3.30 am and the alarm clock goes off. Sh*t. Time to wake up. Ok, let’s do this! In 20 minutes we’ll be picked up to go see the sun rise over buddhist Borobudur temple, UN world heritage site.
It’s pitch-black outside, but the city is already on the move. Devotees on their way to their first prayer of the day, markets being set up, (most surprisingly) a market being taken down, young people leaving the club… it’s Saturday morning, after all.
It’s an hour drive and after a first introductory chit-chat among the tour-goers, the van goes silent: everybody’s trying to squeeze in a few minutes of sleep.
After a 15 minute piece-of-cake trek we get to the viewing point that would allow us to see the sun rising over Mount Merapi with Borodubur in the middle, as a sunken cherry on top of a cake.
After seeing some impressive pictures, we’re expecting to see a big ball of fire in the sky. No such thing. It’s rainy season and it’s all covered in fog. However, the fog plays its part and creates very surreal images which make the trip over there worth it.
After that, breakfast with radioactive strawberry jam –it has a suspicious bright red color- at the base of Borobudur and then, finally, off to the main attraction.
I don’t usually like guided tours, but this time it’s both necessary and worth it (we would’ve missed so much if we hadn’t taken it). We meet Fatah, who introduces himself as a “muslim buddhist who knows everything there is to know about the temple”. He grew up by the compound where the gardens are now, until the government bought his house after a 2 year struggle including public protests and power and water cuts. He says he can still recognize some of the trees by which he used to play as a kid.
We get all sarong-ed up and get on with it. At every level of the temple he explains the engravings on the 2672 narrative relief panels that decorate the sides of the walls that tell Siddhartha Gautama’s previous lives, his family life and his path to enlightenment, and to eventually becoming the last Buddah that, until now, has walked the earth. You can learn more about this fascinating place, here y aca.
The temple compound was built in the 9th century. It has 504 Buddha statues, 72 of which are located on the top floor, all under perforated stupas. Some of the Buddhas along the temple are headless: they have been stolen to be sold. The place has been preserved in great state and the narrative panels still have definition. A lot of them are covered with green, giving the whole place an enchantment feeling, as it happens with most places in Indonesia due to its humid weather.
Fatah leaves us at the top to wander around. The challenge is to get a picture not invaded by all the other visitors… I think we did fine. In fact, visitors sometimes make great additions to the pictures.
Our next stop is Prambanan, Indonesia’s other temple. Prambanan has been a witness to the Hindu era in Indonesia, now only officially present in Bali; the rest of the country is Muslim. It also dates back to the 9th century and it’s the largest hindu temple in Indonesia and one of the biggest in SEA. It shows the shift from Mahayana Buddhism (which Borobudur represents) to Shivaist Hinduism. You can dig more into it here y aca (Este link tiene sólo una fracción de info del que está en inglés. Si les interesa, pueden usar Google Translator para ir traduciendo de a párrafos.)
It’s huge. And stunning, especially from afar. It hasn’t been as well preserved as Borobudur and comparisons are inevitable for me visiting both, not only on the same day but on the same morning. Maybe it’s a bit too much to do together, especially for my brain to process.
It’s packed with people since it’s already close to noon. And then it starts raining. Nevertheless, we walk up and down the different buildings that as a whole make the temple. The images in the panels are not as clear and we have no guide, so it’s a little puzzling. To access the central temple (the one dedicated to Shiva, the destroyer), you need to wear a helmet and there’s a release note explaining that in case of an accident, it’s not their fault: you knowingly walk in.
After sitting in one of the temples for awhile to protect ourselves and our cameras from the rain, we call it a day and go back to the van that will drive us back to our nap, I mean, hotel. Yeah, to take a nap. We’ve earned it. After all, we’ve managed to honor the buddhist, the hindu and the muslim, all in one day.