Indonesia Travel

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

Touring the Motherland Series: Surabaya

Like most big cities, Surabaya feels packed, busy, and sounds a bit loud. My visit last December changed my point of view about my hometown though. After experiencing the congested Jogjakarta on one of the busiest national holiday weekends—chock full of tourists, jam-packed, and overcrowded… you get the idea—my guy and I were incredibly thankful for and to be back in Surabaya. We let go a sigh of relief when the plane landed at Juanda. Surabaya had never felt so much bigger, roomier, better organized, cleaner, and greener. Isn’t travelling great? I gain a lot from it, including: perspective.

What else can I tell you about my hometown? Ah, yes, Surabaya is a city with good eats. This is the place to be for delicious East Javanese cuisine like sate klopo, sate Madura, soto ayam, and soto Madura. And of course, my must-haves: the thick, spicy, and fragrant petis-based (shrimp paste) dishes: rujak, lontong balap, tahu campur, kupang lontong, sate kerang, and oh so many other. Adjectives I’d use to describe East Javanese cuisine would be the same words I’d use to depict its people: bold and gutsy! The flavors “kick” the taste bud, as a friend puts it.

Founded in 1293, Surabaya, is an old and historic city with a youthful look and modern feel. In a certain section, the city displays its colonial-style houses left by the Dutch. The Arab quarter and Chinatown remain vibrant, reminding everyone of the attractive qualities of this port and trade city to foreign traders since way back when. Other parts of Surabaya are decorated with luxurious shopping malls with brands such as Jimmy Choo as one of its tenants. Competing shopping malls attract Surabayans the same way Chicago’s Lakefront Trail/park draws enthusiastic joggers, bicyclists, and sunbathers in summer months. Local coffee shops multiply rapidly all over you’d think that the whole city must be highly addicted to coffee. City pulse is strong and growth is apparent. Surabaya might be 720 years old but it looks like she’s far from slowing down. 

 

Next blog entry: the mystical and cultural charm of East Java

Bambu Runcing

Bambu Runcing Monument: was built in memory of the people of Surabaya who fought against the Dutch and British imperialism.

Always crowded

The consistent traffic jam

Hotel Majapahit

Hotel Majapahit (since 1911)

Related readings from various sources: 

Eating Out in Indonesia

Travel to Surabaya

Official Site of the City Government

Sparkling Surabaya

Memory of Majapahit

Surabaya’s Chinatown

Ampel: The Holy Heart of Surabaya

Photos properties of The Traveling Chili Pepper

Categories: Indonesia Travel | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments

Touring the Motherland Series: Yogyakarta, Central Java

Last Post: Bali Island

Almost every Indonesian I know loves visiting Jogja (short for Jogjakarta. Also known as Yogyakarta or Yogya.) There’s something romantic about this folksy, laid back town that holds such rich history of Java. As a cultural center of Indonesia’s most populated island, Jogja continues to preserve its tradition and uphold its cultural heritage. Tranquility and hospitality, some characteristics identical to the delightful Javanese way of life demonstrate themselves clearly in this town. They seem to send calm vibration to the town’s active streets and people. The people of Jogja are known for being patient and pleasant—traits that might easily separate them from local tourists or newcomers. A fascinating juxtaposition to observe. It’s comforting to feel the strong pulse of Javanese cultural identity in the midst of Indonesia’s growth and changes.

I remembered coming to Jogja with my family a few times when I was little and then in another occasion with my junior high classmates on a school field trip. The last time I visited Jogja was 14 years ago. I came with my childhood best friend in Surabaya. Along with her family, we helped her move to attend college in Jogja. So I wasn’t sure what the town would look like when Jeff and I planned to stop by for a weekend in December. What a relief it was to see the town’s familiar scenes. Other than the traffic jam, not much has changed. It still felt like that old romantic Jogja I had remembered from a long time ago.

One thing to note: It might be more enjoyable to visit Jogja during the off-season when it is less crowded. I was told by family and friends that tourists fill up the town during big national holidays like Christmas/New Year and Eid. We were included in that group of people who overcrowded Jogja during the New Year’s Eve long weekend! 🙂

Andong, a traditional form of transportation

Andong or horse carriage, a traditional form of transportation

Malioboro Street

Performing on the always-crowded Malioboro Street

The crowded sidewalks of Malioboro where I managed to shop tons of batik handicrafts.

The crowded sidewalks of Malioboro where I bought lots of batik handicrafts.

Borobudur Temple

Borobudur Temple, a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist Temple in Magelang, a little bit outside of Jogja.

Borobudur Temple, a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist Temple in Magelang, a short distance driving from Jogja.

Inside the stupa

Inside the stupa

A Buddha statue inside of the stupa

A Buddha statue inside of the stupa

The Buddha's teaching carved in stone.

The Buddha’s teaching carved in stone.

More BuddhaBuddha1

StupaThe Buddha

Selling salak fruit

Selling salak fruit

Traditional ceremony celebrating harvest time

Traditional ceremony celebrating harvest time, Kaliurang, outside of Jogja

The volcanic Mount Merapi covered by clouds. Jogja is located close to the volcanic Mount Merapi.

The volcanic Mount Merapi covered by clouds. Jogja is located close to the volcanic Mount Merapi.

The Sultan's Palace of Jogjakarta

At the entrance of the Sultanate Palace of Yogyakarta

Ancient ruins of Tamansari, a bathing complex and water castle of the Sultanate of Jogjakarta

Searching for the ancient ruins of Tamansari, a bathing complex and water castle of the Sultanate of Yogyakarta

Rice field in the rain

Rice field in the rain

Mendut Temple

Mendut Temple, another 9th century Buddhist temple close to Borobudur

Mendut Temple, another 9th century Buddhist temple close to Borobudur

Hoped you enjoyed the read!

Next post: Surabaya and East Java

Photos property of The Traveling Chili Pepper

Categories: Indonesia Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Touring the Motherland Series: Bali Island

It had been too long since my last visit to Bali, or Jogja in Central Java, or to Batu, Malang, or Trawas in East Java. Living 9800 miles away from home certainly has made it harder to visit Indonesia’s cultural gems. With my guy, who is also my best travel partner, we flew back to the motherland this past December. We regrouped with the families and reconnected with our native land. With unwavering travel ambition, we toured Java and Bali and re-immersed ourselves back in the culture. In a little bit over two weeks, we were reminded of the beauty, the comfort, the different faces, realities, and challenges of Indonesia. 

Here’s a glance at a country loaded with cultural diversity and natural beauty. We took pictures of parts of Java and Bali—two islands among thousands in Indonesia’s archipelago. The dissimilarity of ethnic group, language, culture, and cuisine within the nation would easily fascinate anyone. Indonesia’s islands, parts of islands, urban cities, smaller towns, and villages offer different feels and views, you’d be surprised you’re still in the same country. Rich. Rich, I tell you.

I’ll do Java on the next posts. For now, let’s check out:

Bali Island

 

Thanks for reading!  

Next posts: Central and East Java 

Photos property of The Traveling Chili Pepper

 

 

Categories: Indonesia Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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