Candi Selogriyo: A Picturesque Detour

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Asia, Indonesia, Southeast

Mount Sumbing, a 3,371-meter volcano in Central Java, with Mount Sindoro in the right background

Candi (pronounced chaan-dee). It is a broad term Indonesians use to refer to ancient structures dating back to a period in history when the archipelago was predominantly Hindu/Buddhist. It can be a temple, a bathing compound, a gate, basically anything even if its original purpose is unknown. Collectively, the candis in Indonesia have been a great source of fascination and inspiration for me, not only because of the incredibly fine and intricate sculpted ornaments adorning many of them, but also the fact that what we see today is just a fraction of what once was. A lot of candis were buried in thick volcanic ash thanks to the repeated eruptions of the fire mountains that have made this corner of the Earth very fertile. While dozens have been excavated, we don’t know for sure how many there are still hidden beneath our feet, forgotten but not lost.

The first time I visited the most famous ones, notably Borobudur and Prambanan, was when I was little on a trip with my mom, uncles, aunt, and cousins. I returned to these sites several years later, and again not too long after that, both on school trips. The two massive temple compounds are indeed popular destinations for Indonesian children as they offer an in-person experience in learning history as opposed to only reading about them in textbooks. I’ve cultivated such a deep interest in candis to the point where I’ve always tried to visit at least one candi every year since starting this blog in 2010. When the strict lockdown in Jakarta was partially lifted in late 2020, the first place I went to was in fact an ancient Buddhist temple compound just outside the city. Last year I was so close to seeing another candi, but the pandemic-related restrictions imposed in the area where the temple is located forced authorities to shut its gate for months.

When I told my mother that I would go back to Semarang to see her again in May this year, initially I had no plans to see a candi. But when she proposed the idea of going to Magelang – a city around a three-hour drive from where she lives – to visit one of my cousins, I instantly recalled a mental map in my head of the locations of candis in Central Java. Magelang particularly is an ideal stopover for anyone who wants to explore some of Java’s most intriguing candis, including the mighty Borobudur itself, Candi Mendut, and Candi Ngawen with its unique prancing lion sculptures. But I was looking for a candi that wouldn’t require a major detour from the road from Semarang to Magelang, and after a little research, Candi Selogriyo seemed like the best option.

Previously, I had read about a friend’s experience visiting this candi. She mentioned the hike to reach this site which she thoroughly enjoyed. There’s only a handful of other articles out there about this place, a telltale sign of how little is known about the ancient temple and the low number of visitors this site has seen. But luckily, the way to go there looked pretty easy to follow according to Google Maps.

On a fine Tuesday morning, my mother, her sister, and I left Semarang around 6:30am. As I drove on the Trans-Java toll road, it was very encouraging to see some of Central Java’s tallest peaks on the way to Magelang. The visibility was great, and I was hoping it would remain that way when I arrived at Candi Selogriyo. Two and a half hours into the journey, I followed a country road (branching out from the main route) that would take us to the village closest to the temple. What began as a flat stretch with unobstructed views of Mount Sumbing soon turned narrow with many twists and bends across hilly terrain. Fortunately, it was in good condition with very little traffic. I was more worried about my aunt in the back seat who’s usually very talkative but at this point became mostly silent. I wondered if she was having motion sickness.

At least she didn’t have to suffer for too long as 15 minutes later we arrived at the village where the trailhead is located. I parked the car near a local mosque with a shaded area where my mom and aunt could rest while waiting for me. Although my mom regularly cycles with her friends – about 30 kilometers each week – I know this hike is something she wouldn’t be able to do or enjoy doing. Let alone my aunt whose medical conditions don’t allow her to walk far and fast. It was best for them to stay in the car since I figured it would take around one hour for me to do the hike, see the temple, and go back.

Rice terraces at the beginning of the hike

I had only walked for a few minutes and the views were already this stunning

A small ticket booth right at the end of the hamlet

Hiking alone on a sunny day

Fertile land as far as the eye can see

Steps made for giants

As I walked past the gate to the hamlet of Campurejo, the narrow road immediately went up with a steep inclination. Google Maps said the temple was around two kilometers from here, which I knew would guarantee that I’d be drenched in sweat by the end of the hike. I kept walking along the main pathway, past some locals who smiled back at me when I smiled at them, before reaching a small ticket booth manned by a young woman. Beyond it, a narrow trail cut through a sun-kissed landscape dotted with rice terraces and verdant hills as if everything was trying to tell visitors: welcome!

I walked at a steady pace, soaking up the beautiful vistas around me while taking deep breaths of the fresh air. Since I went on a weekday, I didn’t meet any other visitors along the hike which only accentuated this place’s serene setting. Occasionally, I encountered local farmers who were diligently tending to their fields. But apart from that, it was only me and Mother Nature. Probably ten minutes into the hike, I started to wonder whether I would be able to see the temple from afar or not. There’s something exhilarating upon seeing an ancient structure emerging from the horizon, as if I were a pilgrim in an age when such an edifice was still actively used. So, naturally every time I walked past a bend I wondered, can I see the temple from here?

The answer to the same question that repeated in my head every few minutes or so was a resounding no. Candi Selogriyo, it seemed, was hidden from plain sight behind tall trees. Somewhere in the middle of the path, two pavilions jutted out from one side of the mountain slope, providing visitors with better viewpoints of the magnificent rice terraces across the ravine. I’ve read about this beautiful hike before, but I didn’t expect to see such terrific scenery. This location is a good example of how Java’s active volcanoes have rendered this land fertile where almost everything can grow abundantly. And speaking of volcanoes, the barren peak of Mount Sumbing was clearly visible from one of the viewpoints along the hike.

But where is the candi?

Where is the temple?

One of the pavilions can be seen in this photo

Mount Sumbing peeking in the background

Beauty at the heart of Java

It wasn’t until around 20 minutes after I left the ticket booth when I finally stumbled upon something indicating the presence of a temple nearby: a stone gate that seemed to be a modern addition rather than a part of the original structures. A short flight of stairs took me near the real entrance to the temple, from which I could point out the pinnacle of the candi. And after a few more steps, voilà! The first candi I visited this year stood before me.

Standing at an elevation of 740 meters above sea level, Candi Selogriyo’s origin is somewhat shrouded in mystery. No inscription mentioning this site has been discovered, leaving experts only with questions. However, based on its architectural style and location, a widely accepted consensus suggests that the Hindu temple might have been built around the eighth or ninth century CE. If there is no written documentation about it, then how could we know that this candi was Hindu? All you need to do is walk around the structure to see the statues in the temple’s niches. While most of them have lost their heads, their discernible figures are enough to point to the candi’s Hindu origin with absolute certainty.

In 1995, a landslide severely damaged Candi Selogriyo. But fortunately, restoration work was conducted soon afterward, and by 2005 its pre-disaster appearance had been completely reinstated. Despite being among the less popular candis, this site seemed to be well-maintained. In fact, when I was walking around the temple, a man was standing on top of the structure, cleaning it from unwanted materials that could damage its delicate sculpted ornaments as well as its structural integrity in the long run. Visiting candis that are located in such difficult terrain always amazes me, for they give me a glimpse of the determination and perseverance of the people who built them long before the invention of modern equipment. Meanwhile, some of us (who have no medical conditions) today might find the hike to reach this temple quite an ordeal. I wonder if we as a species are gradually evolving from Homo sapiens into Homo otiosum, “lazy human”.

It was a little over 10am, but the day was already really hot and my mom and aunt had been waiting for me for more than half an hour. It was time to go back to the car and head to the city of Magelang to see my cousin, her husband, and their four children. My mom was shocked to see me sweating profusely, but this was such a rewarding detour on a nice day with perfect weather. I couldn’t ask for better timing.

The gate near the temple grounds

The pinnacle of the temple

Candi Selogriyo, an ancient Hindu temple tucked away in a picturesque setting

Nandiswara (left) and Mahakala, guardians of the shrine

Agastya (left) and Ganesha, on the south and west sides of the temple, respectively

Despite its relative remoteness, this temple is well-maintained

A secluded hut

Looking east

Just another day for these local farmers

Rice kernels drying in the sun

Three volcanoes seen from the hamlet of Campurejo

One final look

Simple yet delicious sop senerek – a Magelang specialty – for lunch

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

39 thoughts on “Candi Selogriyo: A Picturesque Detour”

      • I’m glad this blog post was able to transport you to this corner of Java, albeit vicariously. Thanks for reading!

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    • It was a pleasant hike and I didn’t expect the landscape to be that beautiful. I showed a friend the photo of the rice terraces and he said they look just like the ones in Bali, without the tourists.

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  1. After visiting Angkor and Bagan, Borobodur completed what I consider a holy trinity of ancient sites, and I’m glad I visited them, but I definitely prefer sites like this one, Bama. And like you, I always marvel at how people tend to flock to only a handful of places, ignoring others. To be honest, I’m glad that happens, as it gives me a chance to visit more obscure places without the presence of others. I am also finding a deep satisfaction these days to explore through the eyes of others, as I doubt I will ever return to Indonesia, so experiencing this beautiful country filtered through your experiences, is a true delight. What a feast for the eyes the landscape is. All that green is so soothing, especially as I am surrounded by shades of brown or olive green at the moment. Like you, I’m always on the lookout for interesting places to stop on longer journeys. And you definitely did well in deciding to stop here, despite getting drenched in sweat.

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    • It’s great that you’ve been to all three before the pandemic. Sometimes I feel Borobudur is rather overshadowed by Angkor and Bagan despite its massive size and intricate details. While I like seeing the major sights when I travel, I try to also include lesser-known places, for they often present a different kind of experience you can’t get from the former. Indonesia is so huge I think I will need another three months to cover places I didn’t go to during my Spice Odyssey seven years ago. While for now you can travel vicariously to this vast archipelago through my blog posts, never say never for the possibility of returning to Indonesia one day, Jolandi. 😊

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      • Yip, one should never say never, Bama, as one cannot know what the future hold. BUT there are so many places on my bucket list, and unless I win some sort of lottery that one can win without entering, I’m not sure my finances will get me to even a tenth of these places. 😆 So for now, I will just tag along with you from the comfort of my couch. And like you say, Indonesia is such an enormous country that it can really take a lifetime to just explore that.

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      • I can totally relate to that, Jolandi. There are countries I’d love to go back, but I often can’t resist the idea of visiting a new place. If only we could win some sort of lottery, indeed. 😄

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  2. What a beautiful hike you enjoyed that day and it’s wonderful that you are able to include your mom and aunt in the outing.

    Indonesia looks like such a beautiful country and the volcano regions look particularly stunning but the emerald green and fertile grass and crops no doubt benefitting from the volcanic ash nutrients.

    The temple looked like it was worth the hike. It’s always nice to see things built in the past that have such fine craftsmanship and spiritual meaning and that really last through time.

    And I always enjoy the glimpses of local foods that you shared and your lunch, while simple, looked delicious!

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    • My mom and aunt waited patiently in the car while I was doing the hike. Luckily, they brought a lot of snacks to entertain themselves. 😄

      Despite its problems, Indonesia certainly is a beautiful country. But I feel many people here have been taking this land for granted and are rather indifferent about environmental protection.

      I agree with what you said about the appeal of the things people built in the past — especially if they’re hundreds or thousands years old. There’s something fascinating about such places, which is why my ideal trip will certainly include a visit or two to ancient sites.

      That sop senerek may look simple, but it packed a lot of flavors! I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did.

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      • It’s great that you included your mom and aunt in the day – even if they sat in the car. You all got something out of it en route to a family visit. 😊

        Sadly, environmental protection is an issue all around the globe, even over here in North America. It makes me mad there are still people who believe it’s all a hoax when it’s probably the most pressing issue of our time.

        Thanks for continuing to share Indonesia with the world!

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      • When scientific facts are seen as hoaxes, we know as a society we have a lot of homework to do. This reminds me of what Neil deGrasse Tyson said in an interview. It’s not his job to debunk hoaxes. It is his job to educate people so that they have the correct understanding about things which won’t lead them to believing false information in the first place.

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    • The perfect weather also helped. I imagine how different the hike would have turned out had it been raining. While I came to this place to see the ancient temple, the beautiful landscape was an unexpected bonus!

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      • Haha yes, every hike is like that. When it’s raining that lovely trail can become a slippery mud bath! Nothing beats perfect hiking weather!

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  3. Hi bama, what a treat! Heartwarming to see soo much vegetation and greenness! There seems to be so much climate destruction occurring in other parts of the planet.? I digress…the padi look so healthy..a relif to see. I would love to do that hike tho it would have to be even ealier in the day for me. What a feast for the eyes and im guessing for ears and noses. Makasih untuk membagi…mungkin tahun depan haaa rindu 😊

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    • Hi Trees. I wonder if it’s been raining where you live. That reminds me I should make the most out of the (supposedly) dry season before wet season arrives. Fortunately, there are still quite a lot of places like this here on Java despite the fact that it’s the world’s most pooulated island. My hike to Candi Selogriyo certainly was a feast for the senses. It’s a world away from the pollution-choked city I’m living in. Really hope next year you’ll make it to Indonesia again!

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    • I’m glad I did this trip before I started working again in early July because it’s always a good idea to visit places like this on a weekday.

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  4. Agter reading how this candi was not often visited and at the end of a hike I expected to have a picture of ruins. Instead the temple looks to be in good shape with sculptures and decorations still evident. Glad you took us with you this trek Bama. Maggie

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    • It was nice to see how well-maintained the temple grounds were. You can tell the local office of the heritage conservation agency do their job wholeheartedly, which is very commendable.

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  5. Candi Selogriyo sure is a little gem – how special it must have been to be the only visitor there. After the passage of so many centuries, it amazes me that the original statues of the Hindu deities are still so well-preserved, except for the missing heads of course! I remember you raving about the weather after returning from that day trip. Can’t say I wasn’t jealous that you could see the volcanoes so clearly on the way to and from Magelang. And the picturesque rice terraces along the hike were such a lovely surprise.

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    • You really should’ve tagged along, James! I kind of expected the sunny weather after regularly checking the weather forecast for a few days before the trip. But I didn’t anticipate the great visibility. I think you would also enjoy Magelang since the city is surrounded by many volcanoes and it wasn’t too hot.

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  6. Who wouldn’t want to step through that gate and climb, no matter how many steps to the top? The perfectly maintained grounds around the temple suggest the villagers are proud to live near a part of Indonesia’s ancient history.

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    • That’s a really good observation, Mallee. I believe the people who live near the temple are proud of having this invaluable piece of history right on their doorstep.

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  7. Oh what a lovely hike you took me on! I totally related to your thoughts of being a pilgrim. I do the same thing. there are some little-used narrow forest trails near where I live and I always feel like an adventurer, an explorer as I hike them. We were away for two months in the spring this year and when we returned the trails were so overgrown I could hardly get through them, so I set about cutting the vegetation back being a real adventurer in urban Vancouver. Fun.
    Your photos of the rice terraces are beautiful. Even without the Candi this looks like a great hike.
    Alison

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    • The way you described those trails brings back memories from my childhood of a path behind my primary school. One day a classmate took me there which turned out to be a shortcut to get home. The narrow trail led us to a forest and I remember feeling super excited as we walked underneath a canopy of trees for a few minutes before emerging at the other end of the woodland. Many years later I told my mom about this and she was so shocked!

      If you ever find yourself in this part of Java, you really should do this hike, Alison. I know you’ll love it.

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  8. It is pretty incredible to think how much is still buried underground and has yet to be discovered. It’s neat that you’ve tried to visit at least one candi every year over the past decade. And glad to hear you’ve kept the tradition alive during the pandemic! The hike to reach the candi looks so lush and beautiful. And how lucky to have the trail all to yourself.

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    • Even today, discoveries are still being made on a regular basis. At the moment there is a site in the eastern part of Java that I find particularly intriguing, for archaeologists managed to unearth large-sized decorative elements of a candi. A multi-year study has been conducted on it since the past few years and I really can’t wait for the day when they finally decide to reconstruct the temple (hopefully). Speaking of Candi Selogriyo, it is simply one of the best experiences of visiting a candi I’ve ever done so far.

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  9. I’m smiling Bama at the thought of your Mom and Aunt patiently waiting while you explored. I’m thankful to them and you for the virtual hike. The history and the yet to be found structures intrigue me a great deal.

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    • If only it involved cycling, I know my mom would want to join me instead of just sitting idly in the car. But she’s not much of a walker, although lately she’s been trying to walk more. I’m sure you and Dave would find this hike quite easy, though.

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  10. What an incredibly pleasant morning walk! And thank you for the candi lesson, including the pronunciation. (I’ve been saying it in my head as “candy” for years!)

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    • It really was a good exercise. If only I could do this a lot more often. I decided to include the pronunciation because I kind of guessed some people would think of candy when they say the word candi. (In Indonesian c is pronounced like ch in English, although not exactly the same.)

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    • It’s always a good idea to bring extra t-shirts when doing hikes like this in Indonesia because it can get so hot and humid. But with such an incredibly beautiful landscape, I’m not complaining. 😃

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    • I wonder if in a way this green landscape reminds you of Colombia’s tropical forests. Happy anniversary!

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