The Beauty of Dieng

There are some places whose names stick in your brain and don’t budge until you’ve tackled them head on. Dieng plateau has been one of them. While I’ve been to Jogja and visited most of the temples around there, Dieng has stayed on my list of must-visit since almost a year.

Not so much for the temple ruins, but for the sunrise, Sara and I took the long way out to Dieng: by train from Jakarta to Yogyakarta, then by road onwards to Dieng in the middle of the night. I’m loving these long train journeys across Java, where you just have to get to the train station in the nick of time, and then sit back and relax for the next 7-8 hours. There’s a bit of thrill in packing a nice breakfast and lunch for yourself, and a few sinful treats, like Sara’s mint-chocolate brownie muffins. Trains leave from Stasiun Gambir, but none of the local trains halt here, so you must have a taxi to drop you off, especially if you are lugging multiple bags. It would’ve been brilliant to hop on to the local train to Tanah Abang, then change trains to stop at Gambir, but I don’t suppose the town planners had commuter convenience on top of their minds while designing the local transport systems.

We were destined to do this trip at an easy pace, with our Jogja driver not willing to go even a little faster than 40 kmph on the highway. The journey of about a 130 km took almost 5 hours (route). We stopped at the Dieng village to pick up a guide. Sunrise tours are popular here, it was no hardship to find a guide at 4 am!

We got to Gunung Sikunir, and headed off to the top of the hill. Sara was smart enough to have packed a head-lamp, which she planted on mine, coz I insisted on tripping over all the big stones. Hiker I am not, and we needed a number of breathing breaks on our way up. We did make it in time before the sun came out!

Sunrise at Dieng Plateau Sunrise at Dieng Plateau

Though the sun sent out a ray from behind the mountain, it chose to stay out of sight, denying us a glamorous sunrise shot! The clouds and the mist swirling around the hills was a beautiful sight, and we had to get creative for our photos.

Whatever forest might have existed in this region before has now been cleared for plantation, potatoes mainly, and some other vegetables too. We drove around a little to catch some of the other sights.

Sunrise at Dieng Plateau

Sunrise at Dieng Plateau

Sunrise at Dieng Plateau

There was another short walk up to spot the Telaga Warna (changing colors lake). Thanks to the absence of the sun, we could see just the one color.

Sunrise at Dieng Plateau

There was a perfect spot from which to admire this landscape:

Sunrise at Dieng Plateau

As for the temples? Almost as an after-thought, we stopped over to see the ruins. There are only a couple of them left standing. What is most striking about these temples is their location, surrounded by the hills, enveloped in the mist. The ‘touristification’ of the site evokes mixed feelings in me. It’s nice to have access to facilities, but the aura is lost.

Sunrise at Dieng Plateau Sunrise at Dieng PlateauSunrise at Dieng Plateau

A Study Tour to Banten

One fine Sunday morning, a bunch of us from the Indonesian Heritage Society set out to nearby Banten for a tour. This is part of our Forts, Ports and Palaces study group, which is as fun as its name.

Banten is about an hour’s drive from Jakarta, and in its heyday, was one of the reasons for the Dutch supremacy in the archipelago. According to one account, when the Mataram empire wanted to fight the Dutch in Batavia (now Jakarta) to gain control of Java, Banten, their rival, did not support them, and the Dutch won that battle, and eventually over generations succeeded in establishing themselves all over. During that period, Banten lost its own shine, and is now not even a shadow of its old self, as even the palaces have been long destroyed, leaving almost nothing off their heritage structures. Yeah, I’ve been studying.

There’s a tiny but interesting museum that shows some of the town’s former glory, primarily their water pipeline system (in pictures only) that would filter water from the reservoir and reach the palace in purified form. They also have a few remnants from the palace structure

Banten Banten

The karaton or palace was razed by the Dutch but the grounds have been preserved as a heritage site.

Sunday is market day in the village, and most of the folks seem to like to hang out at the masjid near the market. There were hordes by the sultan’s graves, on the minaret, all over the masjid, in the heat, just having a good time.

After the sultan was banished from the old palace, he built a second one nearby, which was also subsequently destroyed.

Besides the palace ruins, we also saw a little of the port, and a Chinese temple (the best preserved structure) across what used to be the Dutch garrison.

There’s not much to see, in terms of checkbox for being there and doing that, but some food for thought on how a large kingdom could come to this state.


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Air and Water

The Indonesian word for water is ‘air’. And we’re having problems with both lately.

The volcano Kelud in East Java erupted yesterday, and its impact is being felt all over Java as well as Bali. Kelud is situated in East Java; its eruption sent ash flying for miles around, and the winds carried it all the way up to Bandung in West Java, just a 150-odd km from Jakarta, over 600 km from the volcano. There’s so much ash, especially around the site of the eruption, that they closed down the airports nearby, covered the heritage sites of Borobudur and Prambanan with tarpaulin to protect the structures from the ash. The air is not fit to breathe, people are wearing face masks, and hundreds of thousands have been evacuated. Some pretty scary pictures here.

While these people have to battle health, loss of home and other critical issues, at home we had a borewell pump breakdown, and suddenly it seems the world is coming to an end with no running water in taps. We had the handymen spend an entire day installing a temporary replacement until the broken one got fixed. That involved a lot of breaking into the floor, cutting up the pipes, and plenty of clearing up to do. The good news (for us) is that this is Jakarta, and we are spoiled by an army of helpers, so we don’t need to do more than lift a finger to phone for help. The guys know what they’re doing, and the best help we can give is to stay out of their way, not disturbing them with our many questions that they have to rack their brains to answer in English. That bit is the torture, I believe.

Water tank 1

So while they installed this temp, we packed our bathing things, and went over to a friend’s house nearby for the much-needed ablutions. Followed by a hearty lunch at Antipodean Cafe in Kemang. Like I said, we are spoiled. We could also spend the day any number of malls while the people worked, but thankfully it hasn’t come to that. In fact, the replacement pump has been doing well, and we have a few more days of respite.

The tiny overhead tank has been filling up ok, and I have been bathing everyday, I swear!

Water tank 2


My post for the “Treasure” Photo Challenge was to be a picture of the shower with running water, but I dare not waste any!


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The beauty of ruins

This year I joined a study group called Sanctuaries of the Gods, which focuses on the temples or Candi in Indonesia from the Majapahit era, and some more. Last month we went on an excellent tour around the sacred Mount Penanggungan in East Java, to study the structures (or what’s left of them) at Trowulan, and Jalatunda, and some interesting bathing pools. Although there’s a lot of restoration being done, sadly most of the ancient carvings have been displayed at a local museum than at the original sites.

Just an hour out of Surabaya, the landscape changed completely from bustling traffic to green countryside – a great reason to stop for photos.

Study tour

Study tour

Study tour

I’m guessing that’s Mount Penanggungan in the distance

We stayed overnight in an environmental centre PPLH Seloliman – nice place, but roughing it out is good for one night only!

Study tour

The locals in the village had their entertainment at the sight of foreigners peering at what must look like a big pile of stones:

Study tour