Ancient Hindu temples at Dieng Plateau, Central Java

Dieng Plateau

Dieng Plateau derives its name from ancient Sanskrit meaning “Abode of the Gods” and that’s exactly what ancient Hindu’s considered this misty, mysterious plateau in the highlands of Central Java. It’s easy to understand why as the scenery is stunning.

Dieng Plataeu ancient temple, Java, IndonesiaEssentially the floor of a caldera formed by the eruption of ancient Mount Prau, the plateau and its surrounding hills are exceptionally fertile and covered with seemingly impossible terraced vegetable gardens that must have taken thousands of years to sculpt. The area is dotted with bubbling mud pits, steam vents, sulphur streams and lakes. Throughout the day and night, Dieng is often blanketed in mist which casts an ethereal veil over the entire plateau but it can disappear almost as quickly as it comes, returning to bright sunshine and blue skies.

Little wonder the early Hindu’s considered Dieng sacred and they showed their reverence by constructing hundreds of temples across the plateau and through the hills. Archaeologists have estimated they once numbered around 400 but only eight have survived the ravages of time and remain largely intact. The earliest of these were built around 750AD as monuments to the ancient Hindu god Shiva and are among the oldest structures in Java.

Dieng-plateau Telaga Warna Lake, Java, IndonesiaThe main attractions in Dieng are the Arjuna complex, the site of the best preserved and oldest Dieng temples and Kawah Sikidang geothermal area. The Telaga Warna (Coloured Lake) is also popular but the jury’s out on this one. When we visited it was a dull green and other visitors have reported the same. Nevertheless, the locals maintain that under certain conditions the lake can be multi-hued blue, green, yellow or purple. Other attractions include Pengilon Lake (Mirror Lake) and the cave temple sites of Goa Semar and Goa Jaran. Cave is a term used lightly in this sense as the sites are more like rock crevices into which have been placed small Hindu effigies. The sites have apparently been in use for many centuries but there’s not really much sign of that among the modern offerings.

Dieng plateau sulphur vents, Java, IndonesiaThe temple and geothermal sites are quite spread out around the plateau and for around 75.000Rp you can hire an ojek to take you can around but if you have the time, walking between the sites is simply delightful using a combination of roads and farm trails. It takes about half a day to visit the main attractions walking via a fairly straightforward loop trail.

There are many other easy to moderate treks around the plateau, details of which are readily available from just about any of the homestays or in the village just by asking around. Sunrise from the top of Gunung Sikunir, Gunung Prau (also known as Gunung Perahu) or Gunung Patakbanteng is exceptional.

The Gunung Prau (2,599m) trek starts from Dieng village, which itself has an elevation of 2,093m so it’s a pretty easy trek which can be completed in around 3-4 hours return. The trail starts from behind the Dieng Homestay then simply follows the track up past the school, through the farmlands and into the forest. Eventually you’ll reach the radio transmitter masts and from there it’s only another 50m or so to the summit where superb views over the adjacent peaks await.

An alternative to descending via the same route is to follow the ridge 2km southeast to Gunung Patakbanteng (2,578m) then descending to Patakbanteng village and taking the road back to Dieng. The ridge walk is quite beautiful, passing through a lovely highland meadow and affording a birds-eye view over the entire Dieng Plateau. Although it’s longer than the Dieng route, the descent via Patakbanteng (3 hours) is actually a little gentler so a lot of people choose do this trek in reverse. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly popular with trekking tours offering overnight camping on the ridge and the increasing traffic has led to the establishment of a couple of stalls along the route where hikers can by snacks and water.

The Gunung Sikunir (2,394m) trek is very quick and easy given that it starts at Sembungan village (2,300m) and follows a well formed path. Sembungan is roughly 9km southeast of Dieng and is situated on the edge of Lake Telaga Cebong which is very pretty in the early morning light. Obviously if you’re staying in Dieng you’ll need to grab an ojek for the 15min journey. There are plenty of warungs by the car park where you can grab breakfast on the way down.

Dieng plateau kawah sikidang, Java IndonesiaMost of the temples and geothermal sites charge entrance fees which may cover one or a few closely located sites so make sure you take some cash with you when you’re heading out. There are warungs and market stalls selling food, drink and souvenirs by most of the entrance gates.

Dieng Plateau is most commonly accessed through Wonosobo town, 27km to the south, which can be approached from Semarang in the northeast or Yogyakarta in the southeast. The route from Semarang climbs up and over the central highlands is especially scenic, particularly the Kledung Pass between Mounts Sumbing and Sidoro, with endless rolling hills of rice, potato, tobacco and corn fields and quaint rural villages. The downside is that public transport between Semarang and Wonosobo is difficult leaving travellers with little option but to hire a private car with a driver. The 115km journey takes around 3-4 hours.

Dieng Plataeu approach, Java, IndonesiaThe journey from Yogyakarta is about the same distance and time but coming from this direction, travellers have the option of using public transport. From Jombor, Yogyakarta’s northern bus terminal, catch the bus to Magelang then change to another bus bound for Wonosobo. From Wonosobo you have the option of catching a minibus (bemo) to Dieng town or a tourist minibus that will take you around the temple sites then return you to Wonosobo.

In the past accommodation on the plateau was limited to fairly basic homestays and a couple of small lodges. A new but small hotel with ensuites, hot showers a couple of family rooms is a welcome addition but they have limited rooms. Wonosobo has plentiful accommodation ranging from budget to mid-range.

Keep in mind Dieng Plateau can be absolutely freezing overnight and is frequently shrouded in mist and drizzling rain. Bring plenty of warm clothing!


Location
Wonosobo town, 27km to the south, which can be approached from Semarang in the northeast or Yogyakarta in the southeast
Region
Central Java, Indonesia
Allow
1 day
Get there
Private car or public transport
Need to know
Take some cash for entrance fees and bring warm clothing

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