Posted by: borobudurtrip | May 8, 2012


Forty minutes from Yogyakarta, we took a turn to the right and were deep into agricultural land, the planes of Central Java. An older man with leathery skin, prematurely aged by the harshness of the tropical sun worked the patties in the morning shadow of a still active volcano. His sinewy arms struggled to guide the plough pulled by his haggard looking oxen. A postcard shot just waiting to happen. Another man sat on his porch reading the paper. Women swept the dirt.

The roads at this hour were quiet and the drive in the pre dawn cool was rejuvenating. I opened the window and took in the smog-free air. It was almost invigorating feeling just half-decent again. I looked forward to the day ahead for the first time in a week.

We arrived in the Borobudur car park just a little past dawn. The market crowd was still setting up. The all too familiar smell of Nasi Goering filled the air. “You want film? You want film?” a young Javanese boy repeated as he tugged at the camera in my hand. As a matter of fact I did, it was just the early morning harassment I could do without. We bartered down to a price of roughly double what I would have paid in Jogja. He held the upper hand. I grabbed a black coffee and set off up the hill.

It was more the intricacy than the size of Borobudur that first caught my attention. Although undoubtedly immense, the grand scale of Borobudur cannot truly be appreciated from a distance. Not unlike a pyramid or mountain in its overall appearance it challenges the traditional model of a temple in that it lacks an enclosed structure that is home to a depiction of a deity.

It is set on an augmented rectangular base on top of which sits four lower levels, three rounded terraces and a crowning stupa or bell shaped dome. The lower levels contain 1,460 eroding, relief carvings depicting Buddha’s journey through early life or symbolically, the lower plane of desires. The three terraces embody 72 latticed stupas through which depictions of Buddha can be viewed – the sphere of form, where men are beginning to conquer desire. The crowning stupa symbolizes Buddha’s departure from the material world and existence on a higher plane. Full enlightenment.

Different accounts I have read on the raising of Borobudur offer slightly different time scales. It is safe to conclude that construction began in the second half of the eighth century during the Sanjaya Dynasty and took roughly 10,000 men close on 70 years to complete. The whole structure used more than two million cubic feet of black volcanic stone. Quite a feat when you consider the era.

As history spells it out, in 856 AD the Sailindra Dynasty was toppled by the Hindus and the Buddhist Borobudur was virtually forgotten, left to become covered in molten rock from neighboring volcanoes and overgrown in the lush, jungle vegetation that came with the fertile land. It wasn’t until 1814 that Thomas Stamford Raffles, the English Lieutenant-Governor of Java and his military engineer, H.C.C. Cornelius rediscovered the temple and by 1855 the long, meticulous process of restoration had begun. In 1973 a massive effort involving UNESCO, 27 countries and a number of privately owned organizations banded together in an attempt to return Borobudur to its former glory. Some ten years later and at a cost of USD 25 Million the project was announced to be officially completed by Indonesian President Suharto.

My initial plan was to retrace the well-worn Buddhist path from the lower levels in a clockwise direction and arrive some time later at the top most stupa in a state of full enlightenment. Unfortunately, I was still drained from the effects of the Dengue Fever and was soon out of breath. After reading it was close on five kilometers I decided an un-orderly amble and only half enlightenment would have to suffice on this occasion.

After about an hour of ambling I took a seat on the first terrace and grabbed a drink from my daypack. The place was close to empty, just the way I like my attractions. A group of weird looking Norwegians in loud clothes with big hair joked and danced around one of the stupas. Emma and Carrie were close to asleep on the next terrace up. Rick was nowhere to be seen. My rash was spreading but I wasn’t worried.

I was enjoying one of those most tranquil of moments. It was hard to explain. I think it was a combination of things. The cool morning air, the fact I had finally moved back from Death’s door to his letterbox, the view, the lack of people, the feeling of space. Whatever it was it was something that has stayed with me in my mind and probably will continue to for many years to come.

Y ;