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Impressions of Indonesia

Thousands of islands on a string wrapped around the equator. What follows here is actually not ‘impressions of Indonesia’, rather ‘impressions of Java and a bit of Bali’. Just separated by a half hour ferry service, Java and Bali are as different as they could be.

1. Java is essentially Muslim and dotted with often violently active volcanoes, from the Krakatau in the West, via the Merapi and Bromo to the Gunung Ijen in the very East. And in the shadow of these lava and dust spewing cones, a population which impresses for its hard working people, herding cattle, planting and harvesting in rice-fields, carving and carrying 80kg blocks of sulphur from the crater slopes of a fuming volcano. And Java is of course also home to Borobodur, the largest Buddhist site in the world, built in the 8th century, forgotten for reasons still mysteriously unknown and eventually recovered from the jungle in the early 19th century.

2. Bali, on the other hand, is mainly Hindu and decorated with a wreath of idyllic palm tree beaches. No Borobudur size temples here; instead, Bali counts plenty of fascinating sites where the lively Hindu cult blends seamlessly into the affluent equatorial nature of dense forest and moss.

While bringing together my impressions of Java and Bali, I revive my inventory of hopes and projects, thinking of the orangutans of Borneo, the dragon lizards of Komodo and the tribes of Western New Guinea, and actually so much more this limitless country has in store.

Before visiting the place of your choice:

On the very slopes of Bali's highest and most active volcano, Mount Batukaru, a large temple complex was built in the 11th century less than three kilometres South-East of the crater. Those who decided on the location were proven right by history not to fear so much the volcano for the temple's safety, because destruction was actually brought onto the temple in 1604 by man, by an envious feudal Balinese King, and not by lava or volcanic debris. The sanctuary remained in ruins for centuries until its reconstruction in 1959. It has ever since been serving again as the first stop for courageous Hindu pilgrims who climb the volcano. At an altitude of 1300 metres in an often chilly and foggy forest environment, Pura Luhur Batukaru is also called the Moss Temple, as the statues and structures are profusely overgrown with moss, adding to the place an even more mystical and eery atmosphere.

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