Ever visited a few alternative ancient temples in Central Java? We did. My friend Udhi, from Antar Anda Indonesia Tour Travel, knows the good places, where you won’t meet too many other tourists.

Very special of course are the backs of Prambanan, the huge Buddhist Candi Sewu complex, or in ordinary English, the 1.000 temples. An eye-opener to me was also nearby C. Plaosan. A well preserved area consisting of both Hinduistic and Buddhist temples. Due to the 2006 earthquake they suffered some damage, but the complex as a whole is rather intact. When you enter the inner rooms of the main temples you will meet unspoiled stone carvings and statues. Sitting under a gate in the temple area I suddenly got a surprising view of 1.000 years ago. This very place, a real temple town, all around, festive flags everywhere, long lines of people going in and out, for praying and bringing offerings. Those visions are really easy to get there, in the quiet atmosphere of the temple court. All before morning coffee!
But in fact I had in mind  to bring you to Muntilan.

After an excellent Indonesian breakfast in the colonial style Mercure Hotel our car is going to bring us deeply into the unknown. The first stretch is familiar enough. Tugu, the north western outskirts of Jogja, the road to Magelang and Borobudur. But then the driver leaves the mainroad. Immediately traffic becomes normal, after the chaos of the trunk roads. Both my friends Udhi and Pran have done a few discoveries here, that are only meant for relaxed tourists. I never want to be in a hurry in Indonesia. Why should I? Udhi arranges everything exactly in a way that suits me, as soon as I have arrived.
We are approaching our first temple on our alternative temple tour. The road becomes so narrow now, that we have to leave the car. We make up for a good walk, first over the sawah’s and then through the forest. Higher and higher, accompanied by beautiful panoramas. We are witnessing a successful deforestation project. The charcoal, piled up along the roads in the last village, should have been a warning, but it is always discouraging, to see those bare mountain tops and the attack on the very last remainders of the Java rain forest. No trial even of reafforestation. But Java is densily populated and everybody is looking for a living to escape poverty.

Suddenly, after the last bend in the path, the target is in front of us. The old Buddhist temple of Selo is beautifully renovated and part of a group of simple temples, most likely from the 9th century, in the surroundings of the Borubudur. As every ordinary Buddhist temple also this one is heading to the East. The vivid statues unfortunately are decapitated, but Ganesh on the rear side with the snake on his belly and Lara Jonggran on the oxen are recognisable. A few students from Jogja who know this secret place, are there with their motorbikes, to have a pic-nic on the beautiful site. They are always in to a conversation. Political subjects this time, and they are happy to practice their English.

But the moment comes of saying goodbye. A simple self service lunch in Muntilan and we are heading again towards other temple sites. The houses in between the sawa’s are grey due to the recent eruption of Merapi. The mountain itself decides to remain hidden in hazy sky. The next temple, Candi Asu, is not completely restored and shows remnants of rich flower and bird motives. Candi Pendem can only be reached by a cake walk over narrow sawah dykes, where in fact you should not be hampered by the always recommended “strong shoes”. We are supposedly the first visitors since ages on this gorgeous site, in the middle of the deserted sawah’s. It is bordered by a river deeply cut into the land. Inside the steep shore there is space for another temple, C. Lumbung. Its place is full of mysticism. Udhi immediately starts his research. His spokesman is a village elder, who is passing us on his way. He tells about the ferocious black dog he came across. It protected the through way over the temple area, but suddenly disappeared. He tells about the group of people visiting the site. One of the visitors took place on an ancient stone, and couldn’t move any more for long time. He tells about the old man, who once was there, to take care of the temple and was washing the stones. Nobody knew him, and at certain moment he had gone where he had come from: nowhere.
We carefully climb down the steep slopes towards the temple platform. If we are rounding the foot of the temple walls, my companions suddenly panic, and we can clearly feel and hear an intense rumble, from inside the temple. We hastily escape the mysterious place, just to learn that this is “normal” here.
On our way home from Indonesia we admit that Java is still a place of wonders.

Joep Walter / Netherlands