Photo: It's not just about the trees.

Alun-Alun Kidul (Southern Square of the Sultan’s Palace)

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The Alun-Alun Kidul (Southern Square of the Sultan’s Palace) abounds with myth and folklore. One story is that the two large and ancient banyan trees in the middle of the square have protective powers, guarding the Kraton from those with impure intention. This belief has morphed into a popular game. Every night the Alun-Alun Kidul abounds with folk taking a stab at the challenge of walking between the trees blindfolded.



It’s not as easy as it looks, however if you do make it, it’s said to prove the purity of your heart and your wishes will be granted. The practice has become so popular in recent years that other entertainments have taken advantage of the swelling crowds and set up shop. As well as stalls selling glow sticks and flashing light novelties and a plethora of food carts, a convoy of pedal-powered mobile karaoke machines (disguised as peddle cars) adorned with multicoloured flashing lights whirl around the square, jostling for space on the road amid the regular cars and motorbikes. It’s chaotic, loud and fun.

The famed trees. As sharp as we could capture them in the fading light, folks. Photo taken in or around Alun-Alun Kidul (Southern Square of the Sultan’s Palace), Yogyakarta, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

The famed trees. As sharp as we could capture them in the fading light, folks. Photo: Sally Arnold

The unusual blindman’s bluff is locally known as “masangin” a portmanteau of “masuk antara beringan”, literally “entering between banyan trees”. If you’d like to take a crack, be warned, your belief in logic may be questioned. The trees are about 25 metres apart, a seemingly wide distance, and the challenge is to start about 50 metres back near the Sasono Hinggil (a raised pavilion to north of the square). Here many spin around three times to add to the test. So few make it through the trees that we’re sure there’s magic involved.

It’s entertaining not only having a go, but watching the hapless make a beeline for the gap between the trees then at the last minute, turn abruptly off course. Friends gather to guide the challengers yelling “permisi!”, “awas!” (excuse me!, watch out!) as some begin badly taking a direct route to the grassy area at the side while others circle the square, never making it near the trees. Blindfolds can be rented for 5,000 rupiah. In the wet season it can get very muddy here, so don’t wear your best shoes.

And then, of course, it's time to eat. Photo taken in or around Alun-Alun Kidul (Southern Square of the Sultan’s Palace), Yogyakarta, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

And then, of course, it's time to eat. Photo: Sally Arnold

Once you’ve confirmed how unsullied your heart (or otherwise) is and had a spin or two on the pedal cars (odong-odong) join the throngs on the mats for some delicious local snacks. Wedang ronde is the most popular, a warm gingery sweet soup with balls of peanut-stuffed glutinous rice. Many vendors add chunks of bread, but we find this modern addition a bit like—soggy bread. Or try wedang bajigur, a drink made from coffee, coconut milk, ginger and palm sugar, with a hint of pandan or cinnamon. The action in the square starts around sundown, and the darker it gets, the bigger the crowds.



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Location map for Alun-Alun Kidul (Southern Square of the Sultan’s Palace)

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