05 September 2009

Borobudur in a Flash

Yes, that is a blonde tuft of Brandon's hair poking out there....

The "Big Three" of Southeast Asia: Angkor Wat, Bagan and Borobudur. The three largest ancient sites packed with ruins and history that draw backpackers and package tourists alike to poke their fingers into the far past and dream of the Ramayana, masked dancers and sacrificial offerings held in the moss covered spots that they now stand.

We visited Angkor Wat in May, Bagan in June and now in August we arrived in Jogjakarta, the artistic capital of Java and the site of Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Despite Java's overwhelmingly Muslim population, the temple is respected as a historical monument with special meditation spots reserved for Buddhist pilgrims visiting from around the world.

Amazing graffiti and art everywhere you look in Jogja.

I was on my way to Vancouver that afternoon, and the idea of getting that close to Borobudur and missing it was unbearable. We woke up early, and after dashing to the airport to confirm one final leg of my journey we headed off.

K, on three let's look like sweaty backpackers. 1, 2.....

Once we arrived our limited time made a guide seem really necessary, and at 50,000 Rupiah (5 USD) for an hour it was a good deal. He led us through the huge temple one step at a time, explaining how each of the nine levels represents a Buddist godplane. 72 large buddhas sit ringing the circular levels, most missing their heads. I suspect that this means that they were sacked as antiques (or out of religious spite) but the guide seemed anxious to have us believe that it was all due to age..... I didn't really buy it.

I'd lose my head if it wasn't.....oh.

Several huge restoration projects have taken place over the last few centuries after Sir Raffles (yes, this guy) then governor of Java, was informed of it's existence - until then it had been hidden by a thick swath of curly jungle and volcanic rocks for over 800 years. Once declared a UNESCO site in the nineteen seventies the Indonesian government funneled money into further restoration (including taking the entire thing apart, piece by effing piece to put in irrigation system and then putting it back together. Our guide confided that like nearby Prambanan there is a storehouse of pieces that didn't fit back in....fail) and it is now the largest tourist draw in Indonesia.

Leftover temple stone. "Hey guys, wanna ruin history today?" "Resounding YES."

The setting itself is as beautiful as the temple, green rolling hills covered in thick vegetation lead down into a bowl, and in that bowl sits the monlithic temple. One thousand years ago it must have looked very similar to the way it looks today.

I love the spirits floating on the clouds above Buddha's followers...

I must admit, after the spooky setting of Angkor and all of those huge tree roots snaking their way through the crumbling temples, and after the sheer massive area that the Bagan temples occupy - Borobudur was a tad underwhelming. It is a humongous structure, but the plains immediately surrounding it are devoid of any other interesting sites (Prambanan is quite far away). I did, however, find the endless stretches of intricate stone frescoes depicting Buddha's life to be fascinating.

Remember what the dormouse said....

Jogjakarta is an amazing artist's enclave and Borobudur is the icing on the cake (the cake is made of rice, so.... well, so is everything here.) A lot of people roll into town, see the temple and leave (people like me - but not on purpose!) Definitely visit, but remember to stay and check out the batik, the music the galleries and yes, the graffiti.


Paulina said...

Beautiful! I took a Southeast asian art class (I was an art history major) and fell in love with it (even though i was in a dark room just looking at slides). I can't imagine it in person! Thanks so much for posting about your travels.

Pat said...

Headless Buddas? Nice photos. I can't believe they had so many pieces left over! OMG! I thought maybe a couple, two, three. There must be hundreds! That is unbelievable. Somebody screwed up big time!

Interesting travels.

yaya said...

We are Master students of National Taiwan University of Science and Technology.
We are doing a research about Heritage in Yogyakarta, center of Java. We choose Borobudur and Prambanan to survey how heritage impacted or merged in tourism sites in Indonesia.
And we really need your opinions about those two heritages so we could try our best to improve the tourism in heritage sites.
Thank you for your help!!  Thank you very much!!!
My e-mail: yaya24682006@yahoo.com.tw

The Questionnaire address:

Best regard.

All of Students of Graduate Institute of Architecture and Historic Preservation.

Violet Dear said...

@yaya - just did the survey!