A seasoned traveller, whether they consciously admit it or not, will have a checklist of sights from around the globe that they one day wish to fulfill and each trip is a stepping stone its completion.
Such lists by their nature, will be ever changing and pliable according to ones fancy, but you can wager that in any given region there will be a handful of sights high on most people’s hitlist.
In Europe a traveller might include such globally recognised images as The Colloseum of Rome, The Eiffle Tower (located in Paris and not Bandung, in case you were still confused),
the classical architecture of The Acropolis in Greece, The bulbous spires of Moscow’s Kremlin, or nearer to home, Stonehenge, Big Ben, and the iconic seaward lurch of Mumbles Pier, Swansea….
During my extended stay in India, I amongst other things, succesfully ticked off the shimmering opulence of Agra’s Taj Mahal, observed bathers performing last-rite rituals in the dirty waters of the Ganges, saw the sparkling white brilliance of Mount Everest (OK, so its on the Nepal/Tibet border, but I count it within my India trip) trailling a stream of condensed water paricles as its peak cut into the jet stream at over 8,000 metres above sea level, and I also spent a great day of participatory tourism, throwing paint and getting messy as I played Holi with local slum kids on the streets of Mumbai.
All this and more achieved and ticked off whilst miserably failing to get anywhere near the Golden Temple of Amritsar, or the ancient ruins of Hampi.
Today, for the first time on our current trip, I’m getting to tick off one of my global checklist.
The 0.5 had for years yearned to see Orangutans in their natural habitat (tick) whereas for me it was a nice-to-do and not a must-do. Today she has to follow me out onto the scorching plains of Central Java as we visit Borobudor, the picture postcard architectural image of Java set in the shadows of the destructive Gunung Merapi volcano.
Billed as being the largest Buddhist temple in the world, along with Angkor Wat in Cambodia, this is one of the two heritage sites I really want to visit.
Cautiously anticipating it will be overhyped by the Indonesian Tourist Board, it promises to be prime photography territory for me nonetheless.
Haggling with a bejak rider, we manage to land a BOGOF deal from the bus terminal to the Borobudor park entrance. The 0.5 took the luggage in one of the cycle-rickshaws whilst “The Boy” and I rode shotgun in the other.
The entrance policy is the same as we encountered at Prambanan a few days previously. “Foreigner tax” in exchange for a free coffee, WIFI and the welcome chill of A/C on this furiously sunny day.
As part of the entrance fee, foreigners are provided with complementary sarongs to cover their modesty whilst the 0.5 also took the opportunity of loaning a red and blue parasol for a reasonable sum of Rupiah.
Borabudor itself is a huge single structure stupa that rises from its symetrical 118x118m base in ever smaller square and then concentric layers, each of which represents a stage of a journey from this earthly world through levels of enlightenment and ultimately to the achievement of Nirvana.
Walking around each level in a clockwise direction (those are the rules, stick to them) takes you through roofless corridors of hewn masonry, punctuated at regular intervals with intricate sculpure work and an abundance of Buddha carvingss, some fully intact, many decapitated.
In the distant background on three sides of the stupa one can see a volcano, on the fourth a rocky outcrop and cliff face. The setting is dramatic.
If Tangkuban Parahu proferred the opportunity to boil eggs in its volcanic springs, then Borabudur would seem a fine place to fry eggs upon it’s stones.
Hot to the touch from long hours of baking under a cloudless tropical sky, the temple stones would present a ruthless place upon which to sunbathe.
As you climb each level of the stupa, the craftsmanship reveals itself in ever-greater detail. The upper, circular levels are distinct from the lower levels, not only through their geometry, yet through the presence of numerous smaller bell-like stupas, equally sized and spaced inside its perimeter.
To the uneducated eye, to make a circumambulation (a word I first utilised whilst visiting the Boudhanath stupa of Nepal) of the Arupadhatu level is to take a journey around a surreal forest of stone bells. To a Buddhist however, there is significant meaning in both the demarcation of the levels, and the seating positions (Mudra) of the Buddha figures within each of those levels.
The monument’s three divisions symbolize the three “realms” of Buddhist cosmology, namely Kamadhatu (the world of desire), Rupadhatu (the world of form), and inside the top level where we now stand, and upon which the 72 stupas are positioned, Arupadhatu (the formless world).
It has been suggested that Borobudur is a symbol of cosmic mountain covered by a roof of sky.
I don’t know so much about that, but it’s one hell of a structure all the same.
World class, yes, but not so immense that it stopped more locals from getting a memento with “The Boy”