You’re driving through the thick jungle of Magelang, part of the island of Java in Indonesia. You pass the largest Buddhist temple in the world but don’t stop. You’re looking for something even more extraordinary. Eventually, a hill emerges from the dense trees. First you see the crest at its top, then a strangely shaped, dirty white building becomes visible. And the only thing more unexpected than this structure is the twisting story of its creation.
Indonesia’s an island nation and Java hosts more of its people than any other. Among the looming shapes of mountains including Merbabu, Merapi and the still-active volcano of Sumbing is the plateau of the Magelang Regency. It’s a place of hills and humidity in Central Java where the population lives amid stunningly beautiful surroundings.
The most famous location in Magelang is the Buddhist temple of Borobudur. It’s a towering construction of nine platforms decorated with more than 500 statues of Buddha and topped by an impressive domed building known as a stupa. Since it was finished in the 7th century, it’s become a place of pilgrimage and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But while it’s certainly worth visiting, it isn’t Magelang’s only treasure.
That prize is found in a building on the nearby hill of Bukit Rhema. There’s a solid, rectangular body with a grey roof and admittedly some graffiti. At one end’s a small tail, at the other, it rises up into a magnificent bird’s head with its red beak wide open in song. The crown at its top’s like that of a rooster, earning it the name of “Gereja Ayam.” That means “The Chicken Church.”
It mightn’t be the most dignified name, but step inside this unique building and you’ll find true beauty. Under your feet is a floor of jewel-encrusted tiles and the windows are paneled. Look up and it’s like gazing at the sky because of the illustrations of clouds. Look around, and you’ll find yourself transported through stories from Indonesian folklore.