During 1981 my wife and I travelled to Asia for the very first time. We were warned by concerned family and friends about properties being easily stolen, tricks by beggars, the food, the water, the change in culture.... But we took the flight by Singapore Airlines to Jakarta and tried to be open-minded about most things.

I recall the arrival at the airport of Jakarta as less chaotic than expected.
The road to the city was wide and made modern for that important first impression.

The monument is the National Monument on the Medah Merdeka Square ("Freedom Square") and is 137 meters high with 35 kgs gold used to decorate the flame on top (erected during the reign of President Sukarno).



We braced ourselves to meet Indonesia...
While I live in a crowded country myselve, Indonesia numbered some 70 million people and Jakarta alone accounted for 5 million (including some 250.000 homeless). So we expected crowded streets and some chaos (total disregard it seemed for traffic rules), but the pollution in this month of September was an unexpected and unpleasant surprise. Many people walking the streets wore a mask for their mouth.

Jakarta was named "Sunda Kelapa" when it was the capital of a Hindu empire, "Pajajara". In 1527 it was conquered by Muslims and renamed Jayakarta ("place of victory").
It was torn down by the Dutch in 1602 and renamed, after rebuilt in 1619, "Batavia".
When Indonesia declared itself independent (17Aug45) Batavia was renamed Jakarta.


We were glad to be out of muggy, stinking Jakarta and found ourselves a taxi to Bandung, via the Botanical Gardens of Bogor.
It was a bit hectic, the driver not speaking a word of English or any other foreign language and he thought the drive was straight to Bandung.
But we got there and enjoyed a guided tour around the beautiful gardens.
After our visit we again continued in a hectic mode as the regular highway was blocked from all traffic, due to President Suharto passing on that main road... So we drove with millions of other assorted vehicles via Sukabumi, while the driver tried to make up for lost time !

 
Due to the busy traffic, we slowed down frequently and while the driver looked for an impossible moment to overtake the slower traffic, I sometimes found a moment to click the shutter of my camera. So many beautiful scenic moments !
On the left is a "Warung", small eating cabins.
On the right is an example of the "slower traffic". I was glad I did not understand much of the language our driver uttered, while blowing his horn and waving his arms...



We found Bandung a disappointment...
This had a lot to do with a bad hotel experience. Hotel Harapan gave us a room which was not very clean, personnel spoke little English (except the obvious "yes, yes...") and when we returned from an excursion, at 1100 am, we found the remains of our breakfast had not been removed from our room. No wonder we had cockroaches in our room !
Also, the taxi we had requested for the following morning, did not show up

We did like the excursion to the volcano ("Gunung") Tangkuban Prahu ! It was a tiresome walk through a tropical forest and sometimes the footpath was hard going, but it was an experience in itself.
Inside the volcano we found ourselves among steaming geysers, which produced a smell like rotten eggs.
The volcano is situated about 30 kilometers north of Bandung and lies at an height of 2.076 meters.
The guide tried to cheat us out of more money, of course, but we did not budge.
We also changed to another hotel ("Hotel Kumala"), where we managed to regain our composure.




One of the highlights of this trip, a long and winding trainride thru some of the best scenery of Indonesia !
The toilets weren't very clean, but the food was good.
The train took about two hours longer to travel from Bandung to Yogyakarta, but that was expected. The train ride took 12 hours, but we were glad we hadn't taken the more luxurious nighttrain, as we would have missed a lot !



I just sat on the steps of the traincarriage and watched the landscape go by...
The most beautiful scenery past by while the train found its way in a slow confident manner. The first few hours were most impressive, as the scenery show a great variety.
Sometimes I got a scare: when I looked down, I looked into a deep canyon which we crossed on a (seemingly) rickety bridge... And my fear of heights is legendary !


Have a look at the map to see where we are.

The train travelled often very close to people: some went on with the jobs, others laughed and waved. I felt pretty good sitting there !


Buffalo's (Kerbau's) fleeing from the train..
Tropical forrest and a volcano complement the photo.



RICE ! Everything evolves around rice... Four out of five people in Indonesia work the ricefields; religious festivals, weddings, are all planned around planting and harvesting the rice.
And it isn't just a pretty picture: I love all these rice dishes !


 
We went to the palace of the Sultan, but either the richness did not translate to us or we suffered from the heat: it did not leave much of an impression.
We were impressed by the hard-working people in the glass- and batik factory, though.


  We found the Prambanan temple complex very impressive, indeed. For hours we walked among the immense complex, while traces of restoration were to be seen left and right.
We read up on the history. It is a 12 kilometers area dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva.
The main temple reached almost 50 meters in height and was for more than a century the heighest building on Java.
Just like the Borobodur, it was built in the 10th Century and abandoned during a large migration of nations. It was built during the reign of the King of Mataran, who believed himself to be a reincarnation of Shiva.


 

We visited several temples, one was "Candi Mendut".
It also stems from the times of the Borobodur, indicating a high standard of civilisation.
Inside are 3 statues: one of Buddha and on each side a Bodhisattva ("semi saint"). The statues are two and a half meters high.
A Bodhisattva is motivated by pure compassion and love. Their goal is to achieve the highest level of being: that of a Buddha. Bodhisattva is a Sanskrit term which translates as: Bodhi [enlightenment] and sattva [being]. The Bodhisattva will undergo any type of suffering to help another sentient being, whether a tiny insect or a huge mammal.
Many of these temples have been plundered through the ages, but these statues were too heavy to move !


The Borobodur ! I had to use a picture from a brochure to make clear what size we are talking here... The name "Borobodur" probably stems from one of the oldest languages on this earth, Sanskrit and would have meant "Buddhist Monastery" or "High Place".
Unfortunately it did not have the quiet of the Prambanan complex and people tried to sell t-shirts, postcards, etc to the busloads of tourists. The crowds spoiled things somewhat.


 

It is hard to believe that this temple has been buried for centuries under volcanic debris and plants !
The "stupa's" should all contain a statue but many have been robbed or destroyed by muslim vandals.
All the walls, and this is even more interesting than the size of the temple, are decorated with scenes from Sanskrit manuscripts and tell the story of Buddha and the religion. The mural portrays the arrival of Buddhism in Java.


 

"Wayang" means "shadow" or "ghost" and is a theatrical performance by performers, with puppets ("Wayang Golek") of shadow creations ("Wayang Kulit").
Dialogue is in Javanese language or Sundanees, while the music is in an old fashioned language ("Klaten" or "Kawi"). A performance can last all night and reflects all aspects of Javenese culture: characters are not judged by their actions but their devotion to what is proper; gestures mean more than common sense, style more than satisfaction, while courage, loyalty and finesse always win. Fate should be accepted without discussion or doubt.
The stories go back to 3.000 years of mythology and "Wayang" probably date from the 9th century.


One of the most impressive things we experienced during this trip, was our visit to the Dieng Plateau. We chartered a taxi, which came with both a driver and a guide, for this 11-hour excursion from Yogyakarta.
A nice drive brought us to this plateau, which is rich in small temples and volcanos. Clouds hung low and the air was thick with the gasses from the volcanos. The unhealthy atmosphere has bad effects on the people here: physical disfigurations could be seen on people and children.
The temples on the Dieng Plateau ( 2093 m. above sealevel) stem from the 9th century and are among the oldest on Java.
The atmosphere is a bit spooky: silently the clouds drift among the temples.

It concluded our travels through parts of Java; next was a flight from Yogya to Denpasar, Bali.