Yogyakarta

Ayos Purwoaji explores the hidden gem of south Yogyakarta, an area rich in natural beauty, culinary flavours, and artistic expression.

Words by Ayos Purwoaji

For the people of Yogyakarta, the future is definitely in the south. Over the past few years, numerous changes have taken place in this area of Java: the Trans-Java toll road is now connected, a new international airport is being built, and numerous charming beaches known previously only to locals are becoming more visited.

One hot afternoon, I decide to visit the area along the south coast, some 40km from Yogyakarta city centre. Along the way, I pass rows of karst hills hiding a network of underground caves. Some of these caves have become popular tourist destinations – for activities such as cave tubing, visit Goa Pindul, or witness the spectacular shaft of sunlight entering the rotunda at Goa Jomblang.

Many of the visitor destinations in south Yogyakarta have become more popular due in part to social media. In the past, these beaches and caves were considered mysterious; they were difficult to reach and effectively closed to visitors. When I last visited about 20 years ago with a group of school friends, there was very limited access by way of road. It took a certain degree of recklessness, typical of young people, to explore beaches that were at the time not even named.

But the situation now is very different. The quality of the roads is much improved, attractions are signposted, and vendors are present on both sides of the road, selling fried locusts in plastic jars.

There are about a dozen or so beaches to visit, ranging from the more popular ones such as Pantai Parangtritis, Pantai Baron or Pantai Sundak to many smaller, more private stretches of sand.

On this occasion, however, I drive to Pantai Indrayanti. Near the sea’s edge, colourful umbrellas are sprinkled across the white sand, while food stalls and souvenir shops line the beach. When I arrive, the tide is out. A layer of coral is in full view with seaweed protruding from underneath. I observe various sea creatures and small fish trapped among the coral rocks. Gradually, the sun begins to move to the west, bathing the beach in its soft light, in between the shadows which grow longer by the minute, and the splashing waves that create a thin layer of spray, like something from an impressionist painting.

Another afternoon, I have the opportunity to visit the studio of the artist Jumaadi, situated at the top of a hill in the district of Imogiri. Looking down from the hill, I can see the graveyard complex that is the resting place of kings from the Mataram kingdom, who ruled Central Java from the late 16th to the early 18th centuries. Jumaadi set up his studio several years ago. It consists of a group of houses and a Javanese pavilion made of old wood, carried from some place unknown. Around the cluster of buildings stands a row of withering teak trees, giving an impression of aridness and austerity. “To me, this is another kind of beauty,” says the artist. “It forces us to feel fragile and always on the alert.”

Jumaadi originally comes from Sidoarjo in East Java. But today he spends more of his time in Sydney. Once a year, he creates a new work in this studio. He invites me to take a look around his workshop, filled with furniture and other antiques. A group of craftsmen can be seen carving pieces of cowhide. Another group is busy cutting sheets of zinc. Jumaadi tells me he is preparing for several exhibitions and his agenda is fully booked until next year. I observe some of his most recent works; he is continuing to promote Javanese culture, symbols, and folklore in a contemporary style.

“Come here, I’ll show you some more!” says Jumaadi, leading me to another room. Inside, he takes out a few paintings on cloth. They are huge. He explains that these paintings were made with a group of female artists in Ubud and are characterised by the unique shades and style of Kamasan, a famous painting tradition from Bali. One of the largest paintings depicts two snakes, blue and black, intertwined. They form an endless labyrinth, creating a hypnotic space for the spectator.

After looking at the artist’s works, I am invited to the veranda at the side of the house. We sit and relax on a wooden bench. As the afternoon draws on, our conversation becomes less focused. We cover an array of topics, from art to politics, while being caressed by the dry wind blowing gently from the south.

In another 20 years, with ever-improving access and information, perhaps I will encounter a completely different landscape in the south of Yogyakarta. A luxury resort with rows of cafés, boutique hotels, artist studios and galleries, or even other new attractions impossible to imagine at the present time. Nevertheless, I hear my inner conscience whispering: may the tradition and collective memory of this place not disappear too quickly.

Jakarta to Yogyakarta


Flight Time50 minutes

Frequency 70 flights per week

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From Colours October 2019

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5 Senses – Sight
Book Talk

Several literature festivals are held throughout the year, including the Borobudur Writers’ Festival, Kampung Buku Jogja and the MocoSik Festival. There are also several libraries, including the O.TH Library & Bookshop in the north of the city, providing public access to rare books in a comfortable environment. A haven for book lovers. instagram.com/rumahbuku_o.th