like prickets & some interesting birds & very close to the zoo is the government approved handicraft emporium. 

Across the field, you’d find hawkers selling their wares but beware that the goods at the emporium are fairly priced. 

Ratu Boko

We had Ratu Boko on our agenda & hence avoided Sewu Temple. However, as the minutes ticked by, the serpentine queue of vehicles before us at the palace gates blighted our chance & finally when we did manage to race ahead, the pall of clouds that hung on the horizon seemed to gather force. We decided to retreat. That was sad, because snapshots of Ratu Boko with spectacular views of the setting sun splashed all over the net as well as magazines had us all keyed up. 
Nevertheless, the next day’s Borobudur odyssey kept us excited. After an early supper, we retired by 10 p.m. and were up by 4 a.m. Our hosts at the home-stay drove us to the famed temple. 

It had rained the whole night & we knew our chances of experiencing an untainted view of the rising sun were dim. It was pitch dark & we were shepherded with the aid of a torch. The pervading petrichor as we trod on wet grass & the sounds of cricket made for a fascinating adventure! 

Trampling on moist grass was one hell of an experience, for it was impossible to discern if we were indeed treading on safe grounds or were about to step on a slithering specimen! But our guides dismissed our fears by asserting that taking tourists to & fro was their daily job. Muffled giggles & whispers from other travellers assuaged our qualms. 

All of a sudden, we were confronted by the silhouette of a colossal structure that spread over the sprawling mead! At that tenebrous hour, the silhouette appeared frightfully gigantic. We had reached the gates of the renowned temple!

We haltingly trudged through the flight of steps, guided by the cell’s flashlight. It was still dark & we had to ensure that we didn’t bump into tourists who were ahead of us. Yes, there were many heliophiles than we had imagined who had reached the place much before us, to reserve their spot under the sun (shall we say sky?☺)& had already begun to mount their tripods & other paraphernalia.  
People spoke in hushed tones & waited patiently for the screen to unfold. Despite the mob that had gathered, there was ample space & we perched ourselves facing a particular direction because the entire crowd faced that direction, which certainly had to be east! The onslaught of tourists continued but the monument happened to be massive, for, the crowd dispersed evenly.
And we waited with bated breath. Suddenly the sound of semantrons resonated softly, suffusing the stillness & stilling the whispers, & the baritonal litany of Buddhist chants resounded through. That was our moment of nirvana! 

Dawn dawned! In a few moments, the inky vault slowly but steadily began to clarify into a breathtaking aurora & as its clarity grew in intensity, people poised themselves for heliolatry. 

A stray cloud ―white and fluffy could be seen sailing across the violet vault, only to be soon streaked with a pinkish hue ―the pink that perfused the skies. The pink soon gave way to a golden peach which was no doubt dulled by a cloudy grey.  

Slowly a weak sun emerged from behind a veil of clouds. Its lambent light soon engulfed the heavens & lo and behold the best kept secrets of the Borobudur Temple came alive!

The surrounding mammoth structures throbbed with life & the serene visages of the Buddha busts stayed put ―unmindful of the regular hustle & bustle. 











The different tiers of the temple showcase a plethora of carvings depicting the Buddha’s life. One set with the Buddha in various mudras (hand gestures in different meditative poses) attracted maximum attention.




Given the temple’s gargantuan proportions, you’d find yourself isolated, despite the influx of tourists. And these are moments when the ubiquitous miens of the Buddha seem to assert their presence, watching over your every step ―non-judgmentally yet compassionately!  




Even as the crowd dispersed & trickled to the stupa’s different tiers to capture the various facets of the marvel, a new stream of eager tourists was seen making its way into the precincts. 

To See or Not to See

The nimbus of grandeur surrounding the Borobudur Temple may seem hyped for some. Yet, it is not without reason that tourists make a beeline to this site at the crack of dawn with the hope of sighting its hallowed sunrise! Believe me, you will never regret it; in fact it’s so splendid, that you’d want to come back to behold its splendour again & again!

And when you finally make it, you’d want to lock in its beauty from various angles but the best snapshots that can be had are undeniably from Punthuk Sethumbu Hills that lie 4 kilometers to the west of the temple. The bell-shaped stupas veiled by a veneer of mist & the glorious sun, rising to lift the veil to cast its lucent glow are views worth dying for! 

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Built in the 9th century, the Borobudur Temple depicts the Mandala. That such a pharaonic structure was covered in volcanic ash that erupted in Java in 1006 AD & remained thus till the 19th century when it was unearthed by Raffles, appears somewhat incredulous! 
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The Borobudur Temple & the Prambanan Temples of Java, are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Borobudur Temple is the world’s largest Buddhist temple & the Prambanan Temple Complex is the largest in Indonesia.  
The Borobudur Temple in its entirety 
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Note: Borobodur is approximately 44 kilometers away from Adisucipto International Airport & can take an hour to reach. However, beware that the roads leading to Borobudur throb with the trundle of cars and jeeps as early as 3 a.m. So it’s advisable to choose an accommodation closer to the temple in the town of Borobudur itself. Hotel Manohara usually is the first choice among tourists although we opted for a home-stay very close to Borobudur Temple.

Contrary to the many warnings regarding the difficulty in availing tickets to the temple at dawn, I must inform that staff at any of Borobudur’s hotels or home-stays, do have the required influence to procure you tickets, provided you inform them about your visit well in advance. I think the difficulty arises only when you arrive at the last minute from the city. 

Candi Pawon & Candi Mendut

Post breakfast, we drove to the Pawon & Mendut Temples, which together with the Borobudur form a triad of temples built in a straight line. Candi Mendut boasts of a Buddha bust that towers 3 meters. 

Candi Pawon
Situated between Mendut & Borobudur, Candi Pawon is a lone temple, whose exteriors are profusely carved & interiors are bereft of idols. While one theory claims that the temple was used for quiet contemplation, another maintains that the chamber was used for incineration of the dead in the days of yore. 
A number of souvenir shops beside both temples vie for attention; luckily hawkers are not permitted inside the premises.

Candi Mendut Buddhist Monastery 

This Buddhist Vihara or Monastery in the purlieus of the Mendut Temple is a must-visit!  

When you’re done with petitioning your requests, you’d perhaps need some quiet moments for perpension & this becomes your ideal retreat. Although not archaic, this monastery ensconced amid Arcadian environs, renders the kind of heartsease one needs after hectic visits to temples. 

As we ambled along the allee, the aligned stupas stood as if welcoming us. And despite the monastery being a recent addition, the Genius Loci was instantly soothing… & it felt magical. 

Beyond this allee, we found a well-manicured lawn dotted with stupas & statues & most prominent among those was a sizeable statue of the Buddha overseeing the lawn.



While one part of the monastery appeared modern, another looked characteristically ancient. There was no literature to enlighten us on its history, nor were there any monks to show us around. Nevertheless, we did enjoy the solitude. 



I suppose this emaciated sculpture of the Buddha was before his death when he suffered a bout of dysentery. (not sure about this).
Some more interesting icons

I wasn’t aware that the monastery holds a meditation session every evening, where guests are also allowed to join in. Surely, I missed what might’ve been a priceless experience.

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As we drove around Borobudur, the temple towers were a constant, & Borobudur’s campestral milieu only presented an unhindered vista.   

Having completed our tour to Yogyakarta, we packed off to Singapore early next morning.

Yogyakarta has more to offer & a fortnight’s stay is recommended if you wish to enjoy an unhurried vacation. This also allows you to pack as much as you can in your lens and into your bags! Believe me, it’ll be worth your while.

Prambanan is 17 kms from Jogjakarta city. So after you choose an accommodation in the city, it’s wise to shift base to Borobudur after exploring the attractions closer to the main city.  

Do watch this space for more on my next sojourn & do go through the first on this series,


  1. shankar

    Excellent writing . Memories have come back . It was like i was in Bali .


    Very vivid and detailed description.
    Every aspect is well covered.

    1. Shubhrata Shankar Iyer

      Thank you 😊. Glad you enjoyed it..

  3. Good one! Interesting article over here. It’s pretty worth enough for me.

    1. Shubhrata Shankar Iyer

      Thank you. Do keep looking for more posts.

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  8. Kishore Kumar

    Brilliant travelogue as usual highlighting a less known gem of the world ! No need for any googling to know about these places after reading your evocative descriptions ! You have covered it all ! Kudos !👏👏👏

    1. Shubhrata Shankar Iyer

      Yes, so true that because not all would think of Yogyakarta. I think for most, it seems very remote. Nevertheless, it’s magnificent. Enjoy your stay in Jogjakarta..

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