Borobudur, Middle Java, Indonesia
‘Harmony, courage, ROMANTICS!’ that’s what our guide, Agus, kept telling us as he guided us around the large stone structure.
A Short History Lesson Before Visiting Borobudur Temple
There was a time when Buddhism and Hinduism were the dominant religions on the island of Java (where Indonesia’s capital city, Jakarta, is located. FYI), and Borobudur (a Buddhist structure) along with its neighbor, Prambanan (a Hindu temple), were testaments of that time in the island’s history.
Borobudur is about 1200 year-old and was built as both as a shrine as well as destination for a pilgrimage. The monument has no rooms and contains narrow hallways and stairs and pilgrims (and tourists) have to navigate around to get to the top.
The walls along the corridors are divided into panels and each has been intricately carved to tell a story. The stories usually revolve around the biography of Buddha as well as Buddhist philosophy of ’cause and effect’. One panel shows the scene of the birth of Buddha, while the other shows the negative effect of incest (– sad looking and short kids apparently), gossiping (–sad looking people), and healthy discussion (– happy looking people).
Domestic: Rp 23000 (roughly $2.50)
Guides (optional): Rp 60000 ($6) and Rp 75000 ($7.5) for foreigners
They have a separate building where foreigners can buy their tickets. As we were standing around in front of the gate, they approached Jack and told him he needed to buy his ticket at the ‘foreigner’s only’ building.
At first I was like, ‘what…?‘ Then I found out that it includes free coffee/tea, an air-conditioned lounge, and free cold bottled water. FREE COLD bottled water!
And on top of that, the building also has its own separate entrance into the complex so we didn’t have to mingle with the commoners (I’m being sarcastic here).
Note: I honestly think that the foreigner-only price is unfairly implemented here. They don’t require domestic tourists to prove their ‘domesticity’ by any means, so they practically have to use a visitor’s race/look to pick them out of the crowd and guide them to the foreigners only lounge. It was a little weird.
Our guide, Agus, was very entertaining. He seemed to enjoy himself immensely, and flashed us his toothy grin whenever he got a chance. Agus kept bowing to us and saying, ‘Harmony, courage, romantics’ over and over again we found it hilarious. He even said those words when taking pictures of us, ‘Good picture. Romantics! ROmantics, guys!’
We definitely didn’t regret our decision to hire him since it helped us appreciate the carvings and the stories behind them a lot more. Not to mention we loved being called ‘romantics’ over and over again.
Without him we wouldn’t know that a carving that looks like the person prancing around under a tree is actually baby Buddha himself (although back then, his mom and dad called him ‘Siddharta’). Apparently that particular panel shows how he took 7 steps after he was born, and how a lotus flower bloomed from every spot where his feet touched the ground.
After a long drive from Semarang, we decided to stop by Borobudur before checking in to our hotel in Jogjakarta. Grey clouds were hovering over the horizon, but we decided to risk being caught by the rain anyway. We got our tickets and followed a short paved path while waving off hawkers, until we finally saw it.
Built on top of a low hill, with its many stupas pointing to the sky, it was quite an impressive sight.
Even though we got there on a Monday, there were busloads of schoolchildren running around the monument. But even then, moments of solitude were possible to be had by going up or down a level and going to the side opposite of where the main entrance is located.
Unfortunately, those moments of solitude were often interrupted by loudspeakers yelling at people to stop climbing the walls.
Note to the girl with the shaggy hair and white backpack trying to climb a stupa on Dec 21– How many times did you need to get yelled at? Get off the walls already!
But even with all that, the experience was one I found worth the time and money. The view from the top of surrounding hillsides and peaks was amazing. We had tons of fun trying to decipher the reliefs and making up our own stories. I’d have gladly spent more time exploring the place except that it started raining soon after we got to the top.
All the time I was on Borobudur, I found it hard to believe that the thing I was standing on and the carvings I was touching were made more than a millennium ago. Especially considering how well the carvings and the reliefs have been preserved against the humid tropical climate, erosion, and vandalism. Not to mention the pollution, and of course, the recent volcanic eruption of nearby Merapi.
They didn’t even use cement on this thing. Instead, they used a system of interlocking mechanism, not unlike Lego blocks. No wonder they kept telling people to get off the walls! Those blocks can probably come apart anytime.
On our way out, we had to pass a loooooong alley lined with shops selling overpriced souvenirs. These guys were so annoyingly persistent. We felt a little trapped since we couldn’t find a shortcut to our car but when we finally did, we were exhausted but happy to finally get to see this wonderful, and very old, testament to Indonesia’s multi-religion and cultural diversity.