Approximately 60 kilometres southwest of the bustling port city of Surabaya lies the dusty town of Trowulan. What on the surfaces appears to be just another bland and nondescript rural village among a long line of others in East Java is in fact a town that hides a beautiful secret. The secret is that this entire area housed the capital of the incredibly powerful and influential Hindu-Buddhist Majapahit empire which reigned throughout the 14th and 15th centuries and was also arguably the largest ever kingdom in Southeast Asia.
Surrounding the town of Trowulan are a cluster of historical relics that were rediscovered in the 1800s and which have since been renovated to represent their original form. These relics, mainly in the form of temples, contain many architectural qualities seen in modern Bali, which gained this influence due to the massive migration of Hindu loyalists from Java to Bali during the decline of the Majapahit empire and the rise of Islamic sultanates in the 15th century.
It’s possible to visit these impressive structures by becak from the centre of Trowulan. The price will depend on how many you want to visit and how good your negotiation skills are, but expect to pay no more than 50,000 rupiah for a leisurely three-hour tour. Whatever the price, travelling by becak is a great way to get around the quiet backroads past rice fields, rural houses and beaming locals, who will delight at seeing a tourist making an effort to visit their neck of the woods.
The two most impressive structures in the area are the massive Candi Brahu and Candi Bajangratu. In the middle of rural East Java, these temples rise to about 15m above the surrounding manicured lawns and flower-speckled gardens. They’re really quite impressive and the mind boggles as to why more people don’t visit. These two particular temples are a usual stop on any becak tour, but it’s best to make sure by informing the becak driver first.
As well as visiting the relics surrounding Trowulan, an impressive museum about a kilometre southeast of the main highway is worth a look. The museum contains thousands of artifacts that have been found in the local area and are displayed with both Indonesian and English language explanations. For those with some Indonesian language skill or a good dictionary, there’s also a small booklet for sale which goes into painstaking detail about the various purposes of the relics of Trowulan.
Although Trowulan is in the middle of nowhere, it’s not too diffucult to get to by public transport. Firstly, a bus to the Purabaya/Bungurasih bus terminal is required. Public buses throughout Surabaya travel to this bus terminal and it is a matter of asking your hotel where the nearest bus route is, flagging down one of the buses with a Purabaya/Bungurasih sign in the front and paying the 3,000 rupiah fare for the 13km journey. Once in Purabaya/Bungurasih, touts will put you on the correct bus to Trowulan, with a ticket costing 7,000 rupiah. Just tell the driver that you are going to Trowulan and he will stop at the appropriate place. Upon arriving in Trowulan, plenty of becaks will be willing to take you on your half-day tour.
The reutrn journey to Surabaya is simply a mirror image of the original journey except that it will require you to flag down a Surabaya-bound bus from the main road.
This impressive attraction located so close to Surabaya is rarely visited by foreign tourists — on our visit we noticed that only one other foreigner had been in the area in the previous 10 days; we think it deserves more recognition than this, particularly because it is an easy day trip from Surabaya.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.