Borobudur sun rise had taken my breath away and its deep spirituality had moved me to the core. A 8th century Buddhist stupa and temple complex, Borobudur is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Situated around 90 minutes away from Yogyakarta, Borobudur happened on one fine Java dawn. It had been a Saturday, starting of a long weekend and I had plans to leave for Bromo the next morning. An Indonesian co worker had brought up the idea of a Borobudur day trip at office and I had happily joined in.
We had left Yogya around 5 in the morning and ridden through cool, misty fields and a star dusted faint sky in peace. The lush Kedu Plain had been verdant and inviting and somewhere in the horizon active volcanoes had loomed. The sky had slowly lightened somewhere in the dew drenched rural Indonesia as we had puttered along the partly broken empty road. Warmth had eventually melted the veil of mist from the bordering palm trees, canals and bamboo bridges and quaint hamlets had lain in silent clusters. Only the village dogs, disturbed by our noisy intrusion had come barking and we had spun into intrepid rural lanes to escape from them.
Borobudur had been quiet and tranquil when we had reached there and after a thorough security check, the monument complex had opened up expansively ahead. Victim of 1985 terrorist attack, several Borobudur stupas and relics had been badly damaged by 9 bombs which had been supposedly planted by an Islamist extremist group. Beautifully laid out gardens and walkways surrounded the monument and in that pre dawn dim light, peace had prevailed there in hushed silence.
TRAVEL TIP – Accessible from Yogyakarta by bus, motorcycle or car, Borobudur is cheaper to explore through a package tour. These tours are sold by a dozen by nearly every tour operator in Yogyakarta and can be clubbed with Prambanan. The site is surrounded by a big pleasant park and the best time to visit the monument is at sun rise. Flashlights and sarongs (if required) are provided for Borobudur early birds and apart from being breathtakingly beautiful, the site is almost empty at that time. The package ticket for Borobudur and Prambanan temples is also available at the complex and the site is open for visitors from 6 AM-5 PM. A lot of guest houses and hotels provide Borobudur Sunrise Tour which take visitors up to the topmost level before dawn for a spectacular view and quiet contemplative moments. Cycles can be rented from them to explore the village and surrounding area around Borobudur.
Vesak (May) and the dance festival of Mahakarya Borobudur (June) are 2 festivals which make the experience more magical. Vesak is a colourful festival culminating in candle light march, celebrating Lord Buddha’s birthday and Mahakarya Borobudur is the site’s official dance festival which portrays its conception and construction.
The first thing which had struck me about the monument was its sheer size. Built in tiers, Borobudur was nearly 35 meters tall and spread over an area of over 200 square meters. It’s construction took 75 years to complete and for a structure of that magnitude, its history is dismally unclear. Constructed during the reign of the powerful Sailendra Dynasty, there is no documented record as to who and why was Borobudur was built. Probably built as a religious site, Borobudur’s abandonment and rediscovery had been equally dramatic. After being abandoned for unknown reasons sometime around 14th century, Borobudur had remained hidden from the world under layers of volcanic ash and dense jungle. Rediscovered by the then British governor of Java, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, Borobudur was lovingly restored stone by stone and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.
From its origin, creators, purpose and naming, to me everything about Borobudur seemed to be shrouded in impenetrable mystery. Loosely meaning, “the temple of Budur near the Bore village”, the name Borobudur was supposedly coined by Sir Raffles himself as its original name was never found. Although, many theories exist behind its mysteries, Borobudur till today remains a nameless, sort of identity less enigma. Located at an elevated area between 2 twin volcanoes Merbabu-Merapi and Sumbing-Sundoro and 2 rivers, Progo and Elo, Borobudur is towers over the surrounding “Garden of Java”/Kedu Plain. According to some scholars, the 3 Buddhist temples of the area Borobudur, Pawon and Mendut were positioned along a straight line for some ritual unknown to us. Kedu Plain too was believed to have been an ancient lake on which Borobudur was built to represent a floating star.
In spite of all the surrounding beautiful fairy tale like theories nothing has ever/is expected to be found out about Borobudur and to me there’s nothing more enticing than a historical puzzle. I remember falling in love with the monument even before I had walked up to it and to me it had reflected more than beauty. From up close, Borobudur had intimidated me by its sheer size and I had to huff and puff while climbing to its topmost layer. A jumble of stunning reliefs and 504 Buddha statues, Borobudur loomed on 6 square stone platforms topped by 3 circular tiers. 72 beautiful stone Buddhas smiled tranquilly from perforated stupas on the main platform and the main dome stood on its middle.
Borobudur was mind blowing and there’s no overrating it. A stunning confluence of Javanese Buddhist architectural styles, the temple also demonstrates a heavy influence of India’s prevailing Gupta Dynasty’s voluptuous contours. Thus it takes its visitors to a time when maritime traders and Buddhist monks from India, frequented the Javanese soil and it was no coincidence that throughout my entire Indonesian stay, I had never felt too isolated from my country. Jataka stories, laws of karma, birth of Buddha, many indigenous forgotten folklores etc were carved along the relief panels and it had been a pity that neither of us had any idea of the explanations behind them. Riddled with symbolism, stairways, corridors and balustrades, Borobudur is rumoured to be a historical mega puzzle with clues hidden at its every niche. Its 4 sides faced 4 points of the compass and we had caught a most magical sunrise at its summit. The dark grey andesite stone monument overlooked a huge fertile plain and promise of a clear day revealed glimpses of smoking Mount Merapi through a golden haze.
Surreal, hushed and tranquil, the sun had risen like a golden orb and flooded the Kedu Plain in shimmering light. The entire area had looked flooded with hope and molten gold drenched the area joyously. Absolute silence had prevailed and we had nearly caught our breaths to maintain that noiseless peace. Only the Buddhas smiled brightly, filling the area with more beauty than the rising soon. I had never seen a sunrise so soul touching and the memory of its beauty mesmerizes me till today. Perhaps its magical effect was due to the sun or being on one of the most spectacular ancient monuments on earth or the hundreds of apostles of peace that surrounded us, that Borobudur sunrise had been unforgettable.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING – BECAUSE I CARE