Semarang, Java, Indonesia
We docked this morning in Semarang, something like the fifth largest city in Indonesia and a city that at one time was virtually owned by the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch Colonial influence is supposedly visible in the Old Dutch Quarter, which preserves many of the 18th century warehouses and old Dutch buildings and churches, also from the 18th century. We, however saw none of that.
Instead, we went on a tour, actually a bus ride, as the tour guide spoke nearly unintelligible English in spite of a properly operating bus public address system. Had I not read up on the itinerary in advance, the visit would not have been as meaningful.
But before we left we passed a waiting area for our crew members families who lived in the area. Many of our crew haven’t seen their families in 6 to 9 months, some never having seen their newborn children. It was a very emotional time for them. We missed it since we boarded the bus for the tour we went on. The ship makes a huge BBQ for them and have a band and dancers to entertain them.
Families waiting to come into the port to meet their family members who work on the ship.
Where we went was the place that cogniscenti say, “If you’re going to see only one thing in Indonesia, see this place.” “This place” is Borobudur, the largest, most massive Buddhist shrine in the world and one of the world’s most magnificent architectural achievements. Borobudur is on a par with Angkor Wat in Cambodia, but built several centuries earlier, in the 8th and 9th centuries. Constructed as a monumental temple complex on the Kedu Plain near Yogyakarta, Borobudur is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the enormous carved stone stupa at its top is the world’s largest. According to extant records, tens of thousands of workers labored for over 100 years to construct Borobudur, which involved more than five generations of workers.
Borobudur is constructed mainly of volcanic rock cut into blocks and placed one on the other, without the use of any mortar. Borobudur consists of 6 square stories, on top of which are built 3 round stories, and at the top of which is the large stupa. However, on each of the round stories are many smaller, hollow stupas that are placed all around that story, and in which a life-sized statue of the Buddha, sitting in the lotus position (apparently there are actually 7 variations of the lotus position), is found in the center of each. On the walls of each of the square stories are bas reliefs that completely cover the walls and which apparently tell of incidents or legends of the Buddha’s life. These reliefs are cut into the very volcanic rock that is used as the integral construction material of the temple complex. This means there are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of individual figures on all the first 6 levels of Borobudur, and these run like a thick band around the approximate center of every side of every square level. In addition, a parallel strip, smaller in size, runs near the base of every inch of every square level, adding thousands more figurines in relief. It should also be mentioned that these bas reliefs on the square sides of each level are carved into BOTH sides of the stone; on one side you are standing, for example at the base of Level 3 and looking up at the bas reliefs on the outer wall of Level 3; however, the other side of that wall is the inner wall of Level 4, and it also is filled with bas reliefs. There are also many fierce looking animals, primarily lions, that guard the stairwells we climbed in our ascent to the highest level. Additionally, there are many niches (thousands of them) in which statues of the Buddha sit, looking out on the surrounding plain. The main entrance to Borobudur faces east, to greet the rising sun each day, as the rising sun is seen in Buddhism as a symbol of renewal. Borobudur was a center of Buddhist worship and pilgrimage before Indonesia became a Muslim-majority nation, but it was abandoned within a couple hundred years of its completion. A large earthquake eruption covered the entire structure with ashes, and Borobudur went undiscovered until, I think, either the late 19th or early 20th century, when it was rediscovered and excavations begun. I believe it was in the 1980’s that Borobudur was once again opened to the world.
I had never heard of Borobudur until I prepared for this excursion. Now that I have been there and have been properly impressed, I check it off my “bucket list”. It is a “once-in-a-lifetime” visit worth seeing, climbing and contemplating.
Neil: One of the dancers on the Ship.. acting like a Buddha.. Neil is also an avid knitter, just so you know!!! He was about 5 stories above the ground when he got on the wall and sat between 2 life size Buddhas.
Borobudur is located about 90 km. from Semarang, which is a major port on the Indonesian island of Java (Indonesia itself is an island nation comprised of about 13,500 islands, only about 6,000 of which are occupied). The tourist bus that carried us to Borobudur took about 2-1/2 hours each way, and that was WITH A SIRENED POLICE ESCORT ALL THE WAY, EACH WAY. Indonesia does not have highways – a large road here appears to be 2 lanes each way AT A MAJOR SIGNALED INTERSECTION ONLY that becomes 1 lane each way after the intersection. Roads here have narrow shoulders, and the police sirens had the effect of forcing drivers of motor scooters (seems to be the main form of personal transportation), cars and trucks to the side and onto the shoulders. This would not be so bad except that most roads on which we traveled had unprotected, open sewer trenches where these shoulders ended, with the attendant risk that a vehicle forced off the shoulders could end up in one of the sewer trenches and cause an accident.
Despite these awful road conditions, police cars with sirens blazing served as “advance men” for our 3-bus caravan, as we watched other drivers forced to the sides of the road in order to make room for the police. The police opened traffic lanes for us on both sides of the road (in Indonesia they drive on the left side of the road, as in England, with the driver sitting on the right side of the vehicle), weaving from “our” lane to the “other direction” lane, as openings in traffic presented themselves. We traveled like this for 2-1/2 hours each way, but it was clear to all that we would have needed twice that much time to come and go were it not for the police escorts. The roads we traveled appeared to be in better condition than those we traveled in India, but the close quarters between us and other vehicles, and the speed with which we drove through highly built-up areas, did not make be feel any more comfortable in Indonesian traffic than I felt in India.
Pictures are mostly taken from the bus window.. Please forgive the reflection of the bright orange and neon green plastic seats!!
We also passed tons of rice paddies.
Following our visit to Borobudur we stopped for an Indonesian vegetarian lunch that consisted of a vegetarian broth with vegetables, rice, noodles, tofu and tempeh, string beans stir fried in garlic, other stir-fried vegetables, a cucumber salad, an omelet, onion chips (really good!), fresh watermelon, some peanut and coconut sweets, a fresh juice puree consisting of mangos, strawberries and dragon fruit and glasses of ginger used as an ice-cold drink (not ginger ale or ginger beer, but a non-carbonated drink that had the strongest ginger taste in a drink that I have ever tasted). The restaurant was clean, the service was fine, the bill for 2, including 15% service charge, was $8.
After lunch we went to a Batik shop where there was a woman working on a batik..
Once we arrived back to the ship.. People thanked the police for the escort and tipped them.. That we (K and I) found really strange. SO cool when you can pay off the police in the open!!!
Indonesia is a country blessed with great natural resources: oil, teak wood forests and, as the result of volcanic eruptions, fertile soil that yields 3 crops a year. It is the 4th most populous country in the world, after China, India and the USA, and it is the most populous Muslim country. From the number of mosques we saw today just from the window of a bus, it appears that Indonesians are very devout Muslims, although there are also Catholics and possibly other religious groups in the country.
Selling the tops of the mosques, called minarets.
About the only thing I could hear from the guide on our tour was that in addition to studying Javanese in school (it appears that nearly every large island in Indonesia has its own language or dialect, which is not related to the others), students who study in religious schools must also learn Arabic so they can read the Quran. Restaurants do not serve pork, which is forbidden in Islam. So this a very traditional Islamic country.
Streets are dirty, side roads are unpaved, main roads have very narrow shoulders on which grass grows, open sewage channels or drainage ditches run alongside the main roads, presenting awful accident hazards, there is graffiti on many posts, signs and buildings, but no graffiti artists (just the ugly face of graffiti); in short, the public areas look like they need a major hosing down or heavy rain in which to clean off all the dirt, but as the climate of this country is very humid and (I assume) very rainy, it seems as if even this is not enough. And because of the terrible infrastructure, crowded roads, lack of highways, etc. it would appear that Indonesia would be a very easy country to be conquered by a military adversary – I mean, if most roads are narrow lanes, not in good condition and in addition, seem to be one lane in each direction, how could a country mobilize and move its military equipment in an emergency?
A clothing store.
And so we say good-bye to Semarang and say hello to Lombok Indonesia.