The Special Region of Jogjakarta – also spelled as Yogyakarta – is always proud of the fact that it is the only region in Indonesia that is still governed by pre-colonial monarchy. It also possesses diverse customs and traditions that make Jogjakarta alluring to a curious traveller like me in many ways. Upon my recent visit to this culturally rich region, I discovered some of its magnificent cultural gems that me realise how unique and wonderful Jogjakarta really is.
Where to Visit?
Formally known as Kraton Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat, this palace was formerly the government centre of the Sultanate of Yogyakarta and is still used as the official residence of the Yogyakarta Sultanate. Built since 1756 by Sultan Hamengkubuwono, the palace showcases the palatial Javanese architecture. It also served as an art and cultural centre of Java, which is an exceptional opportunity for travellers to witness it for themselves.
Taman Sari Water Castle
Built in 1765 for the Sultan of the Kingdom of Jogjakarta, Hamengkubuwono I, this formerly lavish royal garden was once filled with fragrant flowers that rendered the place as Taman Sari, which means ‘perfumed garden’. It is located not far from the Kraton Palace as a token of appreciation from the Sultan to his wives who expressed their loyalty to him through difficult times. It also functioned as a meditation space and fort, among others.
Some of the notable features include a series of underground tunnels and a subterranean mosque, Sumur Gumuling that surprisingly holds a complex philosophy through its Eastern-Western infused architecture. To today’s youngsters, however, it provides a fantastic backdrop for awesome Instagram-worthy shots.
Sonobudoyo Heritage Museum
For history aficionados, Sonobudoyo Heritage Museum should be in your must-visit list where you can obtain a more vivid view of the Javanese history and culture. The museum exhibits 10 categories of collections such as Ethnographic, Numismatics, Archaeology and Fine Arts, to name a few. Interestingly, the museum is dubbed as the most extensive in showcasing Javanese heritage and history after The National Museum of Republic of Indonesia in Jakarta. Visitors can also look forward to witnessing leather puppet shows regularly held here.
Kotagede, which means ‘big city’, was the capital of the Mataram Islamic Kingdom during 16th century. Today, it remains as a residential area where travellers can visit to witness the vestiges of this once powerful ancient kingdom such as the Mataram Kings Cemetery, Mataram Grand Mosque, Panembahan Senopati throne and Omah UGM, which is a traditional house that survived the 2006 earthquake in Jogjakarta. The area is also well-known as the centre for silversmithing industry since 1930s. If you are keen to know more about Kotagede silversmithing and bespoke silverware, feel free to walk around to as many silver workshops that you can find to shop and even learn the process of transforming silver into finely-detailed artworks called ‘Yogya Silver’.
Known as shoppers’ hunting paradise, this main and longest street in Jogjakarta offers many choices of street vendors selling many kinds of souvenirs. Though they mostly sell similar goods, shoppers need to compare prices from one shop to another – it would be better if you are also good at bargaining.
Malioboro Street also offers interesting vistas of several Dutch colonial buildings and andong (horse cart with four wheels), which I find fascinating.
From day to night, Malioboro Street is always lively. You can find warung (food stalls) along the road where travellers must have a taste of the famous gudeg (traditional Javanese cuisine made from stewed jackfruit), pecel lele (deep fried catfish usually served with rice, traditional chilli paste, fried tempeh and vegetables) and bakmi Jawa (stew/fried Javanese noodles).
Breksi Cliff Park
Locally known as Tebing Breksi, this site is one of the latest tourist attractions in Jogjakarta, which is made up of volcanic deposits and limestone from the side of Nglanggeran Mountain that has been mined. Today, it has been developed into one of the most photogenic spots in the area with all the original geological layers still visible and intact. Some parts of the cliff face are also embellished with carvings of characters from ancient Javanese Hindu epics. Though there is no entrance fee, visitors are welcomed to donate at their discretion when taking pictures of the site involving props provided by the locals. The cliff also makes for a stunningly dramatic backdrop for performances staged at the adjacent open-air auditorium, especially at night when the faces of the cliffs are bathed in light.
What to Experience?
Wayang Jogja Night Carnival
This grand event is held every 7th October to celebrate the anniversary of Jogjakarta, which just turned 261 this year. It is considered as one of the most anticipated art and cultural events in Jogjakarta where thousands of visitors, local and international, will gather to watch the colourful anniversary parade.
This year’s show, which took place near Tugu Putih, paid homage to popular local puppet characters such as Nakula-Sadewa, Petruk Ratu, Sugriwa-Subali, Wisanggeni and more. Each puppet is respectively performed by each of Jogjakarta’s 14 districts.
Performed by 200 professional dancers and musicians close to the Prambanan Temples, Ramayana Ballet is a special cultural play that depicts the Ramayana epic. There is no dialogue between the actors but the ultraprecise costumes, mesmerising music, compelling acting and powerful storyline of the great love between Sri Rama and Dewi Shinta keep viewers entertained. Since the story is quite lengthy, the performance is divided into several scenes.
Kali Suci Cave Tubing
Never have I thought that Jogjakarta region would offer an exciting, wet activity. Travellers will be pleasantly surprised to find out that this cave tubing activity at the foot of Gunung Kidul carries travellers along a small, beautiful river that is 500 metres long. Throughout the ride, travellers are bound to be fascinated by the cave’s natural beauty, its stalactites and stalagmites, and glimpses of bats hanging and flying over the roof of the cave.
The two-hour journey along the river felt short yet satisfying and therapeutic.
Where to Stay?
101 Yogyakarta Tugu
Located in a walking distance to some of Jogjakarta’s landmarks, this luxury hotel offers 150 comfortable guest rooms. Each room comes with free wi-fi, air-conditioning, work desk and cable television. 24 of them offer the view of the grand Merapi Mountain.
Gaya Travel Magazine expresses our heartfelt gratitude to the Tourism Office of Jogjakarta City Government – Republic of Indonesia for making our writer’s journey to Jogjakarta a memorable one.