It’s time to get acquainted with Indonesia’s hidden wonderland and debunk the ‘nothing-much-to-do’ myth.
Words and Photography: Jayne Kam
I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I agreed to embark on a trip to relatively unknown Semarang in Central Java, Indonesia. Would it be a waste of my travel time or would it have surprises along the way?
Deeply Rooted Legacy
It turns out that this heritage laden city has legacies that range from awe-inspiring Javanese and Dutch architecture and art to age-old methods of maintaining holistic health and wellness which is popularly known as djamu (or jamu).
I’m a sucker for all things djamu and was even more convinced of its natural healing properties when I traversed the Taman Djamu Nyonya Meneer park. It was here that more of the local herbs and their specific remedies used in djamu, as well as their origins were revealed.
Way back when empires ruled Semarang, djamu was only allowed to be consumed by keraton’s (royalty). As time progressed, the recipes began to spread across Indonesia and in no time, they were used in every household. Nyonya Meneer is one of the popular djamu brands introduced by the lady who pioneered the modern way of preparing, packaging and distributing djamu of the same name. From creating her own concoctions in her tiny home kitchen for her ailing husband to now a multi-million dollar business, Nyonya Meneer’s legacy is showcased in the form of this beautiful park with gardens sprouting herbs used to make her djamu.
I had the chance to touch, taste and smell the exoticness of these herbs and if you are up for it, sneak in at least a couple of hours to indulge in a luxurious spa treatment using only the best remedies available. I’ll never forget Kepel—used by palace kids long ago to remove body odour and halitosis, Mangkukan—a hair tonic and Iler—for acne problems and acts as an anti-inflammatory medicine.
Apart from family legacies of djamu, Semarang’s captivating art, culture and architecture heritage fascinates till no end! There are footprints of magnificent Dutch-like architecture, life-like sculptures and more-than-a-century-old lamp posts which have stood the test of time in Semarang Old Town (Little Netherlands). And where local craftsmanship of traditional Javanese carvings is concerned, you can explore and even stay in the compounds of Balemong and Hills Joglo Villa in marvellous joglo (traditional Javanese houses).
Semarang is definitely a city that quickly grows on you, charming you with fascinating ancient ruins, enthralling legends and gorgeous vistas.
One of them is Gedong Songo Temple (Nine Temples), high up at Mount Ungaran, 1300 metres above sea level. Legend has it that Queen Simha of the ruling Kalingga Kingdom in the 8th century preached the three pillars of life to her subjects after she was apparently visited by Sang Hyang Widi, the powerful God. Devotees from as far as India and Thailand pay homage to these temples in hopes to have similar divine experiences, especially during the full moon when a special ceremony is performed.
The temples, five surviving now, are the epitome of Hinduism beliefs and practices. Similar to the Angkor’s of Siem Reap, they were built to mainly worship the Lingam (Deity Shiva) and Yoni (Goddess of Shakti), which together represents the male and female sexual organs for the totality of creation.
Each temple is quite a distance from each other dotting the uphill mountain trail but fret not as there are options to go on horseback while enjoying the cool mountain air, which I loved immensely. Yogis seeking solace and meditation should check out the villas at the mountain top….imagine the serenity!
Next is The Curug 7 Waterfalls, nature’s gift in the form of gushing water from mountain springs and lush green grounds. The formation of the falls is said to represent seven heavenly angels and there are natural steps leading up to each fall. At the top of the falls is a small natural pool of water called Kedung Wali which doesn’t recede even during the hottest season. Those who drink the water will have amazing luck but only if they believe in the power of the water, so we were told.
When my hunger pangs struck, it was lunch at Banaran Coffee Plantation. Chowing on delicious local food like Tempe Mandoan and Nasi Timbel in quaint little gazebos within a tropical setting was just perfect. Little did I know that the coffee here is exported to countries like Japan!