Monday, October 28, 2013

Catching the Sunrise in the Ancient Temple of Borobudur

I picked up the pace as I made my way through the landscaped grounds of the temple complex. The morning light already bathed the sky a faint blue, but the sun's rays were still nowhere to be found. The crowd of tourists I just escaped from was beginning to emerge from the entrance gates. The complex had just opened and we were the first set of visitors to walk in that day. I knew that if I had any chance of getting myself a decent spot on top of the lone ancient temple here to catch the sunrise, I needed to get there first.

I climbed up a set of stairs to get to the temple on top of the hill, and then climbed the steep steps on the eastern side of the temple itself. Up ahead, I saw some people already sat and settled on the edge of the circular platforms which formed the three highest levels of the temple. I was still catching my breath as I reached the lowest of the circular platforms when I suddenly heard the crowd exclaim in unison, "Whoaaa."

The sun had just risen on Borobudur.

Borobudur, Magelang, Indonesia
Catching the sunrise in Borobudur ancient Buddhist temple

Borobudur is an ancient Buddhist temple in Central Java, Indonesia. Like the Hindu temples of Prambanan located not far from here, Borobudur dates back to a time when ancient Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms still ruled over the now predominantly Muslim Java Island. Borobudur was constructed in the ninth century during the reign of the Buddhist Sailendra dynasty in the region.

Candi Borobudur (or Borobudur temple) is a stupa, a pyramid structure, extending 118 meters on each side. The base is square, signifying the world of desires. The subsequent five platforms are square, too, but they signify the world of forms. The final three platforms are circular, referring to the highest form of existence: nirvana, a formless world.

Borobudur, Magelang, Indonesia
Though a lone temple in the complex, Borobudur has some pretty impressive sunrise views.

Borobudur, Magelang, Indonesia
East of Borobudur, behind which the sun emerges every morning, is Indonesia's most active volcano—Gunung Merapi.

Borobudur, Magelang, Indonesia
Surrounded by volcanoes, the lush and fertile Kedu Plain is a historic area on Java Island. It is home to no less than six ancient temples.

Apart from the large size of this lone ancient temple, what fascinated me the most were the small details—the reliefs and the statues—present on every level. There is a total of 2,672 relief sculptures here and a total of 504 Buddha statues. Of the 504 Buddha statues, 72 are located on top and are enclosed within a perforated stupa. These stupas have arguably become the most distinctive and recognizable feature of Borobudur.

Exploring the other levels of Borobudur further, I found myself engrossed in the temple's reliefs and statues. Their intricacy varied from the lower platforms to the higher ones. The ones in the lower platforms were very detailed, becoming simpler as you go up, until they disappear altogether on the top three platforms (in the "formless world"). It was an additional treat that the lush Kedu Plain still covered in a cool mist that morning looked absolutely enchanting from any of the four sides or any of the nine levels of Borobudur.

Borobudur, Magelang, Indonesia
One of the 504 Buddha statues decorating the platforms of Candi Borobudur

Borobudur, Magelang, Indonesia
A very intricate relief panel on Candi Borobudur still beautifully preserved even after centuries of existence

Borobudur, Magelang, Indonesia
The numerous perforated stupas decorate the top of Candi Borobudur. Enclosed within them are Buddha statues.

Borobudur, Magelang, Indonesia
Some of the stupas have been removed to reveal the Buddha status inside them.

Traveling around Asia, I have come across many great ancient temples: in Varanasi, India; in Kathmandu, Nepal; in Chiang Mai, Thailand; and, of course, in Angkor, Cambodia. At some point, I began to feel that having seen one, I had seen them all. Obviously, I was mistaken. Candi Borobudur was unique in so many ways and catching the sunrise here was something else entirely. That day, I was more than glad to be proven wrong again.

Borobudur, Magelang, Indonesia
The lone structure of Candi Borobudur stands on the Kedu Plains of Central Java

How to Catch the Sunrise in Borobudur

Candi Borobudur is located in Magelang, Central Java, about an hour or so from the city center of Yogyakarta. To get inside the temple complex, you need to pay an entrance fee of 190,000 IDR (19 USD). There are two ways you can catch the sunrise in Borobudur.

1) Book a hotel near or within the Borobudur temple complex.

There are some hotels near the Borobudur temple complex. Staying here means you get easy access to the temple right when it opens at 6 a.m. That I know of, Mahonara Hotel is the only hotel within the temple complex and it offers a sunrise tour well before the temple gates open. Fellow Pinoy travel blogger Ferdz Decena stayed in this hotel during his trip to Borobudur. You can read about his experience here (hotel rates and temple fees included).

2) Book a tour from Yogyakarta.

There are a number of hotels, hostels, and tour agencies in Yogyakarta city center which can include you in their Borobudur sunrise tours. Rates vary depending on inclusions and exact itinerary. The Yogyakarta hostel I stayed at, EDU Hostel, offered a Borobudur sunrise tour through a tour agency costing 65,000 IDR (6.5 USD) covering just the minivan to take you to Borobudur and back. Tour departs at 5 a.m. and returns to the hostel at about 11 a.m.

Which ancient temples or structures have you visited in your travels during sunrise? How was your experience?

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