Jakarta & Yogyakarta

Jakarta was polluted and congested. We spent the majority of our time bussing to and from bus stations trying to arrange our transport for the next day to Yogyakarta. We were traveling during the busiest time of year, Eid Al Fitr. Everyone was leaving the city to spend time with their family and a news crew was covering the mayhem at the station. The next day we spent 19 hours on the road, only to travel 550 km (340 miles).

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Jakarta Cathedral

We arrived to Yogyakarta (Jogja) just in time to meet up with our CouchSurfering friend, Isa, and celebrate the end of Ramadan. We went to a local parade in Yogyakarta with lots of kids, costumes and floats. Of the 30 mosques that performed in front of judges, a story that stood out to me most was about terrorism. It started with kids being beaten and killed with cardboard guns and swords by teenage terrorists. Their tank float followed with fireworks. The message was simple, people associate Islam with terrorism, but 95% of people killed by terrorists are Muslim.

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The next morning was Ek and Nick, Larry, Kaitlin and I went to the local square to watch early morning prayer. 5,000 individuals filled the green. It reminded me of Easter in the US in that families were dressed to the T in matching custom fabrics. The genders separated, men to the front and women to the back. Everyone laid out a piece of newspaper and proceeded to place their personal carpet on top. Women put on loose fitting coveralls, which hid their colorful new outfits. After a few minutes prayer was over and all that was left was a field full of crumpled newspapers and street food vendors.

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Morning Payer

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We enjoyed some amazing meals and different variations of local coffee. Whether we bought juicy sweet tofu off of a women selling fried goods from a basket on the street or were sitting on mats on the sidewalk we had a blast. Young musicians played guitar and violin and we enjoyed walking around the old dutch quarter. Below is a list of local foods and drinks.

  • Local coffee (kopi):
    • kopi luwak (civet coffee) – expensive, full bodied, cat poop coffee. The local palm civet, catlike animal, eats coffee berries, and passes the inner pit through its digestive system intact. The stomach enzymes are believed to add value to the flavor of the coffee.
    • Java coffee (named after the island of Java)- ground into powder and drank as the grounds settle
    • kopi joss (charcoal coffee) – My absolute favorite. Powdered local grounds were spooned into a glass cup and mixed with water. Then a red hot charcoal was placed right in the coffee. It has a perfect roasted flavor.
      Spiced coffee
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Bottom Right to Left- Poop, Cleaned Poop with Rice, Washed Poop      Top Left to Right- Baked Beans, Roasted Beans, Ground Beans
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Pet Civet
  • Local dishes:
    • gudeg – young jackfruit, coconut milk curry, fried tempe, peanuts, chicken, water spinach and rice
    • nasi langgi – coconut sticky rice with with fried tempe wrapped in a banana leaf
    • sweet fried tofu/ tempe – perfectly juicy soy made with palm cigar, tamarind, cloves and shallot
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Gudeg

After the morning prayers Larry and Kaitlin went to the beaches south of Yogyakarta which they reported were very nice despite it being low tide with a lot of rocks.

Nick, Larry and Kaitlin visited both Prambanan and Borobudur temples. Prambanan is a 9th century Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva the god of destruction. The temple was comprised of one main temple for Shiva and his reincarnates. The outer temples were dedicated to children and wives. The panels around the sides of the temple told the stories of the Hindu epics and were in remarkable shape being 1200 years old. The temples were abandoned in the 10th century and collapsed in an earthquake in the 16th century. They were only refurbished in the last 60 years and later dedicated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After the Prambanan they went to Plaosan a temple dedicated to the Buddhist queen of one of the Hindu kings. This marriage is what reconciled the conflict between the Hindu and Buddhist cultures 1200 years ago.

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Shiva
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Story Panel
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Temple

The following day Nick, Larry and Kaitlin went to a Borobudur the main Buddhist site for the Empire that fought against the Hindus at Prambanan. Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world. With over 500 meditating buddha statues and 2,600 relief panels telling Buddhist stories, it was a very impressive site. Pilgrims come from all Buddhist countries to pay homage to one of the greatest Buddhist empires of history. The introduction of Islam and the collapse of the Buddhist and Hindu empires led to the abandonment of both these sites less than 150 years after being built.

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Sunrise Above Temples
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Sunrise Buddha
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Volcanoes of Java

Unfortunately, I stayed back to work on my summer assignments for my MBA. Nick has done an impeccable job planning and I like to believe I’ve done a great job documenting the trip. However, to give me time to focus on my schoolwork, Nick has agreed to write the remaining blog posts for NZ and Australia, whoop whoop! Stay tuned.

Restaurant Recommendations:
Via Via – impeccable western and Indonesian food, amazing atmosphere and even better wifi
Gudeg Tugu – chicken or tofu gudeg, our favorite meal in Indonesia
The House of Raminten – we didn’t make it here as it was closed for Ramadan, but it came highly recommended by our Couchsurfer

Varanasi

Varanasi is 1 of the world’s oldest continuously inhibited cities and 1 of Hinduisms 7 holy cities. Pilgrims come to wash away a lifetime of sins in the Ganges River and families come to cremate their deceased, liberating them from the cycle of birth and death.

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Sleeping Sadhu

Varanasi was intense and like most of India was aggressive, polluted and dirty. Military presence was high and angry bulls filled the tiny alleyways. I was pleased that it took almost 2 months before a bull rammed me, as a fear of cows would have been inconvenient. However, the culture and tradition that filled the city was unique and spiritual.

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Sari

Nick and I spent the majority of our time along the river observing the 80 plus ghats. During the day the weather was hot and there were only a handful of locals on the banks. We hung out with wandering cows and fed some paper from our guidebook to hungry goats. We watched men paint tar on boats with their bare hands as we had previously seen locals painting fences in Kolkata without brushes. We people watched then continued to the burning ghats.

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Ghat

We approached a burning ghat where we saw 20 bodies burning and 10 soaking in the river before being cremated. We could walk within 10 feet of the fires. We observed and were curious. We had many questions that were later answered by some generous locals.

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Burn mark
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Burn table
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Platform

Bodies come to Varanasi within 1-2 days of dying. They are wrapped in cloth, white for men, orange for women and red for young women. Children, pregnant women, lepers and Brahmin (priests) are not cremated as children are innocent, leopards will transfer their disease and priests are pure. Instead, a large rock is attached to their bodies and they are sunk in the river.

Untouchables, individuals in the lowest caste, wrap their bodies and carry them on decorated bamboo stretchers down busy alleyways to the ghats. The most popular ghat is Manikarnika Ghat where 200-300 people are burned per day and they work 24 hours. The deceased families, identifiable as they have shaved heads, splash water from the Ganges River on their deceased and let their body soak.

The body is placed on a prepared pile of wood and a calculated number of logs are placed on top as the cost of the cremation depends on the weight of the wood and type (sandalwood being the most expensive). Cremations cost on average $12- $71, however families who cannot afford this often place whole bodies in the Ganges. We were told that where the body is burned, closer to the river, on a platform, etc. all depends on your caste. Various spices and ghee are sprinkled over of the pile before being lit. It takes approximately 3-4 hours for a single body to burn. We watched over 15 cremations in various stages. Near the end, the worker rearranges the burning logs, ash and body with a long bamboo stick. It’s easy to identify the body being jabbed, as it’s soft and almost blubbery in comparison to the incinerating wood. The final ceremony includes breaking the burning skull with the bamboo stick, in order to let the spirit escape. After the body is fully burned, the ash is collected in a large pile on the bank. We were told that workers go through the pile searching for jewelry to keep or sell before the ash is washed into the river.

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Weighing the wood
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A burning body and body soaking

Nick and I sat and observed for hours. Myself and 1 other tourist were the only women among many men. Women are forbidden to attend Hindu funerals as they may cry, which as bodily fluid is viewed as a pollutant. We could hear the bodies burn; they didn’t crackle like the wood, but sizzled and popped. Clouds of smoke overtook the area with ash afloat.

Nick and I also explored the city and visited Vishwanath Temple. This temple was of the highest security we’ve visited and took multiple security checks and documentation our passports before we gaining entry. A local fished a lay of flowers out of a holy pool of sour milk and placed it around nicks neck. They then took a handful of the coagulated milk and mud (clay texture) and rubbed it across both Nick and my forehead. This brought good luck and smelliness to our families.

We took an evening boat ride along the river. At night, the ghats were full of Indians enjoying music music and spotting a famous Bollywood actress. On the boat, we watched the glowing flames on the banks, pilgrims bathing, children at swim practice and youth playing cricket and other games on the steps of the ghats. We lit a lotus candle and watched it drift through the river.

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Bathing in the Ganges
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Evening swim practice
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Buffalo man

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Lotus candle
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Banks of Varanasi

Varanasi was by far the most touristed placed we have visited in India, however we understood the draw. Westerners are so removed from the process of death. Between practicing yoga and meditation or contemplating death and culture, Varanasi was a though provoking place full of magical energy.

Eats:

Kashi Chat Bhandar- this busy local spot is delectable! We enjoyed the aloo tikka (potato chat), tamatar chat, pani puri and kulfi fadoola for desert.

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Chat shop

Dosa Cafe – great dosas, idly, vadas and other South Indian specialties

Keshari Restaurant – over 40 paneer curries

Blue Lassi – meh

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Lassi shop