Recently I had the opportunity to visit the island of Java in Indonesia. My original destination was the town of Yogyakarta, not quite the typical Indonesian tourist hotspot. Most tourists visit Bali/ Lombok and, if they visit Java, stay on the western side near Jakarta or the east near Surabaya and volcanic Mount Bromo (currently smoking). This is a pity, because, other than the superlative beaches and highlands, Java actually has a much richer and longer Hindu-Buddhist heritage than Bali; in fact the culture migrated from Java to Bali because earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and finally the rise of Islamic kingdoms threatened the prevailing civilization.
Yogyakarta looks like any medium sized city in SE Asia. A town square, a main market and restaurants clustered near the shopping area. Traffic is chaotic and, though transport is good and cheap, it takes an interminable length of time to go anywhere within the city.
But Yogyakarta gives you special access to at least 3 must-dos:
1. The most celebrated Hindu and Buddhist temples in the Southern Hemisphere
2. Some amazing Batik and Wayang (leather carved puppets used in shadow plays)
3. The Keraton (palace of the Sultan) that stands as a testament to how a Muslim ruler has integrated pre-islamic culture into a proud living tradition
The main attractions for me were the temples of Borobudur (Buddhist) and Prambanan (Hindu), both completed sometime in the 9th century. In fact Borobudur is especially attractive because it is one of the few historical Buddhist temples that I have ever seen (the other being Angkor Wat). Historical Buddhist edifices (such as remain or are excavated in India and the Eastern Himalayas) tend to be stupa-monasteries and no evidence of grand temples survive in any appreciable form today.
We set off early, determined to catch the sunrise. Along with at least 50 other tourists (mainly Dutch) I waited patiently for the sun to rise. When at last it did, we were all rewarded with an amazing spectacle of stone and light and shadow and scene.
Pre-dawn tourists taking in as much as possible.
As the sun came up, I was attracted to the glimmer on this lady's hair.
Everything in Borobudur adds up to the number nine (the number leading up to zero), a symbol of surrender and freedom from desire. There are 108 (1+0+8) stupas and 54 (5+4) Buddha statues that make up the temple.
Chinese Buddhist group performing a ritual. I like the way my trusty Ricoh GR handled the colours here.
Lost among the stupas. The Ricoh GW-3 (21mm converter) did a good job.
That evening we made our way to the Hindu temple complex of Prambanan prior to watching a Ramayana ballet (staged with the temple as a background). This temple complex has a huge Shiva temple and is flanked by smaller Vishnu and Brahma temples. The complex seems to have taken a bit of a beating in the recent quake (2010) and is currently undergoing extensive restoration. Though very different in style to Borobudur it is equally impressive and lends itself to Ricoh's special way of handling B&W.
Welcoming party at the gate of the temple.
The temples afford great vantage points to take in aspects of the overall scene.
The stones are able to speak to those who are willing to listen.
The next morning we visited the Keraton and after touring its various exhibits made our way down to the Water Palace and the underground tunnels that served as an escape route in earlier days. The place complex (still inhabited) is quite impressive and displays a great blend of tradition and modernity.
Who can resist a picture on holiday? Phone Cameras were ubiquitous. Maybe Ricoh should tie up with Apple or Samsung!!
Palace Guard. The Ricoh GR was, as usual, the stealth camera of choice.
Water Palace. In this pool, it is said, the Sultan would permit his favourites to bathe with him.
One of the underground passages. Now lit by street level skylights.
Indonesia is a nation relentlessly marching along the road of development. But what impressed me most about the area was how well Indonesia has integrated its Hindu/ Buddhist history with Muslim culture and global modernity. This is no where more evident that among the artisans who, in each instance, endeavour to preserve ancient tradition with the demands of the present. But even among the ordinary man on the street - and as street photographers one must engage with the man on the street - there is a sense of pride in what was that is mixed with a desire for what will be ... the same struggle to better one's lot that defines the essence of existence anywhere in the world.