When it comes to sunsets in Yogyakarta, there’s one spot where people would point you to if you want to watch the skies change hues in the most magnificent setting: Ratu Boko Temple. This ancient temple is located 30 minutes away from the famous Prambanan Temple and from the pictures I’ve seen, you can watch the sun set right in between two grand pillars.
This post isn’t about the sunset I watched at that famous spot. In fact, I didn’t even go to Ratu Boko Temple at all.
The temple was initially part of our itinerary in Yogyakarta because after looking through a vast amount of photos capturing the sunset there, I was a vying for a same photo in my camera’s memory card. However, if there’s one weakness about famous sunset spots, it’s the overwhelming amount of people bound to crowd the place with their lenses and cell phones held up. We didn’t want to deal with that on this occasion.
Thus, even though there was a shuttle that could take us from Prambanan Temple to Ratu Boko Temple, we didn’t get on it. We got our tickets to Prambanan for IDR30.000/person and IDR5.000/car and explored the UNESCO-developed heritage. As expected, the temple compound and the plains surrounding it were rather empty.
The temple complex was pleasantly quiet that day and it had been a pleasantly chilly day. Walking among the trees and grass with my camera, in the ray of the afternoon sun with some breeze rustling the leaves every now and then was the most peace I had ever had in a while.
We got there at 5 PM – an hour before the local sunset time during which the sun began giving out this fantastic yellow hue to the sky. The thing about Prambanan Temple’s location is that most of the structure blocks the sunlight if we look at it from the front. Thus, what happened during 5 PM that time was something like this.
The majestic shape of the temple – towering at 47 meters – became even more spectacular in silhouette form, with the yellow sky as it’s background. It was pure joy to capture the sight – something that apparently every visitor felt that day.
Prambanan Temple was built during the era of Rakai Pikatan, a Hindu king of Mataram. It was originally used as a place of worship, but in the 16th century, an earthquake turned parts of the temple into nothing but ruins.
Thanks to that earthquake, a lot of statues and carvings marking the history of the temple was destroyed. Thus, when people saw these ruins and found nothing to tell them about where they had come from, they began making up legends about them and that’s how the famous Loro Jonggrang tale was created.
As I continued my journey closer to the temple compound, I discovered that a lot of the ruins were still being inspected and had to be shielded under tents. Construction to recreate the temples the ruins had been were also still in progress. Nevertheless, the sight of the ruins with the soft light from the sky hitting them was still a magical one.
The temple compound itself looked enchanting under the pastel sky. What was even more spectacular was the way the sunlight hit the rocks that made up the temple and cast light on the carvings sculpted on the wall. Each carving, each slab of stone looked as if they had golden undertones which made them more majestic than they already were.
As I walked around the temple, I discovered that a lot of people were marveling at the sight and taking it all in with the same peace as I was. There were two travel writers, sitting under a tree, scribbling on their notebooks and looking up every once in a while. Couples were strolling and enjoying a romantic afternoon with their hands in each other’s, stopping every once in a while to take a picture of one another. Photographers walked around, climbing up one staircase that led up to a structure after another with their cameras constantly on standby. There were a number of people sitting or laying down on the wall surrounding the structure looking towards the direction of the sun.
It was an extremely beautiful evening and everyone was enjoying it.
I immersed myself in climbing up one structure after another and pointing my camera to capture the sky. As I was walking along on a structure, I spotted a marvelous sight to my left.
It was Mt. Merapi – the volcano which I had visited earlier – in the distance, looking like it was mauve under the pink sky. I couldn’t imagine living in 1066 when Mt. Merapi erupted for the first time and witnessing bright orange liquid oozing out of its peak, not understanding what it was and what danger it carries as I placed offerings here – something very likely to have happened back then.
I descended the stairs and headed over to another structure with what was like a terrace facing the direction of the sun. I looked toward the direction everyone was facing and I was blown away by what I saw directly.
The sky was colored in hues of mauve, orange, and pink and there was a chunk of trees clustered around each other with one big, drying tree towering above the rest. The sun – bright yellow at the time – was descending somewhere among those trees.
My jaw dropped and I couldn’t help but say “God, are You kidding me? Is this for real?” repeatedly as I pressed the shutter on my camera. That was the most magical thing I’ve ever seen.
I decided to stop taking photos for a while to take it all in and imagine the people in the 9th century placing offerings and saying their prayers under this sky. I imagined them finishing their prayers, looking up and seeing this sight and just feel a profound connection with their gods. I imagined how much peace they must have felt right then.
It was starting to get dark at the time and security guards were walking around the temple, asking everyone to leave because it was closing time. But the color of the sky was too incredible for me to miss more shots of the temple.
After a couple more shots, we left the temple, walking past a huge plain with some ruins piled up on it. Apparently, this plain might have been the downtown of Mataram Hindu back in the day, where peasants would interact with each other or gather round to hear announcements from the king.
At last, we stepped out of the temple compound, taking a long walk around the steadily darkening complex with occasional streetlights standing tall to light the way to get to the exit. The walk included going past souvenir stalls which were being closed by their fatigued-looking owners, some still open for business in spite of the lack of visitors. Some shop owners were chatting with one another over coffee and peanuts, others were counting the money they made that day, their foreheads creasing. Once we finally made it to the exit, the sky had become violet with spurs of orange. I took one last glance and one last shot of the temple at twilight, admired the beauty of how God’s creation and man-made structures could become such a beautiful sight together and walked away.
It was a magical evening.