I want to share with you my experience in Dieng Plateau, Java, an experience which left me so disappointed, shocked and a little confused. I now understand why I have to travel the world now.
It’s been three years, nearly to the day, since Becks visited Dieng Plateau in Central Java. I fondly remember helping her painstakingly compress her 600 sunrise photo’s down to a respectable size her memory stick would agree with. So when it came down to our final month in Indonesia, Java a place I had only minimally touched, was a must.
Crammed into a bus, climbing our way up the steep valley’s headed for Dieng Plateau, Becks reminded me of Dwi, her guide from last time; A mid-twenty something, charismatic lad who whisked her around to all the attractions beckoning her to spread the word to her friends back home to come to Indonesia. When sitting over-looking the bubbling sulphur pools, he beckon’s to her camera – “come come to Indonesia, we have luxury spa!”
We step off the bus in darkness and are immediately met by an onslaught of people. It feels like rush hour. The streets are full and by the third rejection from street-side hotels, it is obvious this little town isn’t so little anymore.
Day break beckons and we take a walk to the nearby attractions. We walk past the famers, the farmers, who originally conquered this land and roamed free, who now are shunted by the ferris wheel, drowned out by the noise of carnival music and smothered by the tourism that encroaches on their land.
We walk on to Candi Bima. These sacred 7th century temples which once stood silent and nobel 3 years before are now outdone by the Teletubbies whose sagging colourful bottoms draw the crowds attention for 5,000 rupiah for a photograph.
Becks is gobsmacked. This was not how she remembered it.
Sikidang, a smouldering, sulphuric lake high on the list of things to do here in Dieng was barely visible behind the dirt bike rides, quad bike rides, pony photos and street stalls. When we eventually found them, we were met with pop mie buckets, corn cobs and plastics of all colours bubbling helplessly amidst the suffocating pools.
Returning in the afternoon tired and completely underwhelmed by the entirety of it all, we search for Dwi to brighten our moods. “Becky!” he squeals recognising her before our eyes could even adjust to the fluorescent lights of the hostel. “You come back and bring a friend!” She can see he has aged a lot in the few short years they haven’t seen each other. His eyes look glazed and tired, his boyish charm almost lost beneath his calm exterior. It feels as though the only thing that hasn’t changed is their fond memories from the past. Over a jeruk panas (hot orange) they reminisce.
Becks laptop is open flicking through their first encounter. Their eyes light up with each picture; each memory. “Do you remember when we made a Dieng promotional skit for my friends to see?” Becks giggles pressing play. He laughs wildly. Their strong connection is evident. Flicking through her past pictures, talk moves on to change. Dwi tells us that the 4 hostels that were here 3 years ago are now 84. “Oh wow, there was no one here then” he exclaims. Pointing at screen he giggles, “The sunrise view points looks a little different now! Yesterday there was over 400 people!” The photo he is looking at has 4 people standing in that exact spot.
It’s only been three years. THREE YEARS! From tranquil and picturesque to carnivals and teletubbies in THREE YEARS! It begs the question is everywhere changing this fast? What else will be destroyed by the time I visit.
This is why I have to travel the world now.
Over the next few days we managed to find unspoilt, natural beauty at Dieng Plateau. We hiked high into the backstreets of town, drove through the countryside on a motorbike and visited attractions a little off the main trail. Maybe thats the consequence of this rapidly changing world. Maybe in order to reach those breath-taking pockets of serenity you just need to dig a little deeper or walk a little further. One thing I am certain of, is the push to get to these places is worth every extra minute and any extra struggle.