Graharu Boutique Hotel
Our boutique hotel, in Borobudur, was pretty charming in daylight. It had looked very different on the previous night and the wee hours of the morning — before our sunrise visit to Borobudur Temple. The manager was disappointed that we were rushing to Yogyakarta after spending only a couple hours in the hotel. Many tourists spend days at the boutique hotel and choose to explore the village roads on a bike, try river rafting, and hiking. It was tempting to stay back.
We left for Yogyakarta soon after breakfast. It takes about an hour and half to reach Yogyakarta from Borobudur.
The Great Mosque (Mesjid Gedhe Kauman)
The Great Mosque looked very different from the other mosques that I’ve seen before. Its architecture is quintessentially Javanese in style and it’s hard to miss the striking red rooftop and ivory white pillars. Only muslims are allowed to enter the mosque and we tried to peer in from the side. I was disappointed because I have never visited a mosque before and thought visitors would be allowed inside. This mosque is closely linked to the foundation of the Kingdom of Yogyakarta, also known as Kraton, and the arrival of Muslim leaders who founded the Kauman Village Settlement. The mosque was built around 1772, roughly about 16 years after the Kingdom of Yogyakarta was established.
Kauman Village Settlement
Eko, our guide, rambled facts about the Kauman Village Settlement. Honestly, I was sleep deprived, and the heat was slowly rising. I tried taking some notes and asked few questions that may have confused Eko. Religion is rooted in absolute belief and history depends on who’s narrating it; so when the two intersect — it’s hard to settle on the absolute truth. The early muslim leaders — who arrived shortly after the formation of the Kingdom — were granted a special place by the Sultan to practice Muslim studies. In the early 1900s, Ahmad Dahlan founded the Muhammadiyah Islamic Movement to practice a more conservative form of Islam. Until then, most people in the Kingdom, including the Sultan, practiced Islam with a mix of Hindu rituals and beliefs.
The narrow lanes of the village settlement were largely empty. There were few students practicing batik and women who were busy with their daily chores. Eko showed us the house of the founder, the mosque for women, and the school for kids. The streets are intentionally built narrow to ensure minimal vehicular traffic. By urging people to walk on these streets; it creates equality among all those who venture here. Eko continued talking about the different Islamic sects, from the conservative to the radical. It was hard to keep track of them and after a point — I lost focus.
We walked towards the Sultan’s Palace. It was quite hot now and I hoped the palace would be cooler. Becaks (cycle rickshaws) are used for public transportation around Yogyakarta. But around the Palace Quarter they transform into joyrides for tourists looking for quirky things-to-do.
The lawns were teeming with tourists and school children. The palace architecture is understated and its simplicity is quite a contrast to the opulence one might normally expect to see. Large halls supported on intricately carved pillars form the different sections of the palace. Visitors aren’t allowed to enter the private quarters of the Sultan. We saw it from a distance and Eko rambled some names of important dignitaries and few royals who had been entertained there.
Shadow Puppet Show (Wayang Golek)
We were in time for a shadow puppet show. The heat was insufferable now and the humidity made it worse. We found a spot at the back and tried to follow the show. The music was quite soothing because of its clanging cymbals and percussion instruments. The sun was too bright and it was hard to see shapes on the screen. The story narrated was probably from one of the Hindu epics (Ramayana or Mahabharata). Eko said it was about a small boy trying to defeat a demon.
Different halls are used to display personal items, photographs of the royal family, their rituals, and memorabilia. The last hall, dedicated to the 9th King, was probably the most concise in terms of chronology and history. However, as a visitor, I would have liked to learn more about the Sultan’s dynasty.
The Sultan, Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, is the ruler of the Kingdom of Yogyakarta and was the first democratically elected governor of the special province. In 2012, a law was passed that automatically made the Sultan the governor of the special province. The Sultan has 5 daughters and it’s quite probable that his eldest, Princess Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Mangkubumi, may succeed him one day. Should the Princess ascend the throne, it would be quite a departure from the long line of male heirs who ruled the Kingdom, and it will also usher a new era for gender equality.
I was perplexed. How does a Muslim King follow Hindu rituals? Eko said the Sultan is a descendant (that’s putting it very simply) of one of the Hindu Mataram Kings. So, I wondered aloud if that was the reason for the blend of Hindu practices with Islam. Eko was hesitant. He said it could be one of the reasons for this unlikely confluence. Or, it’s quite possible that a trade-off was made to accept Islam. I thought his choice of words was interesting. Earlier, he’d said: during the Hindu-Buddha period, locals were tricked into giving up their native beliefs to follow Hinduism or Buddhism.
There’s a souvenir shop next to the exit. An artisan worked meticulously on a leather cutout, perforating it with fine holes. The completed piece would transform into a Wayang Puppet. Inside, batik paintings and masks were on sale. We got a pair of (Ram & Sita) wooden masks with Batik motifs. Most items are pretty expensive here and you may get a better deal at the local market.
On a Becak
It was about noon and our attention span was quickly fading. The becak ride, although touristy, was perfect to forget the heat and enjoy the sights of this charming town.
Water Palace (Taman Sari)
Our becak stopped outside the Sultan’s Water Palace. Back in the day, the Water Palace was used for bathing by members of the royal family. It also doubled as a resting place. Only a portion of the Water Palace is preserved today. The peeling paint, moss covered pools, and dilapidated royal rooms aren’t particularly alluring in the heat. It’s hard to imagine how this palace might have looked in its heyday.
We followed Eko as he lead us through winding alleys. Yogyakarta’s street artists are pretty expressive and even the main city centre has some eye-catching work.
We walked through an underground tunnel that lead us directly to the parking lot.
I couldn’t wait for lunch and thankfully, it was a short drive from the palace. A local businessman had converted a former royal building into a hotel. The buffet spread had an assortment of Indonesian delicacies. Eko joined us for lunch this time.
We had already learned about the process of batik, at the local museum, on the day of our arrival in Yogyakarta. The walls of the factory had patterns of different Batik designs and colours.
An artisan creates intricate patterns with hot wax. It’s a painstaking job and requires attention to detail.
The cloth is then dyed and mixed with a chemical to seal the colour. The sheets are then dried on wooden racks. The souvenir shop has a fine collection of batik works.
After packing essential clothes for the train journey, we gave our suitcase to Eko and the driver. We wanted to walk around the cafes around our hotel, but there weren’t any souvenir shops nearby. So, we took a cab to Malioboro and picked some interesting trinkets for our friends.
After 6 p.m., the traffic builds up and it was hard to find transport back to our hotel. We were lucky to get an empty cab after waiting for 20 minutes.
Hotel Indies Heritage
Hotel Indies was quite a nice hotel. But, with our tight schedule, we barely had time to relax. We had to wake up early the next morning and catch the train to Jombang. Yogyakarta was one of the better cities that we had visited so far. And I wished we had more time to walk around and take in the idyllic charms of this city.