Edit Blog Post
Published: November 26th 2006
It's a shame that this is my 11th week in Indonesia and I have not been anywhere outside of Jakarta other than home - hence last Thursday, I decided to pluck myself out and bought a ticket to Yogyakarta. I have always wanted to see Borobudor and Prambanan, hopefully I will have time for a quick trail up Mt. Merapi. The plan was to leave on Friday night after work and be back at my desk by Monday morning. Contrary to popular belief that domestic travel is a mess in Indonesia, this is the
place for cheap domestic flights. With at least 12 airlines (excluding Garuda
, the national carrier) providing air services throughout Indonesia, hunting for cheap air tickets is a matter of skill as opposed to a matter of luck. This skill can be acquired by getting a reliable travel agent.
Yogyakarta is an hour flight away from Jakarta. The flight leaving Jakarta on Friday evening was, as usual, packed to the brim. Upon arrival at the Adisucipto International Airport, it was immediately clear, I was out of Jakarta - the air was fresh, clean and breathable. Cool, gentle evening breeze greeted me. Adisucipto is small considering, together with
Solo Airport, it is the air gateway for 30+million central Javanese. There was only 1 runway and 2-straight luggage belt, that means if you do not claim your bag fast enough, it will go straight to the floor. The airport pick-up from Manohara Hotel was waiting for me at the arrival area, ready to take me to the heart of Borobudur. Within an hour, I was having ikan bakar
at the hotel restaurant.
I was told sunrise at Borobudur Temple is a 'must' and the only way to do it is to go through Manohara Hotel
, as they are the only operator authorised to bring visitors into the temple before the opening hours. Hence, Manohara seemed like an only option available to me. As guests of Manohara, there was no need to pay any other entrance fee. Borobudur Temple was just 200m away from the hotel, there was even a 'private' path to enter the temple. Although there are other fancy hotels around Borobudor, most visitors end up staying in Yogyakarta and make day-trips to the temple.
Built around 700AD-850AD, the Borobudur Temple was built out of blocks of volcanic stones during the Sailendra dynasty.
Carvings on Walls
Where is everyone?
There was, surprisingly, very little information about the history, the purpose of the temple and the reason for its desertion. It was probably use as a place of worship and meditation by the Buddhists. The temple laid buried in thick layer of volcanic ashes and undergrowth for centuries until in 1800, the British came and 're-discovered' it.
There were 4 key entrances/exits to the temple and there were 9 levels to nirvana
(or for the rest of us to the top of the temple). The top 4 levels were full of stupas, with Buddha statues in sitting-position. Some said the stupas were built to keep the ashes of high priests. In certain parts of the temple, the stupas were either missing or with limbs of Buddha statues missing. At the lower levels, wall-carvings and inscriptions display the teachings of Buddha and perhaps the path to enlightenment (which I fail to grasp). Across the plains, Mt. Merapi can be seen steaming. The postcard pictures give a better (and fairer) representation to the whole temple structure. From an aerial view, the structure looked like a tantric mandala, which is frequently used in traditional healing and meditation. To me, the whole structure
"May Lord Buddha grant me peace..."
seemed like a round chessboard with pointy cones. For all your money's worth, it is probably an alien landing spot. This may be Area 51!
I expected the site to be full of tourists by dawn. Surprisingly, there were less than 14 of us who were heading to the temple for sunrise. Out of the 14, 12 from the group looked like pilgrims from Thailand, Singapore and Taiwan. They were led by a monk in bright orange robe. That made me the odd one in the group. After a short ride from the hotel, we made it up the temple. We were immediately rewarded for waking up at 4am with the view of the surrounding mountains. The morning mist shrouded parts of the mountains. Slowly, as dawn broke, the mist lifted and revealed Mt. Merapi and other mountains which stand guarding this timeless relic. The pilgrims were here to pray. They walked round and round each level of the temple, with heads lie low, in prayers. Unlike the buddhists from most SE Asia countries, there was no offering or incense-burning. It was all very surreal.
Other than Borobudur temple, there are other things to do around Borobudur. I
Coconut Trees dancing in the wind
Sunset at the gardens of Manohara
decided to spend the afternoon exploring the surrounding villages by bike. The trail from Manohara somehow took me past paddy fields, village huts, plantations and up Menoreh Hills. There was a little tea hut at Menoreh Hills where trekkers can rest and enjoy the view of Kedu Plain. Borobudur appeared tiny with the top tier stupa jutting out of the plain.
Long live Lara Djonggrang
Long time ago there was a princess who lived in the kingdom of Prambanan. Her name was Lara Djonggrang. She was admired for her beauty and wit by her subjects. The wicked man of the story, Bandung Bondowoso, was the son of King Baka. For some reasons, he killed Lara Djonggrang's father and soon he fell madly in love with Lara Djonggrang and was determined to make her his wife.
Lara Djonggrang was eager to escape from the man who killed her father. On the pretext that she would marry Bandung Bondowoso if he could construct one thousand temples and dedicate the temples to her overnight. Knowing that he would not be able to complete the task alone on time, Bandung Bondowoso summoned the help of demons and they started building
at dusk of the same day. Lara Djonggrang sat pensively, monitoring the progress of the construction at her palace nearby.
At near dawn, it seemed that the demons had almost near completion of a thousand temples, Lara Djonggrang immediately asked her maids to start pounding rice in the yard. The sound of the pouding woke the roosters who then began to crow. The demons mistook the rooster crowing as dawn approaching, they quickly fled. They had only constructed 999 temples.
Bandung Bondowoso was furious that he could not marry Lara Djonggrang. He turned Lara Dgonggrang into a stone statue hoping that she could never fall in love with others. Lara Djonggrang's loyal maids at the palace prayed for Lara Djonggrang to be released. The Gods, touched by the story, sent an angel to take Lara Djonggrang to heaven. The story of Lara Djonggrang is still widely told in Indonesia.
Although as the legend has it, 999 temples were constructed, but today in Prambanan, less than 50 were still standing. The Prambanan temples were built between 800AD and 900AD. Located at around 20minutes car ride way from Yogyakarta, the main temple - Candi Lara Djonggrang can be seen
Ruins ruins ruins
Some turned to ruins within a few minutes from the May 2006 earthquake
at the highway heading to Prambanan. Standing side by side to it, are Candi Vishnu and Brahma. Over the years, a series of earthquake, volcanic ashes, the sun, the rain and looters ruined many of the temples. The May 2006 also played a role in flattening some of the structure which were being restored. Restoration work is still in progress and many areas at the temple compound are off-limit to visitors.
After 2 hours at the temple ground, it was time to head to the airport and back to Jakarta again. I guess I will have to make another trip back here for Mt. Merapi.
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