Thursday, 14 August 2014

Yogyakarta - Cultural Capital of Java

After a couple of days spent travelling from Malaysia to Jakarta and then across Java by train, Angela and I finally got to do some actual exploring on foot when we stopped in Yogyakarta for a few days. Renowned as a centre of Javanese artistic and intellectual heritage, Yogya (as it's known, for short) is second-only to Bali as Indonesia's most popular tourist attraction, primarily due to its proximity to Hindu-Buddhist temple complexes like Borobudur and Prambanan, as well as its fine art culture such as music, poetry, puppet shows, ballet, and batik. We would visit one of those aforementioned temples in due course, but first we focused our explorations on the old city itself, wandering through the charming residential alleyways and water palaces that surround the kraton, a palace where a local sultanate still operates today.

We began our journey on the streets just outside our hotel, where we saw this local market.
From there we hopped on a becak, a type of bicycle rickshaw with the carriage placed before the bike, so that as a passenger you approach the road head-on. Our driver pedalled us all the way to the old city.
Passing some graffiti art, of which we'd see plenty across the city.
Soon we arrived at the gates of Taman Sari, the Water Palace.

These ancient, crumbling walls divide the new city from the old.

Within the grounds of the water palace are residential areas where people still live.
At one point we heard tiny mewing noises coming from a cardboard box. We opened it up and found these kittens inside.
Looking over the roofs of the residential area. The arena-shaped building is Sumur Gumuling, an old well that was once used as an underground mosque.
The only way to reach the mosque is via a subterranean tunnel.

Inside the main building of the mosque is this unique intersection of stairs, a great place to take pictures.

Leaving the mosque, we continued exploring the residential areas with their charming street art and colourful alleyways.

Next, we went through another subterranean passageway. This one would lead us to...
...Umbul Pasiraman, the bathing complex, and probably the most striking section of the Water Castle.

Inside the complex.

This was once a bathing complex for the royal family. From the top of the tower on the left, the sultan would watch women bathe in the pool below.

At the opposite gate to the complex.
Wandering through more pretty streets.

We got lost trying to look for the bird market, so this local family helped us out. The kids seemed very eager to practice the English they'd been learning in school. 
On another becak, bound for our next destination.

At the bird market.

The market had lots of other animals besides birds.
Unfortunately, many of the animals were not kept in very pleasant conditions. Some of the birds were way too big for their cage, pacing around in circles and clearly deprived of adequate space. There were also nocturnal species like owls and bats being kept in broad daylight
Chicks with their feathers dyed different colours.

I'm pretty sure this rooster had its feet tied to the top of the pole so it couldn't move.
Ants crawling over one of the bird cages.
Overall, we had mixed feelings about Yogyakarta. The old centre around the water palace was a really cool area to explore, but the rest of the city seemed to us very lacking in character, a drab labyrinth of traffic and grime that was difficult to navigate, with poor public transport, and just generally not very tourist-friendly. Perhaps we didn't explore enough of the right places - and to be fair, we didn't see any artistic displays like ballet or puppet shows while we were there - but it didn't seem like the authentic, cultural capital that we'd expected it to be. It didn't help that the bird market was such a miserable place either. With that said, what might just have redeemed the city, in our eyes, was the temple complex we visited the next day. Borobudur would be one of the most impressive temples we saw on our trip, and deserves an entire post of its own, which will be coming shortly.

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