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|'Breaking Into' Taman Sari Water Castle!|
|by Farah 'Fairy' Mahdzan (16-Feb-2003) | Readers Say|
Would you risk life and limb just to get into a tourist spot that was already closed for the day? Or how about conquering your fear of heights to get inside the place to look around?
Well, I did these death-defying things to get into Jogja's Taman Sari, the now-defunct royal pleasure garden also commonly known as Water Castle! Located very near the royal Kraton Javanese palace and a bird-market called Pasar Ngasem very much south of Jalan Malioboro, Taman Sari or Water Castle is very a popular Jogja tourist attraction. However I certainly wasn't expecting to do some "breaking in" to visit it...!
From Mas Yoyok's Shop
It was mid-afternoon on New Year's eve and we were hanging out at our friend Mas Yoyok's toko serba ada or kedai runcit (sundry shop/convenient store). The shop sells basic food stuff like rice and flour, and also pre-packaged jamu, slippers, children's milk and snack food, among other things. Mas Yoyok's house entrance is located just at the back of the shop where it is adjoined.
Mas Yoyok's little family shop became our regular base to meet up and gather during our stay in Jogja. Not only was there an abundant and cheap supply of Sosro teh botol in the shop, but the place was also near Water Castle. It takes a mere minute walk to get to the entrance of the Water Castle and you can see the grey-white, weather-worn top portion of the castle just by standing on the sidewalk of the shop.
After chugging down a few bottles of teh botol , we clinked our empty bottles aside and braced ourselves for this tour of Water Castle. In line with true warm Jogja hospitality, Mas Yoyok arranged for a man he knew (let's just call him Pak Joko) to become our tour guide.
To get to the Water Castle, we made our way behind Mas Yoyok's shop where we had to pass through a small maze of back alleys. As we passed by people's back house doors, a couple of chickens waddled comically out of our path and people, who were obviously used to the presence of tourists walking behind their small houses, went on with their daily house chores like taking care of the baby and washing dishes.
While my friends chattered away, I caught up with Pak Joko and walked beside him in the narrow alley to listen to him narrate the history of Taman Sari and its primary function in the royal Jogja society. Before I knew it we had reached a tunnel-like building entrance of some sort:
The archway looks like a giant, oddly-shaped bird with wings on its sides and seemed like it was ready to fly up high into the heavens. A flying archway, I thought, now there's something to scare people straight into their homes...
Walking to the side of this rather grand castle ground entrance we found a flight of stairs that takes you up behind the top of this pyramid-like structure.
Once we reached the top of the stairs we marveled at this wall covered in these intricate floral-like motifs. I originally thought the motifs were mere decorations on the wall made to give the structure more appeal to the beholder's eye.
But then Pak Joko, our tour guide, came up to the wall and started tracing the tip of his umbrella along selected curves and impressions on the wall. He then started "reading" a date and some sentences from the designs in an order that just seemed random to me...!
Apparently all those leaf-like designs were a written language in the most artistic form I had ever seen. If I am not mistaken I think Pak Joko said the "writing-style" was a combination of a few languages, mostly of Arabic and Javanese.
We made our down the stairs back on ground, and continued to make our way to another entrance. Pak Joko tells us that through this second door we will enter into Water Castle. But we were quite disappointed to find out that the entrance was shut by a thick, wooden door enforced with a heavy, rusty lock...
This is what happens when you sleep late and wake up late to go sight-seeing at tourist places, especially in an area where closing times were early...! Now what?
On an instinctive whim, Pak Joko started walking towards a nearby house and went to its backyard. He beckoned us to follow him and faithfully we trailed. He brought us up a small hill which some of us had difficulty climbing because the soil was soft and muddy and loose bits of small rocks made us slip and slide.
Once we made it to the top of the small hill we were able to peer inside the compound of the Water Castle which we could not enter due to its locked entrance:
Wow, now the sense of adventure was really kicking inside of me; I really wanted to go inside the compound to explore this Water Castle but the only entrance to it was locked! I looked pleadingly at Pak Joko and begged him to take us inside. Was there not any other way?
Pak Joko broke into a sly grin and said that there was one other way to get in, but we would all have to agree to the terms and conditions of the attempt. I nodded my head vigorously, all I cared about was to get into the Water Castle, by hook or by crook. This was an opportunity that I could not miss out on, I've come so far...!
Dear God, why did I let him talk me into this?? Gile!, my head raced through these few words as I made my way along the sides of the castle's roof. So this was Pak Joko's crazy plan: to bring us all into the castle by making us climb the darn building!
I must admit I felt afraid as my dark-blue pair of Skechers treaded the solid stone roof cautiously and my arms stretched out horizontally for balance, but then again who wouldn't be if the possibility of a back injury and broken bones due to a fall of about 4 meters was staring at you right in the face?
Pak Joko laughed at us for looking so foolish; easy for him to say, he's probably done this a million times with other unsuspecting and innocent tourists! The climb and balancing around the roof top was a test of courage for most of us, but amazingly all of us made it soundly into the castle compound without a scratch. But we did it with a hell of a lot of piercing screams of fright and utter cowardice...!
Take our friend Iin for instance, her shrieks were so loud that I think the whole Jogja city could hear her from miles around. Clearly she was feeling slightly tensed (hehe)!
It didn't help either that an equally stressed-out and petite Mbak Ika was forced to become Iin's aid. Two screaming Javanese girls on the roof, goodness gracious, what a racket they caused...! Mbak Ika's baby brother Ipoenk could only look and chuckle heartily away.
More pictures of us braving the odds!
Taman Sari: Concubine Heaven cum Defence Fortress
Built by Jogja's Sultan Hamengkubowono I in the 1800s and designs influenced by various cultures, namely Hindu, Buddhist, Islam and European, Taman Sari got its nickname Water Castle because of the three large swimming pools that make up the compound. In its glory days, Taman Sari was a retreat for the sultan and his concubines; it is said that the sultan would watch the women swim and bathe in the swimming pools from another high point in the castle. He would then pick out the lucky woman (or women - kinky) who was to spend the night with him.
Along the side of the bathing pools, fountains with naga-heads would gush out water and fill these large water pools. The pools were however empty when we visited the castle.
We learned that the castle had just gone through some major renovations and the pools were expected to contain cool Jogja water when the reconstruction was completed. The reconstruction of the castle involved putting in more solid foundations and new cement to the aging building to ensure that its lifespan is prolonged.
The Water Castle served another purpose as a fortress for Jogjakarta back in the olden days. When enemies try to attack Jogja city, the royalty would hide in the Water Castle to be kept safe from harm's way. If Jogja's enemies ever found the entrance to the hiding place, they would be drowned and washed out by strong currents of water released from underwater passageways and possibly even water from the swimming pools. Talk about multi-tasking your swimming pool...
Word has it that the Water Castle is supposed to be completely restored in time for an official launch to the public in 2004. I made mental note of this fact and planned to come back to Jogja at a later time to see the fully reincarnated castle.
The Queen of the South Sea or Ratu Laut Selatan has long been an intergral and mystical part of Jogja's ruling history. It is said that a man can only become the Sultan of Jogja if he marries and binds his fate into the Queen of the South Sea. The drawback to this was that the Ratu Laut Selatan is no ordinary woman: she is a makhlus halus or supernatural being!
Revered by the Central Javanese royalty and its people, the Queen of the South Sea ensures the Sultan's reigning power and prosperity for the kingdom. In other words, she is the one who controls it all.
We entered a dark chamber where the Sultan supposedly still comes to medidate and fasts for three consecutive days before consummating with the Queen. There were brightly-colored flowers and pungent-smelling incense burning put aside on a stone seat in the chamber as part of the offering for the Sultan's mystical wife. It felt a little bit eerie to be there and the hairs on my arms rose to the idea that Queen's spirit might be lurking amongst the shadows. Merinding, bo!
I asked Pak Joko if the Sultan's current wife was the Ratu Laut Selatan, to which Pak Joko replied no. The Queen of the South Sea is not human, he reminds me. The Sultan Jogja's wife whom we see in photos and during occasions such as official ceremonies is merely a show-wife for the public, whereas the true wife of the Sultan is the Queen of the South Sea.
Curious as a cat, I asked Pak Joko again: Rupanya kaya' apa sih? (What does the Queen of the South Sea look like?)
Pak Jok replies:
Kepada orang yang dia senang, dia sangat cantik sekali. Tetapi kalau dia tidak suka orangnya, penampilannya sangat mengerikan dan jelek s'kali..!
(She will appear very beautiful to the people whom she likes but will appear extremely frightening and ugly to those whom she dislikes.)
If I ever see the Queen of the South Sea, I pray she likes me...!
With food intake, (if you're not vomiting) its departure from our bodies is via a different route(!). However in our case we had to exit the castle from the same way we came in; there was no alternative way!
On our way to the top of the tower window that brought us into the water castle from the roof, there was a narrow flight of stairs we had to climb. It reminded me of climbing a lighthouse's stairs, but on the way up I hit my head hard on a beam that supported the building. Ouch! Sakit jugak. I heard Evi and Aan cackling uncontrollably beneath me which they stiffled out quickly and told me to be more careful. Hrmph.
Oh boy, here we go again - don't look down, don't look down... Fuh...! It was easier this time to climb around. Expert lah konon. I just can't imagine walking on that roof with just sandal jepit (slippers) on, like Aan did. You'd be in trouble if you lost footing over a loose sandal...!
We walked around the surrounding village and passed by more people's backyards. At one house I remember seeing many cages in which certain animals were kept. The owner kept everything, from geese to pigs! There was even a little kitty cat tied up to a fence, jumping around, obviously exasperated at being bound. I felt really sorry for the cat and attempted to free it. However my friends dragged me away and told me to leave it alone...! Poor kitty!
We arrived at an area in which the castle underground tunnels where located. These were secret tunnels which lead to the sea and were used by the sultans in the olden days in case they needed to escape the province in a hurry. I could see that the tunnel floors and stairs were also recently recemented as we trotted up and down the stairs that lead to the tunnels. The tunnels were extremely dark and smelled strongly of mildew and dampness.
Pak Joko tells us that when the mosque was first erected, its walls were coated with mixtures of egg whites and yolks to protect the walls. Perhaps the eggs acted as a shellac agent of some sort. But still, I thought it was a peculiar technique.
After coming out from the maze of tunnels we walked towards a flight of stairs that lead us up to an aging building. As the stone stairs had no railings, we took precaution in going up them.
On the top of this particular site you could see the entire city of Jogjakarta. You can also see that this particular location is sandwiched at equal distance between two mountains, one of which is Mountain Kidul, at which the mystical Queen of the South Sea allegedly makes home.
Mas Yoyok came out to greet us and asked us how we enjoyed the trip. "Asik banget, Mas! Keren...!" (It was really cool!) I exclaimed excitedly, obviously ecstatic with our adventures and discoveries for the day.
As everyone hurried into Mas Yoyok's shop and ripped the shop's fridge door open for another round of ice-cold teh botol, I saw Mas Yoyok shaking Pak Joko's hand, thanking him for taking us around while slipping a roll of money in Pak Joko's hand. Pak Joko responded with a big grin and shoke Mas Yoyok's hand even more enthusiastically.
Dasar pak tourist gila... I said outloud when Pak Joko finally disappeared from sight. I have to admit Pak Joko was one crazy tourist guide but he was very informative and friendly and told us all he knew about the Water Castle and Jogja's history.
Puzzled at why I called Pak Joko gila, we told Mas Yoyok what happened with the roof-climbing incident. We all laughed and were brought to tears of hilarity when remembering Iin and Mbak Iin screaming on top of their lungs while they clung on for life atop the Water Castle roof:
|WHAT READERS SAY ABOUT 'Breaking Into' Taman Sari Water Castle!:|
#8. damn....cool bgt fairy
eh dulu gw sangka kamu tuh laki2 eh waladalah ternyata cewek to, cakep lagih *gombal* ehhehehhehe. penggemar dewa yah? lebih suka mana pas vokalisnya ari or once? kalo gw sih pas jaman ari lasso lebih mantep
Posted by andhra - Website on 6-Nov-2005, 23:13 MYT
#7. Nice article once again Fai.. rasanya selepas ni, ramailah yng akan membanjiri kota Yogya.. hehehehe...jng lupa Fai tulis psl Dagadu pula..or Joger..
#6. im: Tunggu apa lagi..
#5. wow fair interesting write ups.....i juz wanna ask why is jogja is called kraton city? and wat does kraton mean?
#4. Alo Fairy.. websitenya bagus banget. Crita2 di Jogja juga keren banget. Banyak informasi yg asik deh. Kalo gw udah beberapa kali ke Jogja. Ternyata kotanya aman dan asik banget. Thanks for all the stories and pics
#3. fai, how much is d budget for such trip ek?
#2. whoah fai!! the article is gettin hot n interesting...marvel ous job buddy! part panjat2 atap tu klakar...
#1. Gileee elo Fai! brani amat sih!
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