Imagine 10.000 workers spending more than 100 years on a single construction. Now take that building, cover it with volcanic ash and vegetation and hand it over for a little nap of almost a millennium. Oh man, would that be a tremendous feeling to stumble across the first stone and start digging. Thanks to centuries of reconstruction, the Borobudur gained back its breathtaking appearance. It is a must see if you are in or around Yogyakarta.
Most people will visit the Borobudur as a day trip from Yogyakarta. There are hundreds of companies offering tours and some even try to fit the Borobudur and the Prambanan, another must see temple, into one giant day trip. That will leave you with no more than 2 hours at each temple, not even enough to take a first view, let alone to grasp some of the mystic atmosphere that is surrounding these places. We went to Borobudur by public transport and spent the first day discovering the area. There are some beautiful rice fields south of the temple. A nice place to watch the sun go down over the ancient memorial.
The temple entrance fee was the most expensive charge we had on our whole Indonesia trip, but worth every single Rupia. Students will pay half of the price and Indonesian residents less than 15 % of what a foreign tourist has to pay. Try to get to the temple early before the tourist buses arrive. Sunrise is probably the most impressive time, but be aware that you might not be the only one with this idea.
The Borobudur is a Buddhist temple complex. Paying respect to this religion all visitors have to wear sarongs, long scarfs that are wrapped around the hips. Sarongs are handed out at the entrance to every visitor. I don't know if this is common use, but we were offered tea and coffee.
The temple itself has 4 entrances and consists of 6 square platforms topped by another 3 circular platforms. Each entrance will either take you up a straight stairway to the top or give way to 1 of the 3 surrounding levels, filled with symbols of the Buddhist cosmology. It would make the most sense to take the way from the bottom through all three levels. This would take you through Kāmadhātu - the world of desire, Rupadhatu - the world of forms, and Arupadhatu - the world of formlessness, before you final reach the top.
The reliefs on the entrances to the temple are stunning and sometimes far from what you expect. If you would pay attention to every detail you could probably spend the rest of your life exploring the Borobudur. Beeing covered by vegetation and volcanic ashes and somehow protected for such a long time, everything is in pretty good condition.
The Borobudur is not only the largest and probably one of the greatest Buddhist temples in the world. It also offers the largest and most complete ensemble of Buddhist reliefs you can find on earth. Surrounding the temple three times you will walk by almost 1500 relief panels explaining the life and background of Buddha.
Some of the reliefs are in surprisingly good condition and you can tell why the reconstruction of the temple has taken such a long time. It is unbelievable how much time and skilled workers it has taken to complete this monument.
After all those rounds, reaching the top feels like a relief. Not that the three levels with all its symbols of the Buddhist cosmology were not interesting, but at some point it gets hard to follow the story and keep your mind focused. The top levels are a whole different story. The view in the surrounding area of the Kedu Plain with its active volcanos is absolutely amazing, let alone the stunning construction of the upper levels itself.
Take a deep breath and relax. This is something you will not forget for the rest of your life. Standing at the top of the Borobudur you are overlooking an impressive landscape with a 360 degree surround view. Just imagine how that must have felt a thousand years ago. But there's a little drop of bitterness, too. In order to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a huge park was established around the temple. Many people which used to live close to the monument were banished and relocated.
The main dome on the highest of the three circular platforms is surrounded by 72 perforated stupas. Each stupa is covering a seated Buddha on its inside. Taking a look through the holes you can see the Buddha, though not all have been preserved. Watching the sun rise over the the top levels will put you in a great game of light and shadow. A great chance to take some stunning pictures.
Some of the stupas are missing, revealing the seated buddha that is normally hidden inside. Borobudur is home to more than 500 buddha statues. Some of them are missing a head or an arm but after such a long time everything this seams to be more than bearable.
Probably it won't be just you visiting the temple, but bringing some time and patience you will get your moments.The temple area is big and crowds are spreading out. We discovered that there is a zenith in tourist activity about half an hour after the temple opens. Due to the fact that most people come with a guided tour from Yogyakarta and will only stay for 1 or 2 hours everything gets a little relaxed, once the big buses are leaving.
I would really advise to bring some time to let the whole atmosphere sink in. After we finally climbed the top, we slowly made our way down just to see how impressive everything was looking from down beneath again. No question we had to go back up.
Being on site it is to be unthinkable, how a temple of this beauty and size could have gone lost in the 14th century. Among the people of that time there was a huge conversion to Islamic religion and a notable decline of Hindu kingdoms and influence. These two facts led to circumstances of missing care and interest, giving the Borobudur time to take a nap.
We really enjoyed our trip to the Borobudur and would recommend it to everyone getting close to this area. Like always try to avoid weekends and public holidays, but on the other hand this can be a great experience, too. See for yourself, have a good time and enjoy one of the greatest ancient buildings in the world.
Just in case your are falling in love with this temple, the many buddhas or the gorgeous stupas, there might be some ray of hope before it comes to the point, where you have to say goodbye. Leaving the temple you have to walk through a well organized tent town of souvenir shops with almost everything your heart might desire. Furthermore, just down the main road towards Yogyakarta, a handful of gifted craftsmen are carving everything you might be dreaming of from solid stone. A real size stupa or maybe a double overhead buddha? It might not fit your suitcase, but will definitely be there for take away.