The Mystical and Historic East Java

(Touring the Motherland Series)

As part of the Majapahit Empire in the 13th – 16th century, Surabaya and its surrounding area in East Java province has much history to tell. About 35 miles south of Surabaya, nearby Trawas, Mount Penanggungan stands keeping hundreds of historical monuments left by the kingdom. East Javanese in Majapahit era embraced both Hindu-Buddha spirituality and considered the mountain to be sacred. Hence the places of worship built all over Penanggungan. So when my guy and I heard about an archaeological trail being developed on the mountain by University of Surabaya, we immediately signed up for a short day-hike.

The distinct profile of Penanggungan, with its cone shape, rounded summit as the center, and the small hills that looked like they sat symmetrically circling the mountain’s shoulders, made a majestic backdrop. By mid morning, we joined a small group to hike through the woods up to the mountain. The rocky and grassy trail turned muddy and slippery after the rain. It made ascending and descending on the short distance route we chose to be quite challenging. I think all five of us must have slipped at least once (and many times for me!). 

Mount Penanggungan's summit

Mount Penanggungan’s summit

Mount Penanggungan

Going up the mountain

The two ancient ruins we saw, Selo Kelir and Telong Blandong, looked like gigantic terraces that made up one big temple for spiritual ceremonies. The consultant explained that most artifacts at the ancient sites all over the mountain have been stolen. Archaeological theft is such an unfortunate reality and a real challenge in history preservation effort.

Overlooking a stretch of lush green valley, the view from the top of Telong Blandong was nothing short of spectacular. The fog set in as we started to descend slowly. We passed a spring on the way back. The smell of incense burning along the weir added a mystical feel to the experience.

I’ve always been fascinated by Penanggungan ever since I was little. Little did I know that behind its beauty lies mystical and rich cultural history of East Java. Penanggungan’s charm didn’t disappear with the fall of the Majapahit empire. It continues to allure people to admire its magnificence closely on its wild slopes or from afar. Either way is a treat for the soul.

Carved stones that probably used to make up part of the temple.

Carved stones that probably used to make up part of the temple.

Carved stonesPart of the monument Selo Kelir

Some part of the trail has been developed

Some part of the trail has been developed

Locals look for grass in the mountain to sell to cattle owners.

Locals look for grass in the mountain to sell to cattle owners.

A spring

A spring

Water from the spring passing through a weir

Water from the spring passing through a weir

Offerings and incense burning along the weir

Offerings and incense burning along the weir

Other historic places we visited while in Trawas:

Jolotundo Temple: a water spring reservoir dated back to 977 CE. It was said to be King Airlangga's place to meditate. It is also said  that the water from the spring behind the temple to be very clean and has high minerals. Bathing pools are available on the two sides. One side for women and another side for men.

Jolotundo Temple: a water spring reservoir dated back to 977 CE. It was said to be King Airlangga’s place to meditate. It is also said that the water from the spring behind the temple to be very clean and has high minerals. Bathing pools are available on the two sides. One side for women and another side for men.

A giant Buddha statue carved in one stone. Dated back to the Majapahit era (13th-16th century).

Reco Lanang: A giant Buddha statue carved in one stone. Dated back to the Majapahit era (13th-16th century).

From the side

Thanks for reading! Hoped you enjoyed it.

More articles on the archeological trail and East Java’s history from various sources:

Exploring the Ancestor Site (Part 1)

Exploring the Ancestor Site (Part 2)

Memory of Majapahit Kingdom 

A special thanks to Pak Kus and Mas Ronald at UTC

Photos by The Traveling Chili Pepper and friends

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Categories: Indonesia Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “The Mystical and Historic East Java

  1. Pingback: Touring the Motherland Series: Surabaya « I Roam

  2. very much information. thanks for sharing. I will be there in May. Can’t wait

  3. Remarkable, Ria!
    I’d like to send this article to pak Joniarto Parung, Ph.D (Rector of Ubaya)
    Go ahead, nak!

  4. I’ve got informed about this mount’s mystical legend from a book. it is said that this mount is actually the peak of Meru mount in India. the top of the mountain was dropped accidentally when Gods are removing it from its origin to Java island, thus, making those symmetrically-scattered hills around this new mountain. it is also said that being seen from above, this mountain and those hills are placed to match the eight directions of compass. I thought it’s sorta interesting, though I havent really proved it. I was once taking a hike to its summit yet unable to take a look around because of the heavy fog.

    I’m still curious to explore this mountain more, especially those ancient ruins you posted here. I just didnt get the chance to do so cause I just hiked straight to the peak. it was a short trip anyway. it took me and my mates approximately 3 hours walking from Ubaya Training Center to the top.

    • Hi Ronny, I read the same legend about Mount Penanggungan being the peak of Mount Mahameru in Hindu mythology from various sources. One of those was: http://www.eastjava.com/books/majapahit/html/penanggungan.html that I linked to the article.

      It was also foggy when we went. Maybe it would be better to go during the off-rainy season. We didn’t go all the way to the top since we were pressed for time that day. Next time hopefully 😀 Those ancient ruins are pretty amazing to see. Hope you get to go and explore again soon. Thanks for stopping by!

      Best,
      Harini

  5. Never ending exploration of Penanggungan. The secret Mountain..!

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