Jogjakarta, also spelled Yogyakarta, and pronounced the way a southerner pronounces “Georgia” – Jo Ja karta is a heritage capital in the central region of the island of Java (pronounced Jawa in Indonesian), in Indonesia. The city is rich in Indonesian history, and served as the capital of Indonesia briefly, following WWII. Culture is on fine display with the city’s unique textiles, called Batik, the delicious and inexpensive street food, and the Sultan’s Palace, not to mention the incredible Hindu and Buddhist temples that are on the outskirts of the city. The city center is marked with two large indoor malls, which are flanked by dense outdoor markets packed with people. This is one Indonesian city not to be missed if you want to learn about Indonesian’s history while experiencing its modern-day culture.
One fun, and sometimes annoying aspect of being a white person in Jogjakarta, is Indonesians want to take a picture with you, and they are NOT SHY! Especially women and teenagers. I had this experience in Makassar as well. Everywhere I went, I'd hear "mista mista, can we take a picture with you". And once I'd take one picture, the photographer would want to switch the friend out and take a picture with me. Many of the teenagers had a school assignment for their English class, in which they had to interview a foreigner in English. I did a handful of these, which were fun and charming. One kid would interview me, while the other would hold up a smart phone and record the interview. "Mista, ummm, what is favorite part of Jogjakarta?" "Where are you from? AMERICA?! Whoa" One kid was especially giddy - "Mista Mista, oh god you so tall! Mista, I'm so nervous I don't know what to say! You're so tall! Mista, thank you so much!"
Yogyakarta is a kingdom that has been ruled by a Sultan since the 8th century. The kingdom initially encompassed central to east Java. Things were shaken up in 1745 when a royal family member, Sunan Pakubuwono II began cooperating with the Dutch East India company (In Java, the Dutch East India company is referred to as the “VOC”, which stands for the Dutch words Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie), and ceded some land and submitted to the foreign power. This angered his younger brother, Prince Mangkubumi, who stood up against the agreement in fear his people would become slaves to the Dutch. This stand led to a victorious battle against his brother’s forces. His victory resulted in the Treaty of Giyanti, which was between the VOC, his brother Pakubuwono, and Prince Mangkubumi. The treaty split the Sultanate into two – the eastern half went to Sunan Pakubuwono and his allies, and the west went to his brother Prince Mangkubumi and became the Jogjakarta Sultanate. Prince Mangkubumi became Sultan Hamengkubuwono I, the first Sultan of Jogjakarta, in 1756.
In the early 1800s, the British East India Company began raiding and taking over Dutch East India occupied land in the Indonesian archipelago. This included an attack on Jogjakarta in 1812, led by Stamford Raffles, who goes on to found British Singapore (and whose statue and name is everywhere in Singapore...Raffles Hospital, Raffles Place, Raffles Square, etc). In one day, the city of Jogjakarta fell, and the sultan’s palace was looted. Raffles became the British ruler over Java, which turned out to be brief.
Following the Napoleonic Wars which ended in 1815, the British returned control of Java back to the Dutch (who had been annexed by the French). By the 1920s, the Dutch had consolidated their power over the Indonesian archipelago, and the Dutch East Indies became one of the most profitable colonies in the world.
In 1942, the Japanese Empire invaded the Dutch East Indies and ruled Java until they were defeated in 1945. Following the war, the Dutch reclaimed control of Java, which set off Indonesian’s struggle for independence, known as the Indonesian National Revolution. From 1946 until 1948, when Jakarta was under complete Dutch rule, Jogjakarta was the capital. This resulted in battles throughout the city, until Indonesian independence in 1949.
Due to Jogjakarta’s special role in the country’s independence, Jogjakarta was given the unique status of Special Administration Region, which preserved the sultanate. Thus, Jogjakarta is the only region headed by a monarch in Indonesia. The city is currently on its 10th sultan, Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, who still lives with his wife in the Sultan’s palace.
The Borobudar Temple
When Stamford Raffles was ruling over Java in 1811-1815, he became fascinated with Java history, and led many archaeological surveys. Raffles had heard about an ancient Buddhist temple in the jungle from a local, and sent some men to find it in 1814. Sure enough, they discovered the Borobudur Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the world, which had been hidden in the jungle and covered in volcanic ash for around 800 years! Imagine the team of explorers slashing their way through untouched rainforest and discovering the massive Borobudur! Pure Indiana Jones.
The Borobudar Temple is a magnificent Buddhist temple that is about 25 miles from Jogjakarta city center. It’s the largest Buddhist temple in the world, and is surrounded by 9 mountains, four of which are volcanoes, of which two are still active. The temple is still used once a year, when Buddhists come to the temple to meditate.
There is a shroud of mystery as to who built the temple and when exactly it was built, although historians believe it was built between 760 and 830 during the peak of the Sailendra Dynasty. It's also unknown exactly when the temple was abandoned, but evidence suggests it was around the 14th century, when much of the population was converting to Islam. The temple then became severely damaged over the years from volcanic activity in the area, and blocks, Buddha heads and pieces of the reliefs fell apart. When the British discovered it, they looted various parts of the temple, such as busts of Buddha.
It’s believed that the temple was designed to educate Buddhists who were not literate, and thus narrative reliefs are throughout the temple. There are also 504 Buddhist statues, which represent the 504 times Buddha was reincarnated.
There’s been an impressive effort to repair the Borobudur temple. In many areas of the walls and reliefs, there are noticeable differences in the shade of the stone, an indication of where stones that laid separated for hundreds of years were recently put back together.
This was a fascinating temple to explore. Complete with a backdrop of jungle and smoking volcanoes, it feels like you are doing an ancient archaeological exploration. Indiana Jones just keeps coming to mind. (Click the picture below).
The Prambanan Temple is the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia built in the 9th century, and is 10 miles from Jogjakarta city center. The original temple consisted of 240 individual temples arranged in concentric square rows. In the center there is a large, tall temple that reaches 154 feet. This temple and the surrounding temples are dedicated to the Hindu gods Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahama.
The temple was used for less than 200 years – it was abandoned in the 930s when the Medang Court, a kingdom in the region, shifted to east Java. It was rediscovered by guess who…a surveyor for Thomas Raffles, who came across it by chance in 1811. Following the discovery, half-hearted restoration was done, which led to many pieces of the temple getting looted. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that restoration by the Dutch began in earnest. Restoration efforts continue today.
It was hot and muggy walking around this temple, which detracted from my experience a bit, but this is a cool site to see in person. The size of the temples are awesome and speak to the religious devotion and engineering feats of the people who lived here over a thousand years ago. Walking inside the shrines was an experience as well – the low entrances keep much of the light out, and as such, the massive statues of Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahama can just be made out in the shadows. The walls fade into darkness as you gaze up. And the temperature must drop about 10 degrees as you walk in the shrines, due to the massive blocks that form the wall, which keep the interior cool. (Click on the image below.)
Jogjakarta has delicious and CHEAP street food. If you are an adventurous eater, you’ll enjoy this place. Street vendors sell all types of fried birds, from quail to pigeon; to seafood such as crabs and shrimp. I even saw chicken heart on a menu! You can get a meal for about 25k to 30k, or USD $1.92 to $2.31.
Gudeg is the traditional food in Jogjakarta, and consists of young unripe jack fruit boiled for several hours with palm sugar and coconut milk, with a meat and rice.
The Sultan’s Palace
I took a tour of the Sultan’s Palace, known as Kraton in Indonesian. I walked up to the palace and bought a ticket, which was only 7K IDR, or $0.54 USD. As I was walking in, a guy told me he would be my tour guide for free! The tour guide is an official servant of the Sultan. He explained that he lives in the palace compound for free in return for his service to the sultan. His family has been serving the sultanate for generations.
The palace is placed equidistant between the volcano Mirapi, and the South Sea, with 27 kilometers from the palace to both. This is symbolic of something - I suppose rule over everything from the sea to the mountains.
The palace has displays of traditional royal outfits, and a large patio with a throne and a chair, which is an area used for weddings. The tour guide told me about traditional circumcisions. For Muslim girls, at five years old there is a symbolic circumcision in which ginger is waved over their genitals. For boys, also at five years old, a circumcision is made by an old man with a bamboo stick – this is not symbolic, but real! It takes two weeks to heal.
The tour finished in a batik studio, where I watched a women creating batik fabric. Batik is the unique textile design in Java, in which fabric designs are created by dripping colored wax on the fabric, and then wiping off the wax when it is dried, leaving the color design. Javanese celebrate batik, and are sure tourists know about it and where to buy it too!
The water palace was built in 1758 to 1765 for the sultan’s 40 wives (yes, 40 wives!) to use as a bath. It uses natural spring water. It was only used by the first two sultans though, since in 1812 an earthquake destroyed most of it.
Coffee Luwak Tour
I was leaving the water palace, when a guy asked me where I was from. We started chatting, and he told me he works at a coffee luwak factory and offered to give me a tour and coffee for free. I accepted the offer. I rode on the back of his scooter to the place and learned about luwaks, coffee, and roasting. (For more on coffee luwak, check out my Bali blog.)
Fort Vredeburg Museum
Fort Vredeburg was built in 1787 by the Dutch, and originally named Rustenburg, or "Resting" in Dutch. After an earthquake destroyed the fort in 1867, the fort was renamed Fort Vredeburg, which means "Peace" in Dutch. The name was meant to symbolize the peaceful coexistence between the Dutch and the Kraton (the Sultanate).
The fort is now a museum, with several dioramas that exhibit Indonesia's road to independence, and the role Jogjakarta played in it.
Traditional Javanese Show
Later on that night, I went to a free traditional Javanese dance and music show in an outdoor amphitheater by the Water Palace. There were a lot of families there, so it seemed like a local thing. The women who sang had shrill voices, which was less than pleasant. The dancing, however, was mysterious. Women danced in synchrony, in slow and firm movements.