The sun rose like a god. Breathing life to layers of what was once a dark and lifeless landscape. Giving forms and shapes to a massive temple, unfolding seconds by brighter seconds, right before our very eyes. It awakened the land, birthing a brand new day. But for travelers who got up at the ungodly hour of two in the morning to witness this rebirth, it awoke something else entirely; the switch button from the heavy cameras hanging about their necks.
|AN IMPOSSIBLY DESERTED ENTRANCE TO BOROBUDUR TEMPLE|
Yogyakarta enjoys a fair amount of tourists coming in to Indonesia for its temples and ruins. While only Ratu Boko and Prambanan are really located within the Yogyakarta Administrative Region, the more famous Borobudur Temple is really located at the neighboring town of Magelang in Central Java. Still, most visitors still make Yogyakarta their base camp when visiting these heritage sites.
ADDRESS: CANDI BOROBUDUR, BOROBUDUR, MAGELANG | CONTACT: (024) 8646-2345 | TICKET: USD20.00 | OPEN HOURS: 6:00AM TO 6:00PM
|THE BELLS OR STUPAS OF BOROBUDUR|
Borobudur. The name rolls off the tongue in swirls and waves. The name of the most visited temple in the country has been in contention ever since its discovery, under heaps of volcanic ash and jungle growth, two hundred years ago. It may mean Ancient Boro, referring to the nearby village of Bore, or Great Buddah—boro translating to great, and budur to Buddha. Some suggests it could’ve been a corruption of the words Buddha-Uhr, which means The City of Buddhas.
|THE NINE LEVELS OF BOROBUDUR|
But whatever its name means, one thing is for sure; with a square base of 118 meters per side and its nine levels reaching a height of 35 meters, this is undoubtedly the largest Buddhist temple, not only in Indonesia, but in the whole world.
|A SMALL CROWD GATHERS AT THE TOP OF THE TEMPLE|
I was able to visit this 9th century Buddhist temple twice; once on a DIY regular day tour from Yogyakarta, and on this last one, a sunrise visit with Indonesia’s Ministry of Tourism. Ticket entrance during the golden hours (sunrise and sunset) are much more expensive (by USD10.00), not even counting the transportation fare as there are no cheap local transport right before sunrise and after sunset, and no, we don’t consider renting cabs all the way to Yogyakarta cheap.
|DETAILS OF BOROBUDUR|
|BAS RELIEF CARVINGS ON THE WALLS|
In all fairness, you really get what you pay for. Walking around the terraces and ogling at all 2,670 intricately carved bas reliefs along the walls of Borobudur, right in the middle of the day with the sun gleefully beaming down on you, is no fun at all.
|MORNING SUN HITTING BOROBUDUR|
And taking pictures of even a fourth of the 504 Buddha figures and numerous stupa (what people call bells) along with tourists waving their colorful umbrellas about really doesn’t do justice to a temple designated with a UNESCO World Heritage Site badge.
|WAITING FOR THE SUN TO FULLY EXPLODE|
|DESERTED HALLWAYS, A RARITY FOR NON-SUNRISE AND SUNSET TRIPS|
But visit before the sun peeks over the horizon and you get a totally different experience.
With a call time of two in the morning, we arrived and navigated the steps of the still dark temple with flashlights in hand. It took about another ten minutes before the sun broke through the horizon, lighting layers upon layers of mountains, mists and trees beyond before its rays reached and illuminated the rough volcanic stonework of Borobudur itself.
|THE CHALLENGE IS TO SHOOT WITHOUT PEOPLE IN THE FRAME|
|HOW BOROBUDUR REALLY IS IN REAL LIFE|
Even with the throngs of tourist pointing their cameras about and innumerable selfie sticks waving around the air, it was still a magical experience worth the ungodly wake up time and the much higher ticket price.
ADDRESS: JALAN RAYA JOGJA-SOLO KM.16, SLEMAN, YOGYAKARTA | CONTACT: (024) 8646-2345 | TICKET: USD18.00 | HOURS: 6:00AM - 6:00PM
|MIDDAY AT PRAMBANAN TEMPLE|
Under a cobalt blue sky, the ground boiled. It was noon time, the massive stone towers surrounding us, unmoved by the heat, trying to reach the few wisps of clouds lazily moving up above. With hardly any cover except the greasy hair on my head, we prowled the grounds of the Prambanan Temple complex.
|THE PRAMBANAN COMPLEX IN YOGYAKARTA|
Located at the border of Yogyakarta Province and Central Java, Prambanan stands proud as another designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. It stands at the center of a 39.8-hectare compound, a 9th century Hindu temple said to be made in response to its Buddhist counterpart, Borobudur.
|BLOCKS OF UNRESTORED TEMPLES|
The original complex consists of 240 temples, most of the lesser ones surrounding its central towers now laid in rubbles and ruins. In its heart stand eight massive stone shrines built for the Hindu gods Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma, among other deities; the remaining sentinels of a once grand ensemble of Hindu architecture.
|THE MAJOR TEMPLES ARE STILL STANDING|
|A VIEW OF THE MAIN TEMPLES FROM THE FIELD|
Of these, the main temple, dedicated to Shiva, the god of destruction, stands the tallest at 47 meters high. Prambanan is the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia and one of the most extensive in South East Asia.
|THE HINDU GOD GANESH, ON A NICHE INSIDE ONE OF THE TEMPLES|
Before its rediscovery by the British in 1811, five years ahead of Borobudur, locals living along its perimeter associate the temple ruins to a legend. Oral tales has been passed down about a prince who fell in love with Rara Jonggrang, the daughter of King Boko of Yogyakarta’s Ratu Boko Temple. It was said that the princess jilted Prince Bandung Bondowoso’s wedding proposal since he killed his father. Eventually, she agreed on marrying the prince, but only if he can build a thousand temples on a single night.
And that leads us to…
RATU BOKO PALACE
ADDRESS: BOKOHARJO, PRAMBANAN, SLEMAN REGENCY, YOGYAKARTA | CONTACT: (024) 8646-2345 | TICKET: USD13.00 | HOURS: 6:00AM - 6:00PM
|THE MAIN GATES OF RATU BOKO|
It was almost sundown as we raced, pumping our legs, ascending the stone steps leading to the gates of the Ratu Boko Palace. The ruins is set on a plateau 196 meters above the sea and as we stopped to catch our breath, we gazed in wonder at plains of Yogyakarta below. The sun, almost kissing the city’s horizon, reminded us to continue upwards.
|BUT NOT QUITE|
Ratu Boko translates to Stork King. And this is the same dead king that Prambanan’s legend told of. The palace, or what most scholars think of as a fortified palace and settlement for the Sailendra or Mataram Kingdoms during the 8th century, sprawls over a 16-hectare hill along the Sewu mountain range.
|SUNSET FROM THE BACK END OF RATU BOKO’S FIRST TERRACE|
And sprawl it did. What we mostly saw during our brief outing in Ratu Boko are its stone gates, the square crematorium atop another hill, and more stone rubble at the back of the first terrace. We were simply out of time, with the sun peeking through a gap in the clouds and sending off god rays across the sky, we had no choice but to stop on our tracks and make do with its gates. Well, so does the hundred of folks gathered along its perimeter.
|ENDING THE DAY WITH A GORGEOUS SUNSET AT RATU BOKO|
What we failed to see are the white temple on the second terrace, the remains of a paseban and the massive pendopo (audience hall) on the third terrace, a few more mini temples scattered along the area and the male and female meditation caves farther off. Incomplete as our tour was, it was nevertheless a good way to end our Yogyakarta temple run.
THE INDONESIA MINISTRY OF TOURISM INVITED ME AS A PART OF THE TRIP OF WONDERS TOUR. VIEWS, OPINIONS & BIASES, ALL MINE.