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Joglosemar, the Spiritual Heart of Java

Amazing sunrise view of meditating Buddha statue and stone stupas against shining sun on background. Ancient Borobudur Buddhist temple. Great religious architecture. Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia. via Shutterstock
Amazing sunrise view of meditating Buddha statue and stone stupas against shining sun on background. Ancient Borobudur Buddhist temple. Great religious architecture. Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia. via Shutterstock

Stretching from the south to the north coast of Central Java, the Yogyakarta – Solo – Semarang triumvirate is often seen as the birthplace of Javanese culture. Commonly abbreviated and called as Joglosemar, these three cities are the main center of Javanese civilization since ancient times.

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Amazing sunrise at Prambanan Temple. Great Hindu architecture in Yogyakarta. Java island, Indonesia (c) Shutterstock.
Amazing sunrise at Prambanan Temple. Great Hindu architecture in Yogyakarta. Java island, Indonesia (c) Shutterstock.

From the fossils of early man in Sangiran to busy port of Tanjung Emas, Joglosemar is the best place to indulge in Javanese culture firsthand. Natural wonders are abundant but the most intriguing aspect of this region is how they shape the lives of Javanese over time, as seen in many historical monuments and landmarks.

The cultural wealth are carefully preserved in Joglosemar but at the same time acculturation happens as a result of harmonious blending in portal city of Semarang. This region is truly unique and rightly titled as the centerpiece of Javanese civilization.

Borobudur Temple

Amazing sunrise view of meditating Buddha statue and stone stupas against shining sun on background. Ancient Borobudur Buddhist temple. Great religious architecture. Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia. via Shutterstock
Amazing sunrise view of meditating Buddha statue and stone stupas against shining sun on background. Ancient Borobudur Buddhist temple. Great religious architecture. Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia. via Shutterstock

This majestic temple is one the most famous and greatest Buddhist monuments in the world. Borobudur was built in 8th or 9th centuries AD by Syailendra Dynasty of Old Mataram Kingdom. Located in the Kedu valley, some 40 kilometers from Jogjakarta, Borobudur temple is actually a complex of three temples, along with Mendut and Pawon temples.

As a Buddhist temple, Borobudur was built with full symbolization and philosophy of Buddhist teachings. The base structure is square with four entry point while the high center point is circular. There are three levels or zones, each representing the journey of human being from material world to Nirvana.

There are more than 500 statues of Buddha in meditative pose in this gigantic monument. The walls are decorated with fine reliefs that covers approximately 2.5 kilometer, depicting the Universe in Buddhist cosmology. Borobudur served as Buddhist temple from its creation to 15th century AD when it was abandoned. It was rediscovered in 18th century and underwent a huge restoration in 20th century.

Prambanan

Prambanan Temple. via Shutterstock.
Prambanan Temple. via Shutterstock.

Prambanan is a large temple complex. In fact it is the largest temple complex dedicated to Shiva in Indonesia. This temple compound, built by Syailendra Dynasty in the 7th century AD, features numerous of individual temples.

This compound consists of 4 main temples; Prambanan (also known as Loro Jonggrang), Bubrah, Sewu, and Lumbung temple. Prambanan itself is actually a complex that consists of 240 temples. The main temple is Shiva Mahadeva, dedicated to Shiva the Destroyer of the Universe. There are also smaller temples dedicated to Vishnu (Sustainer of the Universe) and Brahma (The Creator of the Universe).

Built rising high as typical Hindu temples, Prambanan also rich in ornaments and decorations. There is bas-relief depicting the Javanese version of Ramayana Epic. It tells a story about Sinta, Lord Rama’s wife that was abducted by Rahwana. Lord Rama turns to Hanuman the white monkey general for help to defeat Rahwana dan take Sinta back.

Ancient stone ruins on green field and Candi Prambanan or Rara Jonggrang, Hindu temple compound on background. Impressive architectural site. Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia. Panoramic view. via Shutterstock.
Ancient stone ruins on green field and Candi Prambanan or Rara Jonggrang, Hindu temple compound on background. Impressive architectural site. Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia. Panoramic view. via Shutterstock.

Interestingly enough, Sewu Temple is actually a Buddhist temple with Dwarapala statues. This serves as a proof that different religions has cohabitate and coexist in this land since ancient times. There is also a myth saying that the entire complex was built overnight by Bandung Bondowoso to prove his love to Loro Jonggrang.

Blast from the Past at Kotalama Semarang

Afternoon atmosphere in front of the Blenduk Church in the Old City area, Central Java Indonesia. This church is a tourist icon in the city of Semarang which is already known by foreign tourists. via Shutterstock.
Afternoon atmosphere in front of the Blenduk Church in the Old City area, Central Java Indonesia. This church is a tourist icon in the city of Semarang which is already known by foreign tourists. via Shutterstock.

Wandering through Kota Lama Semarang will take you back to another place and another times. Kota Lama, literally means Old City, is a part of the first settlement that eventually form the City.

Kota Lama was Dutch Colonial settlement complex, located between Mberok river and Terboyo. At the center of this Little Netherland is Blenduk Church with its distinctive dome. This Church is the centerpiece of this little town that once was called Outsadt, with shops, offices, and hotels.

Built mostly in 18th and 19th century AD, the buildings here are reminiscent of Netherlands’ architecture at that time, with huge doors, windows and arches. Many of the old buildings are protected and yet still repurposed for cafes, museums, and galleries.

Afternoon at old city Semarang. via Shutterstock
Afternoon at old city Semarang. via Shutterstock

There are also Kampung Melayu, Kampung Pecinan, Kampung Banjar, and many more small ethnic kampongs, proving that Semarang was (and still is) an important seaboard. The most famous historic building in Semarang, though, is actually Lawang Sewu (Thousand Doors). Shrouded by mystery and myths, this building is a popular destination though not many have the guts to wander inside.

Sekaten, A Generous Celebration of the Prophet’s Birthday

the closing ceremony of sekaten festival in Ngayogyakarta palace, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. (c) Shutterstock
the closing ceremony of sekaten festival in Ngayogyakarta palace, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. (c) Shutterstock

Yogyakarta and Surakarta Sultanates were originally a single kingdom that was divided into two. It’s not surprising that both neighboring sultanates shares many similar traditions. One of them is Sekaten, a week-long festival to celebrate the birth of Prophet Mohammad. Naturally, this ceremony is held between 5-12 Mulud month (or Rabbi’ul Awal in Islamic calendar).

Every step of the festival is held so lavishly, so much so that the Sultans themselves are involved in many processes. On day one, Royal guards and Abdi Dalem (Royal servants) play the sacred sets of Gamelan; Kyai Guntur Madu and Kyai Nogo Wilogo. Initially, this was intended to attract the masses to come to the mosque.

Then Abdi Dalem will prepare foods including Wajik (sticky rice with palm sugar), assortments of traditional cakes, as well as tumpeng (cone-shaped rice) and other ubo rampe. All food are prepared in traditional way, some of them while also singing traditional songs and chants.

Gunungan Parade from Sultan Yogyakarta Palace on Grebeg Maulud Festival in Yogyakarta, Indones (c) Shutterstock.
Gunungan Parade from Sultan Yogyakarta Palace on Grebeg Maulud Festival in Yogyakarta, Indones (c) Shutterstock.

The high point of this festival is Grebeg Mauludan, held exactly at 12 Mulud, the birthday of Prophet Mohammad. The Royal Guard paraded Gunungan, a mountain shaped food containing cakes, wajik, rice, fruits, and vegetables). At the end of the parade, the food are given to masses as a present from the Sultan. The food are highly sought after because people believes they have magical values and brings prosperity.

Prambanan Jazz Festival

Prambanan Jazz Festival. via Instagram/
Prambanan Jazz Festival. via Instagram/rizkyadis

Want to experience a unique blend of classical grandeur and contemporary delight? You can have it at the Prambanan Jazz Festival. As the name suggest, this is a jazz festival held in the courtyard of Prambanan temple. This annual music festival, held every late August,  has become a highly anticipated event by international jazz lovers.

The inaugural Prambanan Jazz was held in 2015, with performance from saxophone legend; Kenny G himself. Over the years, more world class musicians have been performing here. Boyz II Men, Westlife, Sarah Brightman, Rick Price, as well as a selection of the best local musicians have been wowing the audience here. Diana Krall and Boyzone were the main performer in the latest edition of Prambanan Jazz Festival.

Combining good music and scenic background has been a successful recipe for many jazz festivals in Indonesia. This one, though, is special because the majestic Prambanan temple gives an especially unique nuance to the relaxing tones of jazz.

Prambanan Jazz festival 2018.
Prambanan Jazz Festival 2018 via Instagram/rizkyadis

This festival, in a way, has benn forming its own identity and reputation. Prambanan Jazz Festival has emerger as one of the great idiosyncratic music festival in Indonesia, or perhaps also in the world.

Labuhan Parangkusumo, Merapi, and Lawu

Labuhan Merapi ceremony. 'Labuhan' is the effort to preserve the cohesiveness, harmony, and balance of the nature. (c) Shutterstock
Labuhan Merapi ceremony. ‘Labuhan’ is the effort to preserve the cohesiveness, harmony, and balance of the nature. (c) Shutterstock

Yogyakarta Sultanate traditionally celebrate the coronation of their Sultans with alavish ceremony in three spiritual centers of the kingdom; South Sea (via Parangkusumo Beach), Mount Merapi, nad Mount Lawu. In 1755, Sultan Hamengkubuwono I change the date of the ceremony to the day after his birthday (in Javanese calendar). The next Sultans followed suit.

There are many offerings (ubarampe) to be prepared for this ceremony. The noble ladies preparing Apam cakes in a very specific procedure, even the dress code. Each location requires different offerings.

The first ceremony is held on Parangkusumo Beach. Not only the Royal Servants (Abdi dalem), many people from surrounding area also come to be a part of the ceremony. Many believe that just being there can bring good luck for the next year. Most of the offerings was then drifted away to the ocean after a prayer from the spiritual gamekeeper (jurukunci).

Abdi dalem people from the Sultan palace bringing the sacrifice in to the ocean at Labuhan ceremony.  (c) Shutterstock
Abdi dalem people from the Sultan palace bringing the sacrifice in to the ocean at Labuhan ceremony. (c) Shutterstock

In Mount Merapi and Mount Lawu, the offering are left on the slope. Again, these ceremonies are led by the respective jurukunci. This whole set of ceremony is a prime example of the Javanese culture in its purest form.

Gudeg, Unripe yet Delightful Dish

Gudeg Jogja. A signature dish from Jogjakarta. Shown here each individual dish that makes up the complete gudeg meal. Served in earthenware serving dish; arranged on a table covered with batik cloth. (c) Shutterstock
Gudeg Jogja. A signature dish from Jogjakarta. Shown here each individual dish that makes up the complete gudeg meal. Served in earthenware serving dish; arranged on a table covered with batik cloth. (c) Shutterstock

Gudeg is one of the most famous cuisine in Java, though the best ones are cooked in Yogyakarta. It is made from a young/unripe jackfruit boiled in coconut milk and palm sugar. Each warung/restaurant has different recipe and additional spices for their gudeg.

In itself, Gudeg is actually a good vegetarian food though people usually eat them with rice, eggs, or chicken. Gudeg might be served with soupy sauce or dry. Dry gudeg can last for days and usually packed using bamboo box.

Best place to enjoy gudeg:

  • Gudeg Yu Djum – Jalan Wijilan No. 31 Panembahan, Kraton, Panembahan, Yogyakarta.
  • Gudeg Manggar Bu Tinur – Jalan Blibis Raya RT.04, Dusun Gendheng, Bangunjiwo, Kasihan, Bangunjiwo, Bantul.
  • Gudeg Sagan – Jalan Prof. Dr Herman Yohanes No.53, Caturtunggal, Kec. Depok, Kota Yogyakarta.

Lumpia, From Bamboo Shoot to Minced Meat Spring Roll

Indonesian rolls, Indonesian cuisine, Lumpia Semarang (c) Shutterstock
Indonesian rolls, Indonesian cuisine, Lumpia Semarang (c) Shutterstock

Lumpia is one of Indonesians’ favorite snack, if you can say so. It is basically a spring roll with crunchy crepe skin and filled with, well, any savory food. Most common filling for lumpia are bamboo shoot, leeks, minced meat, chicken, shrimp, and sometimes also pork.

Lumpia, as the name suggest, is originally come from China and then spread to Southeast Asia. Most lumpia are deep fried to give its skin crunchy texture, but there are also variants that keep the soft skin unfried. In Semarang, Lumpia usually served with special sauce made from chili, dried shrimp, palm sugar, tapioca starch, and onion/shallots.

Best place to enjoy lumpia:

  • Lumpia Semarang Gang Lombok – Jalan Gang Lombok No. 11, Purwodinatan, Semarang Tengah
  • Loenpia Mbak Lien – Gang Grajen, Jl. Pemuda No.1
  • Lunpia Delight – Jalan Gajahmada No.107, Miroto, Semarang

Bakpia, a Roll Pastry with Unlimited Tastes

Bakpia Pathok. (c) Shutterstock
Bakpia Pathok. (c) Shutterstock

Bakpia is sweet roll pastry, originally filled with green beans in Yogyakarta. The skin are made from flaky dough so it easily crumbles when cookeds, usually leaves a little messy crumbs. The traditional fillings is green bean (mung bean) but it has evolved and today we can find various exciting fillings.

You can get cappuccino, chocolate, pandan, durian, cheese, custard, mango, and many other fillings. The most famous place to buy bakpia is in Pathuk, Yogyakarta where the first bakpia home industry flourished. There are tons of bakpia brand that you can choose, but people usually pick the one with their favorite fillings. Bakpia is the favorite souvenir for people visiting Yogyakarta. That’s why so many brands can coexist for so long.

Best place to buy bakpia:

  • Bakpia Pathok 25 – alan AIP II KS Tubun No.504, Ngampilan.
  • Bakpia Kurnia Sari – Jalan Glagahsari No.91C, Warungboto, Umbulharjo, Kota Yogyakarta
  • Bakpia Pathok 145 – Jalan Gambiran No.67A, Pandeyan, Umbulharjo, Kota Yogyakarta.

What to Do in Joglosemar

Mystical ray of lights inside the Jomblang Vertical Cave in Gunungkidulm, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. (c) Shutterstock
Mystical ray of lights inside the Jomblang Vertical Cave in Gunungkidulm, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. (c) Shutterstock

There are lots of ways to explore Yogyakarta. If you’re in the center of the city and want to sightsee around the Malioboro Street, you can do that on foot. Go with your own pace to enjoy every attraction it has to offer. Just be aware that it can get really hot during the midday.

You can choose the traditional mode of transport by trying becak or andong. Becak is a three wheeled cart with the driver pedaling behind the passenger. Andong is a horse -drawn cart and is a common sight in tourist areas in the city. For a long journey, you can rent a car or motorbike, get taxi, or buses. Go to rural Yogyakarta to enjoy a much slower pace of life. Enjoy it while riding a bike and connect with the locals that will happily engage with you.

If you generally like to explore the beauty of the nature, there are several options you can take . You can take a tour to visit the dangerous beauty that is Merapi volcano, exploring Jomblang Cave and then go to Sadranan beach. There are several agencies that offer the tour options.

Morning Light on Merapi Volcano, Merapi Lava Tour, Yogyakarta Indonesia. (c) Shutterstock
Morning Light on Merapi Volcano, Merapi Lava Tour, Yogyakarta Indonesia. (c) Shutterstock

If you prefer the cultural aspect, you can try to be a Javanese for a Day tour. You’ll get to enjoy a visit to Prambanan and then experience the life of a Javanese for a full day. You will interact with local people, learn how to speak in their language, visit their village, play traditional music instruments, work as a traditional farmer in the paddy field, and of course eat local traditional dishes. You can also choose to learn how to play gamelan or learn the traditional dance.

Solo is pretty much similar to Yogya. Transport modes includes taxi, becak, bus, or even renting a horse. If you want to explore on foot, you must remember that the streets are very crowded and can be noisy and hot.

Learning How To Make a Batik, Laweyan, Solo, Indonesia.
Learning How To Make a Batik, Laweyan, Solo, Indonesia via Instagram/festival.laweyan

While in Solo, you can learn how to Batik in Kampoeng Batik Laweyan, or visit the Museum Batik Danar Hadi. There are also several royal palaces that are open to public such as Mangkunegaran Palace and Surakarta Hadiningrat Palace.

Solo has some specialty museums like Keris Museum, Radya Pustaka Museum, and Museum Fosil Sangiran. Enjoy local entertainments at Sriwedari Park and Balekambang Park, or get wet at Pandawa Water Park. If you prefer natural attractions, there are Grojogan Sewu Waterfall and Jumog waterfall.

Sangiran Museum of Ancient Man.
Sangiran Museum of Ancient Man via Instagram/museumsangiran

In Semarang, the best way to get around is by using taxi, the traditional one or the online taxi services. However, if you want to enjoy the city in a slower pace, especially in Kota Lama, try to take becak.

Semarang’s most attractive offer is its ample architectural history. There are so many buildings with rich history, showing how this city is shaped by harmonious blend between so many cultures over time.

Reflection of Sam Poo Kong Temple (c) Shutterstock
Reflection of Sam Poo Kong Temple (c) Shutterstock

Lawang Sewu is the main attraction with its arches and especially enigmatic myth. Colonial buildings are abundant in Kota Lama, with Blenduk Church as the centerpiece. The Grand Mosque of Central Java clearly shows many cultural remnants. Klenteng Sam Po Kong and Pagoda Avalokitesvara assert that Semarang is indeed an old melting pot.

How to Get There

Yogyakarta

  • By air – daily flight from Jakarta, Surabaya, Bali to Adisucipto International Airport Yogyakarta.
  • By train – pretty much from every big city in Java is connected to Yogyakarta through railways to Yogyakarta Train Station (Stasiun Tugu).
  • Yogyakarta is also very accessible by road, by driving cars or public bus services.
Adisucipto International Airport, Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
Adisucipto International Airport, Yogyakarta, Indonesia via Instagram/dragonfly_summer

Solo

  • By bus from Yogyakarta (Giwangan), Surabaya (Bungurasih), Semarang (Mangkang) to Tirtonadi Bus Terminal.
  • By air from Jakarta (Soekarno-Hatta), Surabaya (Juanda), Malaysia (KLIA), Singapore (Changi) to Surakarta Adi Sumarmo International Airport.
  • By Train from Jakarta, Bandung, Malang, Surabaya to Stasiun Solo Balapan.

Semarang

  • By Air – there are daily flights from Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore to the brand new Ahmad Yani International Airport.
  • By land – Semarang is very accessible by car or buses, although their bus station was just moved and is currently not functioning to its optimal capacity.
  • By Train – From Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya, Yogyakarta to Tawang Train Station.

Best Hotels in Joglosemar

Royal Ambarukmo Hotel Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
Royal Ambarukmo Hotel Yogyakarta, Indonesia via Instagram/royalambarrukmo

Best Hotel in Yogyakarta:

  • Royal Ambarukmo Yogyakarta – From IDR 899.091 per night
  • Yogyakarta Marriott Hotel – From IDR 952.000 per night
  • The Westlake Resort Yogyakarta – From IDR 527.411 per night
  • Hyatt Regency Yogyakarta – From 896.282

Best Hotel in Solo

  • Novotel Solo – From IDR 460.000 per night
  • The Royal Surakarta Heritage Solo – From IDR 485.000 per night
  • The Sunan Hotel Solo – From IDR 495.868 per night
  • Rumah Batu Villa & spa – From IDR 429.752 per night
The Sunan Hotel Solo, Indonesia.
The Sunan Hotel Solo, Indonesia via Instagram/thesunanhotel

Best Hotel in Semarang: Next

  • Holiday Inn Express Simpang Lima – From IDR 519.008 per night
  • Po Hotels Semarang – From IDR 822.314 per night
  • Hotel Chanti  – From IDR 548.100 per night
  • Rooms Inc Hotel – From IDR 516.529 per night
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