Packed with hundreds of captivating tourist sites, Indonesia is a discovery for curious travellers and history buffs. But there is a destination not to be missed when visiting Indonesia, the Borobudur Temple complex. Som Kanika brings you to this wonder called Borobudur, a place where it is easy to lose touch with time.
LOCATED near Magelang in Indonesia’s Central Java, the Borobudur Temple Complex is one of the greatest archaeological landmarks of Southeast Asia – akin to Bagan in Myanmar and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Both visually striking and religiously meaningful, the Java monument built in the 9th century during the reign of the Sailendra Dynasty has been attracting tourists from all corners of the world.
Inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest Buddhist temple in the world in 1991 and also awarded the statute of a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Borobudur Temple complex represents a blend of Indonesia’s indigenous ancestor worship and the Buddhist concept of Nirvana. With the regular throng of people and especially devotees on Vesak Day, Borobudur is the most visited tourist site in Indonesia (2.5 million a year).
The temple compound has been regarded as one of the most complex buildings in the world. It was discovered in 1814 after laying hidden for centuries under jungle cover and volcanic ash. Located in a fertile area, it is situated between the twin volcanoes of Mount Merapi and Merbabu, Sindoro and Sumbing Mountain and remarkably the Borobudur Temple is also surrounded by two rivers, Progo and Elo.
It was built in three tiers: a pyramidal base with five concentric square terraces, the trunk of a cone with three circular platforms and, at the top, a monumental stupa. The walls and balustrades are decorated with fine low bas reliefs, covering a total surface area of 2,500 m2. Some 72 Buddha statues sit inside the perforated stupas shaped like a bell upside down.
Constructed in the form of aesthetic Buddhist architecture, the building was built with the volcanic stack using none of cement or any adhesive. The temple has nine stacks of platforms, tall as a modern 10-storey building and built with no modern equipment at that time. Borobudur Temple is a test of time with its construction of just stone blocks stacked and interlocked in a pattern, and this splendour of Buddhist architecture has been standing for centuries.
The walls of Borobudur feature 2,672 relief panels, forming a line of up to 6km. The relief includes 504 Buddha statues and carved on the wall of the temple are the four main Buddhist sutras, namely ‘Karmawibangga’ (the law of karma), ‘Lalitavistara’ (The story of Prince Siddhartha and the birth of Buddha), ‘Jataka and Avadana’ (The stories of Buddha’s previous life and other legendary people), and Gandawyuha (Sudhana’s search for the ultimate truth).
Borobudur Temple till present day still hides the mystery of how the temple was built and the mystique makes for many speculative opinions to add to the controversy.
Meanwhile, the structure has survived many other epic events, including natural disasters like volcanic eruption and earthquakes. Also, like many iconic structures in the world, the Borobudur suffered from wars waged by humans. In 1980, after the Indonesia Independence, a radical leader set off bomb blasts resulting in nine stupas destroyed and some temple structures ruined. Despite the unfortunate incident, the Borobudur Temple remained an iconic testimony of Indonesia’s belief and profusion of tradition.
People in Indonesia regard the Borobudur temple as one of the most valuable gems and most appealing tourist destination for locals and foreign tourists. The site not only displays the glory of religion but also the sheer architecture of the temple.
At every breaking of dawn, the already grandiose features magnificently transforms into a breathtaking golden sheen.
The Borobudur Temple complex is open to the public from 6am to 5pm daily. Entrance fee is USD25 per person for adults and USD15 for children aged 3-10. If you are an early-riser, you should go on a Borobudur Sunrise Tour for USD35, to take fascinating photos of the temple, which turns a golden hue at dawn, in an atmosphere thick with mystique.
Go armed with a flashlight to reach the temple gate at 4:30am, to be just in time to admire the sunrise and explore the site before the big crowds arrive.
The temple is a multiple level structure. There are many rock steps to take to reach the top. Each level of the temple is small and needs around 15 minutes for a quick walk. But if you love history and crave to understand the stories behind each wall carving, you definitely need hours and a guide.
(Som Kanika’s trip to Indonesia was made possible via the Famtrip Programme to Jakarta and Yogyakarta (Nov 4-8) under auspices of the Ministry of Tourism of Indonesia. Famtrip is a “familiarisation trip” organised for travel bloggers, social influencers and travel agents.)