Borobodur lies at the heart of Java, the island where Jakarta sprawls and plays a central role in the life of all Indonesians. At first glance, visitors would mistake Borobodur for a temple. With hundreds of Buddha statues and thousands of relief panels telling the life of Buddhist saints, the structure best serves as a shrine for a faith long banished from the island.
Nobody knows for sure who built this massive stone edifice. It might be a beloved Javanese king whose dynasty was deposed after the arrival of Islam. For whatever good intentions, this artificial hill, with stupas and a single large dome dotting the skyline, was left alone by the flood of invaders.
A thousand years after it was built, Borobodur, together with the nearby temples of Pawon and Mendut, still hosts tourists and Buddhist pilgrims alike. These are the best examples of ancient Indonesian architecture.
Jakarta is the heart and soul of Indonesia. This thriving metropolis is the cultural, economic, and political center of the country. It is also the gateway to the far-flung islands and valleys, where pristine beaches and stunning landscapes await to be explored. A tour of the capital has its own rewards, too. After all, Jakarta is Indonesia under a microscope.
A tour of the Big Durian begins at the Merdeka Square. It is where the National Monument stands proudly along with dozens of statues and reliefs, celebrating the country’s heritage. The massive pillar symbolizes two of Indonesia’s traditional tools – rice and pestle. There is also a museum inside the monument, which tells the story of Indonesians in paint canvass. A walk further in leads visitors to the Hall of Independence. It is where the original text of the Independence Proclamation is stored.
The Muezzins’ call to prayer from the minaret of the Istiqlal Mosque can be heard across Central Jakarta. Built in 1978 to commemorate Indonesia’s independence, the Istiqlal Mosque serves as a national mosque. It stands next to Jakarta Cathedral and is the largest mosque in Southeast Asia.
A tour of Jakarta is incomplete without paying homage to the old town of Kota Tua. A walking trip is recommended for many of the old buildings stand next to each other. The Wayang Museum dedicates itself to the fine art of shadow puppetry, while the Jakarta History Museum was once the city hall during the Dutch period. Cross the Jembatan Kota Intan drawbridge, or get lost at the Glodok and Pinangsia Chinatown. The old town of Kota Tua, albeit crumbling, offers a lot more interesting destinations that an entire day of walking would not be enough.
Komodo and Rinca Islands
If not for the dragons that inhabit these islands, Komodo and Rinca would remain places of insignificance. Fortunately, the Komodo dragons, the largest lizards, make these islands their home
In these islands, you can witness how the reptiles gobble a goat with one bite or even attack a buffalo. Though hiking trails are present, walking alone is not permitted. The dragons are known to attack humans and have already killed two in the last twenty years.
Lombok has become the second top tourist destination after Bali. The island itself is a tropical paradise, only less crowded and less pricey than its more prominent twin across the channel. With white sand beaches stretching across Kuta, this surfer’s paradise is deserted at times. In fact, it is still possible to have the entire beachfront, with its legendary waves, all to yourself.
Gill Islands, just off the coast of Lombok, is a snorkler’s haven. This trio of lush islands has largely escaped the speedy construction of roads and accommodations happening at the main island. Automobiles are banned, and so are large resorts, but there are chic villas and even rustic huts with hammocks that you can rent to pass the time and forget the world you left behind.
Nothing beats the allure of the frontier, especially in Indonesia where some of the islands remain largely untouched by civilization. Consider Baliem Valley in Papua, an “island” in a sea of trees, purple fields covered with sweet potatoes, and largely unexplored mountains dotted with tribal villages, whose beginnings have been lost to stories.
Days are long and uneventful in this sleepy valley, unless you’re a Christian missionary in a quest to convert the Dani, Lani and Yali tribes, or you have come around August when Wamena, the commercial center and the nearby tribal villages thump with traditional song and dance, staged mock battles, and pig feasts to celebrate the festivities.
A word of caution: Baliem Valley and Wamena are located at the interior of the province. Expect everything to be flown from the nearest port of Jayapura. Therefore, consumer goods tend to be a little pricey.