The first two were easily achieved, the third had me questioning my priorities in life.
It was December 2013; Gunung Merapi (Mount Merapi) had erupted less than a month earlier – just a quick phreatic eruption, blasting smoke two vertical kilometres into the sky. A 20 kilometre radius exclusion zone was immediately put in place around the volcano; this had been reduced to a ten kilometre exclusion by the time Ami and I arrived. Volcanic activity seemed to have completely settled though, and tour companies had already resumed their business of escorting hikers up the mountain.
‘Must be safe, right?’ I said to Ami.
She shrugged, unconcerned, so we went ahead and booked a trek to the summit.
The following morning we visited Borobudur at sunrise. While there, Gunung Merapi erupted again. Just a mini eruption, smoke and ash and gas pouring out of the crater, mushrooming into the sky. It only lasted twenty minutes.
But what would have happened if we were at the summit during those twenty minutes? Would it have been a close shave? Would we have gotten away with burn injuries or respiratory illness? Or would we now be dead?
At least we didn’t have to ponder the issue any longer. Climbing Gunung Merapi at this time was a silly idea. The tour was cancelled.
Which meant we had to look for other ways to amuse ourself in Yogyakarta.
Yogyakarta (pronounced jogjakarta) has existed as a settlement in the Mataram Sultanate from as far back as the 8th Century CE.
Things really got going for the city in 1756 CE, following the signing of the Treaty of Giyanti (which split the Mataram Sultanate into two), when it became the capital of the new Yogyakarta Sultanate.
The Kraton, Yogyakarta
Construction of the Kraton began in 1756 with the signing of the Treaty of Giyanti. This enormous walled complex contained the royal palace, expansive gardens and courtyards, and accommodation for all of the sultan’s servants and staff.
Several of the palace’s central pavilions, including the Golden Pavilion, have been preserved and converted into museums and cultural spaces.
If you are lucky – or time your visit to the Kraton carefully – you may catch a wayang (shadow puppet) performance inside one of the luxurious pavilions,
The wayang performances retell stories from the Ramayana and other Hindu epics, and are accompanied by a traditional gamelan orchestra.
Taman Sari Water Castle, Yogyakarta
The Taman Sari Water Castle, constructed alongside the Kraton, was the sultan’s personal sanctuary. Within Taman Sari there were 18 separate water gardens, several ornate gates, a large bathing complex, and numerous artificial lakes.
Sadly much the Taman Sari water castle was destroyed in various military conflicts and earthquakes, and has since been taken over by private housing.
Only the central bathing complex – reserved for the sultan, his daughters, and his concubines – survives.
A three storey observational tower was constructed in the bathing complex (seen on the lefthand side of the photo above) to allow the sultan to stand at the uppermost window and watch his concubines frolicking in the water below.
This was supposedly the manner in which he selected a concubine for his evening’s entertainment.
Imogiri, located seventeen kilometres outside of Yogyakarta, on the top of a forested hill, accessed by a truly gruelling set of stairs, is the site of the royal tombs. It has been the final resting place of the Mataram sultans since 1632.
To enter the royal tombs you will need to dress in traditional Javanese attire, which, fortunately, can be rented at the entrance kiosk. Men should be able to slip into their outfit without any difficulty; for ladies it is a little trickier. Luckily there a female assistant on site to lend a helping hand.
Parangtritis, a black sand beach situated some thirty kilometres south of Yogyakarta, is a popular picnic destination for locals.
The beach is spacious, and the water is relatively clean. Not many people swim here though because of legendarily aggressive rips and currents.
If you forget to bring your own umbrella; don’t worry, there are plenty here for rent. Ditto quad bikes.
Or, if it takes your fancy, you can pile into the back of a small horse-drawn carriage and trundle up and down the beach a few times.
Gunung Merapi (meaning: fire mountain in Bahasa Indonesian) is the most active volcano in Indonesia, with small eruptions every 2 – 3 years, and major eruptions every 10 – 15. An eruption in 2010 led to the death of 353 people.
The summit of Gunung Merapi is officially closed to hikers, but this rule is not enforced, and people climb the mountain year round. The vast majority make it to the summit and back without incident.
If you feel you’d rather not climb Gunung Merapi, or if the volcano is being a little too frisky for comfort, then there are plenty of decent viewpoints around that do not require risk of life and limb.
Practical information and how to reach Yogyakarta:
Yogyakarta has a small international airport with flights to Malaysia and Singapore. Those coming from elsewhere will need to transit through Jakarta or Denpasar. More transport info here.
The historical city of Yogyakarta is on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage status.