Day 214: The Plan(banan) for Prambanan

Fri. 15th March 2013

The main (Shiva) temple and some of its satellitesToday, to complete our collection of Indonesian temples, we are heading off to Prambaban just outside of Jogja. Like Borobudur, the Prambanan temples feature highly on the ‘must-see’ ancient temples list – though unlike Borobudur, these are (mostly) Hindu rather than Buddhist temples. When we asked at the hotel for the best way to get to Prambanan, they suggested using the local bus and said it would only cost R3,000 (£0.20). This fits in well with our “don’t be a gringo” philosophy, but we are sceptical about the fare and expect that we have just been quoted the fare for locals rather than tourists.

TransJogja bus at the stopSometimes, you can overdo the scepticism! The bus stop was exactly where the hotel said it would be on the main Malioboro road – and we now understand the purpose of the raised platforms at the side of the road. Unlike bemos, the TransJogja buses have proper stops. Once we worked out which side is the entrance (the side with the attendant to take your money!) and paid at the turnstile it was easy. Not only was the fare the promised R3,000 but 2 minutes later the bus arrived and we were off. We have no idea how TransJogja can possibly make any money from the bus service that is so over manned – but you can’t argue with the price and convenience.

The approach to the main temple complexThe trip out to Prambanan took about 45 minutes and included a stop at the airport – we aren’t sure whether we want to repeat this trip fully laden with backpacks and daypacks in a couple of days time. Once again, the people are very friendly and mostly helpful and we are pointed in the right direction to walk once we get off the bus. It is hard for us to rein in our suspicions when people say “hello” and ask us where we are going – sometimes, they really do just want to help. We try to remember to smile back and to be polite and patient (and cautious).

That would be us then.Its easy to spot the temple complex by the massive car park at the front – and by the signs that say Foreign Tourist Tickets. I suppose we can’t really complain about differential pricing as even for foreigners the tickets are not expensive. As we’ve had elsewhere, we are issued with a sarong as we enter the grounds. I don’t think I have the legs for a sarong but then again, I don’t suppose that is the point!

You still don't get a feel for the size and scaleRoro Jonggrang main templesThe temple complex dates back to the 9th century and comprises of 4 groups of temples in the main grounds plus another 2 sites just a few kilometres out of town. The main cluster of Roro Jonggrang is named after a legendary princess who was cursed and turned into one of the statues inside one of the temples (apparently). The central temple (dedicated to Shiva) is flanked by temples dedicated to Vishnu and Brahma and surrounded by many smaller temples. The overall effect is just breathtaking. The central Shiva temple is 47m high and all are intricately and ornately designed. As much as anything, they reminded me of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

Hard hat & sarong - not really a winning look!As with Borobudur, the level of access for tourists is remarkable (and again, we wonder how long it can be sustained). On many of the temples we could just climb the stairs and walk around the balcony and go into the central chamber and touch the statues there. The Shiva temple is fenced off but only to ensure that you go through a gateway and collect a hard hat – a sign outside says that the temple is ‘relatively’ stable (but doesn’t say relative to what). Here there are four chambers, facing north, south, east and west, of which you can get into two.

Olly with a lion and flanked by statues of the Tree of Heaven and half-human, half-birdsIt is the outside of the temples that has the most interest though as there is row upon row of ornate carving on every surface. At the lower level it is mostly a combination of a lion statue flanked by kalpatura (tree of heaven) with kinnara (birds with human heads) underneath. At the balcony level, panels depict scenes from the epic story of the Ramayan – though our knowledge of Hindu legends is sadly not up to verifying this.

Merapi volcano in the backgroundThe size and the scale are just astonishing – even more so when we  realise that piles of stones in rubble around the outside are all that remain of other temples that were destroyed in the earthquakes in the 16th century and then again in 2006. In the background, we can see Mount Merapi (Fire Mountain) the volcano responsible for the damage to Borobudur in 2010. More reminders that we are a long way from home.

Looking through the entrance gate at the Candi Sewa templeThe other temple groups don’t match the grandeur of Roro Jongrangg and have had much less reconstruction done on them. The Sewa temple, at the other end of the grounds, in particular, is interesting in its own right. This is a Buddhist temple and is surrounded by (the ruins of) 240 smaller temples. Again, you can’t help but wonder at the effort and skill that has gone in to building these temples. We spent much longer at the temples than we had expected to and we are tired and hungry by the time we finish. It is well past lunch time though our body clocks are so confused that they don’t really know when lunch time is any more.

We look fetching in our sarongsWe head for one of the many local warung street restaurants nearby. These are very definitely not sophisticated but the food is simple and cheap. Between our limited Indonesian and the owner’s limited English we were able to order some Nasi Ayam (Chicken and rice) and have a good idea as to what we were letting ourselves in for. Our confidence in the quality of the food increased when some locals turned up and sat down to eat.

All too soon and this will be usOur hotel has a roof-top pool with views out over the city and as we returned from our trip tired and sweaty it seemed like a good opportunity to give it a try. As we unwound and relaxed, with the sun starting to set, we talked about the day and tried to compare the temple against others that we had seen. We have been incredibly lucky on our trip to see some amazing sights and both Prambanan and Borobudur are up with Chichen Itza, Machu Picchu and Easter Island as spectacles that we will never forget. When we arrived in Indonesia we didn’t really know what to expect – indeed, when we left home we weren’t planning to come to Indonesia at all. We’re glad that our plan(banan) had the flexibility to fit these places in.

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