If Thailand’s the ‘land of smiles’ then Indonesia’s the place of face-splitting grins. I almost skipped ‘Jogja’, as it’s affectionately known and went straight to Bali, thank God I didn’t. I was drawn to Yogyakarta, a city in central Java, Indonesia, because of its reputation for being a cultural hub of art and music and I wasn’t disappointed.
I realised I was onto a good thing when the taxi driver from the airport wanted to discuss music and local bands. He knew my home town Reading, because of Nirvana’s legendary performance in 1992. We chatted loads and he reeled off local bands to check out and told me about the underground punk scene and thriving pop groups.
By chance I landed in the midst of Islamic New Year celebrations and as most of Indonesia’s population are Muslim, this was a big deal. Everyone was excited and people had travelled from far afield villages to celebrate in Yogya. The locals began a silent march around the city at midnight, they then stayed up all night watching a puppet performance, praying and enjoying the fact that the majority didn’t have to work the next day. The Call to Prayer acts as a daily alarm clock, it could potentially be annoying but I find it enchanting.
There’s a palace called the Kraton in the town centre and it’s home to the Sultan and 25,000 others – so it’s like a city within a city. Every day the Kraton has free performances, which anyone can check out. I confess I didn’t but if I’d had more time I would have done. This isn’t a tourist attraction it’s at the heart of the Indonesian’s cultural entertainment.
Also worth a visit to Borobudur (Buddhist temple) and Prambanan (Hindu Temple), both just outside the city. Expect to get up at around 4am though so you can check them out at sunrise. Both beautiful, they stand proud although a little decayed.
Everywhere you go the locals want to chat to you, learn all about your life, your opinions and what you think of their country. Toddlers giggle and old people cackle like teenagers. Unlike a lot of Asian people they love having their photos taken and if they spy your camera they pose for you. Their smiles can’t help but make you smile, oh and everyone here supports a premiership football club, so it’s a popular topic when England is mentioned. In case you’re interested I’d say 60% are Manchester United fans, as are most of Asia in my quick straw poll (so that’s where all the United fans are!).
The food, well I’m in heaven. Expect it spicy but sadly toned down a touch for non-locals. Dishes worth a go at are, Nasi Uduk and Ayam Goreng or a whole variety of curries. Also discovered Salak, a fruit seen growing everywhere – not juicy but it has a great flavour and I’m slightly addicted, especially as it has a snakeskin peel – how cool is that! As you eat people of all ages come by and sing, play their guitars and it’s not annoying – they’re actually good.
You can’t avoid the art scene, it’s hanging up everywhere. Bold paintings especially Batik fill every nook and cranny. It’s worth going to check out the waxy Batik masterpieces being created.
I felt so relaxed I decided to get my haircut. It was an interesting experience as my Bahasa (Indonesian) is limited and the young ladies weren’t able to speak English. Luckily I’m not precious about my locks as it came out a little wonky. I keep forgetting and then having to let other travellers I meet know that it’s a Yogya special at a bargain £2!