Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Birthday Bash: Borobudur or Bust

Borobudur, a 9th century Buddhist monument/ temple/ mandala (no one is really sure of its original purpose), is Indonesia's Number One Tourist Attraction.  This is the Macchu Picchu, the Eiffel Tower, the Opera House of Indonesia.  I've heard that it's quite impressive in person, and since I have a personal interest in Buddhism, I thought it would be the perfect place to spend my birthday.

Davo and I set out on the afternoon of the 19th to catch a bus to the area, with the intention of finding a room for the night and experiencing sunrise at the monument.  We found the block where Bus 5 was supposed to come.  Two Indonesians, middle-aged guys, kept the buleh (white foreigners) company.  We waited...  and waited...  and waited...  for the bus which supposedly comes every 20 minutes.  After 1 hour 15 minutes sitting in the sun with our fully loaded backpacks with two Indonesians yapping in our ear the entire time, we gave up.  Defeated, we returned to our hotel for the night and booked private transportation to the monument the following afternoon.

We did make it the next day, along with 190,397,239,374 other tourists.  The monument itself, with the intricate carvings and mandala symbolism, is very special.  Dave and I walked clockwise around each level of the temple, in imitation of pilgrims who circumambulate each level three times, absorbing as much as we could in the short time we were given.  Unfortunately, it was distracting to see parents sitting their children on the 1,000 year old carved stone lions, to hear shrieks and laughing around every corner, and to pose for pictures with every teenage Indonesian girl within a 500 meter radius.  Not exactly a time or a place for contemplation.

As I approached the forest of stupas at the top, though, I still got the sense that I was approaching something very special.

At the top, I noticed a hillside about 500 meters away.  It seemed like a good place to get away from the tourist hordes.  I was right--apparently, this hillside is not mentioned in Lonely Planet, which means it either (1) doesn't exist, or (2) isn't worth visiting.  We had the terraces, pavilions, and greenery to ourselves for a quiet moment.

The rest of the photos are here:

A few suggestions if you go...

  1. If you really want to go for sunrise to have the place to yourself, shell out the extra $30 to get in before the gates officially open.  Everyone goes for "sunrise," which is actually somewhere around 7:00 a.m.  We went in the afternoon, and while it was crowded, it wasn't nearly as crowded as I hear the "sunrise" crowd can be.
  2. Definitely get your own transport to and from the monument.  We booked our transport via a standard travel agent, who gave us only 2.5 hours at the monument.  I could have spent all day there, studying the carvings and circumambulating each level three times, instead of once.
  3. You should find our secret hillside and go there.  I won't say exactly where it is, but it's very easy to find, and I promise it's worth the search!

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