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

Orchha, the Jewel of Bundelkhand

What’s an India holiday without catching up with at least half a dozen remarkable heritage structures, and a lot of colour! I was able to pack in quite a few on the too-short stay at Jhansi, in which we spent half a day exploring Orchha. Just a 30 minute drive on good road, and we entered this historic town built by the Bundelas, now situated in Madhya Pradesh. Our first stop was the Ram Raja Mandir, and I had an eyeful of holy men and all that’s clichéd about India.

Reva, Sara & I went further into the Chaturbhuj Mandir next door, while the oldies and the baby opted out. The legend is that this temple was built for Rama, but the queen had a dream that Rama did not wish to reside there. Hence Chaturbhuj is empty, and Rama is worshipped as a king at the Ram Raja Mandir. Chaturbhuj offers very interesting views of the fort complex, particularly the Jehangir Mahal. It’s an arduous climb to the top, through narrow, dark and steep stairs, but so worth it.

The sun beating down at midday makes it very uncomfortable to be outdoors. Our family, by this time, gave up all pretence of being adventurous, and left it to Reva and me to traipse through the very elegant Jehangir Mahal, while they relaxed in the cool restaurant, enjoying their lassi. The palace was built by the king to impress Jehangir, son of Mughal Emperor Akbar, since flattery and sycophancy was the norm in those days, as it often is now! No denying the beauty of the building though.

We missed visiting the Laxminarayan Mandir, but did stop at a smaller temple and the Chhatris by the riverbank.

There’s so much more to see in Orchha. We just have to go back there!

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