International Tourists Take Yogyarkarta by Storm!
As a 13-year-old traveling around the world with my parents, there was one thing I feared more than anything else. It wasn’t food poisoning…culture shock…getting kidnapped…strange insect bites….or unpronounceable foreign illnesses. Nope. It was something much more terrifying: looking like a tourist.
We can blame it on the awkward “teen years,” but I was downright determined to blend in wherever we went. “Don’t keep your camera around your neck!” “Stop asking for directions!” “Avoid looking lost!” “Don’t act too impressed by cultural artifacts or landmarks!”
I loved traveling, but a part of me believed that a true traveler could immediately assimilate into a new culture and act like an ex-pat who’s lived there for years. After years of traveling…and a little maturing…I soon learned that a tourist is a beautiful thing. Experiencing strange and unusual things can be life changing, and it helps you gain a greater understanding of the world around you.
Sure, no one likes the guy who takes up way too much space on the metro train when you’re just trying to squeeze onboard to get to work. And you certainly don’t want to play the role of the American idiot: “Where’s the ban-yo?” “In English, please!” “Can I have some ketchup?” But acknowledging that you’re in awe of another culture’s treasures, or asking for directions here and there is all part of the travel experience.
On my trip to Indonesia, I traveled around in a massive group of student tourists, and learned that while every culture has a different way of traveling the world, one thing is the same: MUST. TAKE. MORE. PICTURES!
Who am I to buck the trend?
In Yogyakarta, we experienced three hallmarks of Indonesian culture.
First up: Prambanan Temple (affectionately dubbed “Pram-banana” – must say with a British accent for full effect)
Prambanan was built in the 10th century, and truly is a sight to behold. We didn’t get to explore the grounds, but the vistas from across the river were breathtaking!
It is the largest Indonesian temple dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva. Each pillar is decorated with reliefs illustrating the epic of the Ramayana, a famous Hindu epic. Many Indonesians I spoke to likened this love story of Rama and Sita to the western tale of Romeo and Juliet.
It was fitting that after we finished our epic photoshoot in front of the temple, we took our seats to see the Ramayana Ballet performed on an open air stage.
The ballet brought to life King Rama’s quest to rescue his wife, Sita from the Ravana the Demon King.
The story was fairly complex, so the ballet was a little difficult to follow, but the beautiful costuming and dancing alone was enough to captivate our attention.
After the show, in true tourist style, we went “backstage” to meet the performers and play with the instruments!
This little boy was one of the coolest parts of the show! He was so impressively professional!
We put our earlier music lesson to use with the vast array of gamelan instruments!
The next morning, we were up bright and early to visit Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world, and the most visited tourist site in Indonesia.
The temple was literally breathtaking. I mean it! The climb up hundreds of stairs in the blazing Indonesian sun seriously takes your breath away!
We stopped more than once along the way to marvel at the each level, representing the stages of enlightenment. The lower levels feature stone carved panels that tell the story of the Buddhist Sutras. There are 1,460 scenes in all!
As you climb, the levels become much less ornate, representing a rise to a state of formlessness.
And it’s all worth it once you reach the top! 504 Buddha statues sit inside bell shaped stupas, surrounding the crowning stupa, which is nearly 10 meters in diameter.
It’s said that the temple will bring you good luck if you circle the central stupa three, six or nine times. But, you have to circumambulate the temple with the main stupa on your RIGHT side. Don’t ask me why.
Go THIS WAY.
NOT this way.
We were also told that touching a Buddha’s feet or hands is very lucky. It took some stretching, but we did it!
Our group certainly wasn’t the only group of tourists admiring this monument. Many of the visitors were Indonesians from other islands. One family from Sumatra found the pale-skinned aliens in our group more interesting than the actual landmark. They even asked to take a photo with the living, breathing tourist attraction.
We also met a group of schoolboys who were working on an assignment: interview tourists about their experience at Borobudur! Of course, they wanted to talk to the aliens, too.
Despite the blazing heat, we left no picture untaken.
A few of the gentlemen in our group decided that the temple was a great backdrop for a boyband album cover.
And of course, Gail from the Philippines had her moment in the spotlight!
Not to be outdone…the fabulous Mheljor from the Philippines strutted his stuff.
Exhausted, dehydrated and overheated, we made our way back down the steps…only to be bombarded by throngs of vendors trying to convince you that THEIR Borobudur keychains were better than anyone else’s.
We made it through the gauntlet without shelling out too many rupiah, and Caroline from Australia had a nice chat with a man selling Rama and Sita figurines.
Borobudur was an incredible cultural masterpiece, and it’s not hard to see why it has often landed on varying lists of the Seven Wonders of the World.
We had a blast exploring three of the most classic representations of Indonesian culture, and I didn’t even care that I stood out like a sore thumb.
To all the 13-year-olds out this, just know: a little tourism goes a long way.
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