(Published in the NOW! Jakarta Magazine, January 2014)



14th Century Candi Sawentar, Blitar.

Blitar - Sydney

There is a surge in interest in East Java’s Hindu past after a recent outbreak of Majapahit-mania. The Trowulan Tourism Authority (East Java) seem to be starting a Hindu Theme park around the old 14th Century capital — the cause for conservation of Majapahit monuments increasingly intertwined with fervent nationalism — and all sorts of mystics and spirit-worshippers have jumped onto the band wagon, including me.
Last month I went to Blitar, to Candi Penataran — the Majapahit Empire’s answer to Pura Besakih, Bali’s Mother Temple — for a unification ceremony aimed at cementing relations between the Holy Hindu Bali and the Holy Hindu Java sees.


My first Majapahit runscape (1984) still intact at the lovely Hotel Bumi (ex-Hyatt) in Surabaya.

President Soekarno statue on the outskirts of Blitar

Famed architectural photographer Tim Street-Porter admiring the topiary at Candi Kotes, Blitar.

Talk about smells and bells: there were seven high priests from Bali and seven from Java — descendents of the famed Sapta Rsi I was told – and there were more Majapahit daggers in the air than a Kuta Beach keris dance.
My photographer friends and I stayed at the charming Tugu Blitar hotel, an old colonial residence converted into a budget boutique resort by the clever owners of the quirkish Tugu chain. The interiors in the public areas and the East Javanese art and Soekarno era memorabilia make Tugu a perfect base for Majapahit enthusiasts wanting to see all the monuments around Blitar. The East Javanese food in the hotel is excellent too.


The entrance tunnel into the Tugu Hotel, Blitar.

Lobby, Tugu Hotel, Blitar.

Veranda on the old Dutch bungalow, Tugu Hotel, Blitar.

•    •    •

On the second day our guide took us to sample some of the Nasi Pecel that Blitar is famous for, at Mbak Bari’s, next to President Soekarno’s elaborate tomb complex.

After lunch, we visited some delightful candi including the fully restored Candi Sawentar and the rare and unique Candi Kotes, 14th Century Javanese temple that is similar to family house temples (merajan) in today’s Balinese homes.
Interested parties can watch my video of the ceremony at  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRA-smO6Amo
 and another of the Blitar antiquities, at  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yy7pzwP2POQ

The scenery around Blitar is sublime: Javanese pastoral with a backdrop of sea green hills and mountains. The coastal towns 20 kilometres south, are well worth the detour: Bale Kambang island South Coast Java’s answer to Tanah Lot.


The beautiful 10th Century Garuda-Wisnu statue, the centerpiece of Candi Belahan, near Pandaan, Malang, now at the Museum Majapahit, Trowulan.

Garuda statue is believed to be the statue of Menak-Jinggo

Travel Advice:
The drive from Surabaya – Blitar, at five hours, is a bit grueling. Better to drive two hours to Malang, to the lovely Tugu hotel and spend a day visiting the important candi ruins there, and sampling the local food, then take the scenic route to Blitar (two hours) the next day.

Sunday, 8 December, 2013: To Bogor, West Java, to design a Chinese grave garden

I have never travelled around the Sundanese villages near Bogor and I can’t say I really recommend it. The food is good, at the local warung, and of course the amazing Kebun Raya Botanical Gardens, but it’s all a bit congested, with the peak hour traffic often unbearable. These days Bandung has suffered a similar fate. It is easier to fly to Singapore or Bali.


Customer at warung

Warung-owner has lunch, Bogor, West Java.

•     •     •

From Jakarta I flew to Sydney on a new Airbus 330. The passengers out of Jakarta — mostly Indonesia students and holiday-makers — are so much nicer than the uncouth hordes that leave Bali nightly, dripping sweat and beer cans.


Gardenista Wendy Whitely in her secret garden, Lavender Bay, Sydney.


Before landing in Sydney, a few conservative Muslim Indonesian ladies climbed out of their burkha, exposing svelte figures in tight jeans. It reminded me of flights from Saudi Arabia to Heathrow, where the same thing happens.
I spent a few days in Sydney — heavenly in early December — before flying back to Bali on Garuda.

19 December, 2013
East Bali Update: Sweeping into the Amankila at dusk this afternoon, I am thrilled to notice a row of black Innovas In the car park, all with their windscreen wipers ‘at attention’.


The bar at the Amankila, Manggis, East Bali (by Ed Tuttle).

Minutes later, in the lobby rest rooms, I experienced a similar euphoria looking down and seeing a pair of frangipani flowers equidistant from the urinal’s flushpipe.
Perfect symmetry is such a personal thing, and nowhere is it better celebrated than in the Amans across the land.
To be honest, I used to be slightly allergic to the perfectness of brown objects in straight lines evenly spaced: I now find it immensely soothing, after the chaos that rules in the outer sphere. 

The bar at the Amankila is Bali's last bastion of regal splendour, achieved through designer Ed Tuttle's sublime balance of exquisite pavilion architecture and finely crafted interiors. Add to this mix the waiters in their smart Puri Gianyar circa 1970s livery — a sight for sore eyes after the sorry sartorial escapades of other high end hotels — and the trademark Aman service, refined and not overly attentive. Here you can have moments that turn into memories... Oh Mama.

23 December 2013: On the way home to Sydney again, for Christmas
Bali Airport Update: International Departures.
After weeks of weathering criticism over the obscene openness of the parkway approaches, the Denpasar Airport authorities have now added ethnic-lite statues — rumoured to be from the Grand Bali Beach 1995 fire sale — every five metres or so along the kerbs and herbaceous borders. These add a dash of Hindu Bali to an otherwise New Asian “Blade-runner” urban experience.


New Denpasar International Airport.

In another enlightened gesture, the airport managers have now placed a giant, waist-high Hindu-look ashtray right at the corner as one enters the ‘Bali Temple’ forecourt: this provides a pre-smoking room ambience and post Armageddon-in-miniature vistas achieved with of almost concentric circles of hundreds of half-sucked cigarettes in a sea of black sand. The airport stylists have thrown in some Beng-Beng wrappers and spent gum to simulate a festive, ‘back of temple’ look.
Once inside the terminal building the Departures section of the exciting new Denpasar Airport-cum-Balinese Theme Park is much better than arrivals. After immigration one can take the scenic route — through the back of the world's longest duty free loop — via Toblerone, John Hardy (take in the cutting-edge video on dots), Bin House and Paul Ropp and cut 350 meters off the retail route. (This route also allows you to stay on a polished surface for ease of wheelie-bag control).

 


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