Published in Now! Jakarta, March 2010

View from the lobby water gardens to the golf course at the spectacular Hyatt Regency Yogyakarta.

Yogyakarta - Wonosobo

I have always wanted to go to Dieng Plateau, to sample the potatoes, and to continue my education on ancient Hindu-Javanese candi. As a lover of all things Central Javanese, especially the people, I was intrigued about these highlands with their ancient hill-tribes who have inhabited the extraordinary, sulphur-scented valleys for over 3,000 years.
Last month I was presented with a golden opportunity: when a Balinese priest, Pedanda Gede Made Gunung, invited me onto a ‘mini-crusade’, organised by the Bupati of Wonosobo, to choose a site for a new Hindu temple for Wonosobo’s 400 practising Hindus.

17th January 2010: Hyatt Regency, Yogyakarta
To get into candi-chasing mode there is no better hotel at which to stay.
The golf course is positively ‘littered’ with little Borobudur stupas and the entrance water gardens and Javanese pavilions induce a sense of awe. The new G.M. is an old Balinese buddy of mine from the hey-days at the Bali Hyatt in Sanur (soon to be a luxury retirement village, I hear, for all the grey nomads now flocking to South Sanur for the mandi lulur and related treatments)..

Central Java gamelan musician in the lobby of magnificent Amanjiwo hotel, near Borobudur.

This grey nomad never wants to see another spa for the rest of his life but is happy to be rained upon in a Javanese ruinscape. And that’s why I always choose to stay in the Hyatt Regency when in Hyatt Regency Central Java.
The Hyatt has also kindly co-sponsored part of the good Bupati Wonosobo’s DHARMA YATRA and the pedanda is thrilled to be swishing down the marble corridors — with his noblemen (Aides de Karma) — on a quest for the nearest Hindu Happy Hour.

19th January 2010: To Dieng via Wonosobo, Central Java’s answer to Fukiaku
How sad these Javanese towns are all becoming — overcrowded and oddy-coloured. One can barely make out the colonial era architecture let alone vestiges of the great palaces and squares that once dotted the land.

The Candi Arjuna complex

Our first stop is the still-charming Pondok Bupati, off Wonosobo’s alun-alun (town square) where a reception room — once famously used by Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and President Soeharto — is today brimming with banks of pecel and other Javanese breakfast treats.
The pondok has been given a quite radical facelift in the Jepara-Glossy Joop Ave style but once can still sense, in the scenic wallpaper in the guest bedrooms, and in the general milling about of light infantry in the car park, that this was once a Dutch plantation owner’s pride and joy.

A reconstructed long pavilion in a temple complex next to the Arjuna complex candi.

Former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and his son in a photograph on the wall of Bupati Wonosobo’s residence.

Pedanda Gunung emerges triumphant from the meditation cave.

I am introduced as the pedandas collagen-challenged groupie, Asia’s biggest readhead, here to carry news of this religious renaissance back to the expatriate watering-holes of Menteng and Kemang.
I tell the Bupati that Gough Whitlam was my neighbour in Sydney’s exclusive Double Bay — not totally true (I did sometimes see his towering wife, Margaret, at the opera) — and he asks me where Mr. Whitlam bought the kangaroo-speckled BBQ shirt featured in the historic photograph displayed on the wall.
Over breakfast I become friends with the head of the local ulama (Muslim) association; I complain about the lack of sarong-kebaya in Javanese villages these days. What will Opera van Java (the popular television comedy. Ed.) mean once everyone has adopted Middle Eastern dress-codes. Will it too be blasted off the air for being heretic??
We agree to disagree.

Happy farmer in happy valley next to Candi Arjuna complex, Dieng.

The juru kunci’s flip-flops (Note magical-mystical ‘POLENG’ pattern).

Cabbages used as a road block to stop local extremists trying to hinder the Dharma Yatra’s progress.

Later the same day, after a scenic drive up the cabbage and potato fields that blanket the mountain slopes, I find myself standing outside a meditation cave surrounded by media vultures wanting a piece of me. It seems that in Central Java an Australian in Hindu dress is still something of novelty.
“Is your wife Balinese?” they want to know.
“Do your children have red hair?”
I escape down the rough hewn steps of the Goa Semar, and find the pedanda meditating in front of a Siwa statue gifted to the holy spring by the last Governor of Bali, Dewa Made Beratha.
Sivaite holy men have been seeking spiritual guidance at this spot for over 1200 years: Pedanda Gunung is just the last in an illustrious long line; the extraordinary thing, however, is that the pilgrimage is being sponsored by a Muslim mayor in a overwhelmingly Muslim province.
Later the day I understand the reason why: it seems that every Suro, the first day of the Javanese calendar year, hundreds of Balinese Hindus come to the striking Candi Arjuna complex and make elaborate offerings.
The government is very proud of its Hindu past, but past it is (only the Candi Cetho in Central Java, outside Solo, has actually been restored and re-consecrated) and the mayor wants to fast-tract a new Hindu temple as a proper place for the pilgrims to pray.

In the Museum Arkeologi (Dieng): Tenth century statue (Dieng area) of a Sivaite priest meditating.

A ‘Barong Macan’ (tiger) mask in the Museum Arkeologi, Dieng.

In the afternoon I visit the Museum Arkeologi which has a magnificent collection of statues and relics from the Sanjaya era (8th-11th century) — many strongly suggestive of South India origins, as are the candi themselves.

20th January 2010: To an archaeological dig site
Last week I learned of a newly discovered 10th century Hindu candi inside the Universitas Islam Indonesia complex in Yogyakarta and today I am visiting the site.
It is easy to find, within the grounds of the sprawling Islamic University campus — itself built in the modern-Muslim hard-liner style called Putrajaya Puritanical of the new capital of Malaysia — as the site is the only area within the campus defined by crumpled sheets of cheap corrugated iron

The magnificent tenth century Candi Kimpulan emerging from under six metres of lava dust after 1000 years.

The security box window at the entrance gate is straight out of the movie ‘Water World’, or  ‘Mad Max’, but the guards are, mercifully, straight out of central casting and are able to discern that this large pink person in a large pink kurta, who is dropping names like lead balloons, is an exception to the visiting hours rule, and I am let in.
Twenty metres into the site my jaw drops: I spy a largish crater, inside which is nestled a pristine tenth-century stone temple. On the temple’s floor is a Ganesha statue, still half-buried (to deter the thieves); the rest of the small walled temple court is completely exposed, and looks brand new.
Javanese workers convey baskets of volcanic soil up rough stairs. A ‘posse’ of archaeologists — roped off from the general swirl of activity — sit on a large woven mat surrounded by boxes of biscuits, kretek cigarette packs, floor plans and other tricks of the trade.
After a tour of the site, which includes a good look at the excellent information board for the public, I am invited to sit with the experts and swap tales.
It is an exhilarating hour and I learn much about Central and East Javanese candi and the ancient Hindu cultures that spawned them.

| back |

Subscribe to the Poleng Magazine! Get your hard copy of the diary with large format photos and contributions from some of the island's more talented essay writers, cartoonists and photographers. E-mail your request, and kindly send letters or useful travel tips to:

Copyright© 2010,