Friday, January 09, 2004

Going Solo

Going Solo


The Javanese people that I meet in Yogjakarta are very proud of their multi-religious roots, and rightly so. My guide at the Jogja kraton (palace), Ibu Titi, took great pains to explain to me the design of its pillars which have Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic influences. The driver I hired to bring me around, Mas Supryi--the humblest of Javanese--told me that all religions are but different paths to reach the same goal. Wise words indeed from a man who hardly makes 300K rupiah a month to support his family of a wife and three school-going kids.

I meet some of the nicest people in Jogja, even though the city has become a bit of a tourist place with becak drivers that will never leave you alone (becak! kraton! batik!).

After a day of loitering around Jogja town (where I finally managed to find some good Bung Karno posters from a roadside vendor) , I rose early to visit the Prambanan temple on the road to Solo. The Prambanan temple complex comprising of a number of shrines built to worship Shiva, Ganesha, Vishu and Durga among others, are as astounding to me as Borobudur.

These temples with lofty stone spires look a bit like half-submerged versions of the Petronas Twin Towers from a distance. They rise majestically from the surrounding greenery, sprouting spirituality from every stone.

It was another tiring trek for me, going up and town the temples with steep steps; reaching the top, one would automatically half-kneel at the feet of these Gods, both from awe and exhaustion.

I then continued my Javanese odyssey to Solo--that other center of Javanese culture, one-and-a-half hours by car from Jogja. Solo or Surakarta has its own Sultan and kraton too--even older than the one in Jogja.

I was also eager to visit Solo because I wanted to see Bengawan Solo--the River Solo that inspired that famous song composed by Gesang. Bengawan Solo is arguably the most famous keroncong song in the world--even the Japanese are fond of it. I have been told by friends before that the colour of the river is murky brown--so I wasn't surprised to find it looking a bit like the rivers that I'm familiar with back in my hometown. Standing there by the banks of Bengawan Solo, for a moment I was transported back to my rustic childhood days...

Tomorrow I'll have to end this solo pilgrimage of mine into the Javanese heartland. I plan to take a day train that will snake its way back to Jakarta, allowing me to savour the Javanese landscape along the way. Alone in Solo, I feel a certain spiritual peace--a contentment that only pilgrims would comprehend.

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