The World According to Herr Willie: The Spirit of Jogja


It is the marvel of Java, the cultural center of Indonesia: Yogyakarta, or, as we assimilated locals call it, Jogja! Jogja is full of historic sites and exudes a very adventurous yet welcoming spirit. It is a true multireligious melting pot that has seen kings and sultans come and go, and religions introduced and either went or stayed. Time has been gentle on Jogja. It’s one of my most favorite cities in Asia.

Credits: wil6ka

There is much to discover in and around Yogyakarta so let me break this article down into three of my personal highlights. All of them are so different but unique in themselves.

Borobudur (Buddhism) – Siddharta’s Penthouse

Credits: wil6ka

Borobudur is one of the greatest religious sites in the world and is definitely one of the most eclectic Buddhist landmarks in history. It’s a lazy, one and a half hour-bus ride away from Jogja, but it’s totally worth the little effort. Pack a crunchy €25 for your entrance fee, a bottle of water, and lots of leg power, and you are ready to climb this remarkable, high temple.

Credits: wil6ka

Once you are at the gates of Borobudur, you are handed a sarong—a large skirt—to cover your legs. This is more or less the custom for temples in Indonesia, a very fashionable tradition. After you are prepped up, you will face a marvelous, 123 meter wide structure. On the walls of the temple, the entire life of Buddha himself is depicted in bas-reliefs. Osamu Tekuza needed nine, fat manga books to tell his story; Borobudur needed a whole pyramid.

The highlight of the temple is the top floor: Buddha’s penthouse, so to say. There are 72 look through bell-like structures which are called stupas. Within these stupas are statues of Siddharta, the adolescent Buddha, looking over the impressive mountains of the region. There are two free-standing Siddhartas that got my full attention. Their glance into the world is powerful, especially with the ever-changing clouds above their heads.

Credits: wil6ka

Borobudur is the prime example of Mahayana Buddhism and was erected in 800 A.D. After a volcanic eruption in 930, people from the region fled. It took them 1,000 years before they remembered the temple, which was already overgrown by a tropical jungle by then. English archaeologists rediscovered Borobudur in the 19th century. In 1991, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, it is one of the most magnetic pilgrimage sites for all Buddhists.

Credits: wil6ka

Taman Sari (Islam) – The Underground Mosque

Credits: wil6ka

This underground mosque lies at the very heart of Yogyakarta, and is one of my favorite places ever. Seldom, you feel an odd sensation where you feel puzzled by the architecture, by the light and shade delivered by the walls. The mosque in Taman Sari is such a place. Like how you would probably be in a work by Escher: what is up and what is down, what is in and what is out? It doesn’t matter, but the feeling goes deep.

Credits: wil6ka

I find that mosques are often fantastic locations for contemplation and rest. Believers take naps there during their lunch breaks. They are often an oasis of calm in bustling cities, and this description has never fitted better than in the case of Taman Sari.

Taman Sari is also the name of the entire complex it is in, a water castle. The adjacent mosque was built underground, a cool place amidst the heat of Jogja. There is also a very cunning pipe system that delivers water from the palace pools to cool the mosque even more. Taman Sari was developed by the sultan of Yogyakarta in the 18th century and surely brought some magic to this place.

Credits: wil6ka

There are no more religious services in Taman Sari, as far as I understood. I also saw young lovers who spent some minutes together there, so it’s definitely a place of love. It has my affection and I think it’s still a secret spot. It is not overrun by tourists and is sometimes unheard of by the foreign visitor. So, hush, don’t tell anyone but please come visit. And the best thing is that there is no entrance fee.

Prambanan (Hindu) – Mysterious Darkness

For me, Prambanan was a place of darkness, of mystique. That actually has to do with the fact that I arrived pretty late in the evening at the biggest Hindu temple in Indonesia. But it’s also just a shade darker. The sandstone material of the giant structure is rather dark. But it’s a good kind of dark, one that makes you ponder about things.

Prambanan was built in 850, at a time when Hinduism and Buddhism fought for superiority in the region. It was a valiant attempt, but the timing wasn’t quite right so most of the temple’s existence was forgotten. It was only rediscovered in 1918. Shortly after, it was reconstructed. It’s kind of a work in progress as Prambanan undergoes constant renovation.

Credits: wil6ka

On the site are several temples with huge stairways and a chamber each. Every chamber is home to a Hindu god. But, again, these gods live in darkness. There is no light within these holy vessels. So it is a sensual experience, one that cannot be represented in pictures. Because where there is no light, there shall be no mirrored image.

Prambanan is pretty fantastic for lovers of architecture, but it’s quite tough to photograph because the temples are placed rather far from one another and, again, there is the darkness. But it is truly impressive.

At one point you just have to start with your own pilgrimage, right?

Credits: wil6ka

See more of Willie Schumann’s (@wil6ka) travel stories on The World According to Herr Willie.

written by wil6ka on 2015-11-03 #places #history #religion #temple #outdoor #mosque #indonesia #location #buddhism #asia #borobudur #jogja #prayer #yogyakarta #hinduism #prambanan #the-world-according-to-herr-willie


  1. hervinsyah
    hervinsyah ·

    Lil bit correction, Borobudur is in Magelang

  2. wil6ka
    wil6ka ·

    @hervinsyah ^_^ but you most likely would take the bus from jogja to get to borobudur - so I kind of put it in that hemisphere to create that world and story...

  3. hervinsyah
    hervinsyah ·

    Oh, I see =)

  4. stouf
    stouf ·

    Stunning, once again!

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