Living on the Edge: the Motorscooter trip to Pranbanan Hindu temple

Not to overdramatize things, but just as the famous quote about how a person about to be hanged has highly focused attention, so does a motorscooter trip on the jam-packed streets of Jogja. My host at Sanata Dharma University, Prof. Budi Susanto, S.J., set it all up and so what could I do but go with the flow?

The seat of a typical motorscooter runs about 30 inches in length and is perhaps 10 inches wide. I grew intimately familiar with the back half of this space while riding behind my expert driver, Mr. Hari Murti, along the 36 km. it took to reach and then return from a major World Heritage site. The Pranbanan complex once had 252 temples clustered around a massive tower dedicated to the Hindu deity, Shiva. Destroyer and creator of worlds, Shiva is one of the three deities that compose the Hindu trinity (trimurti) mentioned earlier at Bali’s Mt.Agung.

Puri Agung is a living and auspicious temple whereas Pranbanan was built in the 11th century and abandoned in the 13th…perhaps because of a long string of volcanic eruptions from nearby Mt. Merepi. To see the volcano without its usual mantle of clouds is to be startled by its height and close proximity. Its eruptions have been so frequent, and violent, I can only hope it stays calm long after I leave on Dec. 12th. It’s a bit scary…

(image from Jakarta times)

The Saturday afternoon traffic heading out of town was a flowing concoction of motorbikes, cars, trucks, becak pedal cars, bicycles and probably someone out there on roller skates. Oh yes, and of course there were vendors pedaling their stalls to their place of business for the evening hours. The cars were very stuck as the motorbikes and cycles ebbed and surged around them, like a school of fish riding an unseen current carrying them forward. Bikes would inch forward and come within mere inches of colliding…but somehow they managed to avoid disaster. For one to go down would be like a bike in the Tour de France or a car at Daytona creating a massive pileup. I don’t even want to think about what it wold be like to experience something like that with only a helmet for protection.

Hari got us to the site and then it was tourist-central as we walked around the temples, read signs, took a few photos, and were entertained by the other visitors. Families, business employees on outings, high school students, a few foreigners, and couples all put on the sarong required (even Muslim women in headscarves!) and marveled at the reconstruction completed only after independence in 1948. Hari pointed out a pile of rocks he has climbed many times as a child when visiting with parents (their home is only a couple kilometers nearby)


We ran the gamut of souvenir sellers and other hawkers in order to buzz to a hilltop temple that has a big view of the valley. Entry fees for foreigners was $9.00 but nothing for Indonesians and we saw just a little of the scene (including some tourists dancing w/ local musicians) before it became dark.

Hari had a reservation at a restaurant facing the Pran. towers and so we feasted on a buffet of many kinds of food and dessert, then got a few photos before heading back.


The evening air was marvelous until we got inside Jogja’s gravitational field. At 7:45 on a Saturday night, the streets were full of couples on scooters heading to various sites where young people congregate: the two trees that couples try to navigate a path between while blindfolded, various markets, a giant Galleria shopping mall, and, to my surprise, the Tugu monument roundabout near my hotel. Like kids anywhere, this is a hangout spot for men and women (the latter wearing headscarves and the tight jeans/pants one sees everywhere). If anything, the traffic going back into the center of town was just as intense as what we encountered going to Pranbanam.

I was one relieved and grateful passenger to get off Hari’s scooter, and no doubt he was relieved at having done the bidding of his professor and hauled the foreign professor around without a mishap of any kind. Just remarkable! Kudos to Hari for his scooter skills.
More later on his degree in Psychology, his love of the band Steppenwolf as well as Herman Hesse’s book, and a few of his views on being a Catholic in a land of Muslims.



One thought on “Living on the Edge: the Motorscooter trip to Pranbanan Hindu temple

  1. Harimurti

    The photograph animates me. The carving creature smile is so difficult to distinguish with mine. But anyway, you remind me about the prominent figure on Steppenwolf. I had a resemblance name; Harry! Thanks Mr John.

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