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HIGHLIGHTS OF JAVA

 

Indonesia's richest cultural heritage has flourished alongside rice, coffee and spices on the fertile volcanic plains of Java. The wealth from these valuable commodities helped build empires and civilizations in Yogyakarta, Solo and Malang and these are the best places to gain an understanding of all things Javanese. To the east of the island the land becomes less populated as the terrain becomes more rugged with spectacular volcanic peaks, most notably around the National Parks protecting Mount Bromo and the Ijen Plateau on the eastern tip of Java.

 

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Yogyakarta

Yogyakarta has long been a seat of learning, and is often described as Indonesia's cultural capital and the cradle of civilization in Central Java. The city is located on a rich fertile plain which gave rise to the world famous temples of Borobudur (Buddhist) and Prambanan (Hindu) which are two of the main cultural highlights of any visit to Java. The influence of the Mataram Empire dominated the region from the mid-18th Century, and Yogyakarta has since thrived under a powerful Sultanate that first resisted colonial forces and then negotiated a special autonomous status within the Republic of Indonesia. Parts of the Sultan's Palace, or Kraton, are open to visitors, including a number of open air buildings used for ceremonial purposes and museums with memorabilia showing the life and work of previous Sultans. The Water Castle and gardens of the Palace can also be visited, which is where the Sultans enjoyed their time with their many wives and concubines in a series of elaborate bathing pools.

 

The city itself is sprawling and at times hectic with heavy traffic, mostly made up of students on motorcycles who make up a large proportion of the 400,000 population. There are a number of lively streets to explore in the centre of town with students dining on the pavements at makeshift eateries, restaurants catering to tourist trade, and endless rows of handicraft shops mainly selling batik artwork & clothing.

 

Borobudur Indonesia's largest and most impressive Buddhist monument, Borobudur is a vast structure with 9 levels and an awe inspiring setting in the midst of a fertile valley ringed by volcanoes. The temple was built as a pilgrimage site to teach followers how to practice the Buddhist way of life. Each level of the monument has intricately carved sculptures and symbology from the teachings of Mahayana Buddhism. The top level of the temple is a particularly spiritual place dotted with stupas housing Buddhist sculptures, with magnificent view of the surrounding countryside. There are hotels to cover every desire and budget, including the Phoenix Hotel, Joglo Plawang and Amanjiwo.

 

East Java

In East Java you will find the city of Malang and Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, two greatly contrasting but fascinating attractions. With a beautiful volcanic backdrop and a cooler climate, Malang dates back to the 8th century AD, when it was the seat of government of the ancient Kanjuruhan and Singhasari kingdoms. Home to many Hindu relics, it is a city of great historical significance. Tugu Malang and its array of local antiques is a wonderful base from which to explore this historical setting.

 

A two hour drive from Malang is Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park. Named after its two active volcanoes (Bromo and Semeru) and the local indigenous population (Tengger), this is an area of truly spectacular and at times unworldly scenery. At lower elevations the park is lush and green but once you start to climb the landscape is a true example of desolate beauty. An early morning trek up Mount Bromo, arriving at the peak in time for sunrise, is a truly magical experience. For those wanting to stay in the park itself the best hotel is Java Banana Bromo.