Inside Borobudur

Not satisfied with a narrow miss at Borobudur, I went back Wednesday morning for a real visit at the largest Buddhist temple in Indonesia.  This time, I decided to forget the hill and settle for rice paddies as a photography location.

Though on my last trip I barely caught a glimpse of Borobudur itself, I did manage some recon work. This time, I knew just where I was headed and arrived in plenty of time.  Too early, in fact; I waited in the dark for an hour or so.  Then, when the sky finally started to lighten, it turned out that a thick cloud on the horizon was delaying sunrise.  I waited for another hour, but clouds continued to obscure the sun until it was too late for great light.  Oh well, it was a good walk into the paddy anyway.

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Near my stakeout spot in the rice field, Merapi (on the right) and Merbabu (on the left) behind.

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-The light just never got great for a photo of the temple - but here it is.

After I gave up on photos from the rice field I paid $7 for a student ticket and headed in.  I would have just gone in earlier, except they keep it closed until after sunrise for all but a few people who pay extra for ‘sunrise tours’ with the hotels.  On my way in, I had a fairly expensive and nasty bowl of noodle soup.  Meals like this are why I don’t like tourist attractions like Borobudur no matter how incredible.  It was like top ramen with two packets of flavoring, and an egg.  Very, very salty.  While I was eating, a guy sitting next to me was a masseuse and kept trying to get me to have a massage by taking my arm and showing his techniques.  He was good, but I wasn’t in the mood.  I attempted to be polite as I fended him away and reclaimed my fork hand.

Once inside, past all of the ticket counters and vendors, the temple itself was really stunning and worth the hassle.  The scale alone is impressive, and the fact that it was built something like 1200 years ago.  So much art and engineering must have gone into it over the 75 years it took to build.  Who knows, maybe some people spend their whole lives just carving statues of meditating buddhas, or the stone relief telling the story all around the lower parts of the temple, or hauling stones in for the floor. It’s a shame it was only used for a few hundred years before being abandoned.

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The approach.

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Too big for my camera.

Borobudur is a shaped like a pyramid with several terraced levels. There are stairs up the four sides, and you can stop off at each level and walk around the whole thing.  The first four levels have really detailed relief sculptures, like the photo below.  A lot of them tell Buddhist stories, and others are just decoration.  One of them shows a ship that supposedly sailed to Africa in ancient times.  The carving inspired a reenactment of the journey in 2003.  An Australian rebuilt the ship based on what he could see from the carving and other research.  There’s a museum at the site now where you can see the ship.  I wouldn’t have wanted to sail that thing to Africa.

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Relief sculpture from one of the lower terraces.

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Everyone who goes to the temple has to wear a sarong.

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These meditating sculptures were everywhere.

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This one got a lucky seat with a view out to Merapi and Merbabu. Too bad his head is missing.

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Nice paths around all of the lower terraces where you can view the reliefs.

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Even the floor stones were interesting, cut into complicated interlocking shapes. Tetris anyone?

After the first four terraces, which all looked similar with the detailed reliefs and meditating Buddhas, the upper terraces were more open and just had these bell-shaped enclosures with more meditating Buddhas inside.  The enclosures are called stupas.  They are huge and there were tons of them.  To get a feel for the size, look at the picture below.  You can see 4 or 5 stupas behind me.  On this level alone, the first of the upper levels with stupas instead of reliefs, there are 32 stupas arranged in a circle around the temple.  And this level is smaller than all of those four lower levels with detailed relief carvings.

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Stupendous stupas.

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I laughed when I saw a few white tourists get roped into a photo with an indonesian school group. See the pile of cameras at the photographers feet? Suckers.

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Merapi and Merbabu again, through the stupas. So what, I like the volcanoes out here.

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Here's a view down to the rice fields where I camped out before dawn. I was standing by the bush just to the left of the tip of the tower that pokes into the field.

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I was laughing earlier, but soon it was my turn to be assailed by hordes of school groups wanting photos with the relatively few white tourists.

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They asked for individual shots, but I told them a group would have to do. I must have taken pictures with 5 or 10 groups.

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There's a reason they tell you to get here early and avoid the rush.

Only 10am and I’d already accomplished a lot for the day, but I wasn’t done.  Tonight I wanted to climb Gunung Merbabu, the second of the pair of twin volcanoes just to the north of Jogjakarta.  Spoiler alert: I’m back home safely now.  The rest of the story will have to wait for my next post.

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