A few months back, I was sitting in my cubicle at office, when my colleague came up to me and asked, ‘Let’s go somewhere!’ I averted my gaze away from the laptop screen and said, ‘Okay, you want to go to Koramangala or Indiranagar?’ I thought she was talking about going out for dinner that evening. But then she told me what she really had in mind was to go on a vacation outside the country. I was taken aback for a second but then I thought, ‘Why not?’ and we started looking for the cheapest foreign destinations. We decided on Indonesia and booked our flight tickets, and because we booked quite a bit in advance, we got them at relatively cheap prices. The next thing on our agenda was to find hotels. Since nowadays hotel bookings have become a piece of cake with websites like Booking.com and Agoda, it didn’t take that long to tick that off our checklist as well.
Jakarta: The Heart of Indonesia
Finally, on 25th January, we set out on our journey from Bengaluru. Our first destination was Jakarta, the capital city situated in the island of Java. Indonesia is made up of thousands of volcanic islands with Java being the third largest after Sumatra and Sulawesi. Once we reached, we first got our money exchanged at the Money Changer. If you carry US dollars, it is easy to get them changed but always make sure to look for the best rates. We also found out that commuting is pretty simple if you have taxi apps like Uber installed on your phone.
The first thing that struck me about Jakarta was how clean it was. The first day, we decided to do some sightseeing. We visited the SeaWorld which had some beautiful underwater creatures. Jakarta’s night life is pretty famous but we couldn’t muster up the energy after the long commute and decided to call it a night.
The next day, we woke up early in the morning and decided to visit the National Monument and Museum which was built to commemorate the struggle for Indonesia’s independence. A towering structure, it is a feast for the eyes and a must-visit for first timers. Then we took a train to our second destination, Bandung which is in Central Java in the afternoon. The trains there are nothing like Indian trains. They are clean, safe, fast and most importantly, on time.
Bandung: Paris of Java
Bandung is only a three-hour journey from Jakarta. Once there, I was mesmerized by the feel of the city, rustic and immensely beautiful. Bandung is nicknamed the Paris of Java because of its beauty and the similar atmosphere it shares with European cities. We went to see Tangkuban Perahu which is a stratovolcano. People can hike right up to the edge of the crater to view the hot water springs and boiling mud up-close. It was a spectacular sight to behold. We also went to see a Japanese styled Floating Market in Lembang where you can buy all sorts of things and try local delicacies.
Yogyakarta: Shopaholic’s Paradise
Our third destination was Yogyakarta or Jogja as the locals call it. Jogja was my personal favourite. It is an eight-hour train journey from Bandung and a historically important city: the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan are located very close by. The first night there, we ate at an Italian Restaurant called NanaMia, which had the best pepperoni pizza I have had in my whole life. You can also get Bintang beer there, which is a locally manufactured lager beer. Bintang and Bali Hai are two Indonesian beers that you must definitely try because they taste nothing short of amazing.
The next day, we went to watch the sunrise from a hilltop overlooking the Borobudur temple. The Borobudur temple is a 9th century Mahayana Buddhist Temple. The Buddhists believed that the journey to the top of the temple is through three levels symbolic of Buddhist Cosmology: Kamadhatu (the world of desire), Rupadhatu (the world of forms) and Arupadhatu (the world of formlessness). The temple is decorated with relief panels on its walls. The reliefs depict Buddha’s journey from being Prince Siddhartha till he attained enlightenment. The Borobudur temple overlooks Mount Merapi, which is an active volcano, owing to which, the temple was under volcanic ash for hundreds of years until the Dutch came and re-discovered it. Once you reach the top of the temple and sit on its edge, looking over at Merapi, a sense of calm engulfs you. That is the magic of Borobudur.
Not too far from Borobudur is the Prambanan Temple which is a Hindu temple dedicated to the Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara). The construction of this temple was to mark the return of the Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty to power in Java after a century of Buddhist Shailendra Dynasty domination. The temple has beautiful idols of Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Ganesha, Durga and Nandi, all made of stone. At night, you can watch the Ramayana Ballet in the temple grounds. The Ramayana Ballet is a must watch, it beautifully depicts the most important parts of the epic, right from Sita’s abduction by Ravana to Rama defeating Ravana in Lanka and rescuing Sita.
If you are a shopaholic then Jogja is the place for you. Malioboro Street comprises lines and lines of colourful shops with local goodies. You can buy everything from bags to shoes, and junk jewellery to traditional Batik paintings. But do not forget to bargain. Jogja also has some great eateries, we found this French and Mediterranean Café which had amazing food. ViaVia Jogja was also another favourite where we ate some delicious Nasi Goreng.
Bali: Heaven on Earth
For the last leg of our journey, we boarded the domestic flight from Jogja to Bali. Bali was just as amazing I had imagined it would be. We were staying at Kuta Beach which is where the younger crowd hangs out. You can also opt for Seminyak Beach if you can splurge a bit and need some quiet and personal space. But Kuta is where the party is. The beaches are lovely and you can even learn surfing if you feel like it. When the sun sets, all you do is hit Legian Street which is the equivalent of Tito’s Lane in Goa but a thousand times crazier. Legian is lined with clubs and bars on both sides, and you will find places playing all sorts of music from jazz to rock, EDM to trance and even reggae, they have it all.
We wanted to do some watersports, so we went to Tanjung Benoa Beach in Nusa Dua which is the hub for watersports. I tried Scuba Diving for Rs 2500 which is pretty cheap. It was an experience of a lifetime, being nine meters underwater and seeing marine life up close. You can also try parasailing, jet skiing, the banana boat, snorkelling and more. Bali has a lot of temples as most of the people follow Hinduism (rest of Indonesia has a Muslim majority). We went to see the Tanah Lot, which is situated amidst the ocean on a rock. I had not seen any structure like it before and it was indeed a great experience. We also went to the Ubud Monkey Forest and Temple, which is a sanctuary for monkeys. You can trek up to the temple and feed bananas to the monkeys.
Bali is definitely heaven on earth. I did not want to come back, but, eventually, the trip had to come to an end. So, we bid our goodbyes to Bali and hopped on a flight back to India. Indonesia is definitely an incredible destination, and the best part is that you do not have to spend a lot of money to enjoy it. The people are welcoming, and if you are in need, they will try to help you out. But, mind you, they are not very fluent in English. Also, if they know you are from India, they will ask you questions about Shah Rukh Khan and Kuch Kuch Hota Hain but all that is part of the experience as well, so try to enjoy every moment like we did, and you will come back with unforgettable memories.
By Manosha Borah
The article was first published in Eclectic Northeast (March 2017) issue