Borobudur

The next day I set off to got to Borobudur, the Buddhist temple 40km to the west of Yogyakarta. (You can read about Prambanan here: Prambanan & Borobudur Part 1)

As I decided to cycle there and back, this meant an 80km day, one of the furthest days I will have had in Indonesia, plus a few hours at the temple, so I set off at 7:30am to make sure I gave myself enough daylight hours. I also decide to take the main road there as I had no idea what the back roads would be like.

It was an easy but very polluted ride there on a well paved but very busy road. The uphills and downhills were gentle and it took just under 2 hours for me to get there which I was pleased about.

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It is very well signposted and you can’t really go wrong if you stick to the main road. Unlike Prambanan there wasn’t anywhere official to park Priscilla, but near the entrance there were a few bicycles lined up in a row. I was looking lost, and every time you do that someone will come and help you out, so someone pointed to the row of bikes confirming that was where I was going to have to leave Priscilla. There wasn’t anything to attach her to so I just had to lock up the wheels and hope for the best. I wasn’t full of confidence that she would be ok, but sometimes when there are lots of people around it is a bit safer.

The weather started off a bit overcast and very very humid. I still had no rain protection with me, but it wouldn’t have made any difference as I was wet with sweat by the time I arrived anyway.

The entrance to the temple is full of people selling hats and umbrellas and mini kite things and toys and souvenirs, and there are people begging for money. I was wearing my bum bag – since I lost my purse my bum bag (fanny pack) has been my constant companion – and a woman came up to me with her had outstretched, I told her I had no money to give and she pointed at my bum bag. I told her again I had no money and she then put her hand inside it. I was quite taken aback! I was not ok with that at all. Luckily my 50,000 IDR was tucked away in a zipped pocket at the back.

I hurried away to find my way into the temple, now feeling more unsure about the safety of Priscilla. I was confused as to where I should be going and I was directed to a room full of white people. There was a big queue but somehow I managed to get someone looking after me, and after getting a sarong put on me I was taken to the front of the queue. At Borobudur you have to have your knees covered (and you probably have to have your shoulders covered too, but I was already wearing a long sleeve top), so if you are wearing shorts they give you a sarong and you see a lot of people wondering around wearing them. Prambanan has no dress code.

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In each temple your ticket gets you a free drink, a tea, coffee or water, which is nice. But that is where the niceness ends…

It was super busy again, which I was expecting, but luckily I couldn’t seen any big groups of schools children so I thought I would be safe from questions and selfies. I was so wrong!

There was no chance of getting a picture of the sign without any people in so here is the sign with a load of randoms in.

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And this guy, we crossed paths several times throughout the day and he is the only person I have even seen wearing fake tattoo sleeves!

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It is estimated, although no one can know for sure, that it was constructed in the 8th or 9th century. And no one know when or why it was abandoned but it was maybe between the 11th and 15th centuries, when the king decided to relocate the capital because of a series of earthquakes, and because of a shift in faith from Buddhism to Islam. The temple wasn’t forgotten but it became the subject of folk stories associated with bad luck and misery.

The British took over from 1811 -1816 and the temple was ‘rediscovered’. It had been damaged by earthquakes, covered with volcanic ash and buried under dense vegetation. Eventually the Dutch took over and the whole complex was unearthed in 1835. It was looted by souvenir hunters and thieves until proper restoration began in 1907 and continued to 1911. It had a whole host of problems until UNESCO got involved in 1975 and started a full scale restoration at a cost of about $6million. It was declared a world heritage site in 1991.

The temple is enormous, seriously huge. It it made of 9 stacked platforms, six square and three round, topped with a central dome. There are 504 Buddha statues throughout the temple and it is hard to miss how many of them are damaged – around 300 are headless and there are some missing. 72 of the Buddha statues are surrounding the central dome each in their own stupa, again with quite a bit of damage.

It wasn’t possible for me to get the whole thing in a picture.

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So. Many. People.

You can walk around each layer, which gave a little bit of a relief from the crowds as most people we heading straight up to the top. From above the temple looks like a giant tantric Buddhist mandala representing their beliefs in cosmology, which I think are really interesting, but I can’t put them in my own words, so here is an extract from Wikipedia…

The monument’s three divisions symbolize the three “realms” of Buddhist cosmology, namely Kamadhatu (the world of desires), Rupadhatu (the world of forms), and finally Arupadhatu (the formless world). Ordinary sentient beings live out their lives on the lowest level, the realm of desire. Those who have burnt out all desire for continued existence leave the world of desire and live in the world on the level of form alone: they see forms but are not drawn to them. Finally, full Buddhas go beyond even form and experience reality at its purest, most fundamental level, the formless ocean of nirvana. The liberation from the cycle of Saṃsāra where the enlightened soul had no longer attached to worldly form corresponds to the concept of Śūnyatā, the complete voidness or the nonexistence of the self.

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There are many stories told in the relief panels. I am sure there is probably a sexy time one in there somewhere! The blocks looked like they matched with each other a little better than they did at Prambanan.

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I made my way up to the top where there are beautiful views out over the jungle and to the volcanoes in the distance. The same volcanoes that buried the temple under ash for hundreds of years.

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Those were the few pictures I managed to get without any people in, and now here is the reality… there were so many people!

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I was trying to have a nice moment of quiet and contemplation at the top but it was impossible. The endless quest for a selfie with a white person made it impossible. Some people pretended they were practicing their English, some people were just honest about wanting a picture, some people grabbed me and held onto me while they got someone to take a picture, which I really didn’t like. I’m not keen on physical contact in general, and being grabbed by a sweaty stranger makes me feel really uncomfortable! I was also conscious of wandering hands and keeping my belongings safe. A few people just came up to me and shoved their camera phones into my face without saying anything. By that point I had had enough.

I started saying no to people and at one point I ran away and hid from some children! It was overwhelming, it was too hot, there seemed to be no other westerners to take the pressure off me and I really had just had enough. Who would ever want to be famous?!

I found a quiet corner to sit in for a while and get away from everyone and after spending about an hour and a half at the temple it was time to leave.

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I was walking out with my head down trying to make myself invisible and I was ignoring people to the point where I didn’t realise I was being shouted at because I was about to walk out still wearing my sarong!

Of course you are channelled out through rows and rows of stalls selling tourist tat again and so many people selling hats! It was much more open that in Prambanan so I didn’t feel quite as claustrophobic.

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I had no idea where I was when I was spat out the end and I struggled to find my way back to where I had left Priscilla. I seemed to be in a giant car park and I couldn’t see a way out. I started to get a bit panicky and worried that my bike would be gone. I decided to follow the perimeter fence and eventually saw her in the distance. Phew.

I sat on the grass and ate some Cheeto puffs and had a drink before the long cycle back. The weather was closing in a bit but there was nothing I could do about that.

I decided to take the back roads to get back to the hostel, I had less time pressure now and it would be really nice to get off the main road with all the trucks and the black pollution being chucked out of the back.

I’m glad I chose to do the back way on the way back because it was a bit brutal. It was a much more pleasant ride than the ride there, but the hills were unforgiving and it was much easier to get lost! It was much more scenic but the roads were a lot more lumpy and bumpy as I went through small villages so it took a bit more time. The humidity was intense and I had to stop a couple of times to get a sprite from a little side of the road shack. They could have charged me anything at all and I would have paid it, but it was 5,000 IDR which is local price.

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When I was about half an hour away from being home the heavens opened and it chucked it down. I found a little shelter and waited it out and I did this a few more times along the way. I found a little juice shop and I got the most delicious mango juice I have had since I have been in Indonesia.

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I stayed there for a while and did the rest of the ride in the drizzle, which was ok because there was a hot shower waiting for me when I got back!


In Summary

Both Prambanan and Borobudur were worth going to see, but if you only have time to visit one, I would go for Prambanan. I may have had my judgement clouded by the awful selfie experience at Borobudur (and it was really awful), but removing that I think there is more to see at Prambanan.

Ultimately though I’m really glad I went to see the temples. I didn’t know they existed until I spoke to a nice girl called Laurie who I climbed Rinjani with!


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