When I arrived at the Hotel Tugu in Blitar, a three-hour drive from Malang, I felt like I was taking a journey back in time. The pages of history opened before me as I sat in the late afternoon sun at Waroeng Jawa, an open-air lounge where guests gather around oil lamps. If you wish, you can gossip Javanese style while enjoying traditional cakes and snacks, and sipping Java tea or a strong black Javanese coffee.
The hotel is in a beautiful colonial building, which dates back to 1850. The art and romance of this era are captured magnificently in the gorgeous antique furniture and large, old paintings that adorn the walls. In my suite, there was a giant tiger painting stretching from one end of the room to the other. Taking centre stage was a regal, leather-studded, four-poster bed.
If the opportunity arises, ask reception to show you the Sang Fajar Presidential Suite or simply pay the US$270 a night (an absolute bargain) and stay there. It is imbued with 1940’s elegance, and includes a hand-carved, emperor-sized, wooden bed. Old photos and beautiful books are spread around the suite, many honouring Indonesia’s first President Sukarno who served from 1945 to 1967.
Dinner was calling, so my partner and I took the hotel car to the grounds of the grand temple Candi Penataran, the oldest Hindu Temple in East Java. As the sun was setting, I followed a trail of bamboo torches along a winding pathway through the grounds of the magnificent candi (temple). It lies on the slopes of Mount Kelud, and is one of the most exquisite in all of East Java.
The open-air Lost Temple Private Dinner included seven courses accompanied by fine wine. As we dined, a lone musician played lilting flute melodies, which took us back to another time and place. Stone statues guarded us as we soaked in the twelfth century atmosphere.
As the dark descended, the temple features faded softly into the night, lit only by stars and hundreds of flickering candles. It was a truly mystical moment, sensing the grace of this beautiful East Javan temple under a vast and starry sky.
Candi Penataran is in Penataran village in the Nglegok District, around ten kilometres from the small town of Blitar. It’s an ideal Jakarta getaway weekend, although I would recommend a at least three days for the break. It’s one of the best-kept secrets in Indonesia. You won’t see many foreigners in Blitar, which is all the more reason to go.
The temple dates back to the twelfth to fifteenth centuries, and is linked with the Majapahit Kingdom around the time of the reign of King Hayam Wuruk. It is difficult to find out the exact history, but history books tell of King Hayam Wuruk’s association with this temple.
The temple is currently being considered for world heritage listing, which would undoubtedly make it a tourist icon. Allow one to two hours to view its impressive Hindu statues and reliefs, including depictions of the Ramayana (the Hindu epic of the divine Prince Rama).
Day trips around Blitar can include a historic trip to the Sukarno Museum, Sukarno’s ancestral home and his tomb. When you visit the museum make sure to look carefully at the giant painting of Sukarno, which is positioned just at the front entrance. If you view the picture from the side, near to the roped off area, you can see the President’s “heartbeat” at the centre of the painting.
It’s all true. The painting has been deemed a “living” painting. I could find no draught or wind source to create movement on the canvas and, indeed, the painting does move! I stood for some 15 minutes captivated by the pulsating of the canvas in the area of Sukarno’s heart.
Surprises and delights are in store when touring East Java, so hop on a flight to Malang and romance your partner under the spell of a lost temple.
Stay: Hotel Tugu Blitar – The Art, Soul and Romance of Indonesia
Blitar, East Java
Fly: Major Indonesian cities and carriers go to Malang, East Java. It’s about a three-hour drive from Malang to Blitar.
Tugu Kawisari Coffee Plantation is located between Malang and Blitar on the slopes of Mount Kelud. It is a lush 900-hectare coffee plantation with waterfalls and rivers. The plantation dates back to the Dutch colonial era. Old plantation traditions are still followed, just as they were 100 years ago.
Story by Stephanie Brookes
David Metcalf runs cultural photography tours in Indonesia and beyond. His photo gallery, Taksu Photo Gallery in Ubud, Bali is a showcase for beautiful photographic work from the many islands of Indonesia.