Written By, Stephanie Brookes
Some wonderful examples of the oldest architecture in Java lie sprinkled across the Dieng Plateau in Central Java. Towering volcanic peaks surround these isolated Hindu temples, which date back to the 7th and 8th centuries when Java was ruled by a vast Hindu empire. The Dieng Plateau stands at 2,565 metres (8,415 feet) and the name Dieng translates as “Abode of the Gods.”
We left our little homestay in the town of Dieng at 4.30am to catch the sunrise from Sikunir Mountain. At 3 degrees, the air was chilly however, as I was bundled up in a warm jacket, woolly hat and scarf, I felt well-equipped and set out to watch one of the most spectacular sunrises over Central Java.
At the base of the trail, I was pleasantly surprised to come across a huge wok of potatoes, steaming outside a makeshift hut. I ordered mine from the vendor the local way, doused in chilli sauce. With a hot coffee in one hand and Dieng potatoes in the other, I had all the fuel I needed to climb the 45-minute trail to the top.
On the way up, I passed another hot potato seller, so don’t worry if you miss your opportunity at the bottom. As I reached the summit, the sun was just starting to break through the 3,150-metre (10,335 feet) peaks that surround this truly impressive and vast plateau.
The mist cleared, and the mountains began to reveal themselves, one by one, as soft light filled the vista in front of me. Against the backdrop of the mountain peaks, the verdant terraced fields gradually came into view, layer by layer, clinging to the mountain slopes. Wafts of hot coffee filtered through the early morning alpine air, as sellers revved up their pace to pour coffee for eagerly awaiting customers.
After this dramatic start to the day, and my fill of about thirteen potatoes, I set off down the hill to take in a day of temples and hit the Hindu temple discovery trial.
I started with Selogriyo Temple, which sits on the slopes of Condong Hill. Flanked by stunning rice fields and surrounded by mountains, this temple sits all alone. Historians date this temple to around the 8th century. The statue of Durga Mahesasura Mardini guards the temple entrance.
Standing at the back and sides of the temple, the statues of Agastya and Ganesha grace the stonework. This ancient solitary stone Hindu temple seemed to permeate a sense of peace and serenity framed against a dramatic vista and somehow beckons you to spend time in contemplation and silence.
Gedong Songo is another tucked away small shrine located on the slopes of Ungaran Mountain. The setting of this shrine is simply stunning; flanked by two of Java’s volcanoes, Merapi and Merbabu, quietly smoldering in the distance. One cannot help but feel the ancient, timeless energy around these temples and given there are very few visitors to this very remote area of Central Java, you pretty much have it all to yourself.
Next, I moved on to the main temple complex, where five temples are grouped closely together and date back to the 7th century, which is older than Borobudur. The shrines are beautifully preserved and set around beautiful landscaped gardens with wide, manicured paths. Lazing on the lawn, I met a troupe of fully costumed Ramayana characters.
They were taking a break and soon would be in performance mode, playing out one of the scenes from the epic Ramayana legend. It’s not every day you get to meet a white monkey character. I wish I had had more time here to catch a performance but it was time to move on.
Next, I visited the stunning sulphur-coloured lake, Telaga Warna. This lake, which changes colour on occasion, was a milky green colour the day I visited. It is the real beauty queen of the Dieng region. It stretches across the volcanic caldera complex.
A lovely walking trail skirts the lake and occasionally active vents start bubbling along the muddy banks, so watch where you walk and don’t venture off the path. Small benches are dotted around the lakeside trail, or you can simply find your own balcony and sit right on the edge.
It is believed that the Dieng Plateau was chosen as a sacred location in the 7th century because of the spectacular landscape. It is a beautiful setting and history unfolds around the temples where the Hindu Gods can reside and honour their name; Abode of the Gods.