This will be a short text about the vivid, students-filled city of Yogyakarta. A short tale about waving to Australia over the ocean. And getting close to original story of Ramayana told with shadow puppets.
We came to Yogyakarta with an overnight train from Jakarta. Freezing in tropical climate – this is what you get with full-on air conditioning, should have taken more sweater with me, but I tried to sleep as much as possible covered with a fleece jacket and raincoat. Woken up from time to time by well organized sellers, distributing all kinds of food, including Pop Me – instant noodles surely worth taking a bite. Or a sip, your call.
For a second most popular destination in Indonesia (after Bali) the tourist office is well hidden on web, but I finally managed to find an address of it… on Foursquare. Yey for investigation methods. We took a taxi from there to reach Dodi’s house, our Yogyakarta host and incredibly hospitable and friendly person. As he was working independently with marching bands, he was able to guide us and spend whole days with us, and thanks to him we got to know Yogyakarta so well, and finally this is why I am able to tell this story now.
Cutting to the chase, so first attraction, main street – Marlioboro. No, this is not where the cigarettes come from. But I guess also, and everything else imaginable, as it is the main shopping street, an open- and closed-air market with everything. Literally. Shops and stands with food, t-shirts, wallets, baseball hats, winter hats, batik (traditional Indonesian painted material for clothes), jewelry, up to musical instruments. Just everything, take a look.
The next place Dody takes us is the beach. “Just” around 30 kilometers from city center, which we took with scooters of course. Great ride, even though I hate being a passenger on any kind of motorcycle, ended up on beautiful beach some time before the sunset. Black volcanic sand, horse carriages, surfers, and finally – seeing ocean. Dody spiced up the things by telling, that just across this huge field of water there is Australia. Maybe it is simplistic, but this thought has been very appealing to me. I am not only in Asia, but actually next to Australia! World felt so small at that time…
The next order of business – gamelan. Just before I will get to that I want to say that in the meantime there was a lot of food going on… but I will get to that in the next text, because as I started to write about it it grew into an independent post. Ok, so gamelan. After I heard about it from Putu in Jakarta I was impatient to check out what this whole Indonesian folklore music is about. So one of the nights we came with Dody into a gamelan play. In a place with traditional architecture, we have seen a group of musicians in the middle of the room. With gongs, wooden and metal percussion instruments, all sort of sound-making devices. What drew the main attention was the screen though, and the person sitting just by it. The whole play was a fragment of Ramayana, Sanskrit poem about virtuous prince Rama, who resigned from his rights to the throne and goes into exile, battling whatever obstacle comes his way. And in gamelan play it was portrayed by a single “actor”, operating shadow puppets, moving them, making sounds, and even making the sound effects of their battles with a metal stick held between his toes…
The place had two rows of sits – in front of the screen for seeing the shadows correctly, and in the back, for seeing behind-the-scenes musicians making their art. During the show people move freely between those two, to get full experience. At least I did with the camera.
Unfortunately my video from the show has been lost between the SD cards, but you can see maybe in an even better version on such clips on Youtube. Fascinating, but after couple of minutes without knowing the language you get distracted, no matter what happens on the stage. But after the play I got chance to see the puppets in details and I must admit the work put into them is impressive. All hand-made by connecting pieces of dried skin together, painted and perforated with small holes here and there.
For me, and some locals have confirmed that, Yogyakarta is tha artiscitc center of Java. I suppose every country has one city with kind of vibe, vivid, possitive creative energy hard to describe with objective words. You feel it in Kraków in Poland, you feel it in Plovdiv in Bulgaria. Something’s in the air, I suppose. And no wonder it is the second most popular destination in Indonesia, for sure my favourite place in Indonesia.
Enough for now, but I cannot wait to tell more about amazing food and drinks – and desserts – tasted in Yogya, so I will continue soon. For an appetizer I will just say that the next post will include some coffee made with charcoal, some lizards on the walls, and… original tex-mex.