Over the years, I have been lucky enough to visit some of the world’s most impressive sites: of which Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal, the various temples on the River Nile and the Ellora Caves immediately spring to mind. But what we saw yesterday, here in Central Java, was in their own way, equally impressive.
I have wanted to visit Borobudur for years. First hearing about the mysterious temple surrounded by volcanoes on my first visit to Indonesia in the late 80s, somehow it has always escaped me. Until now. Shrouded in mist when we arrived before dawn, the colossal form slowly revealed itself as a giant pyramid of golden rock, the morning light slowly unveiling the thousand intricate carvings that grace its walls.
Constructed out of more than two million individual blocks of basalt rock, with a base of 120 metres square, rising through 10 separate levels to a central conical stupa some 35 metres above the ground, Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world.
It was built in the 9th century AD when an important Buddhist kingdom ruled the region and was ‘discovered’ in modern times by Stamford Raffles, the British governor-general of the region in 1814, when the whole structure was buried under ash.
It was first restored in the early 20th century before getting its current facelift by UNESCO in the 1970s. In 1983 it was revealed as a World Heritage Site.
But if I thought that was the most impressive a monument as I was likely to see all day, I was wrong. Symbolising the shifting religious power in the region over a thousand years ago, close to Buddhist Borobudur is the colossal Hindu temple, Prambanan.
Constructed around the same time as its more illustrious neighbour, Prambanan is an extraordinary complex, unique in the world for being the only site dedicated to all of the Hindu holy trinity of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. Constructed again out of dark volcanic rock, the three main imposing temples rise to a towering 47 metres, their walls are again intricately carved with figures from Hindu mythology and inside each is a statue of the god to which the particular temple is dedicated. In all, there were over 240 temples, only 22 of which have been restored. Piles of rock lie awaiting reconstruction. As the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia, Prambanan is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
With a half day in Yogyakarta to visit the Sultan’s royal palace, the puppet makers and a batik workshop where artisans created the most beautiful coloured cloth, this short visit to Java has been enlightening. I’d like to explore it more.
But now heading east to Flores and the dragons of Komodo.