Our first couple of days in Sumatra were rather frustrating as far as our task at hand was concerned. We landed in Palembang, myself coming from East Java, and my kappiya on this part of the trip, Dr. Kok, arriving from Kuala Lumpur.
Unfortunately just about everything we tried to do in Palembang failed: museums were closed or empty, sites were under renovation, etc. We did, however, enjoy meeting our hosts, Hans and Fifi, and their family and friends.
After a couple of days we moved on to Jambi, which is home to one of the largest religious and educational complexes known to the medieval world. It is spread out over around 80 sq. km, along canals being drawn off the Batanghari River, but most of it is still underground, and may be for some time yet as resources are not in place to develop the site.
What has already been excavated is very impressive indeed, although it lacks for the most part the relief and statue work seen in some of the sites in Java. It makes up for that in a way by being situated in beautiful nature walks, with very large and old trees, and well-kept gardens.
On our first day we first arrived at Candi Kelaton, one of the most westerly of the sites. It surprised me indeed by the size of the grounds, and the amount of buildings inside, not all of them yet restored. I hadn’t expected any one site to be so large.
We then moved on to the main complex, which houses the small museum, which has an interesting introduction to the sites, as well as some artifacts preserved from them. Also within walking distance are Candi Gumpung, Candi Tinggi I & II, and the tank Kolam Telagorajo.
Most of the candis are fairly simple brick-built buildings, which are undecorated, and only rebuilt to level one or two. There are sometimes small chapels at the side, and walls around the perimetre are common, all of which are in manicured gardens.
We had dāna at the site, brought from some supporters from Jambi itself, but afterwards, being completely sweated out in the humid climate, we decided to retreat for the day, and try to recover strength for the ‘morrow.
The following day we completed our tour of the sites on motorbikes as walking was out of the question, the distances being too far, and the sites being too far removed one from the other. The pathways between the sites are mainly concrete slabs, too small and winding for cars, and sometimes very broken down.
The first site we visited on the 2nd day was Candi Astano, lying alongside a rather flooded wooded area. The candi was similar to the ones at the main site, but with its own charm. We also visited Candi Sialang, which is mainly still underground. From there we drove on to one of the best sites we visited, Candi Kembar Batu, which like Kelaton, had a number of buildings excavated. All of these sites are to the east of the main complex.
We then drove to the west of the main site along a very broken road to see the Candis Gedong I & II, again a rather large complex of buildings, only partially restored. On either side of the road there are menapo, collapsed and buried sites, which are known about but unexcavated at present. As most of them seem to stand on private land, it is unclear whether they will be bought and restored or not.
The very last place we went to is also the site that is most westerly at Muara Jambi, Candi Koto Mahligai, which again is mainly still unexcavated, but set in a wonderful old forest, with towering trees that must come down from the time that these sites were in use and at their best.
Muara Jambi is not as attractive as sites like Borobudur and Prambanan, but it definitely has its own charms, with most of the candis being situated in cleared jungles, in which the grand old trees have been left standing, and along canals which supplied the necessary water. The site is certainly memorable, and having good walks and bicycle facilites could easily be promoted under the banner of cultural eco-tourism.
With our guides at Candi Kedaton
Going to the more Remote Sites
Candi Kembar Batu
Under a massive Tree at Candi Koto Mahligai