Semarang, Indonesia. We arrived at the port just after 5am. We’re up, dressed and heading for a light breakfast and get the water bottles filled with ice cold water. It’s 27C at 5am and its expected to get to 38C by 11am.
Semarang is Indonesia’s fifth largest city, located on the north coast of the island of Java. Its history dates back to the 9th century, when it was known as Bergota; by the end of the 15th century, an Arab mullah by the name of Kyai Pendan Arang founded a village and an Islamic boarding school here.
On May 2, 1547, after consulting Sunan Kalijaga, Sultan Hadiwijaya of Pajang declared Kyai Pandan Arang the first regent of Semarang, thus culturally and politically, on this day Semarang was born. In 1678, Sunan Amangkurat II promised to give control of Semarang to the Dutch East India Company (VOC) as a part of a debt payment and four years later, the Semarang state was founded by the Dutch colonial power. On October 5, 1705, after years of occupations, Semarang officially became a VOC city when Susuhanan Pakubuwono made a deal to give extensive trade rights to the VOC in exchange for wiping out Mataram’s debt. VOC and later the Dutch East Indies government established tobacco plantations in the region, and built roads and railroads, making Semarang an important colonial trading centre.
In the 1920’s the city became a centre of leftist and nationalist activism, particularly with the founding of the Communist party of Indonesia, which led Semarang to be known as the "Red City". The Japanese military occupied the city, along with the rest of Java in 1942 during WWII. After Indonesian independence in 1945, Semarang became the capital of Central Java province.
The currency in Indonesia is called Rupiah. 100,000 is roughly $10US equivalent.
Today we headed by air-conditioned coach to Borobudur temple by Train and Coach. The journey, which is normally a 3 hour there and 3 hour back took only 2 hours. We had a police escort all the way. Right now Indonesia is having political elections, the election is on April 9th and a lot of the parties are holding rallies etc. If we didn’t have the escort it would have taken much longer to get there as these political rallies take up the whole street with motor cycles and buses and can cause grid-lock. It was amazing with the Police escort, we were travelling through red lights, on the wrong side of the road – OMG it was just, well, nail biting. At one point we were on a little 2 lane road and each lane contained 3 vehicles – going in the same direction. The other side of the road was the same – talk about how the heck do we get out of this one. Anyway we had sirens going and coming back to the ship.
We left Tanjung Mas Port at 6:30am and headed in an air-conditioned coach to Borobudur. In a few words, the monumental temple complex on the Kedu Plain near Yogyakarta is one of man’s most magnificent architectural achievements. There is nothing else exactly like the World Heritage site at Borobudur; it predates Chartres, Notre Dame and Angkor Wat by a few hundred years, the enormous carved stone stupa is the world’s largest.
While Borobudur is "the world’s largest Buddhist temple", the size pales in comparison to the ingenuity in design and allegorical detail. You really have to see the details and just marvel – it’s incredible. The interlocking stones are amazing in how it all fits together. The intricate carvings reflect Javanese style, but components also evoke Persian and even Greek design. The elements clearly indicate that talented experts and artisans were engaged from places as far flung as India (and perhaps Europe) to work on the complex.
Borobudur was built in the 8th and 9th centuries (it’s said that 5 generations built the temple). According to records, tens of thousands of workers were involved. Unless suggestions of extraterrestrial aid are true, the builders used only human effort. It’s just incredible and something one has to see to believe the detail in the workmanship.
There are 9 levels in the temple, the 9th level is an empty room with no entrance. It’s said that once a person reaches the level of nirvana they will know how to enter the room. One climbs the steps (which are extremely steep) and goes around that level clockwise; praying and reading the details on the walls. On the 7th level there’s a series of huge bell like monuments, each with a Buddha inside. The details on these statues are just mind blowing. There’s some restoration work going on – but only to restore the damage done to the structure by politicians, who gave statues to visiting diplomats. Many of the statues are in Museums all over the world. In the past people removed the heads of the Buddha’s and also removed some of the bricks surrounding the base, only to discover that more intricate detail was behind the stone. That stone is being replaced to hide the detail and bring it back to original condition. A pity really, but I can understand given the whole concept of the temple in the first place.
We had lunch at the Matahara Hotel (next the the Borobudur Temple), it was just delicious. Of course, we had the usual hoard of sellers. I did buy a shirt for Gert for $5 (nice cotton one that he can wear back home); I also purchased some Batik post cards which I’ll use to send to some of you lucky people. I’ll probably mail them in Singapore.
On the return trip we took a 30 minute steam train ride. Supposedly capable of 45 km/h, we were happy to toddle along at 20, lots of shakes and rattles. The destination was a restored rail station, complete with Javanese dancers.
We have a day at sea tomorrow (again, thankfully to recover from this very busy day) and then we reach Singapore. We’re planning to meet up with Irena and her hubby Chris. I worked with Irena in Toronto for several years before she went off to greener pastures. It will be exciting to see her and exchange all the news.
Finally for the first time in almost 3 weeks our clocks start to go forward – we’ve been going back about 6 hours since we left Auckland so now we start to jump forward – pity, I almost looked forward to going back the hour at night time.
We are so loving this voyage. We just can’t believe we’re here and doing all these wonderful tours and just getting to hang with the locals. We feel so blessed, our only sadness is that neither of our parents are alive to see us fulfill a live long dream. But we’re sure they are with us every step of the way in spirit.
I’m so glad we’re doing this voyage now as we really don’t know what tomorrow brings. We are both in great health and so enjoying each other. This side trip was a great example of how limited mobility can prevent you from enjoying the sights. We’re so happy :-).
Just some photos to show various flavours of this part of Java: