Monday, August 3, 2015

Of hidden history and black sand beaches - Java & Bali

Prambanan, Java
It was hot that day, and we had nowhere to lie away from the heat of the sun. We watched as happy tourists chowed their way through overpriced Continental comfort food. But it wasn’t hunger killing us. It was having so much to do, so little time and no money at all.
Borobudur, Java
Five days before this, we had landed in Yogyakarta in Java, Indonesia, excitement barely contained and pockets slowly emptying. We found our way to the Kampoeng Djawa hostel, doorposts struggling to find air through a thick foliage of creepers and trees of an Amazon-like garden.
The nearby Jalan Malioboro is a major tourist attraction with shops lining the streets selling quirky wares, delicious local fare and buskers singing for their supper. The next morning, after an early start to a vantage point to see the Merapi volcano hissing steam in the distance, we set off to discover two ninth century mega marvels that marked the patronage of Buddhism and Hinduism in the now Muslim-dominated Indonesia.
For centuries, the black stone stupas of the Mahayana Buddhist Temple of Borobudur lay ensconced in dense vegetation and volcanic ash, cut off by superstition and tales of bad luck. Following its rediscovery through the 1800s, the UNESCO Heritage Site has now become the single most visited tourist attraction in the country.
Nasi campur at a local warung
On the other side of Yogyakarta, Prambanan rises through the mist like a series of intricately carved monoliths. Like Borobudur, this too fell to ruin, collapsing after a major earthquake and then being rediscovered and restored in the 1900s. Originally, 240 smaller temples stood in the complex. Today, only two are renovated, with eight of the main temples reconstructed.
Both Borobudur and Prambanan are rich in sculpture and steeped in mysticism. They present mysterious windows into the past, with tales and culture so rich it could give any ardent history lover a case of goose bumps.
After two days of soaking in history, it was time to head to Bali, the country’s most famous island. And not without reason. It’s a heady mix of partying and rambunctious nightlife, coupled with thrilling adventure sports and relaxing days overlooking terraced rice fields or turquoise blue water.
We made our base in Ubud, Bali’s cultural centre, where a great many decorative wares can be found. The markets permeate a more global air compared to Yogyakarta’s Jalan Malioboro, with curios and knick knacks made and sold with the tourist in mind.
In Ubud, we met Nyoman Ardika, a friend, impromptu tour guide and driver. The young Indonesian lad was proud to show off his country, taking us through gorgeous green countryside to black sand beaches that marked a stark contrast to the sky blue sea.
It was here that we discovered a love for nasi campur – the delicious spread of rice, meat, vegetables and peanuts – and bakso, or meat balls in a hot soupy broth, and bumbu Bali, a delicious spiced fish recipe. We also chanced upon the Green School along the Ayung River, made of eco-friendly bamboo structures and other renewable materials.
Bali is a paradise for adventure seekers too, with pristine snorkelling and scuba diving sites, and great surfing. South west is where the non-stop party is, with Kuta reminiscent of our very own Calangute area – you either love it or hate it.

As time wound down, our pockets emptied at the scuba diving site in the north east of the island, we held on to the last of our chocolate stuffed Hong Kong pai baos and swore to each other to return once more.

Underwater paradise

 First published in the Navhind Times

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