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Take back roads

past deep green
paddy fields…

Rice paddies, such as this one near
Red Island Beach in the southeast
of Java, help to feed an island that
is home to 140 million people

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The rutted, green cone of Mount
Batok (2,440m) rises next to the
fuming Bromo caldera – Batok also
has a small Hindu temple at its base

1. Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park
Climb through the clouds to see Indonesia’s most epic volcanic landscapes

STORM IS BLOWING feel rather small and ever so slightly Deadly though they can be, these peaks swathed in mossy greens. And finally is visible in the mist – a great steaming, driving rain. ‘The volcano makes the soil
over the Tenggerese vulnerable. But visited in a storm it is are at their most eerily beautiful here, there’s the volcano that you can smell belching hole that looks like it could be around here fertile, and the crops grow
mountains, and the especially forbidding. in Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park: before you can see, the tantrum-prone a highway straight to the Earth’s molten stronger. I know I am very lucky to work
landscape looks a bit like Java is the most volcanic island in the a high plateau in eastern Java where a Mount Bromo, sending plumes of pungent core. This is not a volcano to be taken in such a beautiful and holy place.’
a painting of Doomsday. most volcanic nation on Earth. Javanese veritable supergroup of volcanoes aligns in gases spiralling into the air. lightly: roughly every 10 years, Bromo Harian is one of the Tengger, a Hindu
Tungsten-grey clouds scud across a plateau volcanoes have toppled dynasties of kings a series of sweeping vistas. Dominating the Soon after scaling 250 concrete steps erupts, volleying ash and rocks over the people in predominantly Muslim Java,
of black sand; the forms of volcanoes and destroyed cities with their eruptions. horizon is Mount Semeru: the tallest peak to the rim of Bromo’s caldera, walkers are surrounding area, and shutting down the for whom Mount Bromo takes on a
appear with each flash of lightning and the Even today, their rumbles are read as on the island and the most regal-looking hit by eggy-flavoured sulphurous clouds, national park to visitors. particular spiritual significance. Though
echoes of mighty thunderclaps ping-pong messages from gods and their explosions volcano of all. Almost as dignified is the setting the eyes watering and the throat ‘The eruptions are a blessing,’ says Harian earns his living carrying visitors
around the craters. Seen in any kind of have rattled the furniture on Indian Ocean retired Mount Batok, a marvellously wheezing. Fortunately it’s not long before Harian Tokok, sitting atop his trusty horse, around the national park on his horse,
weather, this is a place to make a visitor islands some 3,000 miles away. symmetrical volcano long since dormant, the winds scatter the gases, and the crater Manis, and adjusting his poncho in the he occasionally gets uncomfortably

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A recently hatched baby turtle
heads off on its maiden voyage
at Sukamade beach

close to the volcano. The festival of Kasada
sees Hindus climbing down into the crater
to present offerings to the god they believe
inhabits Bromo, an event as dangerous as
it is spectacular. Participants inch their
way down near-vertical slopes of loose
scree to throw flowers, vegetables, money
and (in moments of profound generosity)
live goats into the big, steaming hole.
‘I can only climb down three or four

Harian Tokok riding in the
metres,’ says Harian (who prefers to offer
flowers and vegetables rather than 2. Meru Betiri
shadow of Mount Bromo.
Above A statue of the Hindu
god Ganesha with offerings
livestock). ‘And even then my knees are
shaking. But in a way I know the volcano is
always protecting me. It is looking after me
National Park
on the rim of Bromo’s crater
wherever I go. I am never afraid of it.’ Discover Java’s wilderness
With a broad smile, he climbs aboard
Manis and canters over the black sand and
coastline – home to
towards the billowing white clouds. impenetrable jungle and

From the national park’s gateway village of Cemoro pristine beaches where
Lawang, drive eastwards for 150 miles through
forested landscapes towards Java’s eastern coast. turtles come to nest

It’s a good idea to rest for the night en route –
the town of Kalibaru makes for a pleasant stop. T IS OFTEN SAID THAT IT IS
better to travel hopefully than
to arrive. Rarely is hope more
Essentials necessary than when attempting
to reach Meru Betiri National Park.
The odyssey starts off deceptively easily, with
paved roads stretching south from the town of
Genteng, near Banyuwangi, passing twinkling
rice paddies and villages of whitewashed
cottages with shady verandas.
Then, bit by bit, the Javan jungle closes in.
The road turns increasingly potholed, until at
last it becomes one long, continuous pothole.
The final and greatest hurdle involves fording
a shallow river to reach the park office. At the
peak of the rainy season (when water levels
are too high for cars), transport comes in the
form of an entrepreneur with a bamboo raft,
an optimistic grin and wet ankles.
But the difficulties of getting here are worth
it. All around is thick impenetrable jungle,
Java Banana With spacious rooms and a home to myriad species, including Javan
smart teak interiors, this hotel is set on a hillside hawk-eagles, reticulated pythons and wild
a 10-minute drive from Cemoro Lawang and the boar. It was here the last footprints of the
national park entrance. Be sure to visit the hotel now-extinct Javan tiger were found (though
gallery, which displays photography of the local some whisper the animal still lurks deep in
area (from £85; the jungle). It is a place that steadfastly resists
Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park human exploration: forest footpaths are soon
(admission £1) is best accessed via Cemoro blocked by mighty tree roots that burst out of
Lawang – a three-hour drive south from the city the ground, while the mocking calls of
of Surabaya, whose airport offers flight macaques sound from the swaying canopy
connections across Indonesia and Southeast Asia. overhead. Meru Betiri is one of the last chunks
of wilderness on Java – the most populous

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A travelling greengrocer
The hills of Meru Betiri
National Park rise in the at Red Island Beach.
distance above Pantai Pulau Right Park ranger
Merah (Red Island Beach) Suharto Hartono in his
office. Far Right Houses
at Red Island Beach

A monitor lizard in Meru Betiri
National Park. Right A traditional
bungalow. Far Right Locals on
the beach at Red Island

island on Earth – and its inaccessibility is
what has guarded its natural abundance.
Next to his office is the most important
part of the conservation effort – the
The park’s greatest treasure, however, hatchery, where eggs collected from the
emerges unexpectedly from the jungle just beach are incubated until tiny turtles pop
behind the ranger’s office: Sukamade beach, out. Inside, a handful of freshly hatched
a glorious sweep of golden sand bookended infants are frantically circling their sandy
by green headlands. It is one of a great many enclosure like wind-up toys. It won’t be long
spectacular beaches that stretch along this before they get their first swimming lesson:
coastline; nearby is the surfers’ haunt of Red visitors can join rangers releasing these
Island Beach, where colourful bungalows turtles at Sukamade, cheering babies on as
line the shores. Closer still is Teluk Hijau they instinctively waddle into the foaming
(Green Bay) – a sandy cove hemmed in by waves and salty spray of the Indian Ocean.
craggy cliffs. Both of these places see regular ‘When I see these animals walking into
visitors. Sukamade, on the other hand, is the sea, I am optimistic about their future,’ Green Bay inside Meru Betiri
often rather empty by day, but welcomes says Suharto. ‘I often think about the great National Park. Left The bumpy
another kind of visitor by night. journeys they will make.’ journey into the park. Far Left
‘Sometimes I recognise the individuals Outside the hatchery, Suharto points to A tea seller at Red Island Beach
that come here,’ says Suharto Hartono, a large map showing the turtle highways the
swinging idly on his chair in the midday infants will soon take – north through the
heat. ‘However I am sure they don’t Makassar Strait to the scattered islands of
recognise me.’ the Philippines, south to the technicolour Mess Pantai The only accommodation in the
For three decades, park ranger Suharto reefs of Australia, eastwards to the remote national park is this no-frills bungalow, a one-
has worked as a midwife-cum-bodyguard coastline of New Guinea. And, one day, minute walk from the hatchery. Rooms are basic,
for nesting turtles, which come here to dig some of them will retrace their journeys but the next-door park office serves delicious
through the night in cool sand to bury their through those same fathoms and leagues, nasi goreng at dinner (around £1), and you’ll get
eggs. Among them are the olive ridley turtle, dodging tiger sharks and trawlers’ nets, to meet the friendly monitor lizard who hangs
the hawksbilll, the mighty leatherback and before returning to Sukamade to give birth around waiting for leftovers. Local tour operators
– most commonly – the space-hopper-sized to their own young. can reserve here, but often you’ll be able to turn
green turtle. All species are vulnerable or up with no booking (bungalow rooms from £10).
endangered; Suharto is charged with Venture northeast for some 50 miles to Banyuwangi. The rangers in Meru Betiri National Park
catching the many poachers who come here From Banyuwangi-Blimbingsari airport, Garuda arrange nighttime trips to watch turtles hatching
to kidnap the turtles and sell them on until Indonesia and Wings Air fly with one stop to the city on the beach (park entry £7;
they end up in a soup in China. of Yogyakarta (from £50;

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A gate in the old city of Yogyakarta.
Right P Yudo Banskoro – a retainer
in the palace. Far Right A pavilion
inside Yogyakarta’s palace

3. Yogyakarta
Wander the palaces, markets and thoroughfares of the city

where Javanese identity is at its proudest

T IS EARLY ON A SUNDAY the smell of sizzling satay drifts through From Yogyakarta, drive northwest through rice
morning in Yogyakarta, and the air. It is also a place where traditional paddy-dotted landscapes for 20 miles – with the
a small group of teenagers is Javanese crafts thrive – most notably batik, volcano of Merapi looming on the eastern horizon –
assembling at the city’s 18th- the art of fabric dying – but silversmiths, until you reach the foot of Borobudur.
century palace. In a cavernous puppet makers and basket weavers also ply
hall, they start applying colourful makeup their craft in and around the city.
and changing into elaborate costumes –
beginning the transformation from 21st-
The city’s cultural headquarters remains
the sultan’s palace: a jumble of whitewashed
century adolescents with iPhones and courtyards, shady gardens with corridors
One Direction hoodies to princes and full of ticking grandfather clocks, ceramic
princesses, demons and demigods from pots and Grecian urns. Still inhabited by a
the earliest days of time. ruling sultan (who can periodically be
Among them is Lesti Ana – a student and spotted cycling around Yogyakarta) the
amateur dancer of six years, checking in a palace is administered by his small brigade
gold leaf-ornamented mirror to see if her of elderly volunteer retainers – a sort of
makeup has smudged. She and her fellow Dad’s Army of personal protection – all of
dancers shuffle into the sunshine, and, whom sport turbans and carry large knives
before a small audience, perform the (though a few confess to never having
classical Javanese dance of the Ramayana unsheathed them). They oversee a busy
– the ancient Sanskrit epic from India – schedule of performances here: singing,
the stage quickly turning into a mass of poetry recitals, gamelan music (Javanese
tiptoeing legs and twitching arms. percussion) and traditional dancing.
This transformation is a weekly event Today’s performance comes to a close,
here in Yogyakarta, the place where and the members of the dance group step Phoenix Hotel A Yogyakarta landmark
Javanese culture is most strongly guarded. back into the hall, slowly transforming back dating back to the Dutch colonial period in 1918,
Yogyakarta has always been something of a into ordinary teenagers. the Phoenix features plenty of polished marble
maverick city. The capital for dynasties of ‘It’s very tiring to dance,’ says Lesti, who floors, ceramic vases and dangling chandeliers,
powerful sultans in the 17th century, it has just played the lead character of Sita, while rooms have good-sized balconies
fiercely defied Dutch colonial rule and still as she slurps from a cup of tea. ‘You need a overlooking courtyards. It’s well located for the
has a special political status in Indonesia – lot of energy, you must practise twice a week markets that stretch south from the station
a sort of nation-within-a-nation. A walk and you learn to be comfortable with the (from £55;
reveals that much has changed since its heat under the costume. But we do it The entry ticket to Yogyakarta Palace
heyday, but many rhythms of life continue: because it is important we preserve our (‘kraton’ in Indonesian) also includes lunchtime Lesti Ana prepares for a
cycle-rickshaw drivers peddling through traditions in Java. Otherwise we will forget performances in the courtyards (from £1). Javanese dance performance
monumental gateways; squares where where we come from.’ in the Yogyakarta Palace

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4. Borobudur
Scale Indonesia’s greatest architectural treasure for panoramic
views over the Javanese countryside

OROBUDUR IS THE beginning a period of restoration that has until figures emerged from the grain. And it
world’s biggest Buddhist continued in fits and starts to the present is the same basalt formed aeons ago from
temple – a religious day, despite being interrupted in the past lava flows, born out of the volcanoes that
monument on the scale of by episodes of state-sanctioned looting. rumble all over Java. Their summits still
Cambodia’s Angkor, Burma’s The effects of this looting are still loom over the holy stones they once created.
Bagan or India’s Taj Mahal. According to apparent. Right across the temple are
Buddhist belief, its shape symbolises the
order of the cosmos: its uppermost echelons
hundreds of decapitated Buddha statues,
their heads now looking out at museum
are said to represent the state of nirvana. walls from London to Bangkok. But
So it is rather peculiar to think that many Borobudur’s greatest treasures remain
people’s first experience of this place intact: its meticulously carved bas-reliefs.
involves squinting at their own feet. Some show scenes from the life of Buddha,
In the hours before dawn, a trickle of others vignettes of ninth-century Javanese
visitors stumble through the gloom, up the life: kings and deities, elephants and
higgledy-piggledy steps to the top of the courtiers, the subtlety of their expressions
temple. Occasionally, the lights of torches undiminished by centuries underground in
drift to pick out a detail from the blackness: the company of earthworms.
a growling lion, perhaps, or a bas-relief of A half-hour drive north from Borobudur,
a Javanese ship on a stormy sea. through a landscape of rice paddies and
Only when they reach the top does meandering rivers, takes you to the town Plataran Borobudur Resort & Spa
everyone look up, and the performance of Magelang, where the tradition of stone Overlooking the ruins of Borobudur from a
begins. First the eastern horizon turns a masonry continues. magnificent hilltop perch, this hotel offers some

violet hue, and bats can be seen circling ‘The carvers at the temple were skilful,’ of the finest accommodation in the area, with
about the dawn sky. Then the silhouettes of says Suseno, a stone carver of two decades’ traditionally built wooden villas commanding
stupas emerge, cascading in rows down to experience, currently working on a scale sublime views over tropical gardens. There’s also
the foot of the temple. Lastly, the sun’s first replica of a bas-relief at Borobudur. ‘I wish a colonial-style restaurant and bar, an on-site
rays clear the horizon, and the grey mass of my copies were as good!’ spa and a small fleet of golf buggies to drive you
Borobudur is fully revealed: a two-million- Though Suseno is a Muslim like most around the gardens (from £140;
stone monolith dwarfed by two volcanoes locals, he often visits Borobudur to find Sunrise entry to Borobudur costs £20, with
that flank it – Merapi and Sumbing. inspiration – the structure has become a entry after 6am for £13 (
Unbelievably, for much of Borobudur’s symbol of Javanese identity for Buddhists,
history it lay abandoned, thanks in part to Muslims, Christians and Hindus alike.
said volcanoes. Thought to have been built ‘I see the temple with the eyes of a stone
from 750–840 AD by a dynasty of Javanese carver,’ he says. ‘Every time I visit I will see Oliver Smith was making his first visit to
Buddhist kings, Borobudur was forgotten something new.’ Java. His clothes still smell of sulphur gases
soon after completion when Islam took hold Suseno says the rock he works with is from Javanese volcanoes. @OliSmithTravel
across Java. Buried by volcanic ash and volcanic, the same basalt quarried by the
overgrown with jungle, the temple was builders of Borobudur centuries ago. They NEXT MONTH
only rediscovered in the 19th century, too would have spent months tapping away Great Escape: NORTHERN SPAIN
Suseno working at a bas-relief. Left The
top of Borobudur just visible across a rice
paddy. Right A horse and cart passing
through the countryside near Borobudur

Seen from among the stupas
at the top of Borobudur, the
volcanic peak of Merapi rises
above the morning mists

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