Java Island. Part 2: Where to go besides Bromo, Ijen, Borobudur and Prambanan
Java is the most populous island on the planet. And this is far from the only ranking where Java is at the top – in both positive and negative contexts.
It really is an island of contrasts. There are many megacities here, huge volumes of industrial production, energy consumption, goods and services. There is a titanic strain on the environment, a hell of a lot of pollution in the forests, water and air. Ominous seismic activity, dozens of active volcanoes…
And for all that, surprisingly well-preserved islands of wildlife. Many national parks and wildlife refuges. Thousand-year-old Hindu and Buddhist temples. Outstanding art from the sultanates of Central Java.
Of course, Java attracts many tourists. Barely the most popular tourist route in Indonesia is Borobudur-Prambanan-Bromo-Ijen, which combines two unique UNESCO World Heritage Temples and two equally amazing volcanoes. Usually this is the end of Java for the tourist. And for good reason – there are many other delights here. In this article I describe five of them that particularly impressed me.
Earth’s Fire Belt: Kelud Volcano
The most unusual volcano in Java is generally considered to be Ijen, but there is another one whose character is just as impressive – the low but formidable Kelud. It is 70 km west of another stellar Javanese volcano, Bromo. The last eruption of Kelud in 2014 was the most colorful and violent in Java in the last 20 years. Back in 2006, outdoor and hiking enthusiasts visited the crater of this volcano to admire the acid lake that covered the vent of this active volcano. The lake blocked the free escape of gases and volcanic rock to the outside, so a peculiar cap of rocks and volcanic rock gradually formed next to it.
By 2014, the volcano refused to wear this cap and dropped it with its eruption. Like a champagne cork, tons of rocks, sand and ash flew into the air. The total amount of volcanic material in the sky was then estimated to be 160 million cubic meters. The volcanic ash covered an area 500 kilometers in diameter.
I had been living in Java for only six months at the time and had not yet experienced volcanic eruptions firsthand. One day, the entire city of Surakarta, where I was living at the time, was covered with a two-centimeter layer of volcanic ash. It was as if we were in a February snowfall! The impressions from that day are enough to last a lifetime.
Later, in 2016, I visited Kelude and was impressed by the aftermath of the eruption: the crater looked like a burst beer can with a firecracker going off in it, and the asphalt road was barely visible due to the almost total bombardment of rocks flying from the crater. Climbing up to the crater, I picked up a rock and threw it about 10 meters away from me. The entire surface beneath me rumbled like a monolithic concrete slab, a sound of frozen lava that I will always remember.
Secret Paradise in Java: The Beaches of Pachitan
Among the most famous and most visited national parks on Java Island are, of course, the “volcanic” as well as the coastal ones – Baluran, Alas Purwo, Ujung Kulon. But there is one region that is quite popular among Indonesians, but almost devoid of attention by tourists from abroad. It is Pachitan, a small area on the shores of the Indian Ocean, which is a 3-hour drive east of the city of Yogyakarta.
Pacitan is rich with beaches, there are several dozen of them. There are places for surfing, for comfortable swimming and for long walks along the ocean in complete solitude. In addition to the beaches here is a very special cave Goa Gong. Inside, it is illuminated by colored lights that are constantly changing color, creating a deep underground atmosphere of psychedelic music festival.
There is also a river of fabulous beauty, and hot springs, and a magical waterfall lost among the jungle… It is always difficult to persuade in the attractiveness of little-known places, but in the case of Pachitan, I am sure that everyone who gets here will like it.
Here is a video report of my trip to Pachitan
The Legacy of the Majapahit Empire
The majestic 8th-19th century temples of Borobudur and Prambanan near Yogyakarta preserve the memory of the great Mataram Empire, under which Javanese civilization reached its peak. But it was not the only powerful state that left a deep mark on the history and culture of the island. A few hundred years after the decline of the powerful Srivijaya and Mataram (two powerful states in the late first and early second millennium AD), another empire emerges in East Java, which became the progenitor of Indonesian statehood – Majapahit. It was the most conquered of all the autochthonous states of the region and approached the borders of the modern Indonesia, leaving behind some of the most outstanding monuments of architecture. Most of them are concentrated in the empire’s capital, the town of Trowulan, which has been partially restored and is open to the public.
In the architecture of Trovulan one can see with the naked eye the elements of cult constructions, which are widely used in the modern Balinese architecture. This is not surprising because in the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, Majapahit held a supreme position in relation to the Balinese principalities and repeatedly attacked Bali with attempts to capture the island. Bali’s modern culture is in many ways a transformation of the culture of the Majapahit over the centuries.
Tea plantations and the last Hindu temples in Java
Another interesting place where several temples of the Majapahit empire remain is the slopes of the Lavu volcano on the border of East and Central Java. The temples are up to 1,400 meters high, and the region where they were built captures the beauty of the local nature.
The unusual temples of Sukuh and Cheto are places of pilgrimage for the Javanese nobility from Surakarta and Yogyakarta. Those nobles who remained faithful to certain Hindu rituals even after the official adoption of Islam.
Sukukh is perhaps the most mysterious of all Javanese temples. It is built 900 meters above sea level. Its main structure resembles the Mayan pyramids: around this building there are many stone statues related to the sexual sphere of human life. Scientists speculate that the region was a place of worship related to fertility, as well as some kind of sexual rituals. The statues of genitals and sex scenes in the temples of Sukukh and Cheto suggest this.
Cheto is situated on the slope of the Lavu volcano about 1,400 meters above sea level. It is a succession of terraces, the passages between which are separated by the chandi bentar gate, which I mentioned in the context of Trovulan, the capital of the Majapahit Empire. As on the island of Bali, all the great Hindu festivals are celebrated here – Nyepi, Kuningan, and Galungan. Here you can often see Balinese pilgrims.
In addition to temples, there are several tea plantations in this region. Incredibly beautiful views of the green plantations open up on the way to the Cheto Temple. Frankly speaking, the quality of tea grown in Java leaves much to be desired – primarily because of the careless attitude to the processing, harvesting and drying of the leaves. But there are exceptions. An hour and a half drive from Sukuh and Cheto temples there is a Jamus tea plantation and factory. It, too, is located on the slope of the Lavu volcano, but on its northern side. The tea I was treated to at that plantation really impressed me with its high quality, which is very rare in Indonesia.
Yogyakarta: the heritage of the Javanese sultanates
About Javanese cities you’ll hear more criticism than praise. Many curses from travelers fly to the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta, the country’s largest city. Not intending to be an advocate for Javanese megacities in this article, I want to talk about the most favorite Javanese city among tourists – Yogyakarta, or more precisely about a few little-known corners of it.
Yogyakarta is definitely the cradle of Javanese culture. It was here that the most powerful Muslim state on the island of Java, the Principality of Mataram, which later split into Surakarta and Yogyakarta, originated. Today, Javanese culture is a mixture of surviving elements of local beliefs, rituals and traditions from Java’s “pre-indigenization” period, the Buddhist-Hindu Nusantara period, the heritage of the Javanese sultanates with an extremely rich tradition of dance arts, gamelan orchestra music, vayang kulit puppetry, several authentic crafts and so on.
A place I especially recommend for hiking in Yogyakarta is the Kota Gede neighborhood. This is the heart of the Javanese sultanates, the birthplace of the principality of Mataram and its capital for the first 50 years of its existence. There are still a few old buildings of the XVII century, defense walls, as well as later buildings of the period of Dutch colonial rule. Yogyakarta has always remained a moderately autonomous political actor, and thus was able to become a center of local cultural revival after Indonesia gained its independence.
I strongly advise you to turn off the big streets and get lost in the alleys and passageways between the houses while walking around Kota Gede – this very nice neighborhood has friendly people who will not see your adventures as an encroachment on the privacy of their quiet life. Many tourists visit the silver jewelry workshops, the most popular attraction in Cota Geda. But few people know that the same, only smaller workshops are hidden in the back of the quarter – that’s where you can find the real authenticity!
Java is a unique place with a special climate and beautiful sights and despite the fact that it is not such a well-known place, the island is worth visiting.
The island of Java is part of the Greater Sunda Islands and is located near Sumatra. Scientists to this day cannot understand why it is so named. There are several theories. According to one of them, the word “Java” is of Protonesian origin and translates as “home”. Some scholars believe the name comes from Sanskrit and means either “barley” or “lying on the other side.”
Specialists refer to “Java” as both a mainland island and a volcanic island. This is due to the fact that at its base lies a long mountain chain that stretches through the central part of the island.
The highest point is the volcano Semeru, which has remained active to this day. In total, more than 120 volcanoes can be counted throughout the range. The central part of the island has a mountainous landscape, but worth going down to the coast, you find yourself in a swamp.
There are a lot of rivers, lakes, among which Dzhangari, Jatiluhur and Sungai deserve special attention.
The first man on the island, presumably, appeared in the second millennium BC Scientists suggest that he came, most likely, from the island of Sumatra. Around the 3rd century A.D. towns sprang up on the island and the first state formations were formed. One of the earliest was Sakalanagara, which gave rise to Taruma, Sunda and Mataram. The latter had a rich past and a long history of rule. Over time it fell into decline and disintegrated into several small state formations.
At the end of the 13th century, an expedition led by the Mongol khan Kubilai, famous for his conquest of China, was assembled on Java. The empire he created on the island spread its influence over almost all the Sunda Islands. After a couple of centuries, it was severely weakened and disintegrated into a number of Muslim states.
In the 17th century, the European invaders began to penetrate into Java. On the coast they created a huge number of colonies and factories. A great activity in the conquest by the Dutch. Step by step they conquered all the islands of the Sunda Archipelago, founding the city-factor Batavia, which is known to our contemporaries as Jakarta – the capital of Indonesia. Immediately after the Second World War, Indonesia becomes independent and annexes Java.
Time has passed and Java today is the largest cultural, historical and political center of Indonesia with a well-developed infrastructure.
Population of Java
According to recent calculations, the population of the island has long surpassed the figure of 140 million people. Thus, Java is recognized as the most populous island in the world. The national composition is diverse, but most residents are Indonesian-Javanese. In addition, it is possible to meet Sundanese, Madurese, and natives of China, India, who came at different times. The official language throughout the island is Malay. It is often possible to hear Chinese and Javanese dialects.
Farming is the main occupation of the local population. Inhabitants of villages grow up rice and other groats. In the cities the industry is developed: textile, electronic, mining and processing.
Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, is considered the island’s largest city. It is home to more than 9 million people. Next in size and number of inhabitants are Semarang, Serang, Bandung and others.
Weather in Java
The climate of the island is determined by its location relative to the equator. It is always warm and very humid. There are no sudden changes in temperature, even despite the pronounced seasonality. The average air temperature is kept at 24 degrees.
Heavy rains and hurricanes are always short-lived here.
The flora is not particularly exotic and unique. In the tropical forests grow vines, bamboo, huge ficus. A little above sea level, the variety of vegetation becomes richer. You can meet oaks, chestnuts and some species of conifers.
The fauna of the island is much more interesting and diverse. In Java, there are more than 150 species of animals. Among which there are many endemics.
The cuisine of the island is considered the most exotic. Main components of dishes are rice, vegetables, beef. They like very much local fruits, of which there are a lot on Java. If you really want to try the real traditional food, it is worth going to small cafes, where the local population. They are always tasty and very cheap, unlike restaurants, where the guides are constantly leading. But even here you can find exoticism.
In the village of Tuban are popular earth pies. They are made from muddy soil from the rice fields. According to locals, they find them nutritious and healthy. Regarding the taste of the patties, the villagers try not to say.
Javanese drink cane juice, ginger tea, local beer “tuaq” and palm vodka.
In Indonesia, the most famous and beloved by tourists are the islands of Bali, but Java also has a lot to see. The beaches on the island are covered with white, coarse sand, and the sea is always clean. In addition, the local cities are a lot of attractions that will surprise any tourist. Let’s get acquainted with the most popular places on the island of Java.
Bromo Tenger-Semeru National Park
Bromo National Park is located near the city of Surabaya. It is one of the most amazing sights in Indonesia, which attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. The park covers an area of more than 800 square meters. On its territory there are a huge number of dense forests, waterfalls and several active volcanoes. Thanks to them, most of the national park is covered with black, volcanic sand, creating a special alien effect. The park got its name from the local Tengger tribe and two mountains.
The park is unique because of the five volcanoes, which, according to legend, lead to the underworld. You can climb to the top on foot or by jeep. This place enjoys great popularity among tourists and is rightly considered the highlight of the island.
Borobudur Temple Complex
The temple complex is located 40 kilometers from Jakarta. This place is not only considered a highlight of the city, but also known throughout the world. It was built around the 8th-9th century. For a long time, the temple complex was hidden from human eyes in the shadow of the dense jungle, covered with tons of volcanic dust. The ancient structure is still a mystery to scientists. No one can give an exact answer when and by whom Borobudur was built. Also, no one can understand why it was left after the eruption of one of the five volcanoes.
If you look from the outside, the entire temple complex resembles a huge 34-meter bell. Its structure is a pyramid, with several large concrete slabs at its base. On these are carved stupas in the form of bells. Inside each stupa are statues of Buddha.
Prambanan Temple Complex
It is an amazing sight, dating back to the 9th century. The temple complex is located a few kilometers from Jakarta. Prambanan is considered the largest in Indonesia. Inside the temple is a huge statue of Shiva. Often Prambanan is called the temple of Shiva Lara Jongrang. On the sides of the main temple are built small structures representing the sacred animals of Indonesia. Also on the territory of Prambanan are numerous shrines and rooms for sacrifices. Recently the temple complex was recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site.
This ancient structure has been destroyed many times. This has been caused by the numerous earthquakes and the volcanic activity of Merapi. For more than a hundred years are undergoing restoration work on the restoration of Prambanan.
Mount Merapi is the most active volcano in Indonesia. It is constantly smoking. Small eruptions occur every two years, but the big ones once every 15 years. The last time a strong volcanic activity was observed in 2006. This makes Merapi among the ten most active volcanoes in the world.
Such fame does not prevent the local population to live at the foot and tourists to climb to the very top. The beauties that opened from great heights are surprising and striking.
The Old City is located in Jakarta and covers an area of about 1.5 square kilometers. This place is a cultural center, which gathered the largest number of monuments of antiquity. The first settlement in this area was established in the 14th century. Then a port was built. Over time, more and more objects appeared in the city. Great contribution to the development of the Old City was made by the Dutch, who built amazingly beautiful churches. Now this place is a World Heritage Site.
Many different cultures have gathered together in the Old City. That is why this place has a special atmosphere that attracts thousands of tourists.
Taman Sari Water Palace
The palace was founded in the 18th century by the ruler of Jakarta. The complex included leisure rooms, the main palace, lakes, and a swimming pool. The structure was built for several years with money allocated from the state treasury. Taman Sari at that time was a true work of art. The palace had its own individual sewage system. The castle was separated from the outside world by a huge dug-out canal. The water supply came from a lake. In some rooms there were warm heated floors.
Besides, a large network of underground passages was dug under the palace, which connected some rooms with each other. Legends always used to circulate about the palace complex’s splendid garden. That is why the castle is called Taman Sari, which translates as ‘flowering garden’. Today, the once magnificent structure is left in ruins. Some part of the territory is inhabited by local residents. In recent years, the palace complex is being restored. The swimming pool and several rooms have been restored and are open to the public.
Bogor Botanical Garden
It is one of the most famous places on the island. The garden is located near Jakarta in the province of West Java. In another way it is called “Kebun Raya. The whole area of the botanical garden has a huge area of 87 hectares. Besides on the island of Java scattered four branches Kebun Rai. In the collection of the garden’s more than 15 thousand of the most diverse plants, amounting to 6000 species. In this place you can still see plants planted at the founding of Kebun Rai. In addition to endemic plants, there are many specimens brought in from other countries as well as rare species.
The Bogorsky garden is also called the center of nature study. And for good reason, as scientists from all over the world constantly come here. The gates of Kebun Paradise are constantly open to numerous visitors. Here you can not only rest from the bustle of the city, but also learn a lot by visiting the zoological and botanical museum. One of the main exhibits of the Bogorsky garden is a collection of orchids. Some of the species of this amazing flower are in closed greenhouses, while others grow in the open air lawns.
Sea of Sand
Sea of Sand is a unique spectacle and is located in a large caldera with a diameter of 10 kilometers. Majestic volcanoes have been spewing out tons of lava rock for millennia, which over time have turned into coarse black sand. Once here, you are immersed in a special atmosphere.
The landscape that opens up to your eyes is very reminiscent of the surface of the moon. A special effect is added by the misty haze over the crater, which constantly hangs over the volcano.
A Thousand Islands
Off the northern coast of Java you can see a huge number of small islands. From high altitude, it seems as if there are more than a thousand. However, calculations have shown that in this area a total of about 115 mainland formations. Their number may vary depending on the tides. So Jakarta is the only place with more than a hundred islands.