Things to Do in Central Java
Though not quite as large as nearby Borobudur, the ancient Hindu temples that make up the impressive Prambanan are spectacular in their own right. Built by the Mataram Kingdom in Central Java around 860 CE, the first temples here were meant to honor Lord Shiva. While many of the later temples erected on this site fell to ruins in an earthquake curing the 16th century, Prambanan still attracts visitors from across the globe seeking to experience walking through one of the Hindu religion’s most prized sites.
Prambanan is divided into three main zones, which include an outer open space, a middle zone housing rows of 224 identical shrines, and an inner zone where eight temples and small shrines dedicated to gods are located.
Built in the 15th century, this ancient temple sits atop the rolling hills of Gunung Lawu, some 900 meters above the Solo plain. It’s a destination for travelers looking to venture into an unfamiliar world where mysterious fertility cults once practiced sacred rituals and ornate carvings and life-like statues prove unlike those in Java’s more traditional Hindu and Buddhist temples.
Visitors will find three statues of turtles upon entering Sukuh, as well as a giant phallus that reiterates the temple’s focus on birth and sexuality. The ground’s central pyramid is the tallest of the three located on site. While typical Hindu gods, like Ganesha, are stationed around the site, relief work, carvings and statues at Sukuh more often depict intercourse and genitalia, making it a truly unique stop on a tour of typically more conservative temples.
The eldest of three Buddhist temples situated in Central Java, around 40 kilometers from central Yogyakarta, Mendut Temple was thought to be built in the early part of the ninth century by King Indra of the Sailendra Dynasty. Mendut Temple stands at almost 37 meters tall, with the main structure set on a platform that also serves as a walkway. Stairs adorned with sculptured panels lead to the door of the temple, which features a corbelled roof and reaches as high as the roof of the main structure itself.
It’s fair to say that the star attraction of Mendut lies inside the temple, in the form of three intricately-carved stone statues. The main statue within the temple’s chamber depicts the Buddha facing west with hands in the ‘Dharmacakra mudrā’ position, also known as ‘the turning of the Dharma Wheel.’ On either side of this huge central statue sit two Bodhisattvas.
Pawon Temple is a Buddhist temple situated at the midway point between the Borobudur and Mendut temples, approximately 40 kilometers from the city of Yogyakarta. It features a square-shaped, tiered roof adorned with small stupas and ratnas, which is hidden among the houses that surround it.
This slender temple structure sits on a rectangular platform and features a chamber inside with vents. Architecturally, Pawon Temple is similar to the temples Borobudur and Mendut, with its mix of classic Javanese Hindu and Indian art symbols. Notably, there are reliefs of the Kalpataru tree (the tree of life), as well as of mythical birds and human figures, on the temple’s outer walls.
This unique cave was caused by a geological shift that created a massive sinkhole that stretches some 300 vertical feet below the surface. Travelers who wish to explore the rocky crags and impressive natural light shows this destination is famous for must navigate a well-worn path using a single rope line, which may prove challenging for some. Not for the faint of heart, visitors must wear coveralls, boots, a helmet and headlamp on their journey into Jomblang.
While vegetation above ground is mostly barren and dotted with hardwood trees, adventurers will find lush green landscapes and fertile fields visible from one of the cave’s most popular vantage points, which makes this trip a truly memorable experience. Those in the know recommend hiring an expert guide since the descent can be rather technical, and local operators will also be able to point out rock, crystal and fauna to interested travelers.
With a name that means 'mountain of fire,' it’s no surprise that Mount Merapi is Indonesia’s most active volcano. Its treacherous peaks, impossible views and steeply graded trails have made it a destination for travelers looking to explore the outdoors and taste some high-altitude adventure.
While climbing with a guide isn’t required, experts say it’s highly recommended. Trail markings can be difficult to see, particularly in early and late hours, making navigation particularly difficult. Several shelters exist along the path for hikers who need to wait out storms or take lunch in the shade. The most popular time to start climbing is 1 a.m., since the 5:30 a.m. view of sunrise from the mountain’s peak is said to be spectacular.
More Things to Do in Central Java
Visitors will be consumed by the sheer scale of Borobudur, an 8th-century temple that’s recognized not only as a UNESCO World Heritage site, but also the largest Buddhist structure on earth. Towering stone stupas stretch into the skies and a breathtaking natural backdrop of volcanoes and lush landscapes lends an even more impressive air to this already memorable site.
Borobudur consists of six square platforms decorated with more than 2,500 relief panels and some 500 Buddha statues, making it one of the most decorated temples on earth. Visitors can hire a guide to explain the life-like graphics that cover the walls of Borobudur, which locals say tell the stories of achieving Nirvana, karma laws, the birth of Buddah and other essential Buddhist teachings. Two museums are also located on the park grounds and admission is included in the price of a temple ticket.
Kota Gede is a historic suburb within the city of Yogyakarta, Indonesia. It was once the capital of Mataram and is home to an ancient mosque that holds the remains of the first sultan, Panembahan Senopati. Senopati’s graveyard can be found in the grounds of the mosque, which is located to the south of the neighborhood’s central market.
Kota Gede is made up of a labyrinth of narrow streets, lined with mosaic-tiled houses that were once home to the upper-class. The neighborhood is also known for being the main hub for the city’s silver industry; Jalan Kemasan is the main street leading into town and this is lined with silver shops, where everything from handmade bowls to modern jewelry are made, bought, and sold.
Perched atop a hill not far from Yogyakarta, Imogiri Kings Cemetery is the official burial place of the royal descendents from Yogyakarta and Surakarta. Built in the mid-17th century, this grand cemetery consists of three main courtyards: Prabayasa, Kemandungan, and Srimanganti.
The graveyard is a peaceful spot with some beautiful views. The main tomb houses many of the kings of the Mataram Kingdom, from Sultan Hamengku Buwono I to Hamengku Buwono IX. Some of the rulers’ immediate family members are also buried here, and the smaller courtyards are where the princes were laid to rest.In order to reach the tomb where the kings reside, visitors must climb hundreds of steps and, once inside, must adopt the traditional Javanese dress, which can be hired for a modest fee.
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