Dieng Plateau Cleaning Up: Central Java

The sun had long risen in the Dieng Plateau area. However, villagers were still seen covering their bodies with sarongs, arming themselves against the chilly weather in the misty holiday resort some 26 kilometers to the north of the regental capital of Wonosobo as Suerdjoko explains.

In addition to historical sites and beautiful natural scenery, cold weather is actually an attraction that the 22,500-hectare resort offers to tourists.

Since the resort is located 2,093 meters above sea level, its temperature ranges between 15 and 20 degrees Celsius during the day and drops down to just 10 degrees at night. The weather is usually colder during the dry season.

“We came for the temples. But later we realized they aren’t the only attractions we can enjoy here,” tourist Supriyanto of Yogyakarta said. Supriyanto was visiting Dieng with his family.

Once a leading tourist destination, Dieng has been cleaning itself up in an effort to regain its past glory. Dieng is under the jurisdiction of two neighboring Central Java regencies, Banjarnegara and Wonosobo.

Efforts have been made to make the resort more attractive for tourists. One of the most recent is the establishment of a tourism area, the Dieng Plateau Area, which President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono officially opened last month.

Others include the Dieng Plateau Theater, which was founded on a hill named Bukit Sikendil in Jojogan village, Jajar sub-district, Wonosobo, near the renowned colorful lake Telaga Warna.

For an entrance fee of Rp 3,000 per person, visitors can enjoy a film about Dieng’s history and attractions. The film shows the haircutting ritual for children born with tangled hair, or rambut gembel as such hair is called here. It also describes the natural disaster that killed more than a hundred villagers in the area when a crater exploded and emitted poisonous gas a few decades ago.

“We want to bring back Dieng’s past glory. And in doing so, we’re focusing not just on natural attractions but also cultural ones,” the head of Wonosobo’s Cultural Office, Wahyu Wijayanto, said.

As part of that effort, the two cultural offices of Wonosobo and Banjarnegara hold Dieng Cultural Week during the traditional rambut gembel ritual, which usually happens during the peak of the dry season.

Hundreds of local artist are invited to present various traditional performances including the kuda lumping, tayub, and thek-thek dances, in addition to contemporary rock and keroncong music.

The organizers hope offering the event will enrich Dieng’s attractions and draw significantly more visitors, especially from abroad. The exotic area has a long history as a tourist destination, dating back to its establishment as a resort in 1914.

The ruling Dutch colonial government at that time provided an access road to the site from Wonosobo. Records indicate that in 1930 the resort attracted tourists from 17 countries.

In the independent era, according to data from the Wonosobo cultural office, the number of foreign tourists reached as high as 50,000 per year during the resort’s peak years (1985-1995). In addition there were 75,000 domestic tourists per year.

“It has dropped drastically in recent years,” said Wahyu, adding that in 2002 only 3,197 foreign tourists visited Dieng.

In 2003, following the Bali bombing, that figure dropped to only 1,488. The decrease in the number of foreign tourists, according to Wahyu, was mostly due to the widespread outbreak of illegal logging following the fall of the New Order regime in 1998. This damaged the protective forests around the tourist resort.

Some 3,000 hectares of the Wonosobo’s 7,000 hectares of forests were destroyed. The previously green, dense woods have now become agricultural fields. The beauty of the forests traditionally contributed a great deal to the beauty of Dieng.

No less then President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is an admirer of the beauty of the resort, dating back to the 1970s.

“I was then still a cadet at the Military Academy. I was so amazed. I am even more amazed now,” the President said on his visit to the resort last month.

Among the attractions of Dieng are the temple complex, which includes Hindu temples built during the Sanjaya Dynasty of the Hindu Mataram Kingdom. They are the ancestors of Hindu temples throughout Java and Bali.

Covering an area of more than 640,000 square meters under the jurisdiction of Wonosobo regency, the complex unfortunately looks barren and hot despite the cool weather. That’s mostly due to the lack of protective forests.

The complex was discovered in 1814 by the Netherlands’ H.C. Cornelus. It consists of four different groups of temples that are all named after the characters of the Mahabharata epics. They are Dwarawati and Parikesit Temples in the north; Arjuna, Semar, Sembodro, Puntadewa, and Srikandi Temples in the center; and Dwarawati Kidul, Abiyasa, and Pandu Temples in the east. The other group includes Setyaki, Ontorejo, Petruk, Nala Gareng, and Nakula-Sadewa Temples.

Another site worth visiting in Dieng area is Telaga Warna, a lake reflecting various colors from its basin. In addition, Telaga Pengilon (or Mirror Lake) is believed to be a place where a princess from the Hindu Mataram Kingdom used to gaze.

There is also the natural phenomenon of craters expelling sulfur. These include Kawah Sikidang, Kawah Silero, and Kawah Sinila. In 1979 Sinila crater expelled poisonous gas that killed 149 villagers. Although the story is tragic, it’s become an attraction for certain tourists.

Other destinations include a meditation site named Semar Cave, as well as a spring in Semar Cave named Perwatasari, which is believed to produce holy water. There’s also a fountain dripping clear water in a natural spring called Tuk Bimalukar.

Visitors will find it memorable to enjoy all of these places while tasting the fresh, juicy fruit of Wonosobo known as karika.