Indonesians prefer to show their tourist attraction during sunrise. Those of us, who aren’t exactly early risers, may experience some difficulties, especially since the first daylight swipes across the land at about 5:30. Needless to say, catching dawn 40 km away from your bed might be even more demanding.
When reading the following text I recommend this ambient music:
Waking up at 3:00 at night…khm…morning felt as masochistic as ever and several problems immediately followed. We had rented a pair of motorbikes the previous day, yet now they stood in front of us, locked with a thick chain and the key-bearer was nowhere to be found. After 15 minutes of frantic calling, the guy appeared from a reception room of a nearby hostel and lazily strolled towards us. He unlocked our scooters and we were off.
Sophisticatedly described: Left-sided driving came forth as quite an inconvenience for me, being a motorcycle debutant. Simply described: Driving felt just plain awkward. And not just for me – for Tina too. At least this way my male honour was untouched.
Luckily, the traffic was pretty scarce at this time and therefore suitable for learning. Our empty reservoirs urged us to the nearest gas station. We drove slowly as ever. Alas, even the station wasn’t in our favour and was closed, due to the Islam holiday that day. I nervously glanced at the fuel gauge, already laying below the “E” mark, and wondered how much gas reserve the previous owner left. Hastily we woke up nearby becak drivers (becak is a tricycle with a seat), who pointed us in the direction of the next gas station.
This one was lit up brightly and seemed more promising. For now. As my scooter was being filled, a light bulb blew in a lamp post across the street. Sparks plummeted towards the ground and vanished into darkness. Another bulb exploded and produced a new cloud of glowing flakes. Darkness enveloped the station. Hopelessly, I looked at the station attendant. His casual expression suggested this was nothing more than a part of his every day and surely enough – electrons soon returned. With our bikes freshly filled, we sped towards the Borobodur temple. But not too speedy! Just in case.
Those of you who turned on the music earlier, might want to shut it down now, or the whole text will end up sounding like a farce.
In Pursuit of Sunrise
With each kilometre the urban environment was substituted with green fields and rice paddies. Tina’s sharp eye spotted new fashion trends – people were dressed in their best clothes. They wore long, ornamented clothing of vibrant colours and on their heads flat caps sat. As a result of all the morning commotions we arrived to the temple entrance only shortly after dawn. We quickly followed one of the locals to the nearby hill, known for its viewpoint. Despite missing the sunrise, we witnessed a spectacular view.
Much to our surprise, other visitors hadn’t intended to enjoy the morning vista. They captured the sunrise with a few photographs and left shortly after. A tree observation deck, recently still filled with selfie-taking Asians, was now deserted. We ascended its ladder and shook all the sweets from our bags. While we were devouring our chocolate bars, morning lights chased away the white mists that surrounded jungle plants.
The Buddhist Colossus
Even before you enter any major Indonesian attraction, you get filtered away from the locals. Tourists must, of course, pay higher entrance fees. About 4 times higher. Such financial roundhouse kicks can be softened with the international student card. In the case of Borobodur it actually halved the price. Still, the overcharging was deliberate and that demanded sanctions – they’d messed with the wrong tourists! So we pillaged the reception’s free coffee buffet and even abducted a few packages of creamer. That’ll teach them!
First glance at Borobodur and its promenades with trees planted on both sides force opens your mouth and dislocates the jaw. World’s largest Buddhist temple rises towards the sky like a grey pyramid with numerous statues and ornaments.
As soon as you reposition your jaw, countless questions crowd up in your mind. Hiring a tourist guide is therefore much advised. Naturally we did no such thing – classic student stinginess! Instead we cunningly leeched off a nearby tourist group.
A Short Tale of Borobodur
According to the guide's words, Borobodur is a monument rather than a temple, since it isn’t hollow. It is 120m wide and 35m high. When seen from the sky, it resembles a huge mandala with 6 angular base platforms and 3 round ones on top of them. In the centre of the topmost platform stands a massive dome – stupa, surrounded by 72 smaller ones. Each of them, except the central stupa, contains a statue of Buddha. Buddhists once used Borobodur for praying in the way of Pradakishna – walking around a sacred place in a clockwise direction. During their walks they read the stone carved panels. There’s more than 1400 of them and they tell various tales, including the story of prince Siddharta.
Borobodur’s history was long and hectic. It was supposedly built in 8th century. A volcanic eruption later covered the temple with ashes and slowly jungle overgrew it. Though once a sacred ground, people started to associate Borobodur with bad luck. Thereupon it vanished into oblivion.
Rediscovery started in the 19th century by British colonialists and was later finished by the Dutch, to whom the administration of Indonesian islands was passed on. Both used delicate archaeological techniques – they burned down the jungle and shovelled away the soil. Whether they found the statue of Buddha in the central dome is still a mystery and the stupa remains – empty.
Indonesian government and UNESCO began with thorough restoration of the stony giant in the 20th century. It took them crazy 8 years to complete their work! In that time they took apart the whole temple stone by stone, strengthened its foundations and installed an improved water drainage system. Then they pieced it all back together like an enormous jigsaw and in 1991 listed it as a part of UNESCO’s world heritage.
Our heads, filled with new information, demanded some time off. We strolled through surrounding parks and stopped in a large pavilion with a stage in the middle. Musicians were sitting there and playing gongs, metallophones, bells and some string instruments. All around us were meadows with tidy gardens, pathways of white stone and ponds with delicate fountains. Lulled by the traditional music, our minds wandered away – across the peaceful environment.
When Technology Fails
On the way back to Yogyakarta our preloaded SIM card ran out of funds. Rare signposts and people, living along the road, steered us in the right direction. Losing our way was inevitable and sure enough the motor road suddenly turned into a more – rural one. Luckily for us, though! Rice fields and thick forests with precipitous gorges started to span all around us and we were drifting through the stunning landscape on a curvy road, with numerous rises and falls. Despite uncomfortable scooter seats that numbed my legs after a mere hour of driving, this unplanned scenic ride was one of the best parts of discovering Java.
After a while, we stopped to stretch our legs and observe the drenched rice paddies. But a meagre shack, built from wood and second-hand materials, was obstructing our view. In the front, however, a poster stood, announcing they sell SIM cards. Right here – in the middle of nowhere. Merely a coincidence? Or were we destined to wield the All-knowing Card of Navigation?
Definitely a coincidence. We saw plenty of such huts all along Indonesia, all built in seemingly uninhabitable locations. But we didn’t let that dampen our spirits!
Inside we found a small boy, around the age of puberty, judging by the fluff under his nose. He didn’t speak English and we noticed his spectacles had one glass particularly thick. The poor guy had to move things right up to his nose when he needed to read a price. Sentimental thoughts flushed through my mind, but I am unable to put them in words without them sounding pathetic.
The Cones of Hindu
Many other sacred temples stand around Yogyakarta. We visited the largest Hindu one – Prambanan, to where we arrived at dusk. The sight was…memorable. Alas, I have to confess we weren’t particularly enthusiastic about the 6 spired Hindu temples.
I admit, we didn’t try to learn about the meaning or history of the temples, and would probably quickly discover noteworthy information or stunning facts. Hunger and tiredness after driving around all day didn’t help in restoring our curiosity either. But all in all, after we had seen Borobodur, all the temples seemed miniature and meagre at best.