Travelogue Yogyakarta: Taman Sari Water Castle

Most visitors to Yogyakarta in Indonesia will no doubt make a beeline for the ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples of Borobudur and Prambanan – but there is a lesser known attraction within the city that is well worth a visit. Located just a stone’s throw away from the Kraton (palace), Taman Sari (literally, beautiful garden) is an 18th century royal garden – once the leisure grounds for the old Sultanate of Yogyakarta.

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Spread across a large area, Taman Sari was also called the Water Castle, as its main complex featured a man-made lake – complete with artificial islands and buildings, which the royal family could reach via boat. The water has since been drained, and replaced with clusters of homes.

The East entrance (where you pay a fee for entry) might not seem very impressive, but venture in and you’ll discover meandering pathways, secret underground chambers, defensive structures and a well-preserved central bathing complex called Umbul Pasiraman, which is very popular with tourists.

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… and for good reason.

The story goes that the complex was used by the palace concubines and serving women, where they would bathe and frolic in the pools.  The Sultan would be up in the tower, observing, and if one caught his fancy, he would pick her as a companion for the night.

It’s easy to imagine how the scene would have looked like back in the day – the turqoise pools, the calming stone and greenery, the blue sky reflected in the water, the beautiful maidens.

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Moving on, we ventured past the West gate, which is more intricate than the east, decorated with floral motifs, foliage and birds.

**From this point on, it is highly recommended you get a guide from the village (which is within the chateau grounds), as the layout is extremely confusing. You might just end up wandering into dead ends, on a roof, or someone’s backyard lol. The guides are ‘volunteers’, and you’ll find many of them loitering around the area. They have a minimum fee (can’t remember how much exactly but I think it was like RM20-30) but you can pay more if you’re satisfied with your guide.

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Your guide will most probably take you through Kampung Taman, which are settlements within the royal gardens. There are about 2,700 residents living within the grounds. The narrow alleyways often feature colourful graffiti with a local flavour, like these Javanese characters.

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Some of the structures are already in ruins. Our guide led us up to a vantage point where we could see over the roofs of the settlements, which stretched out a fair distance.

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Traversing the labyrinthian complex through underground passages, we search for another photogenic area – the Sumur Gumuling underground mosque. Natural sunlight filtered in through strategic gaps, illuminating the otherwise dark tunnels.

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The mosque is, imo, one of the most unique areas of Taman Sari. A circular one-storeyed structure, it used to sit on an artificial island (before the lake was drained), and could only be reached via an underwater tunnel. The building was open in the middle, similar to a well (hence the name ‘Sumur’ (well in the Javanese language) and featured an elevated platform with four staircases, as well as various ‘windows’ surrounding it. The imam (religious leader) would stand in the center to give sermons. There is also a pool on the ground floor which was used for ritual ablution.

 

It is entirely possible to explore Taman Sari without a guide, if you like wandering and discovering things on your own – but the mosque area is notoriously difficult to find. We certainly would have missed it if not for our guide.

Entrance to Taman Sari is a cheap IDR 15,000 (USD 1.50 – RM6).

Address: Wisata Taman Sari, Jl. Tamanan, Patehan, Kraton, Kota Yogyakarta, Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta 55133, Indonesia

Opening hours: (Daily) 9AM – 6PM

Why You Shouldn’t Miss The Ramayana Ballet @ Prambanan, Yogyakarta

If you’re big on culture and the arts, then the Ramayana Ballet @ Prambanan is a MUST-SEE when visiting Yogyakarta in Indonesia.  A unique blend of Javanese dance and Hindu mythology, the performance is based on the Hindu epic Ramayana – and chronicles the tale of Rama, the Hindu prince on a quest to save his wife Sita from the clutches of an evil demon king. The show is held in an open-air amphitheatre against a gorgeous backdrop of the Prambanan Hindu temple – a UNESCO World Heritage site – which adds to the mystery and exotic allure of the entire performance.

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The majestic Prambanan temple complex dates back to the 9th century and is dedicated to Trimurti, the expression of God as the Creator, the Preserver and the Transformer (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva). There are hundreds of smaller shrines within the compound, but the main one towers over 47 metres into the air and features intricate reliefs and carvings – one of which is the epic Ramayana, of which the ballet is based on.

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The 2-hour show is divided into two parts, with an intermission. Although it doesn’t have dialogue, there are screens explaining the ‘scene’ on both sides of the amphitheatre.

The massive production features over 200 actors, all of whom are skilled in the art of Javanese dance, which emphasises precise yet graceful movements that are spellbinding to watch.

Video: 

Synopsis: 

The story starts with Rama Wijaya, the prince of Ayodya Kingdom, winning the hand of a beautiful princess named Dewi Sita, through an archery competition. However, the evil ruler of Alengkadiraja, Prabu Rawana, is eager to marry Sita himself. The scene transitions to Dandaka Forest, where Rama, Sita and Rama’s younger brother, Laksmana, are out on an adventure. Rawana sees this as the perfect chance to capture Sita, so he orders one of his followers to change into a golden deer to attract her attention. Sita is awed by its beauty and asks Rama to catch it, which he obliges. After waiting for a long time, she grows worried and begs Laksmana to look for him. Before leaving, he draws a magic circle to protect her. As soon as she is left alone, Rawana disguises himself as a beggar and lures the innocent, kind Sita out before capturing her and flying off to his own kingdom.

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Rama eventually realises he has been tricked when the deer transforms back into an evil giant. He manages to kill it, and upon rushing back, realises that Sita has gone missing. The brothers set off to search for her.

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Meanwhile, Rawana carrying Sita meets a mystical bird, Jatayu, who realises she is being kidnapped. There is a fight to save her but ultimately, the bird falls prey to the demon king. As he lay dying, the brothers arrive and find out that it is Rawana who has spirited Sita away.

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Moments later, a white monkey named Hanuman arrives. Hanuman is searching for heroes to help kill Subali, a member of his tribe who has taken his uncle’s woman by force. Rama decides to help, and after helping the monkey kingdom solve their problems, Hanuman is sent to help Rama in his quest.

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In the kingdom of Alengka, Sita is being held against her will. Rawana’s niece, Trijata, comes to comfort her in the garden. Rawana arrives and asks Sita to be his wife, which she refuses. This drives him into a fit of rage, but Trijata convinces him to spare her, after which he leaves. As Sita laments her predicament, she hears a song sung by Hanuman, who explains that he is there on the orders of her husband. Hanuman destroys the garden, but is no match for Rawana’s son Indrajit, who captures him and sentences him to be burnt alive.

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Just before Hanuman is set on fire, he escapes and turns the tide, burning down the kingdom.

(This was one of my favourite scenes in the production! The actors were using real fire, and even seated at a distance, I could feel the heat coming from the stage)

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A large statue of Hanuman rising up from back stage, flanked by burning ‘buildings’ (straw structures that represented houses)

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Hanuman makes his way just outside the burning kingdom, where Rama and the rest of the ape troops are waiting. After receiving the report on troop strength, Rama commands Hanuman and other monkey generals to lead the troop on an attack on the kingdom of Alengka.

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The war results in the deaths of both Rawana’s son, Indarjit, and his younger brother Kumbakarna. Rawana finally leads his troops to face Rama and a battle ensues. Of course, the hero triumphs, killing the evil demon king with an arrow, before Hanuman drops a mountain (yes, a mountain – Mount Sumawana) on Rawana’s body.

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Sita is finally rescued, but Rama refuses to accept her (kinda lol since he came all this way to save her and all, wut) until she proves her purity. To show her innocence, Sita burns herself, and with the help of the God of Fire, walks out unscathed. Her proof makes Rama happy and the pair lived happily ever after.

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I was truly awed by the grace and beauty of the dance, as well as how they recreated the Ramayana epic into such a mesmerising show. It’s something I admire greatly in Indonesia – they work hard to protect their culture and keep it alive, unlike in Malaysia where rising religious conservatism has resulted in some authorities ‘banning’ traditional arts, deeming them “against religion” (like the Mak Yong in Kelantan, a pre-Islamic Malay dance).  A majority of Yogyakartans are Muslim, and they have two of the grandest ancient Buddhist and Hindu monuments in Southeast Asia, which are well maintained and kept as national treasures. I believe carrying on tradition and being proud of your heritage has no bearing on what you believe in, if you are truly a follower of the faith.

The Ramayana Ballet at Prambanan is held every alternate day. Tickets start from 125,000 IDR (RM35 – USD8 ) USD to 400,000 IDR (RM113 – USD27) depending on seating.

For the full schedule and to make reservations, go to visitramayana.com  

 

*Photos not watermarked are courtesy of PT Taman Wisata Candi Borobudur

Bandung – First Impressions

The fam and I have been planning for an overseas trip for some time, but we had to put it off coz my mum had some health problems. But after months of planning, we finally came through with plane tickets to Bandung, Indonesia! 🙂

Bandung is the capital city of West Java. Landlocked by mountains, it is the third largest city in Indonesia and has a higher elevation than most, so the weather is pleasantly cooling. A welcome change from the scorching heat of Kuala Lumpur.

Although not as popular among foreign tourists as its sister cities like Yogyakarta and Bali, Bandung is a gem when it comes to nature, shopping, culture, arts and architecture. They don’t call it the Paris of Java for nothing!

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We arrived by plane, after a two hour flight from KL, at Bandara Husein Sastranegara Airport. It was already evening and the sun was setting. Took a cab to our hotel along Jalan Pasirkaliki.

As we drove through the roads, I was surprised to find that they were very clean and lined with tall, shady trees on both sides. The roads here are all one-way, so it took some time for us to get to the hotel even though it’s very close to the airport. Buildings had a distinct Dutch/Javanese flavour. Most were old, from colonial times, but were still lived in and maintained well, with pretty flower gardens. If it wasn’t for the loads of bikes weaving in and out dangerously, I would have thought I was somewhere in a small European town.

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Other than bikes, there were these public transport vans called ‘Angkut’. Very similar to Jeepneys in the Philippines or TukTuks in Thailand, you flag them down and hop off at your destination. They’re usually for intercity travel.

Did I mention that the traffic here’s crazy?

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We stayed at Hotel Citradream, located on a busy stretch along the main road. It has basic amenities like a cafe, is clean and has friendly staff. There are also loads of restaurants, food stalls and grocery shops in the area.

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The sun sets early in Bandung; it’s dark by 6pm, which felt quite odd since it only gets completely dark in KL at 7.30pm. We walked down the road to look for dinner. The conversation went like this:

  • Dad: I want Chinese food
  • Me: We’re in Indonesia and you want Chinese food?
  • Dad: I want Chinese food.

So we ended up getting Chinese food from this open air roadside stall called RM Santosa. It seemed quite authentic as there were many Indonesian Chinese patrons, and they served dishes like Kwetiaw Goreng, Nasi Goreng and Capcay (mixed veggies). Granted, there were some items that we had never heard of…

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Dad had Kwetiaw Sirem – flat glass noodles in broth. It’s like an Indonesian version of Malaysia’s Wat Tan Hor, but this one had cucumbers added in. Taste was wayyyy too sweet.

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Mum tried something called Nasi Puyonghai. Turned out to be a deep fried egg with minced chicken meat, sitting in a sweet and savoury sauce. Wasn’t half bad!

Bro and I were less adventurous and went with normal fried rice. I mean, you can’t go wrong with fried rice anywhere on the planet, right?

RM SANTOSA

Jl. Pasirkaliki, No.104, Bandung, Indonesia

Business hours: 6pm-10pm, closed Mondays

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It was still early, so we took a cab to Cihampelas Walk, a shopping district in downtown Bandung. There’s a mall area with the usual brands you find all over the world, like Starbucks, McDs, KFC, etc. as well as popular Asian brands like Chatime.

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Open-air area lined with chic cafes and mid range restaurants. No need for air conditioning here 🙂

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The inside area with clothing stores, salons, a cinema, gym, pharmacies and entertainment centers. Not very different from malls in KL, I must say.

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Outside the mall area were rows of clothing shops selling jeans, T-shirts and other clothing for really cheap. It was funny because the shops had names like ‘Rambo’, ‘Iron Man’, etc. and they had these huge ass statues and props to attract customers! There was even one with a helicopter inside the shop.

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Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped by an IndoMart, which is the equivalent of a 7-11 store in Bandung. Spotted Indomie crisps, so of course I had to get them. they tasted pretty funky 😀

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Them Indonesians really love their instant fried noodles.

More of Bandung to come!