Indonesia is made up of over 17,000 islands with the five greater Sundan Islands – Borneo, Java, Sumatra, Sulawesi and New Guinea. Indonesia has the fourth largest population on the planet with over 237 million people.
Today they have the 18th largest GDP in the world and they may be able to use their huge amount of natural resources to become a leading exporter in the world. However, outside of a statistical evaluation, Indonesia offers a range of experiences for any traveler.
If you are into lying on the beach and being pampered at a resort then go to Borneo or Bali. If you love hiking or trekking then visit Borobudur, or the myriads of other ancient temples and awesome hikes. If you are into shopping, love to haggle, and get things at a “discount” then try the many markets in Jakarta or Jogjakarta.
Indonesia: People and Culture
There are around 300 distinct native ethnicities in Indonesia, and 742 different languages and dialects. Indonesia over the years has developed with cultural identities developed over centuries, and influenced by Indian, Arabic, Chinese, and European sources. Traditional Javanese and Balinese dances contain aspects of Hindu culture and mythology.
The largest ethnic group is the Javanese, who make up 42% of the population, and are politically and culturally dominant. The Sundanese, ethnic Malays, and Madurese are the largest non-Javanese groups. A sense of Indonesian nationhood still exists even along strong regional identities.
Indonesian society is largely harmonious although there has been areas of more extremist activities which has kept Indonesia on many countries terrorist watch lists. Even though Indonesia has the largest population identifying with the Islamic faith, I have found Indonesia to be a very tolerant society and have found the Indonesians to be a pleasant and happy people.
Indonesia: Climate and Natural Resources
Indonesia’s size, tropical climate, and archipelagic geography, support the world’s second highest level of biodiversity (after Brazil), and is second only to Australia in terms of total endemic species. This includes 36% of its 1,531 species of bird, and 39% of its 515 species of mammal being endemic. Indonesia’s 80,000 kilometers (50,000 mi) of coastline are surrounded by tropical seas that provides a high level of biodiversity.
Indonesia has a range of sea and coastal ecosystems, including beaches, sand dunes, estuaries, mangroves, coral reefs, sea grass beds, coastal mudflats, tidal flats, algal beds, and small island ecosystems. Due to the size, diversity and uniqueness of the each island, one could spend years exploring Indonesia. I believe that a great place to start is in central Java.
Yogyakarta is often called the main gateway to the Central Java. It stretches from Mount Merapi to the Indian Ocean. There is daily air service to Yogya from Jakarta and Bali as well as regular train service. If you are brave you can drive or hire a driver – last time it cost me about 35 USD a day.
One of my favorite tours is to fly into Jogja and spend a few days on the beach and exploring the various cultural centers of Central Java. This region is located at the foot of the active Merapi volcano, and in the 16th and 17th centuries was the seat of the mighty Javanese empire of Mataram from which present day Yogyakarta has the best inherited of traditions.
Yogyakarta is commonly considered the cultural center of Central Java where one could experience traditional dance, Wayang (traditional puppetry), music and various forms of art work. The main attraction of Yogyakarta is ‘Kraton’ (the Sultan’s Palace). The Sultan’s palace is the centre of Yogya’s traditional life and includes a vast complex of decaying buildings which were built-in the 18th century.
It is actually a walled city within the city, and includes luxurious pavilions and still provides residence for the current Sultan. The main road, Malioboro Street, is very crowded and famous for its night street food-culture, tourist shops, inexpensive hotels and street vendors. One of the great things about the city it is the only major city that still uses the traditional ‘Becak’ (rickshaw-style) means of transport. You can also rent a room for about 20 USD a night.
An hours drive from Jogya will bring you to one of the most best preserved and restored works of antiquity available for both viewing and exploring. Borobudur, or Barabudur, is a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist monument near Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia.
During the restoration in the early 1900s, it was discovered that three Buddhist temples in the region, Borobudur, Pawon and Mendut, are lined in one straight line. It might be accidental, but the temples’ alignment is in conjunction with a native folk tale that a long time ago, there was a brick-paved road from Borobudur to Mendut with walls on both sides.
The three temples (Borobudur–Pawon–Mendut) have similar architecture and ornamentation derived from the same time period, which suggests that ritual relationship between the three temples, to have formed a sacred unity, must have existed, although exact ritual process is yet unknown. The construction time has been estimated by comparison between carved reliefs on the temple’s hidden foot and the inscriptions commonly used in royal charters during the 8th and 9th centuries.
Borobudur was likely founded around 800 AD. The monument comprises six square platforms topped by three circular platforms, and is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. A main dome, at the center of the top platform, is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues seated inside perforated stupa.
The narrative panels, which tell the story of Sudhana and Manohara, are grouped into 11 series encircled the monument with the total length of 3,000 meters (9,843 ft). There is approximately 160 narrative panels around the walls and balustrades in four galleries starting from the eastern entrance stairway. The story panels read from right to left, while on the balustrade read from left to right. This conforms with pradaksina, the ritual performed by pilgrims who move in a clockwise direction while keeping the sanctuary to their right.
Today one can freely move about and explore the reliefs as you walk around the temple. I found the stairs were very narrow and steep, but the handrails really help. The view at the top is quite spectacular and the trip is well worth the few dollars it costs to get in. Besides Borobudur, there are other Buddhist and Hindu temples in the area, including the Prambanan temples compound.
The Prambanan compound is made up of 237 temples in this Shivaite temple complex of various sized temples. This attraction is also a must see since it is one of the largest Hindu temples in Asia. Although many of the temples have been destroyed, the complex is in good shape considering the hundreds of years it laid buried in the jungle.
The Prambanan temple complex consists of three zones; the outer zone, the middle zone that has hundreds of small temples, and third or holiest inner zone that has eight main temples and eight small shrines.
The outer zone is a large space marked by a rectangular wall (destroyed). The original function is unknown; possibilities are that it was a sacred park, or priests’ boarding school (ashram).
The middle zone consists of four rows of 224 individual small shrines and temples but most of them are still in ruins and only some have been reconstructed.
The inner zone or central compound is a square raised platform surrounded by square stone walls with stone gates on each four cardinal points. The three main shrines, called Trimurti (“three forms”), are dedicated to the three gods: Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Keeper, and Shiva the Destroyer.
The Shiva temple is the tallest and largest structure in Prambanan Loro Jonggrang complex, it measures 47 metres tall and 34 metres wide. The Shiva temple encircled with galleries adorned with bas-reliefs telling the story of Ramayana carved on the inner walls of the balustrades. It has five chambers, four small chambers in every cardinal direction and one bigger main chamber in central part of the temple.
The two other main shrines are that of Vishnu on the north side of Shiva shrine, and the one of Brahma on the south. Both temple facing east and each contain only one large chamber, each dedicated to respected gods; Brahma temple has the statue of Brahma and Vishnu temple houses the statue of Vishnu. Brahma and Vishnu temple measures 60 feet wide and 99 feet tall.
There are many other exciting and fascinating things to see and do in Indonesia, and I will update this after my next visit, but till than, enjoy life where ever you are and if you want experience something new and different then Indonesia is the place for you.