Yogyakarta is often referred to as the cultural capital of Java respectively whole Indonesia. It might be so, and it's pretty revealing then to realize that there is little, very little culture here, if any. The neglected sultan's palace (see below) and the excessive traffic together with the rude manners of the Javanese is certainly not very impressing, and the rest of the place is coined by markets, business, din, poverty, criminality and dirt. If you want so, you can call it the culture of our time.
An old Dutch house in the center of Yogyakarta. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
What is to find here in remaining Javanese Culture is fully commercialized by the tourist industries. It comprises of (gamelan) music, ballet, drama (shadow puppets), poetry, batik and so on. The name of the city refers to the Indian place of Ayodhya of the Ramayana epic.
There is a number of universities of doubtful quality situated in Yogyakarta. About 100,000 students from the different parts of Indonesia are studying here. None of the universities has an international reputation, some are explicitly islam high schools. More than 92% of Yogyakarta's population are muslims. Nevertheless, a positive aspect of the place is the heterogeneity of the people living here.
The population of Yogyakarta's inner city is between 500,000 to 600,000 people, in the wider urbanized city district about 1,500,000 people live.
That's what is left of the broadsidewalks on Jalan Malioboro: It's changed into a miles long parking for motorbikes and partially cars. Little or no space is left for pedestrians. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
In the first years of the Indonesian independence, 1945 - 1949, Yogyakarta served partially as Indonesia's capital. Nowadays it is labelled as a 'special region' with the status of a province. Besides, it's one of two remaining sultanates in Indonesia. Moreover, it's the only remaining sultanate in which the sultan is automatically, per law, in the political position of a governor. A piece of feudalism in the anyway rudimentary Indonesian 'democracy'.
Nevertheless, 'Yogya', as Yogyakarta is frequently called by the Indonesians, gives a better first glance impression than the verymost other places on Java. In it's center it has wide roads and broad sidewalks. Here and there is an old colonial building left, which looks much, much better than all the contemporary architecture of our days does. On the second glance it looks soon worse again, though. All the sidewalks are blocked with cars and motorbikes. Masses of crowd are around the central road, Jalan Malioboro, on the other main roads, the markets and the malls. Jalan Malioboro marks the notorious shopping center of the city. The permanent traffic jam on the roads and the crammed sidewalks make the perfect traffic desaster. Besides, Jalan Malioboro is aligned as a straight road connecting Parangtritis at the south coast with the kraton of Yogyakarta and continues in a straight line towards mystical Mount Merapi.
Traffic, traffic, traffic...
Non-stop traffic on Jalan Malioboro. Image: Asienreisender, 2012
So, concluding, Yogyakarta as any Javanese city is overcrowded with notorious traffic and has not much more to offer than shops, shops and more shops, and a number of markets (among them silver and batik markets). Inside the city are only third-class sights. But there are three destinations around Yogyakarta who are very worth to be visited. That's, above all, nearby Prambanan, what is easily reachable by a city bus. Many tourists do a daytrip from Yogyakarta to Borobodur, what gives them a glance on the in my personal opinion finest sight of Southeast Asia. Another destination is magnificent Mount Merapi, which is also reachable in a daytrip. Moody Merapi is moreover a real threat for the city. In his last outbreak of 2010 acid ashes fell out over Yogyakarta, as well as over Prambanan and Borobodur. In case of another large outbreak of the fire mountain, pyroclastic streams could reach the city and cause a huge desaster for the population and infrastructure. In the past Mount Merapi had already a huge influence on the local history. In 929 CE the empire of Mataram moved from it's center at Prambanan to east Java, maybe due to a natural disaster caused by the volcano. In it's 1006 CE outbreak the Merapi blew out immense amounts of volcanic ashes who covered and destroyed all the surrounding landscapes over many kilometers and caused the widely depopulation of whole central Java, including even the more distant Dieng Plateau.
Yogyakarta is, after Bali, the second most visited touristic place in Indonesia.
In our times it's no pleasure anymore to discover a city. Pollution is rampant, the all-day din often deafening, the traffic overwhelming and the sidewalks are frequently blocked. Many sights represent merely cold splendour, while next door misery rules.
The first image shows the 'Bank Indonesia', and the roofless man below lies directly in front of it.
The picture top right shows the railway station - mind the spelling - 'Jogjakarta'. That represents the correct pronunciation in Indonesian, while the 'Y's do not. The Javanese railway system got an update in the time of my last visit. Therefore it's pretty expensive and the price doesn't vary, doen't matter how far one goes, he/she pays always the price for the whole distance the train runs. But, maybe it's just that I got again the special foreigner fare, as so often.
Picture 4 shows one of the old Dutch buildings. Supposedly they get more and more demolished in the favour for the cheap, quick and ugly buildings of our times.
Image 5 gives a glance on one of the sidewalks. Southeast Asians take what they can, the concept of public property doesn't exist in their minds. A space in front of the house is part of the house and used by the dwellers. Often the sidewalks degenerate then into expanded workshops.
Image 6 covers a demonstration, related to a certain food addition in 'susu', a heavily sweet milk which is given regularly into coffee and tea.
On image 7 is one of the small mobile street food vendors to see, who are to find everywhere in Southeast Asia.
Images 8 & 10 show two paintings of Yogyakarta's streetlife; 9 a neighbourhood petrol station with some additional basic services.
Click the header to enter a photocomposition of Yogyakarta. Images and collage by Asienreisender, 2012, 2015
Another Urban Nightmare
'Jogja', as it also sometimes written, is considered to be the 'soul of Java'. Do states respectively islands have soules? I see modern cities rather as concrete and asphalt jungles, as the outspreading skin cancer on planet earth. Yogyakarta is no exception. Just another urban nightmare. One can walk through the city for many miles without finding an invitating, peaceful place to rest for a while. Noisy it's anyway anywhere and always. The modern traffic (dis-) organization alone spoils everything. Our whole environments are not styled for the sake of the people or living beings in general, but designed for the profit-generating industries. Everything else is subordinated.
Jalan Ngadisuryan, a road inside the greater kraton compound, written both in Western and Javanese script. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
The main tourist attraction in Yogyakarta is certainly the sultans palace, called 'kraton'. As well as comparable royal palaces in Southeast Asia like the royal palace in Bangkok or the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, it's a city in the city. In past feudal times here was the seat of the sultan's family and exclusively the members of the high society and high state and army functionaries were allowed to enter it. Nowadays around 25,000 people live in the greater kraton compound, which extends the inner palace area by far. The very inner part of the compound is still inhabited by the sultan and his inner circle.
Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX (1912 - 1988) on an Indonesian stamp of 2003. He was sultan of Yogyakarta from 1939 until 1988. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
Having been a for Indonesian relations pompous place in the past, it stretched over a huge areal, including much more space than it does nowadays.
The kraton earns it's existence to prince Mangkubumi, who came to the region in 1755 CE and founded the modern city of Yogyakarta with the establishment of the palace. Yogyakarta was always kind of subversive against the Dutch colonial rule. Prince Diponegoro's resistance in the Java War (1825 - 1830) had it's center here, and in the independence war in the years 1945 - 1949 the sultan of Yogyakarta opened the kraton as a save refuge for insurgents, while the Dutch didn't dare to touch the kraton in expectation that the Javanese People of the time would be rather more provoced to fight them. The sultan of Yogyakarta was revered as a kind of god.
One of the paintings in the kraton. Remarkable are the bucketlike hat and the pointed ears. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
12.500 Rupees entrance (for foreigners, as always much less for Indonesians. Imagine that in the west!), 500 Rupees for a camera extra (not on the ticket, maybe it's for the private pocket of the cashier). It's not allowed to wear a hat - a simple sun protection is forbidden, whereas women wearing kerchiefs or burkas are well accepted. In fact, in many cases they don't even have a choice.
The quality of the buildings, the building materials and the architecture is not very impressive. Some buildings have cheap tinroofs, who get really noisy when rain is pouring on them, the windows are simple, the whole constructions are rough - it's all not very appealing.
Inside the buildings who are open for the public to visit are many items from former times to see. It's kind of a museum atmosphere, but the whole place and all the arrangements look very neglected. Pictures of the sultan's family and a lot of family dishes in elsewise empty rooms under bad light conditions are displayed - light comes in through the windows, supported by a single, nacked bulb in the roofcorner above the door. Some music instruments, weapons, old clothings and other things of all-day use are to see here. Much of the stuff is clearly of European provenience, certainly presents from the Dutch colonialists.
The whole palace gives a quite neglected impression. Many parts of the palace are not open for visitors, since they are still in use.
The Kraton of Yogyakarta
Yogyakarta's sultan's palace. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 2012, 2015
Outside the Kraton
North of the kraton is a huge open square. That's the alun alun, means actually public place for a village or town. The alun alun is still used on certain days as a market place, at other occasions as a place for festivals. Besides it's a meeting place for adolescents and sometimes used as a football field. Bordering the alun alun is one of the unavoidable mosques.
The most interesting part of Yogyakarta seems to be the part south of the kraton. There are a lot of buildings who were formerly part of the sultan's palace, but given back to the public. Now some old representative buildings are mixed up with housings, and that gives the surrounding a certain distinguished atmosphere. The rather lifeless atmosphere of the palace itself get's there a lively touch. And that's a bigger patch of the city - the palace area was much larger in the past. There is also an alun alun south of the kraton.
The Sultans Water Palace
Daemon faces on the water castle's gables protect the place. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
The Sultan's water palace is another touristic highlight in Yogyakarta. Formerly integrated into the greater kraton compound, it consists of some flat pools and surrounding buildings. The pools are not good for real swimming, rather for swashing. On the southern edge is a tower, from which the Sultan could watch all his many wifes and concubines bathing in the pools. What that actually was - well, I leave it to your phantasy. Here they call it a harem.
Also called the 'water castle', the place was built in the years 1758 - 1765 by a Portuguese architect. There are some secret, hidden rooms built in. Now it looks also as neglected as the main palace itself.
The remarkable Indonesian author Ananta Toer wrote a very readable book about the life inside a Javanese court in former times - from the view of a young woman, which was taken from her family (poor fishermen) by a nobleman, who accidentally saw her on a journey. He ordered her out of a spontaneous mood to come with him to his court because he pleased to keep her as a concubine. She then became prepared for all her new duties by strict teachers. All but a happy life... (Ananta Toer: The Girl from the Sea).
The Water Castle of Yogyakarta
An oriental pleasure palace of the past. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 2012, 2015
The Bird Market
Not far west of the kraton is Yogyakarta's bird market. Masses of birds are there to see in cages for sale. For people, who love birds... Another really great profession: bird dealer. Of course the guys here play really rough with the animals. Verymost Indonesians show no respect for other living beings. There is also a pet market behind the scene. In the backyards are among a variety of different animals also protected animals sold as pets, as medicine or just as exotic food.
That living beings are treated as merchandise seems to be a clear indicator for the very low level of human civilization. Animal markets, slave markets, labour markets, all the prostitution around show the low, immature level of human development. Living beings are set equal to dead things. And anything is for sale.
For many people it's very attractive to 'own' an animal. That happens for the most different purposes - to deal with them, to eat them, to make medicine out of them, to let them fight, as a status symbol... In many cases the animals are not treated well. Anyway, bird's don't belong in cages. Still it's very often to see in Java and moreover in the south of Thailand, where bird cages are hanging in front of many houses. That they suffer when being exposed over longer times to the sun doesn't bother any of the holders. Here and there are bird competitions promoted in a noisy, fairlike style. It's about their beauty and sometimes their singing.
Click the header to enter a photocomposition of the bird market of Yogyakarta. Images and collage by Asienreisender, 2012, 2015
Prambanan, one of the main sights around Yogyakarta and generally in Java. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
The most interesting sight within Yogyakarta is Prambanan, some 17 kilometers outside of the city, easily reachable by a local bus (transyogya 1A, a bit less than an one hour drive, 3,000 rupees). Many tourists make a daytrip from Yogyakarta to Borobodur as well. But it's further away and worth to spent more time in Borobodur. Borobodur is certainly the main cultural and historical sight in Indonesia. Who is interested in cultural history can easily spend a couple of days at Borobodur, visiting the sight several times, for there is so much to explore.
Another nice day trip from Yogyakarta is the one to Imogiri (Giwagan bus station, 3,000 rupees to the marketplace). Imogiri is not far from Yogyakarta; it lies at the foot of a forested mountain chain. At the very end of the road there is a small market. Two long stairways lead up to a fortresslike looking building on top of a mountain. There are the old sultans graves and some mosquelike places where muslims pray. At the foot of the second stairway the unavoidable money-collector is waiting and wants one to make a donation for the mosque upstairs. On clear days one has a good view over Yogyakarta and Mount Merapi. Now, in June, it's highly advisable to make the trip early in the morning, because from about 10 p.m. on the sight might be blocked by clouds and mist.
Forests around Imogiri
In the green, not far from Yogyakarta. Small roads and paths lead into the mountains and invite for a longer stroll around. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
These horse carts seem to be quite popular here. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
There are a few villages at the coast. One of them is Parangtritis, where masses of tourists from Yogyakarta go on weekends and holidays. Over the week it's a quieter place, nicely situated between sand dunes. Fine for a daytrip. It's one of these places where the 'authorities' charge entrance. It's put on the bus fare already. Although there is no particular attraction in Parangtritis, it's fine to have a longer walk around at the beach.
The south coasts of Java are not good for swimming. Although they look invitating with there sand beaches, there are dangerous drifts pulling the swimmer far out. Many people died here already. Besides, the waves are really high here. Potentially good for survers; but they face the same problem. Only a few parts of Java's southern coasts are save for surving and swimming.
The Beach of Parangtritis
The Indian Ocean, Java's south coast. Parangtritis' beach and the village itself on a quiet weekday. South of the coastline there is no land anymore until the Antarctica. The distance spans almost a quarter of the globe. Image by Asienreisender, 2012