The Prides of Cirebon

CirebonThe trip to the coastal town of Cirebon, famous for its distinctive masks and batiks, takes about four hours and winds through some of the most stunning scenery in Java.

Rice fields terrace down the sides of mountains, palm trees and fruit stands dot the roadside, rivers meander through valleys, and tea plantations along with reminders of their heritage, cover every hill along the way.

The result is a road trip that takes you from traffic laden Bandung to rural Java and on to the laid back, border-line sleepy town of Cirebon.

I say sleepy in a good way.

After the chaos of Jakarta, Cirebon is virtually snoring…but at the same time it’s refreshing, relaxing, and peaceful.

The absence of taxis took me a bit by surprise when first arriving but I quickly figured out that getting around is easy.  Public transportation comes in many forms and all provide an experience to be savored.

You can take any one of the thousands of becaks (pedal-powered rickshaws) or dokars (horse-drawn carts); or, you can climb aboard an angkok (minibus) and of course there is the age-old method of placing one foot in front of the other.

The town is small enough that walking everywhere is not out of the question.

Cirebon is situated on the ocean however don’t go looking for a beach…and don’t go asking anyone either.

I asked one guy and he looked at me kind of sideways with a wink and a sneer.  The kind of look and grimace you would expect to see in a back alley somewhere while indulging in black market transactions. He told me proudly that he had a girlfriend…but there were plenty more available!

When I rephrased my question the wink and sneer departed; replaced with a sheepish dopey look. We’ve all had the look. When you say something stupid and now you just want to crawl into a hole for a minute while the coast clears itself.

He got over it and with a shrug let me know that in Cirebon  “we may be nestled against the ocean but we have no beaches”.

Cirebon prides itself on it’s fish.

If you spun a blindfolded man around and around on the main street, then promptly stopped him and made him point; he would be pointing at a seafood restaurant.  No doubt.

Eateries of all sizes selling the freshest grilled and stir fried seafood are everywhere. My choice was the roadside warung of Kartini 69.  I had two hot iced lemon teas, a crispy green salad, fresh vegetables, fried rice, a whole grilled fish, and exceptionally friendly service all for 31,000 rupiah or about $3.10 US.

It’s hard to beat that kind of deal; exotic, delicious, and inexpensive.

Cirebon has a lot to be proud of!

In 1527 the very powerful sultan of Cirebon decided it was high time to build himself a palace, so he did, and he still lives there today…well, a descendant does at least. If it was the first guy he would be older than that woman they found in Sumatra who claimed to be 157 years young. Then we would just be talking crazy!

It is the oldest palace (kraton) in Indonesia and when you enter it, by crossing the moat, you can literally feel the history surround you. Kraton Kasepuhan, as it known, is living history.

When I walked through the front doors I recalled a feeling. The same sense of mystery enveloped me when I entering the monasteries in Tibet.  So much has happened there and whatever is going on in my life seems rather insignificant by comparison.

The museum holds racks and racks of knives and weapons of varying gruesomeness but what really grabbed my attention were the dual carriages.

They looked like they were designed by someone in an altered state of mind.

A pair of golden-winged dragons with the head of an elephant and the paws of a tiger. They say it was traditionally pulled by four white buffalo.  The turning of the wheels caused the gold wings to flap and the tongue to flicker like a lizard.

Quite a sight back in 1527!

I went out the back of the palace for a while and wandered around. The backyard is not very big as far as palaces go but the fact that it is not a sprawling lawn makes everything come alive that much easier.  You can relate to  it!

You know that feeling we all get when we are imaging ourselves as sultans or more likely have just won the lottery, how great life would be. Standing in the small backyard of a sultans palace makes everything seem possible; within reach.

Entering the main hall where the throne is kept, along with all sorts of other furniture, drapery, and artwork is…well…majestic.

I did get a telling off for wearing my shoes in there which is a big no-no however there were no signs, I swear.  The hall is a three-tier room with the highest being where the throne is.

If its anything like other cultures then no-one can be higher than the sultan, nor can they look directly at him.  This may explain the eave which slopes down in front of the second tier essentially cutting off nearly all visibility from the ground.  The sultan however would be able to see your feet.

I was just getting into it, putting my imagination into over-drive, when I received my royal warning regarding shoes and so thought it best to vacate the premises.

The palace is the must see of Cirebon and the cool relief of tile to foot makes it worthwhile even if history is not your thing.

For photos of Indonesia click here.

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