Dull Skies Over Borobudur

Dull Skies Over Borobudur

One of the main reasons people visit Yogyakarta is to take advantage of its proximity to the ancient Buddhist temple of Borobudur. Everywhere you look, travel agents advertise tours to Borobudur boldly describing it as one of the ‘wonders of the world’. It isn’t, like, and having not seen any of the seven I can’t even say whether it’s a close eighth or whether this is the equivalent of describing low fat mayonnaise as ‘as good as the real thing’.

With the vague sense that everybody else was doing it and hence so should we, we booked ourselves onto a sunrise tour of Borobudur Temple at a cost of around £20 each.

Borobudur, Yogyakarta


We were picked up at the ungodly hour of 3.45am to endure the hour-long drive to the viewing point during which I experienced the most intense bladder anxiety of my life to date. I don’t even think I needed to go, but the knowledge that I couldn’t go made my mind play one of those oh-so-hilarious tricks on my body leaving me in leg-tapping, lip-biting, bladder agony all the way there. Once we arrived and the pressing matter of precisely how I was going to make it up this mountain was upon me, my bladder had pity, sensing I could only cope with one anxiety-inducing situation at a time, and admitted it was in fact empty.

I have a back problem and can’t hike, trek, mountaineer, surf, deep-sea dive, or do any of those other fancy things adventurous people insist of doing. I had to push myself hard and was dragged for part of it but I made it up the mostly paved mountainside and by 4.45am was sat cross-legged on the floor amongst thirty or so Gortex jacket and hiking boot-wearing travellers, waiting for the sunrise.

Borobudur Sunrise

At first, an expectant hush hung over the group as we waiting for the magical visual feast we had been promised would materialize before our eyes. Time crawled by and the view did not improve. We just sat there, staring at a completely grey sky, feeling slightly miffed at the no-show but with no one to blame.

Borobudur, Yogyakarta, BuddhaShout out to the French couple here for their ability to chain-smoke cigarettes before, during and after a twenty minute uphill trek and for the plastic tumblers of hard liquor they magicked out of the air and stood sipping pre-dawn. You inspired awe in all who beheld you.

So, it was a waste of time. We paired up with another English couple, a rare find in this part of the world, moved on the the temple itself and and hired a guide to take us around. I’m glad we did otherwise we would have definitely just found shade under a tree somewhere and gone to sleep.

These are the most interesting facts I learned about Borobudur:

  • Borobudur was built 300 years before Cambodia’s Angkor Wat.
  • Borobudur was buried under a mountain of volcanic ash for around 700 years until, in 1814, it was rediscovered by Sir Stamford Raffles. This bloke was very, very busy.
  • Many of the Buddha statues situated on the higher levels of the temples are headless. Locals from the surrounding area find them from time to time, buried in their gardens or fields, but rarely give them back to the temple as they can be sold to foreign collectors.
  • Dutchman Theo Van Erp, who was given the task of restoring Borobudur in 1907, set about photographing the the relief images carved into the walls of the temple in an effort to preserve them. This was in the days of black and white photography and in order to make the images stand out more on film, he painted the whole lot with yellow paint. The yellow paint remains and conservation technicians all over the world add Theo to their naughty list.
  • Borobudur is built over nine levels, symbolising a spiritual journey through the three realms of Buddhist belief, Kamadhatu (the world of desires), Rupadhatu (the world of forms), and finally Arupadhatu (the formless world). You’re supposed to walk the temple paths in a clockwise direction through all nine levels but I failed to reach enlightenment as I stopped somewhere around level seven because I couldn’t be bothered to walk up any more stairs. Kind of sums up my life, that.

Some advice: Don’t bother with the sunrise thing, get yourself a good guide and, if the groups of school kids take a shine to you, prepare to have your image posted all over Indonesia Facebook before the day is done.

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