Photo: Java’s oldest.

Dieng’s Temples and Kawah Sikidang

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Central Java’s Dieng Plateau is home to Indonesia’s oldest surviving Hindu temples peppering a highly volatile geothermal plane, the guts of an ancient caldera.





In a half-day walk from the village of Dieng it is possible to visit most of the temples, a small museum, Kawah Sikidang, a bubbling, hissing volcanic creator and Telaga Warna, a picturesque lake, returning to Dieng via a circular route.

Forget the temples, we found a foreign tourist! Photo taken in or around Dieng’s Temples and Kawah Sikidang, Dieng Plateau, Indonesia by Stuart McDonald.

Forget the temples, we found a foreign tourist! Photo: Stuart McDonald

Dieng Plateau’s temples (Candi) were likely constructed between the eight and ninth centuries, and at a later date mysteriously abandoned and reclaimed by nature. Rediscovered in the early 19th century, it’s believed much of the site was pillaged for building materials but experts surmise there may have been in excess of 400 temples in its heyday. Today eight remain.

The squat stone temples are thought to be influenced by Pallavan architecture from Southern India, combined with certain local vernacular and were built as shrines to the Hindu god Shiva. Interesting, although these stone edifices are the oldest surviving, they may not have been Java’s first Hindu temples and earlier wooden structures are thought to have existed, evidenced by architecture depicted on reliefs in Borobudur.

Dieng’s weather really turned it on for our visit... Photo taken in or around Dieng’s Temples and Kawah Sikidang, Dieng Plateau, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Dieng’s weather really turned it on for our visit... Photo: Sally Arnold

The temples are a mini representation of the Hindu cosmos, divided into three sections: Bhurloka, the lowest realm of mortals, Bhuvarloka, for the pure including ascetics and the enlightened and Svarloka the highest and holiest realm of the gods. This symbolism continued into later Islamic architecture and can be seen in the roof style of mosques across Java.

The modest square-based structures lack excessive ornamentation, each incorporating a single chamber which in most cases would have housed a statue or yoni lingga. Dieng’s temples hold the earliest architectural examples of the Kala motif, a demonic looking face to scare away malevolent spirits seen in later examples across Java and contemporary temples in Bali. The temples of Dieng are named for characters from the Hindu epic the Mahabharata, however this is a relatively contemporary appellation as no written historical records exist. Despite their importance historically and culturally, Dieng’s diminutive temples, may fail to impress, particularly if you have visited Central Java’s considerably more monumental sites of Borobudur or Prambanan.

Strike a pose. Photo taken in or around Dieng’s Temples and Kawah Sikidang, Dieng Plateau, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Strike a pose. Photo: Sally Arnold

Beginning at the Arjuna Complex, your entry fee of 30,000 rupiah for foreigners and 15,000 rupiah for Indonesians will cover all the temples and Kawah Sikidang, so hold onto your ticket. If you are not Indonesian, be prepared for the selfie onslaught. If you are Indonesian, watch where you’re swinging that selfie stick!

Near the entrance to the Arjuna Complex are Dharmasala and Sendang Sedayu. The former, an incomplete site that looks like the foundations of several stone structures (that’s the fancy way of saying a pile of rocks), in the corner is a sacred well, Sendang Sedayu, used for ritual ablutions.

Atmospheric. Photo taken in or around Dieng’s Temples and Kawah Sikidang, Dieng Plateau, Indonesia by Stuart McDonald.

Atmospheric. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Continuing along the path, the Arjuna Complex with five small Candi is the oldest cluster of temples in the area. On a misty day (i.e. most days) the scene at this ancient complex is tremendously enigmatic, the mysticism of the past palpable, only to be interrupted by random roaming Teletubbies characters. Four of the five temples are aligned north-south, the first and most complete, Candi Arjuna with its pyramid-shaped roof and successively down the row, Candi Srikandi, Candi Puntadewa and Candi Sembadra. The small oblong temple Candi Semar faces the front of Candi Arjuna. Foundations of similar structures stand in front of Candi Srikandi and Candi Puntadewa. Candi Srikandi’s reliefs are particularly notable with images of the Hindu Trimurti, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, one adorning each side.

A short walk across the farmland takes you to Candi Gatokaca, standing alone and looking much like the temples in the Arjuna group. Adjacent to this temple, the small Kailasa Museum (5,000 rupiah entry) houses some impressive sculptures from the surrounding sites in two dusty buildings. Unfortunately none of the labels or information is in English, but a visual timeline showing the temples in Java is interesting.

Squat Candi Gatokaca. Photo taken in or around Dieng’s Temples and Kawah Sikidang, Dieng Plateau, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Squat Candi Gatokaca. Photo: Sally Arnold

Continue southeast along the road for about one kilometre to Candi Bima. This lone temple is markedly different in style to the other group with a tiered roof adorned with faces peering in every direction from lotus-framed arched alcoves known as kudu. The temple is crowned with a stupa, but this is an interpretation of what was believed to be, as the original stones are missing.

Follow the road taking the turn off at Candi Bima for one kilometre to Kawah Sikidang. You will be requested to show your ticket along the way. Note the snaking and hissing pipes from the nearby geothermal power plant looking like something out of a post-apocalyptic dystopian future (don’t get too close). This theme continues as you approach Kawah Sikidang itself, an active crater with bubbling mud pits and steaming fumaroles, but first you’ll have to push past the venders at the entrance and brace yourself for this remarkable natural environment defaced by tacky and entirely unnecessary selfie props.

Oh dear. Photo taken in or around Dieng’s Temples and Kawah Sikidang, Dieng Plateau, Indonesia by Stuart McDonald.

Oh dear. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Please don’t encourage the vendors asking you to pose with animals—we saw several parliaments of very sad looking owls.

Tread carefully in this area least you put your foot into a sodden hot mud pool. A large bubbling sulphurous pit is fenced for a reason, so take heed of the signs asking not to cross the barrier. However you can “fish” for an egg here—venders attach eggs to bamboo poles that are lowered into the crater for an instant hardboiled treat. Climb the small hill behind for a good overview of the area, including a steaming patch on the other side that is free from vulgar manmade additions.

No the world hasn’t ended, you’re just at Kawah Sikidang. Photo taken in or around Dieng’s Temples and Kawah Sikidang, Dieng Plateau, Indonesia by Stuart McDonald.

No the world hasn’t ended, you’re just at Kawah Sikidang. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Despite the crowds and artificial tat, this extraordinary landscape is fascinating to explore. If you’re hankering for a snack, rows of warungs sell the local “delicacy”, fried potatoes and when you’ve had your fill, backtrack to Candi Bima and continue around the road to the picturesque lake, Telaga Warna.

The last stop on the loop, Telaga Warna translates to coloured lake, although don’t expect a rainbow, underwater sulphur vents have turned the waters an eerie turquoise and when the light catches the surface, it can appear multi shades of green. In spite of the fact that this is a very pretty spot, the entrance fee levied here for foreigners is just not worth it for a quick look-see, unless you plan to spend a couple of hours hiking around, although the trails didn’t seem to be in great condition when we dropped by. The price for foreigners is 100,000 rupiah weekdays and 150,000 weekends and for Indonesian and KITAS holders 5,000 rupiah weekdays and 7,500 weekends. Yep, you read that correctly 20 times more expensive for foreigners. For a lake. Save your money and climb one of the nearby hills for an eyeful instead.

Dreamy waters of Telaga Warna. Photo taken in or around Dieng’s Temples and Kawah Sikidang, Dieng Plateau, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Dreamy waters of Telaga Warna. Photo: Sally Arnold

Although we didn’t check it out, we believe you can get a decent view of the lake from the viewpoint (Batu Ratapang Angin or Batu Pandang) above Dieng Plateau Theatre. From the lake’s entrance it’s less than one-and-a-half kilometres back to Dieng’s main intersection. If you are still keen for one more Candi, Candi Dwarawati sits about one kilometre up the hill, along one of the lesser access trails to Gunung Prau.


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Dieng’s Temples and Kawah Sikidang
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