Sunday, March 3, 2013

Climbing Borobodur

 Solitary Stupa

 Stupas at the Top

 Start of the Climb

 Reliefs along the Wall

 Corridor with Reliefs

View from the Top

The explanation on the board read that one has to go around Borobodur temple 9 times to get to the top. The temple is 2,500 sq metres (26, 910 sq feet) in area, on nine levels at a height of 35 metres (105 feet).

From a distance, the complex looks like a giant squarish hill crowned with pointed concrete posts.  A steep and narrow stairway leads into an archway that seems to swallow people into temple.

Borobodur is a UNESCO World Heritage site, considered one of the most beautiful temples in the world, and the biggest Buddhist temple in the 9th century. It was also on top of my must see in the world.  Overcoming procrastination, I finally decided to just fly to Yogyakarta on Christmas break last year before returning home from a work assignment in the region.

Indonesia may be Islamic officially, but Christmas it seems is Christmas in the country. I chose to visit Yogyakarta at that time thinking I could skip the Christmas stress in an Islamic country. Wrong. Hotels were full, sites were crawling with tourists (mostly locals) and a lot of working people were on holiday.

Getting to Magelang, 40 km, from Yogyakarta did not pose any challenge but going around the temple, and getting to the top did.  There was a crush of people even as early as 7:30 in the morning.  High school kids, local tourists, all ages represented in volume.

Keeping track of the levels, I finally got through to the top to be overwhelmed by the sight of more people - resting on the base of countless stupas, picture taking, admiring the view or just taking a breather.  It was a hot and humid morning.

The whole climb was not without "incidents." Among the crowd of tourists were bands of school kids, zeroing on foreign tourists - to practise English.  While I'm not blond (their obvious prey), I definitely looked foreign and touristy to 3 groups of students with prepared questions and notebooks. At the end, there was an official photo op to prove to their teachers, they had talked to a foreign tourist - in English.

Borobodur is as magnificent as I had imagined.  In spite of the crowd, I was glad to have finally seen it,  gone around it, and climbed to the top in about two and a half hours.  

It took 200 years+ for archaeologists to put back together 55,000 sq meters of stone and rubble since they first stumbled upon the ruins.