Thursday, October 31, 2013

Prambanan Temple Complex

Yogyakarta is quite close to not one but two UNESCO World Heritage sites. They are both stone temples constructed in the ninth century, but one is Hindu and the other Buddhist, odd to think of as now Java is more than 90% Muslim.

We went to the Hindu site, Prambanan, first, as it's closer to the city of Yogyakarta (around a 30-minute ride, depending on traffic: which as in so many developing countries is heinous thanks to a lack of infrastructure investment). We rented a car and driver for the day (which cost around $15? I have a terrible memory for numbers). You can also take the bus, but it's more pleasant to have your own air-conditioned transportation when traveling with a toddler.

Because Prambanan is a UNESCO site, it's very well maintained and has all the facilities you might want: a restaurant, a museum with English signage, lots and lots of vendors trying to sell you souvenirs, water bottles, umbrellas, guide books, etc, etc. The entrance fee is pretty steep for Indonesia ($18 for foreigners; Indonesians pay much less) but since a visit can easily last the entire day I thought it was a good value. You also get free water and coffee with the ticket!
Prambanan is a religious site (even if the local population no longer believes in the religion), so visitors are required to wear sarongs. They even have them in child size, which is pretty much the cutest thing ever.
The ruins are located in a large landscaped park. R had fun "climbing" the trees (really we put her up there and B is poised beneath her to prevent falls).
Like all ruins though, there are never enough trees (what with the roots ruining buildings and all) so the main buildings are out in the sun. We couldn't get there until later in the day for logistical reasons, but attempting an early arrival would I think result in a more pleasant trip (the monument opens at 6 AM for the ambitious).
We were there during Ramadan, which was great as the crowds were pretty non-existent. I had feared hordes of people, but everywhere we went looked like this (this is the main site, so as packed as it got).
Each tower is a temple dedicated to a different Hindu god. The three largest honor the Hindu "trinity": Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer. The biggest one is for Shiva, which makes sense as he's the scariest, and thus the one you should want to please most!
For safety reasons, visitors are required to wear hard hats in the main temple area. They did not have these in child size, rendering R's hat of dubious utility. Here she is making me give Ami a kiss.
The temples are covered in beautiful carvings depicting daily life..
decorative motifs..
and of course images of kings and gods (which were pretty much the same thing when the temples were built). They are in great condition considering they are over 1000 years old!
After checking out the main temple area we took the (free) mini train to another complex. These temples are Buddhist but are partially in ruins. Still pretty impressive though.
R loved riding the mini train. They also have a toy train (which goes around on a child-size track, complete with a tiny tunnel), which she got to "steer" for a nominal fee (like a nickel). I forgot to get pictures of it, which is too bad because in R's view that was the highlight of the day.
After temple viewing we went to the (free) museum. They were playing gamelan there, which was atmospheric.
The museum itself is not very impressive (bad lighting and poor organization), though R appreciated the statues on display in its courtyard. Here she is trying to climb Nandi (Shiva's steed). Sadly for her, I am no fun and wouldn't let her ride on the antiquities.
I was surprised to find a portrait of the ubiquitous Raffles (founder of Singapore, his name and image are everywhere). Apparently Prambanan was rediscovered during his administration (the British controlled Java 1811-1816).
Prambanan is a great place to visit with a child. In addition to the mini trains, the complex houses a playground complete with swings, a mini fun fair with tacky (and probably totally unsafe) rides, and tame deer which you can feed for a small fee. We had a great time there!

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