Oh Malang. We weren’t supposed to end up here. After a lumpy night’s sleep in Oro-oro Ombo with no sink or hot water, we were supposed to be well on our way to Mount Bromo by now. Halfway up it in fact, preparing to be wowed by sunrise over a simmering volcanic crater the colour of Heinz tomato soup. But we completely ballsed up our transport.
So instead we caught a train to Malang, and I’m so glad we did for one reason. Hotel Tugu, also home to one of the largest collections of Asian art and antiques in Indonesia. You’d think it would all be behind glass, some beefy security on the door, but you’d be wrong. You can walk amongst it and sometimes even touch it. There’s artefacts from the world-famous Qing and Ming dynasties, and rainbow coloured crowns once belonging to the Aspara dancers at the Cambodian temples of Ankor Wat. Each time I thought I’d seen it all, another room revealed itself. Like in a computer game, where just the act of moving though a space is enough to generate yet another chambers or passage-ways. One of those passage-ways was called ‘The Endless Tunnel of Love’, with walls the violet and pink of sugared almonds. At the far end of the tunnel was a giant, glittering imitation of ‘The Kiss’ by Klimt. Turn the corner and there’s a bombastic, open air hall called the ‘Sahara Room’ with fountains, columns, and candlelight. Here, even the ever-present hum of the mopeds outside seemed to soothe the soul. Although that might’ve just been me.
At times Tugu put me in mind of a Disney Land rendition of a lost and ancient world. But then you remember the statues and carvings are the real deal, the floor is teak, and the seats have been sat on by leaders from history. Tugu’s biggest suite hosted Indonesia’s president, although not for long our hotel guide divulged, as she thought the room was ‘too big for her’.
On our second day at Tugu we decided to try the Dandang Watoe treatment, a hot stone massage in an ancient Javanese style. Firm, deep tissue rub-downs are the way here, pressure that makes even a polite, self-conscious Brit audibly wince. There are moments of serious relaxation though too, blissful moments where your breathing slows and the weight of the stones on your belly makes you sink, limb by limb into spell-like sleep.
Later that day, over a cup of neon red Rosalie tea, I thought again about the highs and lows of our travels so far. Tugu was most certainly the highest high, made all the more special by the fact it was so entirely unscheduled. Tonight we journey to Kalibaru, back on the thronging, achey train, but buoyed by a sense of possibility, the prospect of another happy accident or two.