Indonesia Explored! Our guest travel writer, Mark Nicholls, explores the best of Indonesia.
Mist fills the valley as the sun rises over the Buddhist masterpiece of Borobudur in Indonesia.
Early morning, while the day is still cool and the light is crisp, is the perfect time to visit the stunning 10th Century temple set in lush gardens a few miles outside the city of Yogyakarta.
Surrounded by 118 smaller bell-shaped stupas, a giant central stupa pierces the brightening sky as the temple complex cascades over nine levels with 4000 statues adorning the tiers.
The backdrop, however, is menacing and underlines the seismic volatility of the region as smoke drifts from the summits of volcanoes.
Marapi, the most active, erupted as recently as February 2014.
This is a region of incredible religious architecture and not too far away stands the 9th century Prambanan Hindu temple. It’s five monolithic towers stand defiant against the skyline, despite sustaining damage in an earthquake which struck at precisely 5.55am on a May morning in 2006 (five minutes before the site opened to the public), bringing tonnes of ancient carved stonework crashing to the ground.
Yogyakarta, on the island of Java, is as crowded and hectic as the capital Jakarta but has a more cultured ambience. Renowned as a centre of Javanese art and the batik wax-resist dyed cloth, it is a city of temples, mosques, the Sultan’s palace and the intriguing Water Palace which is an oasis of pleasure set amid narrow lanes.
There’s also great shopping along Malioboro Street for souvenirs, crafts and good quality batik.
For a different atmosphere again, but still on Java, the city of Solo is calm, green and sedate with streets where cycle rickshaws weave in and out of the noodle stands as they ferry passengers to batik and antique markets.
While Java, Sumatra, and Kalimantan are the major islands, the country has a total of 17,000-plus islands spread over three time zones but a reliable network of internal flights is making all parts increasingly accessible for visitors.
That means you can split a break between culture and the cities, add in a beach element, or experience Indonesia’s incredible wildlife and rainforests.
The island of Kalimantan, formerly Indonesian Borneo, is a destination well worth a visit
Home to some 12,000 orang-utans, about half of them are in the protective sanctuary of Tanjung Puting National Park where lowland tropical rainforest, freshwater swamp, mangrove forest, and secondary forest come together.
Reaching deep into this landscape is the Sekonyer River.
Tributaries lead off the main artery every so often where the water takes on the pallor of weak tea, coloured by tannin from rotting leaves and vegetation.
I travelled aboard a ‘klotok’ – a traditional Indonesian river boat – to reach some of the sanctuaries where it is possible to see wild orang-utans in the trees and others that are semi-wild and gather for daily feeds.
The brightly-painted river vessels pass deep into the heart of the rainforest where the banks are lined with Mahogany trees, palms and the bandas fruit – a favourite of the orang-utans.
Along the way you may see rhinoceros hornbill, macaque and proboscis monkeys, parakeets, brahminy kite and coucal as well as a wild mother and baby orang-utan.
On one of the days, we’d set off from our jungle lodge and travelled sedately two hours down river before the klotok captain throttled back the engine and moored us beside a slatted footpath leading into the undergrowth.
We hadn’t walked far before a branch above suddenly bent under the weight of an orang-utan.
The female, with a baby on her back, paused and then used the branch to propel herself gracefully onward through the rainforest canopy.
By the time we arrived at a cutting in the jungle, a semi-wild male was swaggering impatiently, awaiting an afternoon feed.
A few moments after the dominant male began his greedy feed of bananas delivered by a warden, more orang-utans cautiously moved in to join the feast.
The feeding station is part of Camp Leakey, the oldest orang-utan research and conservation centre in the world. Established in 1971 by Dr Birute Galdikas, it has been important in helping sustain the number of orang-utans in this region.
Back aboard the klotok, we headed to the riverside halt at Pondok Kerja and the Pesalat Reforestation Project, where you can plant a sapling to help regenerate the rainforest – and the orang-utan’s natural habitat – which is being depleted by palm oil cultivation.
As dusk fell, we moored for dinner aboard of fried fish, spicy chicken, prawns, fritters, rice, and water spinach cooked in the klotok’s cramped galley.
With the onset of darkness, the noises of the jungle changed with the sound of insect and bird life, fireflies twinkling like stars in the trees and offering a vivid show as macaque growled and squealed.
As we ate, a proboscis monkey catapulted itself through the air above us followed by others bouncing rhythmically through the trees in the fading light.
Later, the captain churned the engine into life and we returned to our jungle lodge, set on stilts just back from the banks of the Sekonyer River, for the night.
Indonesia offers such magical experiences, deep in the jungle with wildlife close by.
Vast, and distant, regular flights from London and a comprehensive domestic air service bring the sights, sounds, natural landscape and architectural wonders of the country within reach.
Flights: Mark Nicholls flew London-Jakarta with Garuda Indonesia, visit www.garuda-indonesia.com
Indonesian Tourism: visit www.indonesia.travel/en