A short tour of the magnificent Borobudur and Prambanan


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Asia » Indonesia » Java » Yogyakarta
January 23rd 2017
Published: February 4th 2017
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No, I’m not a history buff. But it interests me sometimes! Since I visited the Angkor Wat in Cambodia a couple of years ago, I became interested in Buddhism and Indian culture in Indonesia. What I learned from Angkor Wat, the archeology here is a fusion of Buddhism and Hindu faith that occurred at the time of Khmer Empire in Cambodia. Some of the influence may have come from Java. That was one good reason that I was curious to learn a bit about Borobudur, now an UN Heritage site. I flew from Labuan Bajo for a short day trip to Yogyakarta, more commonly known as Jogjakarta or simply Jogja.

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When my Garuda flight landed in Jogja after 9:30 pm, it was pouring outside. I was not surprised to see that there was no air-bridge, as many airports around the world don’t. Well, I guess I have to make a short run to the terminal and I knew I would be wet. When it rains this part of the world, it’s not drizzle, it's downpour. Surprise, Surprise! At the bottom of the stairwell, a guy was waiting with a bunch of umbrellas and he was handing one to each passenger. As we reached the terminal, another guy collected the umbrellas. That’s quite innovative! Necessity is the Mother of all invention! Well, not quite invention here, rather innovation. Whatever it is, I was thankful!

My English speaking guide was waiting at the arrival terminal. He introduced me to the driver of the rental car and said Good Bye! And guess what, the driver hardly knew English. Hmmm! Well, perhaps it’s time for me to try some Bahasa! Afterall, I learned a bit from Desi and Ninik.

“Apa kabar,”…How are you? I started with an easy one!

What a mistake! The elderly man grinned at me and responded “selamat siang.” I hardly understood his accent. The man then started talking to me fast in local language, not sure whether it was Bahasa or other Javanese language.

“Bisa bicara bahasa Inggris?” …I asked him whether he knows English.

He grinned. Means, he doesn’t. Perfect! It seems tomorrow will be quite a day for us! Given my knowledge in Bahasa, yeah, I have a challenge in hand. No more talk happened on the road. I looked out the window. Roads were narrow and both sides were cramped with shacks and small shops…closed at this hour. After I checked in the hotel, I went out for a walk. The rain had stopped. It was close to 11:00 pm. I knew this would be my only chance to see the place. I walked for a mile or so. Sidewalks often were occupied with shacks or people sleeping. No, Jogja didn’t impress me at all. But it’s quite possible that the area where my hotel was located may be congested.

The next morning, my no-English driver arrived in time and we headed out to Borobudur. The temple was outside the city limit and the roads started becoming wider and with less traffic. The language challenge with my driver continued. He didn’t understand a bit what I was trying to say in half English and half Bahasa. Neither could I understand his accent. Perfect combination, I thought!

Once he parked the car in the temple parking lot, my driver guided me to the ticket counter. We were pretty much using the sign language at that stage!

“No, this is the counter for the local people.” The girl in the counter told me. She explained my driver where to go. I got my first jolt when I reached the counter for the foreign tourists. It was in a different building. The cost of the ticket for a foreigner is almost 10 times the cost of the ticket for the locals. I flipped and protested.

“Well Sir, we don’t make the rules,” the girl told me politely. I realized that she was actually right. I was pissed; I never like the differential fees, no matter what country is it. In my view, there are other ways to make money, and not robbing the tourists. They are actually helping the economy by spending.

“Terima Kasih,” I thanked the girl and walked towards the temple compound.

It was a lovely walk amid the trees and manicured lawns inside the compound. Hundreds of Muslim girls, all wearing red clothing were doing work out, with the rhythm of music from a large soundbox. As far as I could see, it was a sea of red. I was impressed to see the health awareness of the women here. It was beautiful!

The temple is a massive showcase of architecture that was built in the 9th century A.D. The temple has 9 levels to climb up to the top. I didn’t take any guide. I never do. I wanted to see it on my own. I started with the stone carving on each level of the temple. Each carving tells a story of the bygone days. There are statues of Lord Buddha in every corner and inside the domes or stupas. The stone carving on the temple spoke about a Javanese culture that had been the fusion of Buddhism and the Indian civilization from the ancient Gupta dynasty. I could see the restoration work being carried out by the locals, painstakingly reinforcing any broken pieces. The temple was flooded with school children snapping photos here and there, mostly selfies. I wished they could learn some of the histories created here that might go well with the selfies. I hardly saw any foreign tourists here and having seen me as a foreigner with a backpack, the students started snapping photos of mine in their photographic extravaganza. That’s fine! I am not a naysayer and I gave them smiles now and again. At least it’s good that the schools are organizing these tours for them. I climbed up to the top. The picture perfect view of the landscape from the top with the background of the domes will walk you through the forgotten path of the history when the dynasty once reigned in Java. I has a flight to catch in the late afternoon and I still have to visit the Prambanan temple. I couldn’t spend much time there and climbed down. Typically, the exit took the visitors through the countless stalls of souvenirs where the sellers bug you for buying their products, - T-shirts, baseball caps, small statues of the temple and Buddha, you name it. I went to the parking lot but I didn’t know where the driver has parked his car. I tried to phone him and after I spent some challenging moments of language barrier, he gave me his number plate which turned out to be incorrect. Anyway, finally I found him and we drove out to our next destination.

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It was again the same experience of paying ten times the cost of a ticket that a local would pay at the entrance of the Prambanan temple. But I got used to it by now. Well, it is what it is. Earlier in Borobudur, I was contemplating of not visiting the temple in protest. But soon I came to my senses. I came all the way here to visit the temples that I always wanted to see and I am ready to quit just for extra 20 bucks! Am I so stupid? I quietly paid the entrance fee and entered the temple complex.

Prambanan is said to be the largest Hindu temple complex in the world. I thought it was Angkor Wat, but I might be wrong. It was built around the same time when the Borobudur was built. There are over 200 smaller temples inside the complex and three main temples. The three main temples were primarily dedicated to the Hindu Supreme trinity – Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. Unlike Borobudur, there are scattered ruins of the temple inside the compound. This temple complex is also the UNESCO Heritage site and I could see some restoration work being carried out.

I didn’t have time to visit the entire complex. But I visited the main temples and the corridors. The style is definitely different than in Borobudur and the deities are different. This is surprising given that the temple was built in the same era of Sailendra Dynasty in the 9th century. That speaks about the diversity and openness of the empire in honoring the faiths with equality, - the Buddhism and the Hindu faith. I was more surprised when I visited some of the smaller temples in the complex. I could see the statute of the Indian Goddess Durga! Wow! I suppose it is natural that the supreme trinity of the Hindu faith which

is the foundation of the Hindu religion are all here. But Durga! That was quite a migration of the Hindu culture from the ancient India. Given that Prambanan was more dedicated towards the Indian epic Ramayana, the presence of Devi Durga is bit of a stretch, I must say.

It was past 2:00 pm and I had a 4:00 pm flight to catch for Jakarta. Given that Garuda has been oversensitive in its departure time as I had the experience earlier, I didn’t want to take chance. On my way to the airport, I was thinking about the temples. I have seen the Hindu deities in Bali. Bali is also rich in Hindu culture and faith, but the manifestations are different. As I said before, I am not a history buff, but I wish I could explore a bit further here. Unfortunately, so much I have packed in my schedule that it’s becoming like ‘been there, done that, check mark ’…. No, I would like to change my travel style a bit in the future. In any event, I always wanted to visit these temples. And I am glad that I am carrying with me the footprints of history that spoke about the ancient era of a bygone civilization in Java.



Additional photos below
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4th February 2017
The temple domes

So many temples so little time
Isn't it amazing when you walk in an area like this and you feel the serenity.
4th February 2017
The temple domes

So many temples so little time
You are so right MJ....I feel a peacefulness, a calmness, away from the turbulent world that we live in.....serenity now, and forget the insanity. Thank you for reading and your comments. Means a lot to me.
4th February 2017

Touching the shoulder of Buddha
There was a legend that made Prambanan stand as nowadays , going to Yogyakarta always creates the feeling of being humble n witnessing historical time . Great pictures Tab :)
4th February 2017

Touching the shoulder of Buddha
It was indeed a great moment visiting the temples. Although it was brief, I am glad I did it. I call it a brief walk in the corridor of history. And it was peaceful...took away some of the travel stress. Thank you for reading and appreciating the photos, Jasmine!
4th February 2017

Borobudur & Prambanan
Great to see you are visiting Java albeit brief glimpses of this fascinating island Tab. And if one's visit is brief, nothing better than to catch these jewels of SE Asia...Borobudur & Prambanan...as jewels they are.
4th February 2017

Borobudur and Prambanan
Hi Dave, Thank you for reading and your comment. Yes, I wanted to visit these temples, Oh Gosh, I don't even remember when, probably from my history days in the school. Indeed, they are the jewels of the island. I was curious, but at the end I was amazed to see the diversity that were well reflected in the temples.

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