After we spent a couple days in the sun with the biggest Buddhist structure in the world, we moved across town to see what Hinduism had in store.
Missing Borobudur’s mighty claim to world domination, Prambanan is given the lesser, but still impressive title of the biggest Hindu structure in Southeast Asia (India is home to the biggest). Regardless that it’s considered Hindu Jr, its temples still appear pretty grown up:
Interestingly, like Borobudur these structures were also built in the 9th Century. Some historians say they came to be because Java’s Hindu dynasty at the time, after seeing Borobudur said: “Anything you can do, I can do better”.
In other words, it was their entry in a cross-town religious build-off. This may be the case. However, there’s also evidence that in the 9th Century, Indonesian religious groups weren’t necessarily rivals. Apparently Hindus and Buddhists socialized with each other, often mixing ideas, and showed tolerance for the other. This may explain why Bali’s version of Hinduism is unique, incorporating Buddhist elements, and other native Indonesian ideas.
Plus, on a larger scale, religious tolerance in Indonesia can also explain why both Borobudur and Prambanan weren’t torn down after Islam became the dominant religion starting in the 16th century. I was curious about this, knowing structures in other countries had been stripped down, as an attempt to make a country’s dominant religion shine brightest.
I learned in Indonesia, however, there’s an element in the culture that values its heritage, accepting it as being part of the story of the country. Of course, there are exceptions – a fundamentalist Islamist took it upon himself to try to rewrite history by bombing parts of Borobudur in the 80s.
Nevertheless, the majority of the population, as I understood it from speaking to locals and reading up on it, value these sites as part of their cultural history and so are beacons for domestic travel. And yes, as I’m sure you’ve wondered – Prambanan too is under UNESCO’s protective umbrella, giving it more cover from deterioration.
We strolled around here for a day, melting once again in the heat. It wasn’t enough to deter Rose, however, who after seeing a brightly coloured, fashionably dressed family, tried to pose with them by running up to their heels:
Thankfully they didn’t turn around mid-camera click.
After we got back to Yogyakarta, the city where we were staying, we hailed one of these things:
then hopped off to tour a huge outdoor/indoor market. We arrived to a mass of people, who were busy shopping for food as it was nearing the final day of Ramadan – Eid-al Fitr – on which there would be a huge celebration. In search of spices, we walked into a maze of market tunnels and soon got lost. A merchant, undoubtedly seeing the creases of concern on our foreheads, approached us speaking English and asked us if he could help.
Immediately our defences went up, convinced he had a scam in the air, otherwise why would someone actually be nice to us? (We, the cynics!) After he agreed to show us where the spice market was, we carried our cynicism the entire way, waiting for him to share his punchline: “Okay. That’s $15 please” or “Now you buy something from me”.
While bracing for it, we did find the spices:
A lot of them, in these huge covered market stalls, that looked like the top of a parking structure that went on and on and on. The spices had names we’d never heard of which our tour guide had now taken upon himself to give us samples to taste:
The shoe eventually dropped. After tasting a unique pepper-like spice, we decided to buy 100grams. He quoted the price back to us, and we both thought it was a bit high, though not obnoxious, so wrote it off as the cost of his tour and bought a share to bring with us.
As far as shakedowns go, I thought it was a light fleece.
On the way home, there were a series of surprises. First, we saw this couple who looked surprised:
Met another lady, who seemed surprised to have her picture taken with Rose:
And later that night, learned that the underdog candidate surprised the Indonesian establishment by winning the Presidency:
That brought an end to our two-month Indonesian odyssey: from Bali to dragons to Buddha to beaches. Now we were looking ahead to our next stop where we’d be living with a bear-sized German shepherd, two horses, two peacocks, 12 chickens and 1 rooster all together on a small 8-kilometer long island off a not so little continent called Australia.