Water Castle

Having breakfast alone on the roof, waiting for the students to make their appearance, I realized one thing. The decorative pool of water alongside the tables was actually a swimming pool. It was no wider than a single lane on a typical pool and it stretched in an L-shape along two sides of the building. I had been distracted by the school children the previous morning so that I had not noticed the sign detailing rules for its use. I had even joked about the “pool on the roof” to the students, not knowing that the joke was actually on me. The other thing that the school children had brought besides chaos was a slightly fancier breakfast. In addition to our scoop of fried rice we had received noodles and vegetable porridge the previous morn, now it was back to fried rice and krupuk- oh well.

When the students finally did come, we decided to take becaks, or bicycle rickshaws, to the Sultan’s Palace, or Kraton (recall that the Yogyakarta Special Region is still ruled by a sultan). The palace was just enough of a walk from the hostel to make it wholly unappealing to us. Instead, we found two becak drivers that would take us there for $1.50 per vehicle. What we didn’t plan ahead, unfortunately, was who was going to ride in which becak. The two girls piled in together, while Zach and I boarded the other one. We must have had at least one hundred pounds over them- theirs took off like a shot, while the poor guy piloting our becak was falling considerably behind and straining at each pedal. We decided that from then on we would opt for co-ed rides.

We arrived outside the Kraton before it had opened for visitors that day. A man hanging around by the entrance informed us that the water castle was open, however, and that he would take us there. Taman Sari, as it is called in Indonesian, means “beautiful park,” but it is also known by its Dutch name waterkasteel, from Jogja’s period of Dutch colonization. The building of Taman Sari began in the mid-18th century when the Yogyakarta Sultanate was established and it was used by the sultan as a bathing complex until a British invasion of the Kraton complex in 1812 effectively closed it down. We followed the man out of the east gates of the Kraton, down the eastern side of the walled complex, and then along its southern wall. After walking for nearly a mile, it suddenly occurred to us that maybe we should be following this complete stranger after all. Our curiosity got the better of us, however, and we continued to follow him as he turned into the back alleyways of Kampung Taman, a settlement of about 3000 people just outside of the Kraton complex proper. The alleyways brought back memories of the hutongs I had wandered through in Beijing with the family.

We passed through a large ruined building and turned to our right in order to reach the entrance to a set of underground tunnels- the man then led the way into the stone archway and down a set of stairs. At this point, we all looked at each other with the same question in our eyes, “Are we still going to follow this guy?” We did. The tunnels led to an opening with an empty bath underneath a raised pedestal. A covered area circled the pedestal while a hole above it opened to the sky back at street-level some 30 feet above our heads. This was Sumur Gumuling, the Gumuling Well, it was used for Muslim ablution when the building we were now in was used as a mosque. A sense of relief washed over me that this man had apparently not taken us down in the tunnels to rob or to otherwise harm us, but to show us this cool ruin. Most of the tunnels we were exploring had originally been completely underwater before the Segaran, or “artificial sea”- an early man-made lake that formed the main complex of the Taman Sari, was drained.

We retraced our steps back to the tunnel entrance and continued south until we reached a shop that specialized in Javanese shadow puppets. Now, a fully legitimate consequence of following a stranger is having them show you their “favorite” shop. We indulged the owner by looking at his wares but told him, truthfully, that we would have to come back later when we had more money with us. The next stop was Umbul Pasiraman, the bathing complex for the royal family. This well-preserved area had three large pools surrounded by a tall stone wall. There was lush vegetation growing around the complex as well as contained within large flowerpots surrounding the pools. The sound of flowing water could be heard as it splashed out of fountains shaped like dragon heads and into the pools. We were very tempted to abandon all etiquette and take a dip in one the pools- they looked to be in as least as good as shape as the Tirto Nirmolo waterpark, but in the end we refrained.

Our final stop in Taman Sari was the Pasarean Dalem Ledok Sari, located south of the sultan’s bathing complex. This small house reportedly served as a place of meditation for the sultan, or, alternately, a place to meet with his concubines after selecting them from the southernmost pool of the Umbul Pasiraman. It featured all the amenities for either activity- a kitchen, a bathroom, a small garden, and a centrally located bed with water continually flowing beneath it to add to the ambiance. Our trip to Taman Sari had been one of my favorite things to do in Jogja- devoid of tourists it was both peaceful and relaxing. Our special private tour of the expansive area had been worth it- we would have never found some of those ruins on our own, scattered as they were amongst the back alleyways of Kampung Taman.

On our way back, we stopped at another curio shop before returning to the original store we had stopped at in the beginning of our journey. While the $40 shadow puppets were amazing, I could honestly tell the proprietor that I didn’t have enough cash on me to buy one. I really needed to get to a moneychanger again. We settled on an agreement- he would give the $6 miniature puppet that I wanted for a Christmas ornament to our guide and I would pay him for it when I was able to get some rupiah. When we finally reached the gates to the Kraton once again, I left the students at the entrance and followed our guide to his waiting motorcycle. For the second time in 6 months, I found myself on the back of a motorcycle, clutching a stranger, and traveling through traffic at breakneck speeds! One improvement in this situation, however, was that our guide actually lent me a helmet to wear. He took me to a bank on Malioboro Street where I was able to change some money at a good rate. Back at the Kraton, I gave him twice what was owed for the ornament and told him to keep the change as a tip. With that, we bid him farewell.

The Kraton was very beautiful inside, but for me it didn’t have the same charm as the ancient buildings of the Taman Sari. There was a gamelan band in the vestibule and a Dutch gazebo in the inner courtyard. We saw a number of palanquins that the sultan had ridden in. The current sultan, Hamengkubuwono X, most likely travels by car now. This sultan’s current residence was off-limits to tourists but much of the historic buildings were open and set up as museums showing the history of the sultanate throughout the years.

By the time we were done at the Kraton, we were quite hungry. Despite this, we decided to make the long walk up Malioboro Street to a diner we had seen while looking for New Superman’s the previous evening. The restaurant had good food and nice outdoor seating- we noticed, however, that we had just missed salsa-dancing lessons there the night before! Since we were about walked out for the day, we caught becaks back to the hotel- instituting our new seating arrangements, of course. That afternoon we swam in the hotel’s unusual pool for the first time- it was no water castle but it would have to do!

For dinner, we tried out another place in my guidebook- the Atap Café. Strangely, our becak driver had not heard of it, so we had him let us off near the diner and walked the rest of the way. The restaurant ended up being at the end of a dark alleyway which seemed to lead into some kind of kid’s camp. Buses filled the alleyway so that it was even more narrow than usual. No lights were on in the Café itself but as we stood at the front entrance pondering what to do next, the owner came up and assured us that it was open and then turned all the lights on for us. We sat on a balcony overlooking the street and proceeded to have the fanciest meal that we would eat in Indonesia. Zach decided to splurge and ordered the most expensive thing on the menu- ribs that went for $5.80!
It started to rain as we finished our meal. By that time, two separate groups of Europeans had also made their way onto the balcony for dinner. We decided to end the day with Atap’s signature drink- an Osama bin Coffee, Indonesian coffee mixed with brandy, before running out into the rain to catch a becak back to the hostel.

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One Response to Water Castle

  1. odoritour says:

    Glad to know the comments from strangers about their own country
    There are rickshaws, the Palace, Taman Sari ,Malioboro etc.
    I live in Jogjakarta, in fact there are many more interesting things about the Jogjakarta About rural tourism areas where we can interact with the cultural life of the local community
    What about rural life, how they are plowing, how their ritual life
    I think it is something very interesting to learn
    Please come back to Jogjakarta and I will help you

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