Our next stop in Indonesia was central Java and so we flew into Yogyakarta (1 hour by plane from Jakarta). After about another hour – by cab – we found ourselves at the wonderfully green hotel accommodations of Manohara. This was the hotel our friend Izabel recommended due to its amazing location. Amazing for a couple of reasons; it’s surrounded by tropical rain forests and mountains (and even a volcano, Merapi which happens to be one of the most active and dangerous in the world), and it’s also on the doorstep to Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world. We wanted to intimately see and experience Borobudur’s mystique and Manohara kept the temple within sight and “grasp” during our entire 3 night stay. Borobudur was built in the 8th and 9th centuries and today it serves as Indonesia’s most visited sight. We laid eyes on it during our first evening from our dinner table but didn’t have access to it until the following morning.
November is the official beginning of Indonesia’s rainy season and downpour is expected pretty much every day. As a result the humidity can be unrelenting and with temperatures in the 90s, Borobudur proved to be one hot affair. We made it to the temple by 9am and the imposing weight of the humidity kicked in overdrive. But so did the magic of Borobudur, the several layers of architectural stone design adorned with reliefs depicting the life of Buddha (on the bottom layers), statues and stupas (on the top layers). There are 72 bell-shaped stupas – one of Borobudur’s defining characteristics – each cocooning a statue of Buddha. The grand stupa (much larger than the other 72), sits at the center of the top layer however there is nothing inside. We explored each level of Borobudur in true pilgrim fashion – entering through the Eastern gate – making our way clockwise around each level and then ascending to the top. Brigitte snapped dozens of pictures of the reliefs with intensity – I see a collage in the making. Upon reaching the top levels the belled stupas started to fascinate us. Why 72? Why the bell shape? Why the circular formation? And why is there a Buddha inside each except for the grand stupa? Answers to some of these questions may remain a mystery as is the origin of the temple’s name itself.
Our infatuation with Borobudur brought us back bright and early the following morning as we had set up a sunrise tour. By 5am the sun began illuminating the sky bright pink. Perched at the temple’s top level we waited in anticipation of daylight swallowing up whatever was left of the night’s sky. Webs of cotton candy-like mist sat intertwined within the tropical jungle around us while animal sounds emanated from it ringing in the start of a new day. And the influx of 4-winged flying insects flooded the sky, perhaps another signal of the fresh morning. We wandered about the temple for another hour – this time beating the onset of humidity – and by 6:30am we made our way back to our room. The ensuing couple hours of sleep came in handy. Refreshed and ready for more adventure, we hired a horse-drawn carriage later in the afternoon to take us to Pawon and Mendut (two other smaller Buddhist temples linked with Borobudur). It was great to get a glimpse of the countryside but on our way back rain started making its statement.. and so we got the point. We took it easy back at the hotel for the rest of the evening and enjoyed one last dinner overlooking Borobudur.
The next morning we made our way to the airport heading for our much acclaimed next destination, Bali. But there was one last stop to make near Yogyakarta and that was the Hindu temple complex of Prambanan. Hinduism has been prevalent throughout Indonesia for centuries and Prambanan is a testament to its impact on Javanese life. The 8th century temple complex is comprised of 3 prominent towers with the middle one standing 47 meters tall in dedication to the god Shiva. Elaborate reliefs decorated the lower levels of all 3 towers depicting various gods, animals and scenes from everyday life. Like Borobudur the Prambanan complex was constructed from andesite stone without use of any adhesive. The dark stones impressively stood out against the bright blue sky amplifying our photo effects. About half mile away sat another impressively beautiful yet unique temple. Sewu, the second largest Buddhist temple in Indonesia, appeared in front of us and best of all there was no-one else in sight. We selfishly relished at having it all to ourselves (for about 20 minutes), daring for a second to feel as though we had “rediscovered” it. Sewu’s towers were topped with bell-shaped stupas reminiscent of Borobudur.
Central Java boasts some of the world’s most intriguing and venerable temples of pre-Islam religions. This proved to be an essential stop on our Indonesia tour.