Friday 30 June 2023

Indonesia airport art (and a plane meal)

On my recent trip to Yogyakarta, I spent time in three Indonesian airports.  The artwork in the Jakarta (CGK) and Yogyakarta airports was very impressive and were entertaining as I waited about the airports for hours in transit.  The Denpasar Bali airport had disappointingly little artwork but I did spot one interesting one.  I took photos of them and share them here. 

Before we get into airports, I share a photo of my meal on Garuda Airlines from Melbourne to Jakarta.  The travel agent didn't mark my ticket for a vegetarian meal - partly misunderstanding and partly me being too busy to follow it up.  So I had to ask when I boarded.  The air stewards were lovely and put together some plates of food for me.  It was actually so much that it could have served two.  The baked beans were slightly sweet (welcome to Indonesia cuisine) but I liked them served with potatoes, vegies, croissants, yoghurt and fresh fruit.  I felt quite special that they made such an effort when there was not a vegetarian meal put aside for me.  I liked it more than my Denpasar to Melbourne meal which was a bit dry and served in such a cramped plane.  I never would have thought I might prefer Garuda over Qantas but it just shows how the airlines have changed since I was first flying in the 1990s.

Jarkarta (CGK) Airport:
I especially liked the artwork that made pictures out of the fire extinguishers.


Yogyakarta International Airport:

Denpasar Bali Airport:

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Wednesday 28 June 2023

Bali transit visit to GWK Culture Park, Indonesia

On the plane from Yogyakarta to Denpasar, I met one of my workshop colleagues who also had 5 or 6 hours before his connecting flight.  We decided to hire a taxi to see a bit of Bali while we waited.  Neither of us has been there before and it was close to sunset.  The taxi driver suggesting taking us to the nearby GWK (Garuda Wisnu Kencana) Cultural Park.  

We left our suitcases in the taxi and got a buggy up to the huge statue of Hindu god Lord Vishnu, and his mount, Garuda, the mythical bird who became his companion.  It is the tallest statue in Indonesia, and apparently can be seen from outside the park.  As it was dark as we walked around we didn't have any views, just statues lit up by spotlights.  Here are some of the photos I took before we hopped back on the plane.


They had finished the Balinese dances that are performed
regularly during the day.




It was interesting to have a look at the Cultural Park.  It felt a little commercial (especially being told our entrance fee included a drink and then finding out that it was just water) though I liked that it was fairly quiet at 7pm.  Maybe one day I will return to Bali and hope to see some of the beautiful beaches and temples.  For now at least I have seen a bit of the local mythology.

More posts from my trip to Yogyakarta, Indonesia:

Sunday 25 June 2023

Borobudur and Prambaran Temples, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

This is my favourite photo from my Yogyakarta trip.  It is so full of beauty and peace.  The photo was taken at Borobudur Temple on my sightseeing day when I bought a ticket on a tour to Borobudur and Prambaran temples.  They were really impressive, the people on the tour were really friendly and the bus driver mostly knew what he was doing (except when he picked up the wrong people and had to return to the hostel to exchange them) though I felt quite clueless about what was going on.

We arrived at Borobudur and our driver gave us a bottle of water and ushered us in to where we had a tour guide.  The guide took us to fit us for the sandals that we were told we had to wear on the temple and our bus driver took our own shoes back to the bus in the bag we were given.  Then we walked towards the temple on this lovely green boulevard leading up to it.  You can also see here the lovely views of jumgle and mountains around the temple.

As we walked  along, the temple loomed large up the hill.  In fact it is hard to get a sense of how large it is without the aerial views.  It is the largest Buddhist monument or temple of its type in the world.  Bodobudur was built around the 8th Century.  Then around the 14th or 15th Century it was abandoned.  

It survived ashes from the nearby volcano, was overgrown by jungle, rediscovered in 1885, looted, had statues sold by the Dutch East Indies government to Thailand royalty, undergone two restorations, been bombed in the 1980s, survived an earthquake in 2006.  Today it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Indonesia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Climbing the temple was closed to visitors for a couple of years during covid restrictions.  (I thought this meant entering the inside of the temple but it actually meant that you could not go up the stairs to the different outdoor levels).  It gave time for the government to think about conservation strategies.  When the levels above the base reopened, the crowd levels were reduced and the ticket prices increased, though were much more for foreigners than locals.  

Now tourists yet again can climb through 5 square levels with over 2500 bas reliefs of Buddhist tales carved into the walls and then three circular levels at the top with 72 Buddahs in bell shaped stupas but only Buddhist monks can go to the top level with one large 30 foot high stupa.   I had worried when I saw all the steps we were to climb, but it was a very gradual ascent, stopping on many levels.

This 10 story temple, rising like a stepped pyramid, was made without modern tools or mortar.  Our guide told us about 3 levels of realms which Buddhist cosmology divides the universe into, and the temple levels represent - Kamadhatu (desire) at the base, Rupadhatu (forms) in the square terraces, and Arupadhatu (formlessness) by the circular platforms with the stupa.  The huge stupa on top of the temple is empty unlike the other stupas with Buddahs inside them.  The emptiness signifies completion.


There are more than 500 Buddah statues.  I am a little confused as to whether this excludes all the Buddahs that have been broken or looted.  It is amazing how much of the temple has been conserved.

Buddhists today, as in the past, make pilgrimages to the temple to meditate and walk over a mile of stone carvings to learn from the stories in the bas reliefs.  Our guide told us it takes years to learn each story.  He told us about stories of Buddah's life including when his mother dreamt of a white elephant and conceived a child that would be a world leader or a buddah.

I don't know why this little animal is laughing but I took the photo as it amused me.  Laughter in historic is rare enough to be such a joy when seen.

Finally we arrived at the circular levels with al the stupas.  As I stood with my tour group, listening to our tour guide, I was surprised to see people from my work life.  Some of my colleagues had decided to hire a car and go to see the sunrise at Borodura by leaving at 4.30am.  My sleep lately has not been good enough to get up that early so I took the 7am tour instead. It was nice to see them and I had a chance to walk around a bit with them.  I was surprised to hear they could not go in the temple until after sunrise but were taken to a viewing platform.

One more thing about the stupa was that I tried to view Buddahs through the holes but it wasn't easy.  Two stupas had been removed so it was much easier to see the Buddah statues. 

I also enjoyed spending time with some backpackers on my tour.  They were not here for work and had some different experiences of Yogyakarta. After we walked down the steps and out of the temple, we had time to walk around the base. Some time was spent with groups of school kids who were particularly taken by the tall Dutchman in my tour group and wanted lots of photos.

Then we walked through the market to get to the exit.  Sounds simple but was actual stressful with hawkers trying to sell souvenirs.  I am glad they are banned around the temple.

Our bus then drove for over an hour through some wonderfully green fields and little towns to a place to eat lunch.  It was an unassuming little cafe with minimal air conditioning and a lot of fried food displayed in the window.  On the menu it was called Rumah Makan Ny. Muharti.  According to Google Translate that is the Restaurant of Mrs Muharti.

The menu had English translations but didn't mention any vegetarian option.  When I checked, I was given an option between the Mie Goreng and Nasi Goreng.  I confirmed I did not want egg or chicken and my noodles was served with fried tofu and fried tempeh.  It was really tasty and I could not eat it all because it was such a generous helping.

The we drove to Prambanan temples.  Let me digress now back to our workshop dinner.  After a pleasant meal out, we went to the Ramayana Ballet Prambanan.  This is a famous Indonesian ballet expressed in dance, song and musical instruments, such as the gamelan music.  

The story, based on a Hindu epic in 4 parts is a quest by Prince Rama after an evil demon kidnaps his wife Princess Sita.  Rama, his brother and a monkey king search for Sita with plenty of magic and  characters such as a deceitful golden deer, a helpful vulture, and comedic evil warriors who perform some great gymnastics.  There is an impressive fire and fireworks towards the end and a horrific moment when Sita burns herself alive to prove her purity, and then a happy ending when Rama and Sita are finally happy.  

It is fairly complicated and so the English subtitles helped a lot.  I was surprised at how excited all the Indonesians at our workshop were to go and also that the actors during interval and at the end invited the crowd to take photos with them.  It was outdoors during the dry season so it was all performed with the impressive Prambaran temples lit up as the backdrop to the ballet. 

Back to our tour when our bus driver dropped us at Prambaran.  This time he gives us a couple of hours and we ask if we have a tour guide like we did at Borobudur.  Not here.  I don't learn so much about the religion and symbolism as at the last temple.  It is not just the lack of a tour guide but also that it is less cohesive and I was tiring.  It does show just how difficult it must be to keep a UNESCO World Heritage site like this in good condition.

Prambaran is a temple compound rather than one temple.  There were originally over 250 temples of various sizes in the "archeological park" .  The largest temple in the middle of the main complex was built by a Hindu prince in the 9th Century soon after Borobudur and known as the Shiva temple.  It is fascinating that there are Buddhist and Hindu temples so close to each other.  Some suggest it was competition and some suggest it was a sign of peacefully living side by side.  The Prambaran temples were abandoned in the 10th Century and rediscovered by the local hundreds of years later and by a Dutch researcher in 1733.

The locals refer to it as Rara Jonggrang or the "slender virgin" who according to myth gave a powerful suitor a challenge to build 1000 temples before sunrise for her hand in marriage but tricked him into thinking it was sunrise after he had built 999 temples.  He was so angry at being tricked that he turned Rara Jonggrang into the 1000th temple.

Either side of the temple is the other two largest temples.  I only went into the Shiva Temple and the Vishnu temple but I didn't go into the Brahma temple or any of the smaller ones.  They were amazing to look at from the outside with all the carvings.  The Shiva temple is the tallest at 47 metres high but they all seemed huge.  I kept looking up and wondering how challenging it would have been to build so high and in so much detail without modern tools and safety equipment.  How many people died to build it?

Each temple had bas reliefs inside the balconies and there were rooms in which were statues of gods in the dark.  I didn't quite understand these dark rooms.  (My camera picks up light in the dark quite well.)  Why no light?  It was as though these statues were hidden away.  At this point a tour guide might have been useful.  And the steps leading up to these rooms were very steep so I didn't feel it was a good use of my waning energy to climb up and down into dark rooms.

Instead I walked around the balconies admiring the carving, the bas reliefs and the views over the complex.

I knew that some of the bas reliefs referred to the story of Ramayana that we had seen at the ballet.  I wondered if perhaps this one had the monkey king that featured in the ballet.  I think it was on the Shiva temple.

This series of bas reliefs on this part of the Vishnu temple seemed to be people doing bad things but I am not sure exactly what.  Nearby was a bas relief of a person in a headlock, which is not the sort of thing I expect to see in these historic carvings.

And I am not sure what this is - possible a god or a prince.  By this point, the other backpackers and I were tired and hot.  We stood in the shade on the Vishnu balcony chatting about refugees and what covid restrictions we had had in our countries.

It felt like we were at Prambaran a lot less time than Borobudur and by the time we left we were really ready to go.  We walked past all the stacks of stones (below) that suggested that this complex was not quite in such good condition as it once was.  This is not surprising given it had been through wars and natural disasters.

We walked through the park past the museum, the deer and the archery.  I can see that it would be a great place to spend more time if you had more energy.  The market place we had to walk through to go out had less insistent hawkers than Borobudur.  I was glad to be back on the bus to Yogyakarta.  It was a long day leaving at 7am and back at about 5pm.  I was so tired when I got back to the hotel that I just collapsed on my bed for the evening.  But I felt very lucky to have the chance to see both the amazing ancient temples.

More information:


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