Saturday, March 28, 2015

Yogyakarta: Trains, temples, buttery fruits and Ramayana gamelan ballet


 A train is fun -- it just is!  The train from Malang to Yogyakarta was so cute!

Indonesia is known for its batik (a process of using wax to dye patterns into fabric).  The train curtains had little locomotives batiked on them! W
e enjoyed the beautiful tropical vistas of volcanoes, some active, and some less so.  

There were rice paddies that stretched into the distance, as well as crops like papayas, Taro, and sugar cane -- it is amazing what views a train window can hold.

Yogyakarta, or Jogja as it is sometimes called, is a city watched over by Mt. Merapi -- a very active volcano. It is a treasure trove of culture, art and religious heritage. The world's largest Buddhist temple is there ... Borobudur! Various Buddhist kings worked on it from around the 8th century through the 14th century & it is raised on many levels. I won't describe it much, since you'll see it in the video, but I would like to mention that It was once mostly buried in volcanic ash!  It must have been quite a feat to excavate and bring back to the surface (in fact UNESCO helped restore it in the 1980s). 
All visitors don a short sarong over their clothes and around their waists as a sign of religious respect before making the climb to the top of the temple. Most of the visitors were Indonesian Muslims and there were LOTS of school tours there on field trips. 

Each level is intricately carved in hundreds of stories from the Buddha's lives and you could spend all day examining them.

Mt. Merapi smokes over
Two ladies selling umbrellas
under an arborescent Pandanus

Borobudur temple is surrounded by a large pleasant park area with interesting trees as well.  I saw one of them that I thought Mas Edi at Purwodadi Botanical Garden had taught me, and we went to touch it and look at the fruit.  

However, a security guard called out at me! "In trouble now!" I thought, but no! The security guard handed me a fruit that he had collected off the same tree, as a gift for me to taste!  This is Buah Mantega or Butterfruit.  It is a Persimmon, but, unlike ours that grows native in the Carolinas, this one from the tropics doesn't have to wait for the frost to blet and ripen it to make it edible! 

Diospyros blancoi is the scientific name. Its peel is brownish and fuzzier than a peach, its pulp is sweet, but not too sweet -- but it is rich, hence the buttery common name. The guard who gave it to us was also kind enough to pose for the demonstration pix in the blog!

The buttery Diospyros blancoi

After we'd seen the temple & talked to many friendly Javanese students, we were ready for a refreshment. We stopped at a warung where we were offered Mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana).

It's a delicious fruit in the St Johnswort family. 
In this case, the seven stigma lobes on the outside of the skin indicate how many sections of edible white fruit there will be within.

It is sweet & tart and looks a little like an English cricket ball.  Queen Victoria once tried, in vain, to have her gardeners cultivate mangosteen (presumably to eat rather than for sport!) I can't blame her -- they are really wonderful!

We also bought another native Javanese fruit guaranteed to delight any herpetologist!  It is Snake FruitSalacca zalacca, a very fierce short palm bearing gazillions of long spines at the base of the leaf blade. The fruit is a dormant Pokeman come to life -- a tear-drop shape with the shiny brown scales of a reptile. Inside it has 2 or 3 lobes resembling cloves of garlic, but tasting similar to an aged, dried apple.

Back in Jogja, it was the evening of the partial lunar eclipse as well as the spring equinox when we decided to walk into town from our hotel, called the Ministry of Coffee.  What is an evening walk like? After dodging bicycle rickshaws and more motorcycles than you have ever seen, you pass little food stalls selling every manner of food, along with toy stores, casket makers (who seem uncomfortably friendly), every kind of household amenity, fruit stands worthy of any still-life artist's attention, and passing cars bearing all sort of surprises (like a load of Jackfruit, Artocarpus heterophyllus on the way to market).

Artocarpus wagon!
When we got to the town's northern Alun-Alun (a kind of old style religious-political "sacred space" near the palace at the heart of town), there was some kind of festival going on. 

We missed the event -- just saw them breaking it down, but whatever it was, there were some very interesting floats, accompanied by marching gamelan bands.


Oh, something else -- Jogja is famous for being a cultural center of Java! Every night there are performances by gamelan bands (playing that gongy, clangy, chimey, hypnotic pulsing river of sound), wayang kulit (ornate shadow puppet theatre) and, of course classical dance performances. The most famous dancing is based on the Ramayana, a 2,000 year old Hindu religious epic about the divine beings Rama & Shinta (Sita).  Their love story has a little bit of everything in it from deer huntin' to kidnapping, to armies of monkeys and lots of live on-stage archery, all with a gamelan background. Some version of this dance has been performed in Java for at least the last thousand years!

One of the bad guys, Marica,
preparing to transform himself 
into a Golden Deer.

And, finally, here is a surprise -- to me!  This is the flower of Couroupita guianensis, commonly called the Cannonball Tree. It is not something I expected to find, since it is from Tropical America. 

This gorgeous and complex-looking flower gives rise to a fairly large, woody round fruit, shaped like a cannonball.  

We found it while visiting a Buddhist monastery established by a Zen order from Japan.  The monastery garden was shady, tranquil and charming.

A Staghorn Fern (Platycerium sp.) and a stag with horns in a meditation garden -- something for a botanist to contemplate! 
Next time we visit the fabulous Kebun Raya Bogor and the 2 million specimen strong herbarium there, learn some new herbarium techniques, and visit the lush mountain gardens and the herbarium at Kebun Raya Cibodas. Thanks for following along! 

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