BY JULIE SEYLER
One thing you can count on when you travel are the touts that mass you as you emerge from the tourist sight-du-jour. Be it the Colosseum in Rome, the Pyramids in Egypt, or, as had recently happened to me, the temples in Central Java – the pitch and plea is identical. With near-perfect English, you are beseeched with, “How much you want to pay for that?” and “Here this is for you!” as something is shoved in your face.
I love the whole process! I am just the person these marketers of local wares are looking for, because I am a tchotchke collector. I can’t get enough of the wooden masks, puppets and other paraphanelia that are stockpiled in the outdoor stalls. I was thrilled when we made our way out of Candi, Mendut where Buddha sits with such serene majesty,
and were bombarded with offers to buy “stuff.” There was an explosion of possibilities: the wooden shadow puppets known as wayang klitik used in shadow puppet shows, the topeng masks, miniature bronze Buddhas and countless Batik sarongs. Had I not been with Lingga, our wonderful tour guide, and Steve, I could have spent hours going up and down the stalls looking at the minor variations of the exact same things, and never getting exasperated. But I was not alone. I had two pairs of eyes trained on me in utter disbelief that I could possibly derive such pleasure from paying too much for the Indonesian equivalent of a souvenir of the Statue of Liberty. In any case, “window” shopping was not an option. Prambanan, a whole other temple complex, beckoned:
Prambanan was built around the same time as Borobudur, but its structure is completely different. Instead of one large temple designed as a mandalic maze, there are separate temples, ranging as high as 157 feet, with interior chambers designed to house a statue of a Hindu god:
The three largest temples are dedicated to the gods Shiva (“The Destroyer”), Vishnu (“The Preserver”), and Brahma (“The Creator”); the smaller temples to other deities. As in Borobudur, the stone blocks that comprise the temple are masterfully chiseled to tell a story, this time of Lord Rama, the hero of the great Indian epic The Ramayana and the natural world around him where monkeys may sit contemplatively under a tree:
We scaled and circumnavigated the six temples in Prambanan, following the protocol of walking from east to west, and even though we had begun the day at 4:30 a.m. with Borobudur, and had seen three other temples before even arriving at Prambanan, there were more to visit. I could see that Steve, who for some crazy reason does not share my passion for shopping and temples, was becoming glassy-eyed. Visions of the hotel pool and a cold beer danced in his head:
I could not be that easily dissuaded. I mean, here we were in Indonesia. When was the next time we would get to see the ruins of Sewu and Candi Kalasan? We reached a compromise and chose one: Kalasan, the oldest on the Prambanan plain:It cannot be entered, but the facade is peopled with what seemed like dozens of ornately carved Kala heads. These bug-eyed creatures are found on all of the temples, but the ones gracing the porticos here were especially exquisite: Then it really was time to end temple viewing.
The next day started with the hotel staff in Yogyakarta singing Happy Birthday because I was now 58. It ended with Beef Rendang and a Bintang beer in Denpasar, Bali:
In between there was a rickshaw ride to visit the Sultan’s Palace,
a live musical performance of the traditional Indonsian orchestra known as the gamelan, where the instruments may look familiar like xylophones, or unfamiliar, like hanging frying pans and covered cooking pots:
And an excursion to the market with a final stop at a shop that makes gamelan instruments by hand:
The next day we took off for Flores Island. It was time to begin the journey to see the Komodo dragons.