Yogyakarta: Cradle of Culture

As the sun begins to rise in the east, dramatic sunrays pierce the clouds and pass through the perforated stone stupas of Borobudur.

Words by Binsar Bob Napitupulu


Within each of the 72 stone stupas sits a carved Buddha in peaceful meditation. A thick, low-hanging fog shrouds the lowest of the stacked platforms of the imposing 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist temple. In every direction, thousands of trees barely peek above the fog. I feel as peaceful as I imagine the meditating Buddha statues to be – for a moment it feels like the massive site is weightless and we’re floating above the clouds. Standing atop Borobudur, with my hand grazing the cold, coarse stone of the central dome, I feel connected to thousands of years of human history and culture.

This is my fourth visit to Yogyakarta and every time I come here I learn something new, see something different and have a unique experience. This is a university town after all – home to some of Indonesia’s most prominent higher education institutions – and perhaps it’s the mingling of the classic Javanese culture and the resident student population that gives the city a fresh, hip vibe that excites and relaxes at the same time.


Around town you’ll find small, quirky and curious cafés, restaurants and shops. Vibrant street art around every corner on Sosrowijayan contrasts with the traditional wayang puppet workshops and batik galleries tucked into narrow laneways. The city is built around the Keraton Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat, the royal palace that stands at its heart.

The sultan still lives here, and traditional artisans still work within its walls. At the same time a number of Indonesia’s leading contemporary artists and art galleries also call the city home.

One of Indonesia’s most influential contemporary artists, Affandi, lived in Yogyakarta until he passed away in 1990. His former home – a wonderfully bizarre building that he designed and constructed himself – is now a museum dedicated to his life’s work (www.affandi.org). Museum Affandi houses over 200 of his most distinctive abstract works alongside his beloved lime-green 1970 Mustang Galant right in the middle of the gallery.


If you love to explore Asian markets, Jalan Maliobroro has an infinitely eclectic assortment of clothes, fabrics, fresh spices and produce, traditional trinkets, handicrafts and homewares. This is also a great introduction to the city’s street food scene, with hawkers selling fresh seafood, fierce sambals, chicken, beef and mutton satay doused in peanut sauce and the city’s quintessential stewed young jackfruit dish, gudeg.

After a filling portion of Yogyakarta street fare you’ll find many fun ways to burn those calories. Cycling around the city is an easy way to absorb the urban sprawl, though cycling the countryside is equally popular for picturesque views of lush fields and rice paddies. The verdancy of the region is due to the fertile volcanic soils around Yogyakarta.


On the horizon, 40 km in the distance, the active Mount Merapi looms over the city – a wisp of smoke, stretched thin as it clings to its peak, can be seen at least 300 days a year. Meaning ‘Mountain of Fire’, according to local legend Mount Merapi is home to a spiritual kingdom of ancestors. The name is also believed to derive from the names of two disobedient servants of the gods – Rama and Permadi – who were buried underneath the mountain when it was placed there by the gods to restore balance to Java. As part of this balance, locals live by the philosophy that if they love and respect the mountain, its fertile soils will adequately provide for them.

Those adventurous enough can scale the 2,930 m stratovolcano in about four hours. The views from above the clouds are supposedly spectacular. Personally I’ve never been to the top. I’m saving it for my next trip.

Jakarta to Yogyakarta

Flight Time 50 minutes

Frequency 70 flights per week

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From Colours January 2016


5 Senses – Touch

Central Java is blessed with natural attractions that are the perfect setting for outbound adventures, such as caving at Jomblang Cave, trekking around Menoreh Hill or traversing the treetops at Kalibiru.