A hotbed of Javanese intellectual and political thought, and boasting an incredibly rich artistic and cultural heritage, Yogya is one o the nation’s most enjoyable and cosmopolitan cities. Still headed by its sultan, whose kraton remains the focus of traditional life, modern Yogya is as much a city of batik, gamelan and ritual, as macet, chic cafes and internet junkies. With the puffing summit of volcanic Gunung Merapi on one flank, the ancient ruins of Borobudur on the other and the crashing waves of the Indian Ocean to the south, Yogyakarta is a vital put stop on any Indonesian itinerary.
Most tourists stay in Yogyakarta for three days. One day is spent visiting the city and the other two are spent on organized tours of the two famous Buddhist and Hindu temples a few hours away. The city is lined with batik art shops (a traditional Indonesian art) which line the road leading to the cities famous kraton. Traditions hold firm in Yogya, and nowhere is this more evident than in the kraton, a walled royal enclave and the cultural and political heart of the city. Effectively a city within a city, over 25,000 people live within the compound.
The Taman Sari was a complex of canals, pools and palaces built within the kraton between 1758 and 1765 by a Portuguese architect who was allegedly later executed to keep the sultan’s hidden “pleasure rooms” secret. Damaged first by Diponegoro’s Java War and then further by an earthquake, it is today a mass of ruins and restored bathing pools. On the edge of the site is the Pasar Ngasem bird market where thousands of songbirds are sold daily. I will never forget walking through this maze of squawking birds. A local man pointed at me and motioned me to follow him. I spent the next hour getting a little tour of the ruins as the rain drizzled down on us. He even took me to a famous underground mosque off the tourist trail where locals come to pray (but really all I saw were a few young couples holding hands and making out).
Yogyakarta is the cultural capital of Java and a great central location to visit the areas two famous ancient temples. I will never forget my three days here, walking alone discovering all of the cities nooks and crannies. After a long days walk I thoroughly enjoyed eating a massive plate of chicken satay skewers. They invented them you know! They’ll be sure to tell you that every time you order them….And, you can order Indonesia’s famous Bintang Beer. Indonesia may be the largest Muslim country in the world but they are certainly not the most strict. Locals enjoy a beer with their meal which is a stark contrast to the fierce drinking laws adhered to by their more conservative Malaysian neighbour.