Big Buddhas of Borobudur
Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
235Trip End Nov 30, 2009
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To start this week I found myself in Yogyakarta, a major city in south central Java with a population of 2 or 3 million. It's considered the arts and learning capital of the country and is a classy, colonial-styled place with all the amenities you'd expect to find in any modern city. Yogya has wide tree-lined avenues, interesting art deco architecture and a bustling commercial feel which give it a heart and atmosphere that has pleasantly surprised me. Interspersed with your conventional taxis and millions of fluorescent motorscooters are the brightly painted horse drawn carriages and becak pedicabs of yesteryear. I'm ready to move on but I've enjoyed my time here and would come back again.
Getting here was a special kind of crazy that I won't detail. Let's just say the shuttle bus replicated a space-going shuttle for the entire nine hours, and the other four passengers and I were fortunate he didn't go Challenger critical on us. It was pretty close a number of times so if you learn anything from this experience and entry, avoid shuttle buses on Java and definitely do not ride shotgun if you do find yourself in one. Yikes!
My first day exploring saw a trip down the main boulevard, the Jl Marlioboro (named after the Duke of Marliborough for some reason), to the city centre and the sights surrounding the Sultan's residence at The Kraton. This square kilometre houses a variety of stately buildings and pavilions that are the residence of the local Sultan, his extended family and apparently about 25,000 residents. Talk about letting them have cake. The Kraton is ornate and stuffy inside, airy and shady outside, and in all honesty held little to interest me, so I headed in a roundabout way to the bird market to the compound's east.
This was more engaging despite the likelihood of picking up a number of strains of avian flu. The market is a rabbit warren of alleys crammed to the rafters with rattan bird cages, a rainbow of bird species and thousands of avid bird enthusiasts sussing out a bargain on their choice of pidgeon, dove or parrot. Yogya is a centre of pidgeon breeding, training and racing so unlike most other markets in Asia, these purchases don't end up going straight into the evening stew. If you find yourself in Yogya, it's well worth a look.
Next stop was a combined Muslim and Hindu sacred area adjacent to the Kraton. I'm not sure what you call such a place (maybe a 'mosple'?) but it again illustrates the two religions generally living in harmony in Indonesia, in recent history at least. I've avoided religion as a topic but will probably tackle it when I wind up Indonesia. For the purposes of this entry, both places of worship were pleasing to the eye, soul and camera lens, so was worth the effort and donation.
Eventually I found the back entrance to the Sultan's Water Palace, which conveniently avoided the 1000rp camera fee - a cheeky concept they use extensively in Indonesia. It was the highlight of the morning due to some quality design and unusually competent ongoing maintenance. Used as bathing pools for the Sultan and his extensive harem, you could just imagine the big cheese lazing in his royal tower overlooking the multitude of scantily clad beauties frolicking in the spas below. Some guys have all the luck.
Later in the afternoon I ventured 42km out of town to the famous Borobudur temple site. Borobudur is a massive Buddhist monument (there is no internal rooms) that was built in the 8th century AD and now qualifies as of the ancient wonders of the world. Partially buried by a massive eruption of nearby Mt Merapi in the 10th century, and then fully buried by the local Buddhists in the face of marauding Hindus a little later, it wasn't discovered again until the early 1800s. Then the fellow that opened the Raffles Hotel in Singapore began excavation. A large amount of UN money was poured in during the 1970s to commence systematic restoration and finish the job.
The result is the largest single Buddhist worship site in the world (Angkor is a vast collection of smaller temples) and a pretty amazing religious monument that the public is now allowed to climb and interact with. It features ten discernable levels in all, signifying the stages of awareness required to reach spiritual enlightenment in Buddhist philosophy. On lower levels you find intricate carvings depicting Buddha's conception, life and ascension whilst on higher levels, these give way to the huge bell shaped stupas that characterise the artefact in the minds of many around the world. Statues of Buddha, in a variety of familiar poses, reside in niches throughout the monument as well as inside the higher-level stupas.
A nice touch was the lucky Buddha. Legend states that if you can reach into this particular stupa and touch Buddha's right ring finger with your right ring finger, then a wish is granted as per standard fairy tale lore. Seems a bit biased towards long-armed humans (of which I am one so I got a wish) but hey, on this journey I'll need and take any luck that I am granted. Thank you O enlightened one.
However Parambanan, a complex of 16 Hindu temples, was the real surprise of this stop and in my opinion outshone its better known neighbour.
Also built in the 8th century (wouldn't like to have been a local slave then), the temple dedicated to Shiva is 47 metres high and its neighbours dedicated to Brahma, Vishnu and other deities reach upwards of 40 metres. Featuring similarly intricate carvings to its rival, internal prayer rooms with resident statues and a pleasantly geometric layout, I felt it had more character and that it held your interest for longer than Borobudur. I was thinking of skipping it, but if you get to Yogya one day, definitely make this trip to Parambanan.
These photos don't really do it justice because it was a pretty patchy sunset, however if you go on a weekday there is few crowds and plenty of opportunity for quiet contemplation on a bench under the trees in the surrounding courtyards. There are also other partly Buddhist temples (Lumbung, Bubrah and Sewa) featuring stupas similar to Borobudur's within a kilometre of the main complex that are worth a look. Around all of these sites are vast piles of hewn stone that leave you wondering what else hasn't been restored yet.
The only downsides to both of these sites is that private enterprise acquired the land underneath them (Borobudur at least) during the Soeharto era (read dodgy) and that they both now charge foreigners $US10 entry (students are charged $US6 and locals 70 cents). If all this goes to restoration and upkeep then fair enough, but I doubt that is the case. The other is the acres of trinket selling vendors beyond the entry gates that turn a spiritually soothing day into a harrowing ordeal as you make your way back to transport. Still, that's capitalism at work Indonesian style...
Better wrap this up because the beach is beckoning. Someone's got to do it...
Next entry -> Pangandaran - Java's favourite beachside resort
Lucky me travel affliction of the week
At the risk of displeasing the local Hindu deity Atchu, god of sickness and ill health, I'm happy to report (with a lot of wood touching whilst doing so) that I have had few health issues during my first few months on the road. That leaves this little segment sadly lacking in painful but potentially amusing content.
However this week I've been stricken by a malaise common but under-reported in Asia, sometimes known as Aircontitis. This affliction hits those who have acclimatised to the heat and humidity of tropical regions, but are then exposed to extended periods of over-effective air conditioning, such as the 15 degree celsius mini bus air conditioning I was frozen by in the nine hours of travel enroute to Jogyakarta. Once contracted, it can be exacerbated by prolonged exposure to breezes such as energetic ceiling fans and continuous smoggy environments also typical to the region.
Symptoms such as swollen sinuses, a painful esophagus and inflamed glandular regions occur. In laymans terms it feels like the onset of the flu and despite the prevailing balmy weather it will not go away. Annoying but not serious.
Well, certainly not as serious as the Salmonella, Malaria and Haemorrhagic fever I'm now about to simultaneously contract because I've angered Atchu. Touch wood and my apologies once again Your Worshipfulness...