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Central Java beyond Borobudur

Luc Citrinot, eTN  Oct 25, 2010

SEMARANG (eTN) - Despite continuous drizzle, Borobudur temple’s magnet remains unbroken. Under their umbrellas, groups of Indonesian and foreign tourists all converge into Southeast Asia’s largest Buddhist temple, unfazed by bad weather conditions. Borobudur is for most visitors the highlight of a trip to Central Java, the cradle of Javanese culture. Other favorite places for tourists are Prambanan temple and the royal cities of Yogyakarta and Solo.

According to the number of guests registered in rated and non-rated accommodation, both Central Java and Yogyakarta Province welcomed last year 194,667 international travelers, down by 2.16 percent over 2008. From this number, Yogyakarta takes the biggest share, representing two-thirds of all international guests. The autonomous province has been more dynamic on international markets than its Central Java counterpart, which barely communicates abroad. But authorities at Central Java Provincial Office of Tourism are now keen to let travelers venture outside beaten tracks to enjoy the incredible wealth of Central Java culture.

Let’s just start with Semarang, the Provincial capital city and a buzzy metropolis of almost 1.5 million people. Located at the northern tip of Central Java, Semarang gained its importance as early as the XVII century as a trading place with its busy port on the Java Sea. The Dutch East Indies company established tobacco plantations with spices and textiles representing the major export commodities. Trade attracted a large Chinese ethnic, of which the influence can still be felt today in town.

Thanks to its rich history, Semarang offers some of Indonesia’s best preserved colonial heritage. In “Kota Lama” (“Old Town”), fine colonial buildings and 100-year-old shophouses still give a distinctive character to the 31-ha area. One of the most striking buildings in the area is Gereja Blenduk (Domed Church), a rare example of Dutch classical architecture in Indonesia dating back to 1753. It is the oldest Christian church in the country. Semarang and its vicinity generally cater to some of the country’s oldest religious sites. West of Semarang, Demak and Kudus are home to Java’s oldest mosques, blending influences from Hinduism and Buddhism, while in Semarang, Sam Pho Kong temple is the country’s oldest, dating back to the Ming dynasty.

Another of Semarang’s iconic buildings is the 100-year-old Lawang Sewu (“thousand-doors building”), of which the nickname comes from the incredible number of windows and doors to be seen. Despite being the pride of Semarang and shown in any guide book, the building is in a sorrowful state and in urgent need of repair. After publishing plans to eventually turn the structure either into a museum or a deluxe hotel, the building – which belongs to the Indonesian Railways - is being currently restored. It will give way to offices and also shops, restaurants, and also contain an exhibition area about the history of Indonesian rail.

Railways played an important role in transporting both people and goods in Central Java since the Dutch time. An hour-and-a-half away, south of Semarang, Ambarawa city is the departure point to a trip with a steam-powered old train. Departing from Ambarawa's old rail station, the trip passes through paddy fields, volcanoes, and villages for a pictorial 90-minute trip. This is also an old rail station, which welcomes visitors at the Losari Coffee Plantation spa and resort. The building was carefully dismantled from its original location to be rebuilt at the entrance of the property. It serves as the reception area to the resort.

Losari Coffee Plantation incarnates probably what Central Java has at its best. The property used to be a private Dutch-owned coffee plantation. The former Masterhouse is today the center of the resort where visitors and guests can sip a cup of coffee or gather together. Old Javanese-style villas furnished with authentic antiques are little architectural gems hidden within lush plantation landscapes. Losari Coffee Plantation propose to visitors to learn about coffee making and also how to grow organic food and learn about local customs.

Heading southwest from the Losari plantation, Wonoboso is a delightful traditional Javanese town famed for its fresh climate with a social life centered around the Kresna Gallery Hotel built in 1921. Wonosobo is the gateway to one of Central Java’s most stunning landscapes, the Dieng Plateau. In high altitude, landscapes are intense green and with sheeps grazing all around, Dieng plateau seems to be located in Ireland, except that in the middle of the fields, the majestic ruins of Arjuna temple dominates the landscape, just to remind visitors once more of the cultural wealth of Java.

Central Java beyond Borobudur
Central Java wants to be promoted beyond Borobudur temple / photo by L. Citrinot

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