You may have noticed I am a bit behind with my blog. Sorry! Once you get out of the habit it is really hard to get back into it again!
I think one of the reasons I have been putting off writing this post is that I’m not keen on reliving the experience again, and I have so many – mostly terrible – photos of the temples, I am dreading sifting through them to pick out the ‘best’ ones. But here goes…
One of the main attractions of Yogyakarta are the two UNESCO world heritage sites – the Hindu temples of Prambanan and the Buddhist temple of Borobudur, both dating from the 9th century.
They aren’t cheap, but with both having suffered quite extensive damage from earthquakes and volcanoes, it is money that (hopefully) goes back into the ongoing restoration.
Each temple costs 338,000 IDR (~£21), but there is a combo ticket available, which isn’t advertised, for 540,000 IDR (~£34) which provides a little saving. The ticket is valid for 48 hours meaning you either have to visit both temples in the same day, or visit them on consecutive days which is what I chose to do. If you are Indonesian it will cost you 40,000 IDR (~£2.50)
There are sunrise options available which are quite popular, especially for Borobudur, and that will cost you 480,000 IDR (~£30). With this option you can’t get the combo ticket, which you’ll thank me for telling you because, it will save you a heap of time trying to understand the ticket man telling you you can’t use that ticket for sunrise but thinking he is trying to tell you you have to wear a sundress. Awkward.
I chose Prambanan first, mostly because it was closer than Borobudur. It is about 20km away from the centre of Yogyakarta to the east and I decided to cycle there. It was nice to take Priscilla out without being fully loaded.
I was able to stick to mostly back roads to get there until the last few kilometres when I joined the main road. It started to rain and having left completely unprepared for rain I was starting to maybe regret my decision to cycle!
I arrived at the temple and there was a scooter parking area where I was able to lock up my Priscilla for 1000 IDR (about 6 pence). Arriving at the temple is impressive, after cycling through small villages and rice paddies, the temples suddenly appear in front of you, quite different from the surrounding area. You can get a glimpse of them from the road, but you have to go in to the grounds to view them properly.
I should have realised how the day was going to go when I was trying to get a nice, tourist free picture of the Prambanan sign (of which there were two right next to each other) and I was grabbed, literally, by a Chinese woman and dragged into their group photo. It was a big group of maybe 15 or so people, and in all there phots I am there front and centre. The token white tourist. After the group photos came the requests for individual selfies. I managed to escape when more white tourists came along and I was able to sneak off.
It was a weekend and I knew I ran the risk of it being busy, but what I didn’t expect was the hundreds and hundreds of school children wielding clipboards. Before I was able to even make my way through the gate to the main temples I was spotted and found myself answering lists of questions from small people wanting to ‘improve their English’.
The script was the same. And so were my answers.
My name is (insert name).
I am from (insert school).
Can I ask you some questions so I can improve my English? Ok, quickly.
What is your name? Alex
Where are you from? England
How long have you been in Indonesia? 6 weeks
What do you think about Indonesia? Very hot.
What do you think of the Indonesian people? Friendly
Do you like Indonesian food? Yes, but it is very spicy.
What is your favourite Indonesian food? Nasi Goreng.
Then came the part they were really interested in. The photo. Plus they filmed the whole thing on their phones!
It does get very draining when you have to do this over and over again, when you are just trying to have a nice afternoon wandering around a temple. But they were clearly school children, all dressed the same in their uniforms, so I always stopped and answered their questions. I started to draw the line at the adults who were stopping me and telling me they wanted to improve their English, asking me one question and then asking for a selfie, so I did say no a few times.
Thankfully there were some other westerners there to take some of the pressure off me!
I did manage to escape for a while and take a look around the temples, which are without question, impressive. But you can see that they are a shadow of their former selves. There are about 7 temples, 2 main ones and a few smaller ones around them which have been restored, and there are a whole bunch of stones around the complex which are yet to be rebuilt. I would have loved to have seen it in all its glory.
Now I realise this was one helluva job, and not one I would have liked to have had to do, but sometimes I did wonder whether they got it right when they rebuilt it. Some of the stones look like they don’t quite match!
The rain came in heavy showers which saw everyone running for cover, standing inside the temples waiting for it to pass. Lucky for me – as I had no umbrella or coat – I was always near to cover when it came down and all I had to do was avoid the puddles.
While I was sheltering in the doorway to the temple (in the picture above) a man came and spoke to me. A very old man with very few teeth. He was one of the men wondering about the place trying to get people to pay for a tour, I guess you could call him a tour guide! I was trapped in the doorway and I thought he was going to try and get me to pay for the information he was imparting on me while I had no way to escape, but we ended up just having a nice conversation. He told me about the time he studied in England when he was a young man and he gave me some information about the temples. I chastised myself for judging him before he spoke to me, but unfortunately that’s what this country seems to make you do.
He also told me about the ‘karma sutra’ temple, the one to the right of the main temple, where the love story is laid out in the carvings around the inside of the outer wall. All of these ancient temples have some kind of ‘sexy time’ carving. So I went and found it…
After around 15 interviews and about 20 selfies I left the main temples and went to seek out the other temples in the complex. On the way out you can really see the extent of the rubble and what is still left to restore…
There is a mini train thing that goes around the complex at unspecified times, and as the weather looked a bit dodgy still and there was a train right there I decided to jump on it and go and see the other temples: Lumbung, Bubrah and Sewu.
The first two were piles of rubble, one with scaffolding all around it, but the one that was furthest away – Sewu – was a giant pile of rubble with a big temple in the middle. The little train stopped for a few moments and we all jumped out to take a few pictures, got back on the train and it took us back to the exit.
I was really captivated by Sewu temple, especially as there was absolutely no one there, so I decided to walk back and have a closer look. The weather had cleared up a bit and it was actually a pleasant walk through the grounds.
I’m really glad I went back and I had a good 45 minutes there completely by myself, it felt much more like exploring an ancient temple should feel like, shrouded with mystery and wonder.
I’m still not convinced they have been put back together exactly as they were though!…
At first I felt a little like I was trespassing, but there were no signs around to say you couldn’t go in the temple. I couldn’t understand why more people weren’t here, but then if there had been more people there maybe I wouldn’t have liked it so much, and I really didn’t enjoy my time there.
After about 3 hours there in total I was all templed out so it was time for the cycle back to Yogyakarta.
What I didn’t realise is that it would take about another hour to get out of the complex! You are directed out of the complex through rows and rows of stalls selling tourist tat. It was an experience similar to being in Ikea where you have to follow the arrows and look at everything even though you have only gone there to buy a plant which is right at the very end.
Ulike Ikea though, there didn’t seem to be any shortcuts and I was starting to feel like I was going to be trapped in there forever! It was a relief to be spat out of the seemingly endless tunnels of tat and into the street sellers. At least they were out in the open!
I found Priscilla where I left her (which was a relief) and set maps.me to take me back to the hostel. I assumed that it would take me the same way I came, but we went a totally different way. I ended up in some random little villages and went off road a few times, but it was a really nice ride back.
Looking back on it I feel like I had a really nice day, I don’t think I was that positive about it on the actual day, but it is perfectly normal for the not so great bits to fade in the memory. I would absolutely recommends going to Prambanan and Sewu temples. Just be prepared for a lot of people!
If you’ve made it this far through this post, well done! I will keep my Borobudur experience for the next post…
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