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Today we hired a private car and driver through our hotel and we were impressed by his attention to detail, professionalism and English language skills. He was the first driver we’ve had this trip who has retained equanimity throughout and shown empathy towards us. He swept us out of Yogyakarta, through villages with small rice paddies surrounded by coconut palms and banana palms. Our destination was the UNESCO world Heritage listed Borobudur temple
Borobudur is the largest Buddhist monument in the world. The temple is a massive step pyramid structure made from giant blocks of andesite, built on a hill, surrounded by valleys and hills. The levels rise up representing the stages of enlightenment.
Visitors are encouraged to wear sarongs and the color of the sarong indicates whether the visitor is Indonesian or foreign. Visitors are also encouraged to enter the complex via the eastern staircase and begin a series of 3 circumabulations which reminded me of the time that I joined thousands of Tibetan Buddhists in the pre dawn to circumabulate around the stupa in Kathmandu. On the lower rectangular levels, stone carved panels tell the story of the Buddhist Sutras, in total there are 1,460 intricate scenes. In many of these scenes the face of the Buddha has been removed, presumably by souvenir hunters.
The higher terraces switch to a circular shape on which statues of Buddha sit inside perforated bell shaped stupas. These levels are much less ornate, representing a rise from earthly ‘form’ to a higher state of formlessness.
504 Buddha statues sit, facing out to nature, demonstrating a range of hand positions. One of the stupas has been removed, revealing the Buddha statue beneath. Signs were everywhere telling everyone not to sit on, climb, or scratch the stupa. About 10 security guards turned a blind eye as many tourists climbed and sat of the top sections of the stupa.
The top of the monument is crowned with a massive bell shaped stupa, close to 10 metres in diameter. Currently the centre of this stupa is completely empty, and questions remain as to whether it has always been empty, or in fact held some form of relic.
Artistically Borobudur represents a melding of Indian monuments and the traditional terraced sanctuaries of Javanese art. In plan view, the monument represents a Mandala, which is a schematized representation of the cosmos, often drawn repeatedly as a meditative mechanism.
Borobudur Temple was built by the Sailendra dynasty between 750 and 842 AD. In terms of world wide religious structures, it was very early, 300 years before Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, 400 years before the great European cathedrals. It was abandoned in 1100 AD and covered by volcanic ash and jungle until Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles re-discovered Borobudur in 1814.
Many tourists visit the temple at sunrise but that didn’t appeal to us with small children, also we hiked to Macchu Picchu for sunrise and felt pretty tired and irritable like the other backpackers for the rest of the day. We were fortunate that the rain stopped before we arrived and only restarted as we were leaving. Also the large groups of Indonesians were arriving as we were leaving. As with everywhere else we go we were beset by requests for photos and my children were gracious even when they didn’t want to pose. I had an enjoyable chat with a Swiss German retiree, first in French and then in German when I detected a German accent. On arrival and departure we were set upon by souvenir touts but we all walked along averting our eyes and saying no in Indonesian and we survived unscathed.
Next we drove to Mount Merapi which sadly was blanketed by cloud and visited the Ullen Sentalu Museum which houses a beautiful private collection belonging to the royalty of Yogyakarta and Solo. We all found something of interest among the musical instruments, batik fabrics, paintings, photos, letters and statuary.
Lunch was at a floating restaurant which specialized in inland fish and prawn dishes. Back in Yogyakarta before releasing my children on the hotel pool, I booked flights for the next leg of our trip, and bought delicious chicken sate skewers cooked fresh over hot coals by the roadside. My children were fascinated to watch the attendant light a kerosene lamp.
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