Monday, November 7, 2016

A Jaunt to Java - Yogyakarta Merapi and Borobudur

We saved the best for last, and on Tuesday September 20, Bob and I hired a car and driver for the day  (only $30 for 10 hours!) with the intent of exploring the Merapi Volcano north of town, and going to to monumental Borobudur Temple.  We left early in the morning and drove for an hour to reach the Jeep Merapi 4x4 Lava Tour site.  The sky was dark with clouds and threatening rain as we climbed aboard and began ascending the mountain on bumpy untamed trails.  We were surprised to find the base of the volcano to be such a busy industrious place!  Lines of dump trucks were hauling away loads of rich volcanic ash soil to be used in their farms and banana plantations.  We stopped at what was once a home on Merapi, but the remains of which has been turned into a small museum showing the destruction of the 2010 eruption.

 We stopped to see what is called Batu (Stone) Alien; because it looks like the head of an alien . . . or from other angles, it looks like the face of an old man, or the profile of a cow.  (Come on, use your imagination!)  Apparently, this huge rock was hurled from the depths of the crater and landed at this place near the base of the mountain.  Just behind the rock is a cliff from which we could see the large crevice where the hot lava flowed when the volcano erupted.  Unfortunately, we were unable to see the volcano.  Men were busy digging up the rich soils and hauling it down the mountain.

The rain started to fall as we drove away to visit an old bunker which is no longer used.  Two people were found dead inside this bunker during the 2006 eruption of Merapi.  The bunker was covered with 6 feet of debris and hot (572 degrees F.) lava.  The distance from the bunker to Merapi summit is about 6 miles.  It was disappointing not to see it.  We could barely make out the large lava ravine and only imagine how impressive the volcano must appear from here.  As we were leaving, the skies parted and poured buckets of rain upon us, so we had to forfeit the rest of the tour (splashing through rivers etc.)  But you can get a feel for our experience on the trails by watching our short video.

After some debate about the weather conditions, we decided to proceed with the 45-minute drive to Candi (Temple) Borobudur.  During our drive to the temple the rain cleared, skies became blue and we enjoyed seeing the countryside, farms, small temples, and even a mountainside cemetery along the way.

The famous Buddhist Temple, Borobudur, was build during the 8th-9th centuries, and it's restoration began with the help of UNESCO in 1970.  This unique temple is located in a very picturesque valley surrounded by gorgeous lush green mountains.  The temple grounds are beautifully manicured and very well kept.  It was built in three tiers: a pyramidal base with five square terraces.  These are topped with three circular platforms and, at the center top, is an enormous bell-shaped stupa.  It is the largest and most impressive Buddhist Temple in the world.  It is covered 29th 2,672 intricately carved relief panels and 504 Buddhist statues.  Around the circular platforms are 72 open lattice designed stupas, each containing a statue of the Buddha.  We were actually quite lucky to visit this amazing temple at a time that so few visitors had arrived.  An appreciated silver-lining to our rainy morning!  


It was hard to leave our dramatic and calm surroundings, but we wanted to have our driver take us to Ketep Pass.  The island of Java is almost entirely of volcanic origin, and about 45 volcanoes are considered active.  I was excited about the idea of being so close to one of them.  Ketep Pass is located inside the Merapi National Park between Mount Merapi and Mount Merbabu.  From the viewing area we were able to see the meticulously terraced rice fields on the slopes of the mountains and sleepy little villages dotting the hillsides.  Although clouds still hovered around Merapi, we were able to see the jagged edges of it's cone and marvel at this wonder of nature.

My wish list for Java was now complete and I could return to Korea feeling quite satisfied with our experiences in Java.  But just to finish off the trip in style, we went back to our hotel and feasted on the sweet and tasty traditional dish of the Special Region of Yogyakarta - Gudeg!  After a good night's sleep and a lazy morning, we flew back to Seoul the afternoon of Thursday September 21.