This past weekend was full of some pretty amazing adventures. My sister and I visited Yogyakarta, located along the Southern coast of Java (the same island that Jakarta is located on). It started with an hour long plane ride after I got off work on Friday. The hotel offered to have someone pick us up from the airport and drive us to our hotel located at the feet of Borobudur, but on arrival, there were no tags with our name to be seen. My sister called the hotel to ask where to meet our driver, but apparently there was a mix-up and the driver never got booked. Fortunately there were plenty of taxis on hand and we hopped in one for the hour long drive to our hotel. We crashed as soon as we got in so that we could wake up at 4 to go see the sunrise at Borobudur.
The next morning was pretty magical. We hiked up the top of the temple in the dark with a small group of tourists, flashlights in hand. There we waited for the sun to rise. At first you couldn’t see much beyond the shadowy outlines of the bell-shaped stupas. Sitting in each of these stupas, situated in a ring around the top two levels of the temple, are figures of Buddha. Unfortunately, many of the statues of Buddha are headless due to thievery from over the years. Around 4:30, a great hum of prayers from the surrounding Mosques echoed in the valley. The rising sound of the morning prayers surrounding the world’s largest Buddhist temple served as a reminder of the great cultural diversity of Indonesia and its rich history.
The temple was built in the 8th century during the age of the Srivijayan Empire. It is unclear whether the empire during that time was mostly Buddhist or Hindu, as there are records of both. Java is spotted with a number of both Hindu and Buddhist temples, with Borobudur as one of the most pilgrimage sites. Eventually though the temple was covered by jungle and volcanic ash. The population of Java converted to Islam in the 15th century and the temple was largely forgotten. It was uncovered by the British in 1814, and it was during that time that much of its sculptures were removed. In 1990, under Dutch control, archaeologists began to take interest in the temple and began to clean up the statues and reliefs. Full restoration, however, did not begin in earnest until the Indonesian government teamed up with UNESCO, the World Heritage Foundation, in 1973. The project was finally completed in 1991 and now the temple serves as the number one tourist destination in Indonesia.
Once the sun started to come up, my sister and I could see just how vast the complex is. There are nine levels, each containing reliefs with a different theme. The reliefs on the lower levels depict ordinary Javanese life during the 8th century, while the upper ones tell the story of Buddha’s life. The four top-most levels have circles of stupas and are meant to represent Buddha’s assent to enlightenment. While some of the reliefs are worn away and parts chipped away, there are other parts that still maintain their amazing detail. In areas where the temple remains in the shade, the stone is a mosaic of blacks and dark greys. But on the east side, where the sun rises over the volcano, there are streaks of sun-bleached stone, lightened to a sandy color.
My sister and I spent hours walking around the temple, exploring all of its levels. With the sun fully up, we climbed down and got our first glance at Candi Borobudur in its entirety. It is so vast that is difficult to capture the whole temple in one photo without having to stand far away. We then napped a bit before moving on to our next destination.