Stars Above, Stars Below

Stars have been an object of mankind’s fascination for hundreds of years. People in the past used to look at stars and determine where they’re heading based on them. Others have claimed that certain star constellations appearing during your birth date affect your personality. Either way, human’s fascination of stars have fueled us to study them, name them, or at the very least immerse ourselves in wonder through gazing at them. However, it’s getting harder to find any star that we can merely look at when we live in a city.

What if I told you I found a place where you can see stars above and below the sky?

Bukit Bintang (in English: Star Hill), Yogyakarta is the place to be if you’re as crazy of a star lover as I am. Located 150 meters above the city of Yogyakarta, somewhere between Bantul and Gunungkidul, it is distant enough from lights pollution for stars to dot the night sky and high enough to look at the stars below the sky the form of Yogyakarta’s city lights. There are no public transport modes to get there (except if you order a taxi and tell them to wait for you there) so you have to drive yourselves there or hire a driver. The drive up is an uphill one, with sloping roads and minimum street lighting so make sure your car lights are okay and please drive carefully. But your uphill drive is a rewarding one, as this will be your view when you can finally catch a glimpse of it.

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Although the view is magical at night, but it is even more magical at sunset. Somewhere around 6.30 to 7 PM is the right time to capture the view because you’ll get a magenta shade in the sky – what’s left behind from the sunset just as the city was starting to light up.

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This was the last bit of pink in the sky and I accidentally moved my camera while on a 30″ shutter speed, so please forgive the blur!

Bukit Bintang consisted mostly of cliff walls on one side and trees with a steep drop on the other with occasional areas where you can get a clear view. There was a flat bit of ground that had been paved and fenced by the government with street vendors selling coffee and instant noodles in a cup where you can sit down and enjoy the view. However, you had to set up a tripod to capture the view and that point was not lit at all so safety wasn’t guaranteed. There were two places where you could grab a sit-down dinner with a view: Sido Kumpul and Bukit Indah. We opted for Sido Kumpul because it looked more crowded that night and they advertised steak on their banner.

The interior of the place had this romantic and cozy vibe to it, with lighting kept at a minimum to bring out the city lights from below and the stars from above. The music choices were mostly Indonesian pop love songs which was probably meant to set the mood. You see, there’s a legend to Bukit Bintang that goes like this: if you bring someone there and propose to them, they will certainly say yes. Always. It’s a 100% success rate. Being the skeptics and non-romantics that my family and I are, we said “of course they will, if not then who will drive them home? It’s not as if there are any public transports here” or “of course you have to bring them here, there’s no cell phone reception to propose to them online.” But hey, there are people who believe in such tales and actually want to propose to someone there so perhaps setting the really romantic mood to the place helped a lot of people’s love lives.

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There’s one thing I really liked about Sido Kumpul: the tables at the edge of the balcony had ends that stick out past the ledge. This meant that I didn’t have to set up a tripod there. I could just put my camera on that table end, make sure it wouldn’t fall off, and experiment away with whatever shutter speed I wanted.

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This is what it really looked like that night. ISO 800, f/22, 20 sec.
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f/3.5, ISO 1600, 2 sec.
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f/3.5, ISO 1600, 2 sec.
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f/3.5, ISO 800, 1 sec
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My favorite shot. f/3.5, ISO 800, 4 sec.

Sadly I couldn’t capture the stars above due to my lack of photography skills. I couldn’t find the perfect combination of ISO, aperture, and shutter speed to get them. But I assure you, there were stars as it was a clear night.

Bukit Bintang was an extremely beautiful place and I didn’t want to be busy adjusting focal lengths and shutter speeds and ending up not taking it all at in. The air was cold that night but not to a shivering point. There was a bit of wind blowing every once in a while to add the chill. There was a couple at the table next to me and a family behind me. The couple then left, replaced by a group of young men who just sat there and stared at all the lights, cigarettes in each hand. One Indonesian pop love song came after another, playing through a stereo system set up at the corner of the place. Cars and trucks sped past the restaurant, their engine sound fading away with their movement. Vehicle lights moved like fireflies below and stars remained steady above. There were two stars that shone the brightest somewhere exactly above the city and I was transfixed on them for a while.

Accompanied with a plate of fried rice worth IDR15.000 and a glass of hot tea, I gazed with utter fascination at the view and fell in love with what I can’t find at home: stars above and stars below.

Note: during the course of our trip to Yogyakarta, we hired a car with Mr. Wahyu as our travel guide/driver. He’s really open to our custom itinerary and a warm, friendly person who took us anywhere we wanted to go and offered suggestions on occasions when we had no idea where to go, plus his car was awesome and had a cool audio system. You can contact Mr. Wahyu at primasuksestour@yahoo.com or +6281227504999.

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