Bandung to Bali XXXix – Candi Prambanan

The sun sees us scramble out of bed late as Dad tries to leave our cosy asrama for a solitary jaunt. Instead we form a trio. Dad with his letters to post and money to collect, and Matt and I with the promise of noodles and tea for breakfast.

Jalan Malioboro is alive with traders and the tourist office is already busy with visitors. Matt and I occupy ourselves at the revolving display of leaflets and postcards enticing us to visit hot springs or an artist studio in the mountains.

Dad manages to work his way through the queue and proudly returns with a bundle of bright tickets, “Look this is where we are off to tonight – to see the Ramayana Ballet.”

Matt screws up his nose,”What – a ballet?”

“It’s not your usual ballet Matt – not what you might expect anyway. You know the Ramayana story I’ve been telling you,” Dad says as he picks some postcards from the circling rack, “Here Matt, look this is the great white monkey Hanuman, jumping about as he sets the city alight with his tail. And Chas this is a good one with Rama and the dancer as the Golden Deer he goes to hunt, but which is really a sorceress in disguise.”

po-java2Dad pays for a handful of postcards and we set off for Bank Indonesia and the Post Office.

Matt fixates on the story of the monkeys and the fire so that Dad has to retell this part in great detail as we walk to the far end of Jalan Malioboro.

I stroll along, only half listening and imagine myself as Sita waiting and dreaming of her rescue from the evil King by her handsome Prince Rama. Once inside the bank, Matt sits on a chair but soon starts to fidget and kick his legs while Dad takes on the long, dull process of money exchange.

Despite the short walk from the bank to the Kantor Pos Besar we gladly escape from the growing heat into the cavernous cool of the old building.
I scribble out a postcard to Cate about our day at Borobudur while Matt dances about on the cool tiles in the atrium. Dad goes from one window to the next with his string of neatly addressed letters, first for stamps and then for the thump of a postmark.

Monyet kecil,” says the postmaster, smiling at Matt’s antics.

Monyet nakal,”  Dad sighs.

Nama saya Hanuman!” says Matt and takes the brief smile as a cue to jump off a chair.

“Come on Hanuman,” Dad rescues the post office from the small monkey invasion, “Let’s get you some breakfast.”

We take a becak back to the asrama and Mum hurries us to change for our trip to Candi Prambanan. Matt and I wash quickly in the mundi and put on fresh clothes.

Pak Ade joins us again as our guide for the day with his smile and gentle humour.

“Not so far today,” he says, “Candi Prambanan is close, only thirty minutes perhaps.”

This time we take the long eastern road out of Yogyakarta to the edge of the city where Pak Ade veers off north and in a direct line toward Gunung Merapi. Today Matt sits at the front of the bus and stares out into the shimmering light of the padi fields which suspends the enormous volcano in the sky ahead of us.

After a few more miles Pak Ade turns off the main road and parks tidily in the centre of a wide green parkland. We tip out of the bus into an open clearing where clutches of food carts fill the air with the warm aroma of roasting sate and peanuts. The grounds flow with families and shy couples wandering over the meadow grass or sharing glasses of crushed ice and picnic lunches in the deep shade under avenues of trees.

A wide path with untidy piles of dark stone on either side takes us straight on, deeper into the park. This leads us into an open plaza where the stones take shape, reaching skyward into towering grey cones. Each stone of the temples balances lightly on another as animals, trees, ships, princes and ogres escape the bounds of the stonework and twine up and around the outside.

“How many Buddhas are there Dad?” Matt exclaims when he sees the number of choices to explore.

“These temples are not for the Buddha Matt. Inside each one is a Hindu God,” Dad explains as he tries to assemble us, his small class of students. “They are all very ancient gods and each one has a special temple – Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma – and then there are the special animal gods. Come on let’s see how many animals you can find.”

After Dad’s instructions to come back to the middle of the compound if we get lost, we are off, climbing up the steep steps into the heart of the first temple. We wait for our pupils to expand enough for the sinuous lines of the deities to start to move in the dark core of stone, their limbs reaching out to sanctify we meek, circling pilgrims. And then we plunge back out into bright sun and squint and gasp before leaping into another temple.

“An ephalant!” We hear Johnny call out with excitement.

“Ganesha,” says Tony.

And then, “A cow!”

“Brahma,” Dad explains.

“Garuda!” Matt shouts out and then darts across the other side of the compound, “Monkeys!”

He finds tracings of the characters of the Ramayana story jumping from the temples. We go from one to the other, looking to find the moments of the story we remember.

Dad soon calls us to order – we need time to prepare for the ballet in the evening. “A short rest and a wash and then we’ll be back again,” he promises.

“A short rest and a wash and then we’ll be back again,” he promises.


Image credits

Yogyakarta Post Office and Bank Indonesia

Borobudur and Prambanan stamps


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