Luxury Explorer Review

Luxury Explorer review

Amanjiwo

Indonesia, Java

Amanjiwo is a spectacular blend of the nature of Central Java, of ‘Aman’, and of the great cultural achievements of humanity

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Amanjiwo
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Amanjiwo

Location

Amanjiwo (peaceful soul) overlooks Borobudur, in the breathtakingly beautiful central Java

Travel Information

A one hour transfer from Yogyakarta

Top Tips

Undeniably an early morning trip to Borobudur, to watch the sunrise

X-Factors

The golden temple-like structure of Amanjiwo's reception area, and of course, views of Borobudur

Once in a lifetime… at least

It was after eight at night when fellow travel writer Jen, my daughter Bibi and I arrived at Adisucipto Airport in Yogyacarta, Central Java. The change from Bali was tangible. It was a smooth run on all fronts with only a few minutes passing from baggage collection to our air-conditioned 4x4.

Hanafi, our guide, driver and font of local knowledge, was soon driving down the main high street of Yogyacarta, filling-in the many blanks, while we sipped our iced-drink and nibbled on some homemade spicy rice crackers and peanut brittle. We had made it to Central Java! An overwhelming sense of excitement, together with the anticipation of another ‘Aman experience’ ahead, felt altogether thrilling.

I want to arrive again and again and again…   

Arriving at Amanjiwo is breathtaking. At night it looked like a golden temple from another world with four young girls holding woven baskets filled with rose petals waiting to welcome us. The circular monolithic limestone structure with many pillars and a central bell-shaped rotunda radiates an alluring incandescence at night, while the water features pulsate with the exotic sounds of the tropics after sunset. It’s magical, marvellous, and deeply inviting.

Ascending the steps into the central atrium, the mysterious pure tones of the gamelan players filled the warm night air and I noticed, instantly, that in Java the gamelan is played at a slower, more mellifluous pace than in Bali.

The Borobudur Pool Suite

As it was late we were shown fairly swiftly to our suites. The tropical humidity hung onto the night air making a delicious contrast to our blissfully cool suites. Bibi and I shared a Borobudur Pool Suite while Jen's Garden Suite was interconnected via the terrace. Our bed was almost throne-like, with four limestone pillars and raised on a creamy terrazzo plinth beneath a high domed ceiling. Scattered, scented semi-dried vermillion and cream roses decorated the scene. While the dulcet tones pf a gamelan played out from the in-room sound system, we enjoyed a light array of local dishes around our finely inlaid, fruitwood dining table. The use of local materials, here, from sungkai wooden screens to coconut wood and rattan furniture, is not only stylish, it is beautiful. The smooth slightly golden terrazzo underfoot is satin soft, while the bathroom with enormous shower room and bath beneath the stars is quite heavenly. The recessed spot lighting, that illuminates the creamy interiors, is controlled from a switch thoughtfully placed on a wooden headboard between the plumped, down-filled, pillows.

Upon Waking

I opened the bedroom shutters and froze for several minutes. My senses were being attacked on all fronts.

Taking in the splendour of this location in one hit is almost impossible. To my left the picture-perfect volcanic mountain, Mount Sumbing, stood strikingly proud. It was dawn and the sun was still climbing up above the jungle’s mist into the pale lemony pink sphere of the Javanese skyline.

The subservient Menorah hills were showing their peaks while, through the thatched bale, beyond the inviting pool, I spotted Borobudur: a hazy jagged hill-like shape in the distance shimmering with sacred intensity. Wow, I was quite simply blown away. We were actually here. What’s more, we would be going there.

The dawn chorus: tropical bird song; the intangible ‘click chick click chick’ from the world of hidden insects; intermittent ‘cockadoodle doos’, together with the gentle lapping of the pool, was a blissful soundtrack to this enchanting view. The sense of peace consumes you here; it’s no wonder that ‘jiwo’, meaning peaceful soul, joined its name with Aman. The baby wakes, the spell is broken, but not for long; Isa was only a few silent steps away...

I fell in love. It had so much of what inspires me, all right before me: a sensational pool; a thatch-perfect bale with amazing local batik scatter cushions, the likes of which I now have in my home; lush green rice terraces, which are even greener when they are farming tobacco; a tropical jungle dripping in foliage amidst soaring palms and all abuzz with contented jungle life. Plus the glorious ever changing Mount Sumbing together with one of the world’s wonders, Borobudur. Flowing streams circumvent the property indulging the intensity of the verdant land.

During our stay, the only clouds that showed up were the fluffy white cumulous that hugged Mount Sumbing’s girth before rising up to meet their fate. Breakfast under the bale was heavenly: fresh coffee, sweet orange nectar, and well, anything you wish for. However, for us it was always a platter of fresh fruit, home blended muesli, yogurt, plus porridge and mango for Bibi. Faultlessly presented, the service too is gracious, polished and punctual.

I was told that a couple come here each year, for eighteen nights, and never leave the property (aside from a visit to Borobudur). I understand that, I really do, but wonderlust hits you here and we had quite a lot to pack into our three days. However, we did manage to enjoy some relaxation in-house.

Poolside Paradise

The hotel’s pool area alone could keep you satisfied for an entire stay. The pool is so endlessly long and luscious (set amidst a cornucopia of tropical exotica) that one length feels like a day’s swim. The 360-degree panorama, including a dining area set within a raised limestone amphitheatre, is mesmerising. I could not read here, dream perhaps, but not read. It’s simply too captivating. The attention to guest’s comfort is also outstanding. The daybeds, wide enough for two, are shaded under white umbrellas and banyan trees while the constant supply of fresh towels, chilled water, and ‘bar’ snacks if you so wish, are all greatly appreciated.

The way I see it is this: you can take an Aman to a place of beauty, but you can’t take the place of beauty out of an Aman. Amanjiwo is a spectacular blend of the Nature of Central Java, of ‘Aman’, and of the great cultural achievements of humanity. The 9th century Buddhist monument, Borobudur, is the focal point from the hotel. Dominating a volcanic plain, it appears like a mystical symbolic mirage in the central distance. I could genuinely not film anything without wanting to zoom in on the ancient stupa that sits on the top. I was, I suppose, ‘stupafied’. Reflections of this extraordinary site are echoed, along with traditional Javanese architecture, in the magnificent build that makes up Amanjiwo.

Sunrise at Borobudur

If I have one regret it is that I didn’t read up enough on Borobudur prior to visiting. I only had one shot this stay and ironically I have learnt so much more retrospectively. One should really visit here at least twice in one stay: at sunrise and in the late afternoon.

The wake-up call is made easier with a fresh coffee and light snack, allowing you enough time to shower and dress. I left Bibi with the trusted Isa as we drove the 10-minute drive to one of the world’s most remarkable achievements, the Candi Borobudur. The structure, like a ‘cosmic mandala’ or the Buddhists view of the cosmos in stone, symbolises, in stories, the ascent from ignorance and, therefore, misery, to the ultimate state of liberation, enlightenment. This ‘journey’ to physical liberation, is depicted in exquisite sculptural detail, telling intimate and intricate stories on each level, from human suffering at the base to Arapudhatu, the formless realm at the pinnacle. There is no Buddha in the largest single stupa at the top.

At the upper level, where we marvelled at the soul surging splendour of the sunrise behind the whispering volcano (a few kilometres from the front of Borobudur), the Buddha images remain concealed within the stupas as ‘completion’ is almost there. Many are still remarkably unscathed, all in meditation positions, having suffered attacks from earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tropical storms and much more besides, over hundreds of years.

Though there were a few other tourists and locals enjoying this symbolic ‘pilgrimage’, there were no voices, the odd sound of a camera shutter, but the overriding sounds were emanating from the fertile Kedu Plain surrounding Borobudur. The rich, tropical plain was covered in several layers of mist until the Sun, at first reluctant, lifted its hefty sphere from behind the volcano with a blinding multi-laser intensity, turning the valley’s mist into a golden vale, which gradually lifted revealing the dewy emerald green verdure of the plane. The birds sang less, swallows dived more fervently around the stupas, people stood speechless; as though the breaking of dawn was indeed something beyond our comprehension as, in many ways, was the sacred sanctuary on which we were standing.

The Progo Picnic

The sky blended a lemony yellow with an amethyst rose, just as my maternal instincts beckoned me on to our next stop where Bibi and Isa would meet us. The Progo picnic, on the side of a steep gorge, overlooking the impressive colliding of the Progo and Elo rivers in the eye wateringly lush Prambanan Valley, is a perfect way to relax after such an overwhelming experience. This was only ten minutes from Borobudur.

Following on from our smoked salmon and cream cheese rolls, fresh orange juice and coffee, we sat with Hanufi to discuss our itinerary for the rest of our stay. Nothing was ever too much for him however; you would be wise to listen to your guide. Next, for me, was a ride in an andong or horse and cart, which met me at the picnic spot. Andongs are not built for comfort; however, it is such an enjoyable way to absorb a slice of rural village life, to see how particular and spotless their attractive homes are, and to trot along through lush rice paddies and banana groves.

Pak Widayat’s private art museum

This gallery came as a total surprise. The owner, a professor of art, and avid art collector, Dr Pak Widayat, has collected, over several years, works of art from Indonesia’s most renowned artists. It’s impressive in its whitewashed contemporary layout, and amazingly informative in its content; from post modernism to traditional grand oils, with life-size sculptures and ancient wooden carvings. Walking around the gallery with the very proud Pak, you not only get an idea of the extraordinary creative and artistic talent within Indonesia, but you also gain a brief overview of the turbulent history in which Java eventually gained independence. A fascinating hour or so and thoroughly entertaining as Pak loves to laugh, mostly at himself!

A session with Pak Tarjo

Going bumpety bump is fine for some, but for me it can wreak havoc on an already unaligned back. I was reluctant to give myself over to a masseur as I was in quite some pain. In rural Java however, the Dukun, or masseur, is quite revered. I was fortunate enough to see Pak Tarjo, a small but extremely well built man, whose hands genuinely possessed that oft’ talked about ‘healing’ power, passed down through several generations of Dukuns. His hands were coarse but determined and after an hour of deep tissue massaging, starting at my feet (a sign of respect) and ending up at the centre of my problems in the nave of my back, I got up and hugged him. I felt lighter, he had liberated my energy flow, I was in no pain, and I only wish he lived a little closer to home. The spa is relaxingly simple in design and extremely rich in healing. Jen’s romantic rose facial left her glowing for several days.

Dining and shopping

Dining at the hotel, in such an outstanding setting, is wonderful; the lighting in the atrium at night is magical, the treacle toned, impossibly high pitched singing, along with the gamelan playing is a joy, while the variety of food choices is exceptional. Personally, I never detour from local cuisine, as not only am I adventurous when it comes to new taste sensations, the local dishes were sensational. Our favourite meal included the Makan Malan Javanese evening meal, which offered a generous spread of inspired dishes from a light fish soup with glass noodles and wood ear mushrooms, to steamed duck in banana leaf. This is not simply ‘dinner’, it is a rich, taste-imbued occasion and a deeply memorable one too.

Alcohol is at a real premium in Indonesia, and for many it is simply unaffordable, unless one opts for a local brew. However, Amanjiwo have selected some respectable wines from France and the New World that are noticeably well priced.

Our final dinner though, was to be had at a local farmhouse belonging to the family of Pak Belal. Knowing that treat was in store we had something more superficial, but entirely necessary, to undertake: shopping. After that was something entirely spiritual: a visit to the monastery and temple of Mendut.

Studio Mendut is not far from the hotel or Borobudur. It sits unassumingly, down the side of a bustling road. One could assume from the swinging sign outside, together with its rustic dishevelled outward appearance, that it may have been a wasted visit. Not. On closer inspection I noticed every type of credit card was accepted. This place is an Aladdin’s Cave of Javanese arts, crafts and home ware including original old and new hand painted batik tablecloths, cushion covers, sarongs, almost anything you could think of 'batiked'; as well as statues, paintings, puppets, traditional glass paintings, antiques and plenty more besides. We bought enough batik cushions to scatter on several sofas; tablecloths, tablemats and I think Jennifer bought another sculpture.

When we finally stumbled outside, calculating the cost conversion in our befuddled brains, we almost fell upon a flurry of waddling ducks being hastily shepherded along the busy road. Ducks here replace sheep.

I will say, at this point however, that the gallery and shop at Amanjiwo are priced comparably and that for jewellery they are far superior and better priced than anywhere we visited. Take your time in all three places. With that fix done we enjoyed downtime at the hotel and prepared ourselves for our night out to the Mendut temple and the Buddhist monastery, followed by dinner at Pak Bilal.

Bibi’s Blessing

This really was an unexpected and wonderful surprise for us. We arrived at the strictly Buddhist Monastery in Mendut, down a pathway lined with marble stupas and water features, unsure if Bibi would behave or if her presence would be inappropriate. Quite the reverse. We were introduced to two high monks who halted their evening prayers in order to welcome us all inside the temple and to offer Bibi a spontaneous blessing. The water splashes in her face were not appreciated by her at the time but I’m sure in years to come she will realise what a lucky little girl she was. Walking out of there to the nearby Mahayana temple, the humidity and free flowing generosity of spirit that radiated from here made us feel quite heady.

Candi Mendut

This Mahayana temple has an extraordinarily unique aura. Only 4km from Amanjiwo and a short stroll from the monastery, a purposeful meditation can be enjoyed here more than once. It appears small and unassuming from the outside but once you climb the steps and enter its close, spiritually empowering interior, this 8th century temple is unforgettable. Inside are three of the largest and best-preserved statues in Java. The three-metre Buddha in the centre, carved from a single stone, actually takes your breath away. The central statue is flanked by smaller statues on either side; representing the Bodhisatvas-Padmapani, the Redeemer, and Maitreve, Lord of the future world while the three together represent ‘advaya’; ultimate reality. This is most definitely an edifying experience.

Dinner at Pak Bilal’s House with Bapak Sean Flakelar

The atmosphere here is deeply memorable. We joined a candle lit path from the roadside to the kitchen-dining area of the farmhouse, with crickets and frogs competing for loudest vocals. Pak Bilal’s family greeted us from the outside terrace of their cosy front of house while the cook had the home fires burning, quite literally. Copper cauldrons, large and small, were resting over wood burning flames with only candlelight to illuminate the setting.

It was extremely warm in all senses of the word; the congenial welcome was heart surging while there was a fan for our glowing faces laid beside our places on the batik tablecloth. We started with prawn soup with wood ear mushrooms, followed by a refreshing local salad with coconut and lime. After the light came the slightly richer; braised beef with sweet soya sauce, grilled coriander chicken, snapper curry, prawn crackers and all accompanied by perfectly prepared steamed rice: scintillating company along with sizzling food, in a setting that rivals many a dining venue, worldwide. Going back to basics is rejuvenating.

We walked out waving our fans beneath the banana leaves and jungle cacophony, all under starry sky, and hoped one day we would return to Java, to Amanjiwo, to this ‘peaceful soul’ with a golden spirit.

We left Java with a renewed sense of space, freedom and perspective.

Watch my video of our Amanjiwo experience

Sophie Marchant
Sophie Marchant


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