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Yogyakarta -The Cultural Heart of Java

Peacefully cradled at the foot of the Menoreh Mountains in Central Java is the city of Yogyakarta. Often referred to as the biggest village in the world, it is the cultural heart of Java, a culture that spans many centuries.

A population of over one million people live in Yogyakarta from a total of over four million spread throughout the province.

Yogyakarta has the status of a ‘special area‘ and one of only three in Indonesia, Daerah Istemewa Yogyakarta or the Special District of Yogyakarta. It has its own Government and is responsible directly to the Government in Jakarta and not the Government of Central Java.

At one time Yogyakarta was the capital of Indonesia and also the base for the revolutionary forces against the Dutch during their occupation of Indonesia. Located some sixty kilometres from the ocean, Yogya is surrounded by the Menoreh mountain range and shadowed by the volatile volcano Mount Merapi. Yogyakarta is a place that has not only the beauty in its architecture but also in its people and culture.

Yogyakarta or Yogya as it affectionately called by the residents, is a one-hour flight from Jakarta and a scenic ninety-minute flight from the neighbouring island of Bali.

It is a city that possesses so much more than the major tourist attractions of Borobudur, Prambanan temple complex and the Sultan’s Palace. Apart from the backpackers, the tourists in general only stay in Yogya for three days to see the sights mentioned and, then return to Bali or from where else they came.

Yogya is a city that is ‘alive‘ 24/7 and a city that if you ‘look’ instead of just seeing, and ‘hear’ instead of just listening, will captivate all your senses.

Yogya has also been called University city because of the numerous Universities accommodating students from not only all over Indonesia, but from overseas also. It is a city that oozes knowledge and culture.

The heart of Yogya is Jalan Malioboro (Malioboro Road) so named after the Duke of Marlborough who visited the beautiful city. Malioboro is a two-kilometre long one-way street running North to South. It is along this stretch of road where the hub of Yogyanese trade is to be found. Street stalls line the street where vendors sell their wares and where bargaining is a must.

Opposite these stalls are the established shops: Designer clothes, Batik, Antiques, and many more. It is the Malioboro Mall, centrally located on Maliboro, that gives comfort from the heat of the day and also a shopper’s delight. The air-conditioned Mall has numerous facilities ranging from cafes, eateries, shops of every nature, and even a supermarket on the lower ground floor!.

Whenever I return home to Yogya, there is always some place new to explore, and to experience. The city has a way of becoming a part of you as you amble along Malioboro. Along this stretch of road is the Parliament building, the Governor’s Office, and further along as Malioboro joins Jalan Ahmed Yani, are the Beringharjo markets, the Presidential Palace and Fort Vredeburg, the stronghold of the Dutch during the occupation.

There is always something happening in Yogya and this gives it its uniqueness among the cities of Indonesia. Culturally the city is entrancing. Every corner you turn reveals a delight. Often visitors will see a sign whose words symbolise the feelings of the people, ‘Yogyakarta Berhati Nyaman‘, loosely translated means ‘Yogyakarta warms the heart pleasingly and comfortably’.

Yogyakarta is a pure delight for food lovers. Restaurants abound and cater for all travellers. Chinese and Javanese food is predominate and Western food is available for the discerning, less adventurous traveller. Along the streets, food stalls serve the tasteful delights of the archipelago.

The city is famous for its Lesehan food. Late afternoon, crudely constructed open front tents are erected and by nightfall, the tempting odours of spicy fresh chicken and fish waft through the air. Such delights as Nasi Gudeg (jackfruit cooked in coconut milk and served with boiled rice and chicken), and Burung Darah (pigeon cooked to your liking and highly spiced) will tempt you.

Usually around 9pm when the shops generally close and the street vendors cover their stalls for the night, straw mats are laid out on the pavement where small tables are placed for the customers to sit and eat the delights of their choice. These places are great to acquaint yourself with the friendly locals and be entertained by the wandering minstrels who walk from place to place. The eating and the conversation goes on in to the early hours of the morning.

It is the Arts and Drama steeped in Javanese culture that is the essence of Yogyakarta. Drama that is played out in the Ramayana Ballet with a backdrop of the Hindu complex of Prambanan, the intricate spell-binding traditional court dances of the Kraton, and the street theatre performed by the students of the Institute of Arts (ISI). At least once a week in Yogya there is a Wayang Kulit performance accompanied by a Gamelan orchestra. The Dalang master, performing the whole play himself, the language spoken, ancient Javanese.

In Yogyakarta there are numerous art galleries, the majority displaying local works of art. But it is the mystical haunting music of the Gamelan that is the heart of ancient classical dance and drama. The Gamelan orchestra (of which there are many in Yogya) accompanies all ceremonies, festivals and is the focal part of traditional events.

Yogyakarta is an experience. The city evokes peacefulness, a serenity and a happiness that lingers in your mind long after you have departed. The warmth and friendliness of its people create a joyous harmony as they welcome all travellers. Yogyakarta is the centre of the Indonesian universe, the core of its culture and its history.