Gedong Songo temples in Java: a hidden gem
On the misty hills of Java you’ll find a temple complex that hardly anyone knows about, but which is breathtakingly beautiful: Gedong Songo. If you could capture magic in one place and one experience, it’s this one: riding a horse through this temple complex in Central Java. Writing a blogpost is rather hard when you feel so lost for words! I feel so privileged that I got to experience this. It’s not my first time on the back of a horse: I used to ride horses as a child and though it ended quite traumatically (hanging upside down with one foot in the stirrup), I still like to get up on the horse every now and then for the most special travel experiences. I did it once in Yosemite, and this time I grabbed my opportunity in Indonesia. It also led to the most unflattering photo of me of all time, by the way. You’ll have to get me real drunk to get me to show you that one :).
But first let me tell you something about the Gedong Songo temple complex. We made a stop there while traveling from Semarang to Solo, two cities in Central Java. This complex is unknown amongst foreign tourists, which made it a great spot to visit for a private experience. This was especially the case when I visited: it was the end of November, which meant there was hardly anyone there. I think I’ve seen about twenty other tourists while walking around this huge complex. The rest of the people were locals! Let me quickly tell you more about Gedong Songo so you can start planning your visit :).
What is it?
Gedong Songo means ‘nine buildings’ – nine is an important number in the Hindu culture. The complex consists of a group Hindu temples on top of green, forested hill tops. The temples were built between 730 and 780 B.C., which makes them the oldest Hindu temples on Java – even older than Prambanan and Borobudur. The temples are around the same age as the ones on the Dieng Plateau. Because the complex is located only about 40 kilometers south of Semarang it’s an easy visit from Semarang. The temples are situated on naturally formed plateaus, about 100 or 200 meters apart, which makes that you get to enjoy the most beautiful views of the area.
Why should you visit Gedong Songo?
Gosh, that view… I really didn’t know what to do with myself. It was THAT pretty. You can decide to walk around the complex, but for a few euros you can go horseback riding like I did. I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to go horse riding at first, because I was worried the animals maybe wouldn’t be taken care of well in a touristic complex, but once I saw them I was relieved: the horses looked strong and healthy, they weren’t skinny and they all had shiny, brushed fur. They also have enough food and water in their stalls.
The ride took about an hour: first up the hill, later on going down the hill. We stopped at several temples and even at a hot spring. We were there almost by ourselves. I haven’t seen a single non-Indonesian visitor. The tour guides (who hardly spoke any English) told us they receive less than five foreign tourists a day. Most tourists are Indonesian, but still no more than a hundred people a day visit the big complex.
It was such a gift to wander around the temples and enjoy the wonderful views of the valley. I really felt like I was Lara Croft! The low hanging clouds only made the whole thing dramatic and spectacular. I felt so blessed.
Adress: Ambarawa 50651, Indonesia
How to get there: It’s about a 30 minute drive down south from Semarang. You can drive up all the way to the gate and park your car there.
Costs: I can’t remember exactly what it cost me, but from what I remember the entry was around €5 and the horseback ride around €8.