Wednesday, 12 November 2014

TRAVEL DIARIES: Pacitan - Ponorogo

Reog dancer back stage at the reog festival, Ponorogo

Through Central Javanese countryside, there are still a few five hour traffic-free drive-through. 
Last month I travelled from Jogjakarta airport to Ponorogo — on highway 3 via beautiful Pacitan Bay — to attend the last night of the Reog Ponorogo festival and ceremonies surrounding Suro, the first day of the Muslim calendar. Reog is a Javanese version of the Balinese Barong dance but with whips instead of daggers.

Oyster-saucy fisherman relaxing after a hard night's work in the Indian Ocean

(Top and bottom) Pacitan Bay, Central Java
The drive to Pacitan goes past the Ratu Boko hills where ruins survive of a Mataram Hindu palace from the 11th century.
I left Bali at 7 a.m. and by noon arrived at Ibu Wandos’ seafood restaurant-warung. The warung is in Pacitan, the pride of the South Coast, perched on a hill at the entrance to Pacitan’s Fish Market. It is famed, locally, for exquisite grilled fish and commanding views over Pacitan bay and Telaga Ria surfing beach.
The Pacitan area is also littered with caves of early man (late Pleistocene); some are carved out of limestone cliffs above sublimely beautiful remote beaches.
I could have stayed there for a few days, but the reogs were calling.

[ See Video Pacitan Harbor & Fish Market: http://youtu.be/mpMy7hmhNkc ]
•    •    •
From Pacitan to Ponorogo, the road takes you down bamboo-flanked river valleys and picturesque rice paddies.
We arrived at the quaint Gajah Mada hotel in the middle of town at 3 p.m.: just in time for an excellent Javanese massage and a bowl of V.I.P. soto ayam in the warung next door.
23 October 2014: Reog Festival Finals
At 7 30 p.m. we go to the aloon-aloon town square where a giant stage has been erected for the 5 nights of the festival. All the ushers, stagehands and even the police are in the local costume. The  performances are amazing: we watch three of the eight troupes on the evening’s programme, including the Bantarangin Troupe from Jakarta, the eventual winner.
I spend most of the night in the orchestra pit, filming the spirited choral groups and the musicians; and backstage, where hundreds of dancers and reog roam.
I am dragged away, with damaged ear drums, at 10 p.m.
[ See Video Reog Festival Ponorogo: http://youtu.be/qJjCWh2ZSLM]
24th October 2014: to the tomb of 16th century Muslim holy man Bathoro Katong
At 7 a.m. we arrive at the beautiful Islam-Majapahit era tomb complex on the outskirts of town. 50 school children greet us as we are lead through ancient gates to the beautiful cungkup tomb-room of the saint.
The timber walls of the cungkup are carved and painted in the North Coast (pesisir) style of Majapahit-Islamic era — replete with Surya (sun) motifs and cleverly disguised fertility symbols.

Islam-Majapahit tomb complex
All the mayor's men pray at Makam Bathoro Katong, Ponorogo
At 8 a.m. the Reog-mobile (a gaily painted, very smart bus) arrives with the mayor and his entourage, all in traditional Ponorogo costume. Well, all the men are in traditional dress: the women folk are in versions of Islamic apr├Ęs-ski with a sprinkling of eco-mumblers (tight tights) and floral print moo-moo.
Soon, the mayoral party all file in and sit at the base of the cungkup for an hour-long prayer session.

The reog-mobile Ponorogo
[ See Video Makam Bathoro Katong, Ponorogo, East Java: http://youtu.be/TxEkk0ygtSw ]
•    •    •

Princesses-for-a-day waiting for the Kirab Pusaka procession to start, Ponorogo

Prince-for-a-day waiting for the Kirab Pusaka procession to start, Ponorogo

Kirab Pusaka procession, Ponorogo
In the afternoon there is a mile-long Kirab Pusaka procession — from the tomb’s main gate to the town square —of gaily decorated horse-and-carts, bearing young beauties, and trucks loads of musclemen with greased chests.

Jaranan dancer in the Kirab Pusaka procession
At the rear of the procession is the reog group of our host Andi Pranata: burning up the asphalt with tripped-out dances and whip-shows. Andi, a classical Javanese dancer is determined to impress his guests: he flits about with extra long chartreuse selendang (waist sash) performing excerpts from the Ramayana ballet.
The thing about reog is — anything goes!
Suro, 25th October 2014: To Lake Ngebel for the Larung Sesaji rituals and offerings to Ibu Pertiwi, Ancient Javanese Goddess of the Earth (and the Lakes)

The Larung Sesaji procession
We arrive lakeside at Ngebel just as the junior marching bands are heading out of the school grounds. It’s all fringed cowgirl boots and twirling batons and kerudung (Islamic bonnets) stuffed under psychotropic cowboy hats. Adorable.
Next to the District Chief’s offices we find the male and female offerings — the larungan (this year smothered in plastic flowers) and the tumpeng, a cone of brown rice with roast chickens and vegetables flanking.
Lake Ngebel villager prepares the larungan offerings on Suro Holiday
Soon the official convoy arrives, complete with reog mobile — what a great job the mayor has done with funding and organizing.
The ‘sesaji’, offerings are then conveyed in a procession to the grandstand, lead by a Keraton Solo palace noble, gamblang and bedoyo dancers, and a few singa-barong reogs thrown in for good luck.

Bedoyo dancer performing for the mayor at the Larung Sesaji ceremonies, Lake Ngebel, on Suro
An all-female gamelan plays, the lake glitters in the background — it is magical.
Dances are then performed in front of the official party and the local reog troupe does its thing. The offerings are then driven once around the lake and then taken, in boats, to the centre of the lake where the ‘Dukun Hantu’ (ghost whisperer) does the honours (mantras). Hundreds of locals escort the sesaji out in small boats.
Ponorogo rocks!

Hundreds accompany to offerings to Lake Ngebel edge
[ See Video Larung Sasaji Ceremonies, Lake Ngebel, Ponorogo: http://youtu.be/NGqIw7rYqxI ]
The drive back to Adi Sucipto airport via Wonogiri, was a delightful and varied, as the drive in, via Pacitan. There is nothing much to see in Wonogiri — some pretty ghastly municipal landscaping of the Malaysian modern variety [Lots of chrome and black glass railings. Ed] — but the driver through as delightful rice paddies beyond was sublime.