Monday, February 14, 2011

Borobudur: Skipping the sunset, missing the sunrise and earning karmic points

Indonesia - Borobudur with Dramatic Nightsky
Haunting Borobudur in the hours before dawn
Foregoing the upscale dining places in the suburb of Kota Gede where we looked for interesting-looking, old Javanese houses located in between shops selling silverware, we ended up having lunch in a Warung roadside eatery to the barely-concealed mirth of our alternate driver, Budhi. Eating local fare the names of which we can hardly pronounce, much less memorize, we had one of our best meals (cheap, too) during our entire Indonesia trip. Afterwards, we were off to Borobudur when the rainclouds decided to release their pent-up water and made the trip a whiteout of a ride. That the Mt. Merapi ash fall forced us to take a detour far from the main highway made the trip a sleepy affair. I alternated between consciousness and sleep, waking up hearing Abie and the girls admiring the lovely tiled roofs of the Javanese houses, and next, seeing the wide swath of forest cover eroded by all the ashy silt carried by the river water as our vehicle negotiated the hilly twists and turns going to Magelang, 40 kilometers from Jogja.

Borobudur at Night
Borobudur in the rainy early hours of the evening
Borobudur PM. After more than two hours, our Avanza drove into The Manohara grounds. It was a calming sight -- the undulating terrain and well-kept landscaping invigorating even in the rainy conditions. After dropping off our bags in our nifty rooms, we waited for the weather to change its mind but ended up nightshooting instead while having to tolerate the non-stop rants of a foreign couple within earshot. 

Guy: I won't ever go back to India, it's... blah, blah, blah, blah. Girl: The squash soup is the worst I've ever tasted... blah, blah, blah, blah. Funny, because first, it seems the magic of nearby Borobudur is lost on them, and two, we thoroughly enjoyed our mostly Nasi dinner (much credit goes to the memorable ginger milk tea served with it). And oh, we weren't loco to order squash-whatever when the local fare was simply too good to pass up.

Borobudur AM. One of the pleasures of staying at the Manohara is the privilege of seeing Borobudur at dusk and most especially at dawn, before the gates officially open for the day trip visitors. Wake-up call was at 4:30am, with the temple just within 5 minutes walking distance. Our guide was just too quick to ignore us, enamored as he was with a young Japanese lass in our group but we were all too busy setting up our tripods and cameras to care.  The good weather that proved elusive the past days finally presented itself.

The path to enlightenment takes a trip of almost 5 kilometers, "circumnabulating" or going around the five levels of walls in a clockwise direction and reflecting on the bas reliefs depicting the baser instincts of men. At the upper levels, the walls give way to a breathtaking view, arriving at the "Sphere of Formlessness" representing freedom from earthly desires and pleasures, and eventually, nirvana.
Indonesia - Borobudur Peeking Buddha
Borobudur Buddha at the top
In my case, the trip to enlightenment was an abbreviated walk nearly to the top (the upper levels are closed for repairs due to damage sustained due to Mt. Merapi's eruption). I had to take a shortcut because come dawn, visitors come in droves.  In my case, groups of Javanese students cornered me and my friends, one after another, to practice their English.  Before I knew it, it was already way past sunrise.  I just hope the Buddha grants me karmic points to make up for this missed golden (literally) opportunity.

In any case, it's easy to feel awed by Borobudur with its many walls filled with meaningful reliefs (3,000 in fact) and its many stupas reaching out to the blue sky.  Unlike other temples, Borobudur was not built as a dwelling for the gods but as a representation of Meru, the Buddhist cosmic mountain, according to Roughguides.  The world's largest Buddhist stupa, Borobudur had Hindu roots, begun in 775 AD by the Sanjayas.  Buddhist Saliendras drove the Sanjayas eastwards and used the pyramid as their own temple around 790 AD.  Over 1.6 million blocks of andesite, a local volcanic rock, were used, joined together without the use of mortar.  The Saliendras subsequently abandoned the site and for a thousand years, Borobudur was neglected.  It was in 1815 when the English rediscovered it but it will be more than a century later, in 1973, when UNESCO will undertake reconstruction.
Indonesia - Borobudur Manohara Hotel Lounge
Manohara lounge at night
Today, the temple still braves the whims of temperamental Mt. Merapi and the fickle weather, gracefully wearing the patina of age.   It endures as a place of worship to the devout, a place for meditation for the introspective, a place of wonder for the tourist and as a place where time stood still for the traveler.
Indonesia - Borobudur Manohara Lamp Details
Manohara Lamp Detail

Notes: I find the Manohara Hotel charming with an old-world feel.  Located within the Borobudur Temple grounds, it affords one a tranquil getaway with the views of the Manohara Hills and Mt. Merapi and other mountains in the distance.  

The price of an overnight stay (Rp930,000/Php4,650/US$104 for a double/triple sharing room) offers good value since it entitles overnighters to the privilege of seeing Borobudur way before dawn and prior to the official gate opening; it also includes unlimited day visits to the temple and buffet breakfast.  The temple sunrise tour visitor's fee is Rp175,000/ Php875/US$20 which also includes a light snack and flashlight.  The rooms aren't new but are well-kept while the staff are very warm, courteous and helpful.  The open air restaurant also serve good Indonesian fare (the ginger milk tea is a must-order).  There's no Wi-fi but there's a PC in the reception lounge where you can check your emails for free.  Address: Komplek Taman Wisata Candi Borobudur, Magelang - Jaw Tengah.  For details or inquiries, go to www.manohara@borobudurpark.co.id or email sales@manoharaborobudur.com.
Indonesia - Solo Kraton Blue Door with Cross and Barong







Next on Lagalog's 7-Part series on Indonesia:  
Part 6 -- Surakarta: Going Solo


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