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CONQUERING THE MOUNTAIN OF FIRE

Looming over the cities of Yogyakarta and Solo (Surakarta), Mount Merapi (Gunung Merapi, 2911m) in Central Java is known far and near as the most active volcano in Indonesia.

Literally meaning “Mountain of Fire”, Mount Merapi has erupted 68 times since 1548. A massive eruption in 1006 covered much of Java in ash and was largely responsible for the downfall of the Hindu Mataram kingdom. The eruptions that have taken thousands of lives of those who lived in the vicinity seem to bother little
to those village folks and farmers in the area. Perhaps the rich volcanic soil and the Javanese mysticism can explain why.

Apart from volcanologists, Merapi has fascinated trekkers and hikers from around the world and mesmerised tourists visiting Yogyakarta on Indonesia’s island of Java
better known for temples of Borobudur, listed under Unesco World Heritage, and the resort island of Bali nearby.

Merapi hikers start from the village of Selo at the northern foot of the mountain when it is ‘asleep’, that is, it is not spewing hot ashes and gases. Most of them, who hire local guides, climb Merapi not only for the sake of hiking but also for the reward of a gorgeous view of sunrise.

They usually come to Merapi during the months of June and September, when there is no rain, for they know the trickiest part about the climb - the weather. In the dry season, the track is very dusty and difficult, but it is muddy when it rains.

It takes about four hours to summit the 2,968m mountain at Puncak Garuda to catch the sunrise at 5am. To be there on time for the great view, a hiker typically starts at about 1am. The 10km journey starts from Selo village to New Selo, New Selo to Station 1, and Station 1 through to Station 4, which is the peak.

New Selo to Station 1 is a long trek of easy slope. It becomes steep, and gets steeper as the hiker progresses from Stations 1 to 3 where the ground is laden with rocks and pebbles. The low temperature greets him at Station 3 where he takes a rest and decides whether to take on the last lap – the 45 degree slope to the peak of Merapi.

Just below on the stonyplain peak perches a huge rock shaped like the mythical Garuda and there is a gigantic crater emanating strong plumes of sulphur vapour nearby.

Reasonably fit climbers should be able to make it to Station 3 if not Station 4, which is the summit. The hikers’ reward comes around 5am in the morning - the majestic view of the rising sun on Mount Merapi, surrounded by the peaks of Merbabu, Sindoro, Sumbing and Lawu.

YOGYAKARTA Exploring the Past and Present

Start from the city

Yogyakarta, the fascinating city with its surrounding jungles, rice fields and mountains, lies in the heart of Indonesia’s most important ancient empires. Start with
the city itself. Visit the impressive Sultan’s Palace (the Kraton) under the watchful, but friendly eyes, of a hundred palace guards in their traditional and distinctive uniforms. Tour its bustling markets and avenues and purchase arts and crafts created by Java’s finest craftsmen and painters.

To learn Yogyakarta is to experience it. Head for the countryside and marvel at some of ancient Asia’s grandest wonder - the great 8th to 10th century Hindu and Buddhist temples of Prambanan, Borobudur and their subsidiary candis (temple) and shrines that dot the Javanese countryside.

Getting around

Officially one of Indonesia’s 32 provinces, Yogyakarta Special Region (Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta, DIY) is located in the center of the island of Java, bordered on the south by the Indian Ocean, and to the north by a chain of volcanoes of which meeting Merapi, some 27 kms away, can be seen as a dramatic background to the city skyline.

In the beginning

People have lived in Central Java and the Yogyakarta area since time immemorial as over the centuries they have been attracted by the rich soil caused by the numerous volcanic eruptions.

Earliest recorded history shows the region from the 9th century was dominated by Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms that gave rise to the magnificent temples such as Prambanan, Ratu Boko, Kalasan, Sambisari and Borobudur found in this area.

Yogyakarta itself dates back to the 18th century. In the early 18th century, the Muslim Mataram Kingdom of the time was ruled by Pakubuwono II. After he passed
away, there was a conflict between his son and his brother which was encouraged by the Dutch who were trying to colonise the region on a ‘divide and rule’ basis.

After the independence of the Republic of Indonesia was proclaimed, Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX and Sri Paku Alam VIII launched a statement that
the Kasultanan and Kadipaten (the two royal regions), belonged to the Republic of Indonesia as a part of the whole area of the Indonesia Republic.

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