Indonesia was an unlikely addition to our bucket list. It hitched itself on because it happened to be a convenient place to view the total solar eclipse of March 2016. But having booked our tickets to Palembang (from where the eclipse would be visible), we decided to add Borobudur and Bali on the sightseeing list. And now looking back, have no regrets. Seeing Borobudur, a world heritage site, was a humbling, soothing and a wondrous experience, all at the same time. And Bali was a magical island, full of astounding and varied natural beauty, from surreal sunset skies to tranquil lakes shrouded in mist and vibrant intricately designed ancient temples to pristine beaches of clean white sand.Indonesia - sunset skies and tranquil lakes to intricately designed ancient temples Click To Tweet
At first sight, Jakarta airport looked like a quaint throwback. Unlike the gleaming tall glass facades that one expects at an international airport of the capital of a country, it was spread out horizontally with sloping tiled roofs. But we were quite efficiently ushered through immigration. One of the few countries where Indians are given visa on arrival without any fee!
Jakarta is a crowded bustling city, subject to huge traffic jams. The long elevated road from the airport almost to the city centre tries to mitigate the problem to some extent. But we noted that we would need to leave our hotel well in time for our departure 3 days later. The best place to get away from the crowds and traffic is to stay in the Ancol region in North Jakarta. This is an area with restricted entry for both locals and guests, regulated by an entrance fee per vehicle as well as number of persons.
The Ancol region lies along the coast and besides having lovely beaches, looks like one large green park with quiet walkways. There are no residences here and besides a few hotels, only activity areas and amusement parks. The most famous of them is the Dunia Fantasi with water parks and action rides. We stayed at the Discovery Hotel and Convention Centre with excellent rooms and restaurants. But what stands out from our Ancol stay is the excellent dinner that we had at the Bandar Djakarta Restaurant located a pleasant 2 ½ km walk from our hotel. The whole atmosphere there is electric with locals crowding the tables. The menu is primarily seafood and the guest get to make their choice from a live “aquarium” located near the entrance. The food is spicy and washed down with the local beer, it made for a memorable experience.
Things to do in Jakarta
One day’s outing is enough to view Jakarta’s main monuments, the Istiqlal mosque, the Jakarta Cathedral church (30% of the population of this Islamic country are Christian) and the National monument. We reached the open air plaza with fast food joints adjoining the latter around dusk and spent the evening watching locals talking and eating with their families.
But you need to budget one whole day to visit the Teman Mini Indonesia Indah, a sprawling 250 acre amusement park that brings Indonesian culture & nature to life via museums & replicas of famed sights as well as everyday structures like the local houses. An aerial ropeway and elevated train track both allow a bird’s eye view of the park’s greenery and its attractions. You can even taste the various cuisines at the eating joints within the park. A lazy way to see the diversity of various regions of Indonesia without actually travelling there!
After a 2 day trip to Palembang to view the eclipse, we landed at Yogjakarta airport, drove directly to Borobudur and checked into the Manohara Borobudur Hotel located just next to the temple. This hotel is elegant and quiet, but more importantly, because of its proximity, it allows easy predawn access to the floodlit temple and the climb to the top to see the sunrise.
We then walked down at our leisure in the wan early morning sunlight; our guide explaining to us the meaning of the elaborate well preserved carvings on this massive 800 year old, 1500 square feet, nine-tiered World Heritage monument. The design of this monument is thought to represent both Buddhist cosmology and the state of the human mind! The trip back to the airport included a stop at the Prambanan temples, a group of again 800 year old Hindu temples with sharp tall elaborately carved spires, which are well worth a visit.
Bali’s Denpasar airport is a short flight away from Yogjakarta but the appearance of the airport and the atmosphere is charmingly exotic and relaxed. You know that you are going to have a great time there! There are three distinct regions of Bali that every traveler should experience: the beaches and vibrant nightlife in the south (Kuta, Legian, Nusa Dua), the misty mountains in the North around Beratan Lake and the laid-back charming area in and around Ubud. Each is a different face that Bali shows its visitors.
Kuta and Legian’s beaches are legendary, both for the clean long sandy areas and a warm sea that is suitable for wading, sailing and just gazing at from under a beach umbrella. It is even suitable for surfing for the debutant surfer with training offered and surfboards on hire. The colourful sunsets on the beaches are an awesome sight and the setting sun brings to life the beach shacks with the clink of glasses, cheery laughter of tourists and the aroma of mouth-watering seafood. After a sumptuous meal, we headed over to Sky Garden a 5 storeyed disco with different types of music playing on each floor. Each to his/her own taste! The modest entrance fee includes a drink and entry for the ladies is free. The next day, we pampered our muscles, sore from the extensive exertion of the disco dancing, with a relaxing Balinese massage.
The kecak dance
The kecak dance should be a “no miss” item on your Bali trip. This is a group dance of over 100 bare chested Indonesian men wearing a checked black and white “skirt” who continuously chant hypnotically and rhythmically. They enact the story of the mythological Ramayana and we were held enthralled during the entire hour long performance. We saw the show held in a small amphitheatre near the Uluwatu temple against the background of a fiery sunset, which made it even more memorable. But watch out for monkeys who abound in the temple environs who will snatch you caps, glasses, phones or cameras!
The next day we took off for Beratan lake in the north which is included in the list of the world’s 20 most beautiful lakes. The climb up to 4000 feet in the mountains took us past green terraced rice fields that were soothing to the eyes. The lake was surrounded by mist and felt cool and refreshing after the heat of the southern Bali beaches. The Ulun Danu temple poised at the edge of the lake with painted carvings made for great photo opportunities.
We spent the last 3 days at a resort in Ubud. Except for short excursions to the “Sacred Monkey Forest” and the local curio market we just lazed in the resort’s swimming pool with a waterfall, took leisurely evening walks and took more relaxing massages. There were plenty of restaurants in Ubud offering various cuisines to satisfy our palate. Ubud offered us a sojourn in serenity, before returning to “civilization”!
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Thank you, Suhas Prabhu for writing this wonderful guest post.