Friday, June 24, 2011

Batujaya's Ancient Buddhist Temple Ruins, A Short Day Trip East of Jakarta

In Batujaya, a half day's drive to the east of Jakarta, lies a complex of ancient buddhist temples slowly emerging from Karawang's rice padi mud. Walking among the mounds concealing these ruins you get a sense that there is something huge and undiscovered buried beneath your feet. The occasional story of rice farmers enriched by finds of gold trinkets only adds to the mystique.

Karawang is known as the “rice bowl” of Jakarta due to the endless rice paddies that year after year produce the carbohydrates necessary to sustain metropolitan Jakarta’s millions of hungry stomachs. Karawang owes its rice bowl status to the Citarum river and the annual floods which refresh Karawang’s layers of alluvial sedimentation keeping the rice growing year after year.

Jakarta isn’t the only civilisation the Karawang plains have historically supported, along the banks of the Citarum river there is evidence of much older human encampments. At Batujaya the remains of fifth and sixth century Buddhist communities is gradually emerging from rice padi silt that has built up over centuries of Citarum river floods.

I first became aware of Batujaya on reading about rice farmers’ ploughs getting accidentally stuck on human bones in burial sites and the farmers unearthing gold trinkets that had been buried together with the dead human. As you would expect, your average rice farmer isn’t too aware of the value of two thousand year old gold jewellery and typically sold it for melt down in local markets.

But the fact that the farmers came across two or three burial sites means there are likely to be more. Some basic research revealed that there are a number of prehistoric sites in Karawang. Most are in Batujaya and contain crumbling Buddhist temples but there are others in Cibuaya and in total there are around 30 specific locations where ancient remains poke out of the rice padis.

Little of these ancient sites have been excavated and it is exciting to walk over the mounds sticking out of the rice padis and wonder what could be hidden beneath them. The temples appear to be built from clay bricks, and in many places you can find them scattered around as if they were recently placed there.

The complex at Batujaya is the most expansive covering an area of around five hectares and consists of one large restored temple, one large temple in the process of restoration, several temples that are undergoing excavation, an ancient well, and scattered mounds of earth that have barely been touched by humans and who knows what is contained beneath them.

The restored temple is Candi Jiwa, or the temple of the spirit, and Candi Blandongan is the temple that is undergoing restoration although when we visited there wasn't much restoration activity. Still, both of these temples are impressive structures, and from them you can site other mounds sticking out of the rice paddies where clearly other ancient remains reside.

Batujaya and Cibuaya are well within day trip distance from Jakarta and worth visiting.  Getting there isn't hard and just requires the usual perseverance to drive out of Jakarta. Karawang is east of Jakarta and hence you need to take the Cikampek Tol. I can't remember exactly where you take the exit from the toll but Rengasdengklok is the name of the town that you need to bear in mind as you pass through it on the way to Batujaya. Batujaya is in the village of Segaran so watch out for this name as you drive.

Getting back to Jakarta we took a short cut on a pontoon that took us an dour car across the Citarum river. We could never have found this on the way to Batujaya Segaran but it was pretty easy to find these mom and pop ferry operations on the way back.

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