Tuesday, 3 December 2013
Tuesday, 10 September 2013
An East Java Road Trip
Originally published in Garuda in-flight magazine August 2012
© Tim Hannigan 2013
Friday, 24 May 2013
The British Assault on Yogyakarta in 2012
Originally published in The Jakarta Globe, 21/06/12
At 4 a.m. on June 20, 1812, a column of red-coated British and Indian soldiers came trotting out of the old Dutch fort in Yogyakarta. They jogged swiftly across the grassy sweep of the Alun-Alun, heading for the northeast corner of the Kraton, the great fortified royal city of Central Java.
© Tim Hannigan 2012
The full story of the British Interregnum and Raffles' forgotten role in Indonesian history is told in Tim Hannigan's new book, Raffles and the British Invasion of Java, published by Monsoon Books.
Thursday, 28 February 2013
The sights and legends of Gunung Lawu, Central Java
Originally Published in Bali and Beyond Magazine, March 2013
There is a soft scent of incense on the cool mountain air, and the black basalt stonework of the temple is cool to the touch. The roofs of the inner shrines rise in shaggy cones of black thatch, and on the weathered thresholds stand little leaf trays loaded with petals, the offerings left by worshippers at first light. The wind runs swiftly through the surrounding pine trees, and a cockerel crows somewhere in the little red-roofed village at the temple gates.
For more sophisticated accommodation on Lawu’s slopes, you’ll find the little hill resort of Tawangmanggu. This is the place where weekending Solo residents come in search of pine-scented breezes, but if you visit on a weekday you’ll have the place mostly to yourself. There are walks through the woods, to the towering Grojogan Sewu waterfall, and simple bamboo stalls where you can feast on rabbit sate with peanut sauce.
Tawangmanggu is the jumping off point for those wishing to go all the way to the top. Some ten kilometers uphill, along a road that leads across a misty pass into East Java, is the trailhead village of Cemoro Sewu, the starting point for the seven-hour trek to Lawu’s sacred summit.
According to legend, the last king of Hindu Majapahit, Brawijaya, retreated to the mountaintop when his empire fell to Islamic Demak in the 16th century. Today those seeking the spiritual power he left behind take to the trail – usually setting out in the hours of darkness – along with trekkers with more temporal ambitions of a sunrise view from a windswept summit. The climb is a hard one, but once you find yourself floating high above the history-laden heartlands of Java with the great bulk of Lawu’s mysterious form beneath you, you’ll be glad that you made the journey…
©Tim Hannigan 2013
©Tim Hannigan 2013
Friday, 21 December 2012
Tracing the route of a 19th century in Central Java
Originally published in the Jakarta Globe, 26/05/12
Prambanan was no lost city – princes from the Javanese courts often rode out for picnics amongst the ruins; a Dutchman named Hermanus Cornelius had made a preliminary survey in 1807, and just a few months before Mackenzie’s visit the first British emissary to Yogyakarta had noted the “ruins of several Hindoo Monuments and temples falling to pieces” beside the road. But now Mackenzie was about to embark on the exploration that would produce the first extensive account of Prambanan in English.
He and his companions, a Dutchman called Johan Knops, and an Anglo-Indian draughtsman called John Newman had arranged to stay with the Chinaman who ran the tollgate on the road nearby. Mackenzie – always an enthusiast – was so excited by the chance for a little practical archaeology that as soon as he arrived he dashed out alone across the road “to explore the field of Antique Research that lay displayed before me...”
As he traversed the terraces a group of local farmers began to follow Mackenzie. He spoke only a little pidgin Malay, while the locals spoke only Javanese. But they “seemed desirous of cultivating an amicable understanding”, and they led him to the largest of the temples and told him its popular name – Candi Loro Jonggrang, the Temple of the Slender Maiden.
Today this huge 47-metre hulk of masonry is fenced off after the damage caused by a 2006 earthquake. But there were no barriers in Mackenzie’s way: “I clambered higher, over vast heaps of the stones”, he wrote. He explored the inner chambers before heading back to the village, rounding up his companions, and setting out northwards once more, carried by the Chinese toll-keeper’s servants “in chairs provided with canopies of leaves”.
I make my own way northwards from the Loro Jonggrang temple on foot. The air is damp, and the clouds seem to be growing darker by the minute. A few gardeners are cutting the grass between the trees.
I am carrying a photocopy of Mackenzie’s notes, and as I reach the threshold of the Candi Sewu complex I catch my breath, for I recognize his description instantly. The gateway was flanked, Mackenzie wrote, by “two gigantic figures of porters, apparently resting on the knee on pedestals facing each other resting on clubs held in each hand”. It still is, and I pass between this pair of monstrous dwarapala guardians and into the avenues of miniature temples beyond.
By the time Mackenzie and his friends had finished sketching and measuring it was almost dark. They returned to the village “much fatigued tho’ highly gratified”, and that night they “enjoyed a profound repose undisturbed by any fears or want of security or any noise”.
I return in the same direction, collect my bike and head across the highway. This road was already the main link between Yogyakarta and Solo in 1812. Mackenzie noted that it was busy with horse carts and pedestrians, and lined with little booths “where Tea and Coffee, Rice boiled in heaps, Soups, Vegetables, Fruits, Nuts, Betel, the eternal Tobacco and the never failing Opium are prepared ready for the nourishment, comfort or intoxication of the weary traveller”. Today the road is flanked by cheap warungs and a huge, cream-colored mosque.
Just a kilometer to the south, however, the rice fields that Mackenzie traversed are still there. Mackenzie came here the morning after his exploration of Prambanan, with a “venerable Javanese” leading the way. I wonder, fancifully, if the gaggle of cheerful schoolchildren who point me in the right direction might be the descendants of my predecessor’s guide.
It was pouring with rain when Mackenzie visited this temple, and he “waded through the mire” to get there. Clambering out of the mud he spotted another monstrous dwarapala, and then stepped nervously into the inner chamber of the crumbling building: “it is not without awe,” he wrote, “that on looking up one perceives a thousand heavy blocks retained by little visible force just ready to tumble in and crush and overwhelm the curious Beholder.”
Today the place is a little more secure, after extensive restoration in the last decade. But I find Mackenzie’s dwarapala kneeling at the side of a well-kept garden.
From Candi Sojiwan Mackenzie and his companions headed south towards a great green rampart of hills, rising sharply from the rice fields. I follow suit, and I’m soon wending my way along a bumpy track through the forest. Eventually I reach a hidden back entrance to the vast Ratu Boko kraton complex, a mass of walls and foundations cut into the living rock on the westernmost promontory of the hills.
Mackenzie must have followed the same path, for he wrote of how he first stumbled upon a cave, carved in a cliff face, which his guide told him was used as a meditation chamber by the Sultan of Yogyakarta. The cave – Goa Lanang – is right next to the spot where I park my bike. I can hear the distant roar of the road, and see rooftops and minarets rising into a fine lavender haze from the great sweep of green country below.
From here Mackenzie returned to Prambanan village. He spent the following morning making a last series of sketches, before heading back to the east. He was a busy man, and he had an appointment at the Solo Kraton. Within a few months he would be called upon to plan the British attack on Yogyakarta of June 1812, and he would then be ordered to make a full survey of Java’s agricultural lands, before sailing back to India in 1813 to become Surveyor-General.
Before he left Java, Mackenzie, who had been a bachelor his entire life, married a locally born Indo-Dutch girl named Petronella Jacomina Bartels. She was 43 years his junior, and when he died of fever in Calcutta in 1821 she inherited his minor fortune.
Today Mackenzie is remembered for his extensive surveying work in in India, where he helped to lay the foundations of academic study of Hindu architecture. But for me, on this damp and sticky afternoon, it is his role as the first English-speaking foreigner to describe the temples of Central Java – and his palpable, boyish enthusiasm for the task – that makes him such an intriguing character.
As Mackenzie left Prambanan on 21 January 1812 he did so with “with mixed emotions of regret and pleasure”.
“It was not without reluctance I left these interesting ruins,” he wrote. Two hundred years later, I make my way slowly back down the green hillside towards the roaring traffic of the 21st century in similar frame of mind.
Tim Hannigan 2012
© Tim Hannigan 2012
Saturday, 6 October 2012
Exploring Danau Ranau in the mountains of Southern Sumatra
Originally published in the Jakarta Globe, 17/06/12
Soft sunlight cuts through the forest, and the road winds around another steep hillside. It is three hours since the minibus left the scruffy town of Baturaja, straddling the Trans-Sumatra Highway, and I am nearing my destination. Houses appear between the trees – sturdy, shuttered buildings of weathered timber, rising above the ground on stilts – and then, as the road begins to roll downhill, the lake appears – a sheet of smooth steel-grey water ringed by a rampart of green ridges in the very heart of the Bukit Barisan range. Welcome to Danau Ranau, Sumatra’s forgotten mountain lake.
Danau Ranau lies some 340km from Palembang. It is a crooked 16km-long lozenge of water, straddling the Lampung-South Sumatra border and surrounded by lush upland landscapes. But while Sumatra’s other mountain lakes – Toba in the north and Maninjau in the west – have long earned a place on travelers’ itineraries, Ranau lies far from beaten track. I have braved the rattling bus ride to see what the place has to offer.
I get down from the bus in the sleepy little lakeside township of Banding Agung and I am soon comfortably installed on the terrace of a little guesthouse, sipping sweet black coffee and chatting with the owner, a retired policeman called Armando.
The view of the lake is magnificent. From the bottom of Armando’s stony garden the unruffled water rolls away under a pearly evening sky. Tiny fishing canoes creep across the surface, dark figures silhouetted in the sterns. On the far shore the hillsides drop steeply down to the water, and the smooth cone of Gunung Seminung, Ranau’s 1881-metre guardian peak, rises towards the high clouds. Like Sumatra’s other mountain lakes, Ranau is the flooded crater of a huge volcano. But according to local legend, Armando tells me, it was formed when a huge tree toppled over and water gathered in the hollow left by the roots.
The panorama is certainly worthy of a long journey, but Armando tells me that tourists are a rarity. He blames the provincial government for Ranau’s low profile: “They haven’t built any tourism objects here,” he says. But it seems to me that isolation rather than a lack of concrete facilities and car parks has kept these waters undisturbed. As darkness falls and the blank sky gives way to a thin speckling of stars I am rather glad that I have the place to myself.
© Tim Hannigan 2012