Monday, November 29, 2010

Borobodur Fails to Impress

Borobodur, a 9th century Buddhist Temple that sits in Central Java, is the world's biggest Buddhist temple. This photo only courtesy of's John Glines.

Borobodur was my main destination when I planned this Indonesian trip half a year ago. It would complete my southeast asian trilogy of temples which includes Angkor Wat of Cambodia and the Bagan Temples in Myanmar. Unfortunately, Merapi happened 2 weeks before I was to fly to Jakarta, and all hopes of seeing Borobodur vanished into ashy air.

But as I was lucky enough to see Mount Bromo a day after it exploded, Borobodur opened its doors 3 days before I was to arrive in Yogyakarta. It was meant to be seen.

Tom, my British mate (who's been travelling the world for the last 10 months of his life) and I booked a tour from Delta Hotel - for a mere 75,000 Rp per person. They called it "Borobodur at Sunset", which was kinda romantic - or the mere thought of it, at least. And it was also very intimate, just Tom, myself and the driver! "This is the way to travel," remarked Tom as he spread his legs up the backseat cushion. I took the front seat beside the driver - who just wanted to take us to a shirt factory and a silver ware shop

Early Afternoon Start.

Our car waited in front of our hotel and by 1:45PM, we were on our way. This would take 1 1/2 hours, traipsing through ash-ravaged towns. True enough, there was volcanic grime resting all over roofs. The terrain looked dark, having the veneer of a beach side community, with sandy refuse scattered all over. I can only imagine the havoc that Merapi's explosion has created in the lives of the local folks.

Upon reaching Borobodur's vast parking grounds, I noticed there was no one there. This whole place was deserted. We showed our receipts (payment done at our hotel) at the entrance booth. We proceeded inside and noticed fine black sands, pasty over this 9th century grounds.

There was a single structure to be seen here - the sprawling, massive Borobodur structure, dark colored and surprisingly unimpressive. One hitch - they have cordoned off the area, thus we were only allowed to wander "around" the structure. The scenic view are usually seen from above, once you've made the climb. This wasn't possible, but I was contented. Heck I almost missed seeing this temple altogether so viewing it up close would suffice. It didn't take 30 minutes to walk around the temple, with Tom and I taking turns photographing ourselves, making the best with what's possible. There was just a single structure to see. I could see the green countryside down below, but I imagined it would be a more spectacular vista up there.

We made it back to the parking area. It was 5PM and not quite sunset yet. Our driver, who was making horrible interplanetary noises from his pulmonary processes, was in a hurry. We passed by Mehet Temple, some 3 kilometers down the road. This was supposedly constructed to surpass Borobodur. Unfortunately, it was as unimpressive as Borobodur, so off we went, ignoring the driver's offers to take us to some silvercraft shop and another souvenir shop.

Tom was hounded by vendors who gave protracted, albeit melodramatic stories of their lives. Merapi was hard for the locals, but us tourists cannot save their crumbling worlds, can we? At some point, Tom was exasperated he laughed and said, "This is so unfair. Why won't they bother you?" I laughed and explained once that he looks like the dollar (British pounds, even), while I look like the paltry Asian currency.

It rained hard on our way back to Yogya. Tom asked to be dropped near Tugu (Yogya's main train station) while I opted to go back to my room.

That night, we found Viavia, an upmarket traveler's restaurant (that has branches all over the world, even in Tanzania). This would be our goodbye dinner over relatively more expensive food. Just before heading back to the hotel, we passed by a raunchy bar where we were entertained by Sandra and her cohorts over a bottle of Bintang. I hardly touched mine, Tom finished my bottle. It was interesting, especially when Sandra started showing us phone photos of herself in different modes of undress. She was trying to coax Tom for a "good night out". Quite interesting if I may say so. I had a great day. I saw Borobodur, had a great meal. That night, I slept like a log.

This is the Eye in the Sky.

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