Memories of Yogyakarta—a place saturated with heat, scent, sound, flavor, and color—make me think of a term I recently learned while writing scripts for a client.
Intercuts. A series of alternate or contrasting scenes that make one composite scene in a film.
There is no other word for, or way to approach writing about this trip to Central Java than in intercuts.
When I think about the place, I think in episodes: my hotel with its post-apocalyptic vibe and rooftop aquaponics, the reverberant chant of early evening prayers from the nearby mosque, my first taste of rendang-infused chocolate, that humid al fresco dinner in Milas where the conversation somehow took a turn towards male mosquito vasectomy (so there would be less mosquitos in the world—we were fending them off at that moment), the observation R and I shared about Jogja and sexual tension (this is for another conversation, preferably over alcohol), the underground mosque near the sultan’s water palace, the memory exchange in Cemeti gallery, how Jogja feels so much safer than Manila except when you’re attempting to cross what I call its one-and-a-half way streets, and how there are apparent downsides to over-streamlining the entire tourism process…these are just some of the alternating scenes that make up the Yogyakarta segment in my mind.
There’s plenty to say about Yogyakarta, and I suppose we ought to get the blockbuster reason why people visit it out of the way: Borobodur.
I remember the walk from Manohara towards the famous 8th-9th century Buddhist temple in vivid detail. The whole of Kedu Valley was shrouded in mist the morning we were there and we could only see our surroundings clearly as far as 10, 15 feet at best. It felt like a cross between a treasure hunt and a thriller, really. Nobody but me and R walking towards one of the greatest Buddhist monuments in the world. Boy were we lucky to have gotten there when we did…or so we thought.
When we finally see Borobodur after climbing a flight of stairs, it felt like being transported back in time, like we were building up to a climax—except the picture also included modern trimmings like these handrails and signages…
…and, we soon discover after reaching the summit, a helluva lot of tourists. There for the same reason we were: to catch the sunrise.
I guess the crowd is part and parcel of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, something you just really have to contend with today. But as crowded as it was that morning, you’ll still leave Borobodur in awe. We wanted to catch the sunrise on top of the temple so we made a beeline for the summit where we were met with this sight:
Beyond Borobodur and its centuries-old stupas, everything was covered in mist! Only those high enough above it could be seen—the tops of coconut and palm trees, Mt. Merapi, and some electric posts that reminded me I was apparently still in the 21st century. It was cloudy that morning, the sun’s rays barely peeking through the clouds, which I’m kinda cool with because it drew attention away from getting that perfect sunrise-beyond-the-stuppas shot to Borobodur itself.
The place is an undeniable masterpiece. It always amazes me how something built centuries ago—in this case, before its discovery in 800 A.D.—is still standing to this day. Course some parts of the temple have already been restored, but much of the old structure is still there, including some really intricate bas reliefs depicting life and culture of ages past.
We spent two hours circling each level from top to bottom—the traditional way is to go from ground up and meditate as you go through the journey. You’ll find that the closer the level is to the ground, the more intricate carvings there are depicting scenes of conflict and pleasure. You’ll see less and less of these as you climb up, and by the time you reach the summit, there are none but just covered stupas encasing different buddhas, some of them headless (said to be stolen), encircling the main stupa on the summit. It’s said that by the time you’re on top, you’d have reached nirvana or a meditative state.
It’s kind of mind-blowing when you think about how it must have been for the first modern person who discovered Borobodur—I wouldn’t be surprised if the guy became a monk.
Leaving the massive temple eventually awakened to the fact that, no, apparently I was not in the middle of the jungle as I originally imagined. It seems like Jogja’s local government really fixed up the place—the jungle was now a huge manicured park teeming with students on field trips, travelers, and eateries where we ended up having breakfast before heading to Prambanan, our next destination.
Built in the 10th century, Prambanan is Borobodur’s slightly younger Hindu brother. The compound is the largest dedicated to Shiva in Indonesia, with its three temples lined with reliefs illustrating the epic of the Ramayana, dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma, and three temples dedicated to the animals who serve them. (I’m confusing myself—always happens when I’m on wikipedia. Anyway…)
Quite like Borobodur, you’ll really see that everything’s streamlined the moment you enter the massive Prambanan complex all the way until you exit it.
It’s sort of a one-way path you have to follow because you can’t go back from which you came. Go through the main temples first, options to check out the museum and other smaller temples if you still have time, and right before you exit, you go through a marketplace where you can opt to eat or buy batik fabric and other such souvenirs. There’s definitely benefit to this system because, hello, who isn’t averse to order? Structure, the step-by-step process—it’s all well and good. I guess it just takes away the “rawness” of how I experienced other heritage sites like Angkor Wat in Cambodia and some places in Japan—the ‘government intervention’ here is more glaring. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, seeing where the people’s money are being funneled.
I guess it’s just a matter of preference. I’ve always found there’s beauty in discord—probably why I feel the need to get myself to India one of these days, and probably why I found walking around in Jogja, dodging motorists, stumbling upon an underground mosque, and interacting with some of the locals there a more interesting experience than the full day I spent amidst these spruced up (but still incredibly stunning!) heritage sites.