This is a travel blog for desktop travelers and other ramblers who want to know the world just a little bit better.

Right now I am living in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala where I'll be settled for a while. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Beautiful Borobudur

I am not sure why so many tourist activities require waking up at an ungodly hour. Regardless, we find ourselves up before 5 AM to catch our transport to see Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist structure built in the 9th century. It has almost 2,700 relief panels and just over 500 Buddha statues. The place was abandoned in the 14th century and rediscovered by Sir Raffles.*

As light breaks through we are in the parking area. We are part of a convoy of mini vans carrying 4-8 passengers. We took the early bird shuttle because they say the large tour groups start arriving later in the morning. We are all herded to an entrance area some Indonesians go to a different area and are let in directly while we are all left standing around wondering what is happening.

In Indonesia at museums and such, there is usually a tourist price and local price. I do not mind this concept if it will encourage locals to visit their cultural sites (for food and transportation it pisses me off). Borobudur costs US $15 to enter which is a pretty hefty price for a site without a roller coaster or a brochure. However, I do not think we need two separate entrances like customs at the airport. For $15 we did get a free welcome coffee and bottle of water. After the coffee and a short walk we begin to see the points of a building emerging over a hill. We cannot make out much detail, just jagged edges poking into the sky. Up a flight of stairs, and we are confronted by a massive building standing alone.

There are four levels to Borobudur. A sign tells us that we should walk clockwise around each level three times to show respect to the temple. For lack of time and, let’s be honest, desire to walk twelve times around the big building, we decide to walk around each level one time. From the ground level larger Buddha statues can be seen, many of which are decapitated. According to Wikipedia the missing heads and Buddhas were mostly stolen by collectors for Western museums.

We enter up the stairs to the first level and walk around with walls on both sides. Every step along the corridor are intricate reliefs showing religious stories. Carvings on the other side of the wall looks to be depicting daily life. We continue up and around two more levels and the reliefs continue with us. The detail is incredible. It becomes very difficult to absorb everything.

We meet a young guy, Saiful. He is studying English and tourist hospitality with the goal of working on cruise ships. Today is his off day. He is hanging around Borobudur to strike up conversations with foreigners and get in some English practice. I notice some other young Indonesians doing the same. We let him tag along for a chat as we get near the top of Borobudur. At the final level are large, bell-shaped stupas each housing a Buddha statue. You can reach in and touch Buddha’s finger. This will bring good fortune. Many school kids were trying, but they have the misfortune of having short arms.

We have the feeling that it is getting close to breakfast time and should be heading down. We say bye to Saiful (my newest face book friend) and take the steep staircases straight down. Leave the Borobudur grounds. In the parking lot we pass numerous empty warungs, all serving breakfast. I am not quite sure that I remember which one we are supposed to meet our driver. Oh yeah, it is the one with every table full of foreigners having breakfast.

The small menu explains that we can have toast and fruit salad with tea or coffee. The British women next to us show us their jam which is glowing red with radioactivity. We order the nasi goreng - Indonesian fried rice - not on the English menu but told to me by the tour office yesterday. On the way back I sit up front and talk with the driver and get some basic insight about normal life in Indonesia. I give him some basic insight about life with snow. Back at the hotel we shower, pack and take the train to Solo.

*For those of you playing at home, the same Sir Raffles that founded Singapore.

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