When visiting a new country, many consider it proper to dip your toe into this new world you are visiting; perhaps by learning about the architecture and the history, and perhaps the mindset, of this otherness you have chosen to visit at this moment in time. Others call this culture. My husband calls it (rather catchily – try it if you don’t believe me), with his trademark northern eloquence, Boring Old Shit.
Our first stop for some Boring Old Shit was Borobudur – an ancient temple laid out rather like a pyramid. It was rediscovered by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, who oversaw its recovery from forgotten relic back to restoration.
As with many of the temples, the easiest way to see them is by booking a tour which can be done through just about any hotel, or by poking your nose out of your lodgings for, oooh, thirty seconds.
We booked a sunrise tour, which in hindsight was unnecessary. We were taken to a hill to watch the sunrise; a lovely idea in theory but the temple was microscopic in the distance and the sunrise itself was a rather muted affair. Rather than the opening moments of the Lion King (which was how I saw it happening, minus the lions), a rather watery sun eventually poked it’s face from behind clouds once it was high in the sky. It’s definitely worth checking where you will be at sunrise (naively, I had assumed we’d go to the temple) and also whether there will be cloud cover that morning. In hindsight I’d have gone for a sunset tour, or tried to head directly to Borobodur rather than spending an hour ducking Japanese tourists with paparazzi grade zoom lenses.
Finally, donning our compulsory sarong, we arrived at the actual temple. It was pretty magnificent; there is a long walk up to the entrance which allowed us time to appreciate the scale and the setting of the monument.
The temple has about four floors leading up to the main platform. We circled the temple clockwise three times, each time on a different floor, before we made our way up. Every floor is covered in intricate carvings, statues and is carefully paved. When you think that this was before the days of electric, cranes and TileWorld, it becomes all the more remarkable.
The top of the temple is a largish platform, surrounded on all sides by stone monuments that look like bells. Each one houses a carving. Again, when you think how old these are it becomes all the more incredible.
After exploring the temple we headed back to the bus, along (and I don’t exaggerate here) about a mile of tourist stalls and enthusiastic hawkers of tat. Ever seen an old Scooby Doo where they run down a corridor past a clock and a plant on repeat? This was like that except without a cowardly Great Dane and a lot more authentic good cheap price “antiques”.
Boring Old Sht Part II
The following day, we decided to visit the second large temple complex near Yogyakarta: Prambanan. Following our sunrise experience we opted for another tour, but this time at sunset followed by a trip to the ballet.
Although perhaps the lesser known of the two, and badly damaged following an earthquake, I actually preferred Prambanan. The slightly more spread out site means you can wander around at leisure without getting too on top of other visitors and I preferred it being less crowded. Despite the earthquake damage, which flattened a number of the surrounding shrines and destabilised the main tower, it remains an incredibly photogenic site.
Each shrine is dedicated to a particular deity, and some have statues in them. Many more are empty – presumably because of the earthquake.
We stayed around the temples until the sun began to set, bathing the temples in a golden light and showing off the magnificent and intricate carvings.
Following a brief dinner of Nasi Goreng from the sweet family vendor in the sites car park (50p each and by far the best we had in Indonesia) we headed to the ballet.
The Ramayana ballet takes place in an open air theatre. With the uplift temples of Prambanan providing the backdrop, the setting is nothing short of spectacular.
The story of the ballet centres around the exiled Rama and his battle against the evil Rahwana. The ballet company perform one chapter of this epic, visually spectacular, tale each night and sometimes the full tale.
We got to see chapter three: the section with an epic battle. Although we aren’t massive ballet fans, it was interesting to see this traditional art come alive.
Tips for the ballet
- The theatre is a hard, concrete amphitheatre and there are no cushions for the cheapest two seat categories. Given that the show is two hours long, take something to sit on or upgrade your seat!
- The tale is a rather epic and complicated one. I was glad Craig had taken the time to look the story up on Wikipedia (the story can be found here) as the leaflet provided to explain the story was a bit less thorough.