Discovering Kulon Progo, Yogyakarta

There will come a time when you have explored most of Yogyakarta, down to the tiniest temples, and have passed for the umpteenth time the tourist-packed street of Malioboro. And yet, you simply long for more.

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Yogyakarta filled with many colors and noise. You will want to engulf yourself in the serenity of the traditional charms it was once famous for. Fueled by this intent, you can make your way to Kulon Progo, a satellite city some 25 kilometers from Yogyakarta amid the tranquil landscape of the Menoreh hills.What was once a sleepy village, Kulon Progo has become a place of picturesque beauty and a popular tourist destination, thanks to heavy promotion on social media.

Located at the far west of Yogyakarta, Kulon Progo is bordered by the Menoreh hills at its northwest, while its south is composed of lowland leading to the ocean. A single visit to Kulon Progo, when done properly, will result in a complete experience of natural scenery, from hilly landscape to breathtaking beaches.

To reach this village from Yogyakarta, you will find the roads winding, with no signs for directions, often hilly with sharp turns, requiring expert skills to navigate. Once you arrived at the gate of the Sermo dam. This man-made reservoir is also a part of the Kali Biru National Park and supplies water to Yogyakarta and surrounding areas. As you arrived at the national park’s trekking route, the warm rays of the early morning sun came as a stark contrast to the chilly air.

Located 450 meters above sea level, Kali Biru is blessed with a temperate climate that fosters the dense and lush vegetation. Tall trees paved the path from the parking lot all the way into the forest. Along the way, we spot several houses and bungalows built in harmony with nature, but we knew that wasn’t always the case.

yogyaRavaged by deforestation, this area was once dry and bare. A local initiative managed to bring this area back to greenery, replanting trees in a reforestation program. The area is now protected as a national park. Spanning 29 hectares, Kali Biru hosts a variety of flora that make up the dense green canopy. With very few people around, a trek around this area becomes very enjoyable.

If the adrenaline kicks in and you want something a bit more daring, try tree-climbing. The park operator has built a few tree houses among the highest trees to take in the view. One is even designed for a photo opportunity and visitors must line up starting from 9 a.m. to get their photo taken on top.

On the top, you will be rewarded with a breathtaking view of the Menorah hills and Sermo dam on the distant horizon. The water does look blue from afar, which was probably how Kali Biru (Blue River) got its name. A view of the lush tropical forest cradling the dam, complete with a hint of white mist, made for an unforgettable scene.

Your next destination in the Kulon Progo area will be the Kiskendo cave, which is little known among most tourists. For locals, the cave goes by many names, from Kiskendo to Ciscenda to Kriskendo. Drive uphill and down before you will finally arrive at the cave. There are Ramayana relics carved outside the entrance, which shows its importance to the local Hindu population. Some relics are easily visible on the limestone hills, while others are engulfed by the massive roots of banyan trees. Unfortunately, we were unable to find a guide to explain what those relics meant.

yogya 5The cave was pitch dark, which prompted us initially to beat a hasty retreat from the scary interior. But on our second attempt, we relied on the dim lights from our mobile phones to venture deeper into the cave. There is a concrete set of stairs at the mouth of the cave, and massive stalactites hang from the ceilings. The further in we went, the cooler the temperature got.

Many believe that the cave hides a magical portal to another world. Legend has it that Kiskendo was once the home to the two giant brothers Mahesasura, depicted as having a bull’s head, and Lembusura, with cow’s head. In Ramayana folklore, the cave is where the famous fight the brothers and the monkey-faced warriors Subali and Sugriwa took place. The story of the fight, complete with intricate details of betrayal and misunderstanding, is depicted on the limestone wall outside the cave. Many people also claimed to have seen a tongue-shaped rock inside the cave, which they believe once belonged to Mahesasura before it was severed by Subali.

It’s hard to believe that such a mystical and violent fight ever took place in that tranquil place. But for its mystical aura and sacred status, the Kiskendo cave has become a popular spot for spiritual meditation among locals. When you leave Kulon Progo with a strong affection for the village, you will be awed by its subtle charms, lush greenery and honest smiles from the villagers.

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