Sunrise overlooking Borobudur Temple

Borobudur Sunrise Title Pic

Sunrise overlooking Borobudur entailed a 4am pick-up from the hotel lobby…hmmm…this had to be done if I was going to get that postcard perfect shot of Borobudur in the rays of first light!

So, where is the best spot to view a sunrise overlooking Borobudur?Let’s talk Borobudur first…

Borobudur…Candi Borobudur – Borobudur temple…Vihara Buddha Uhr – Buddhist Monastery on the Hill…Budhara – Mountain having terraces…Budur – site of ancient monuments…the temple has had many names but no one can deny the monument of its spectacular architecture.

I love the spiritual meaning behind Borobudur’s architecture…basically it’s a 3 dimensional mandala {diagram of the universe} and symbolically it depicts the path of the bodhisattva from samsara {the endless cycle of birth and death} to nirvana. Borobudur is also a visual representation of Buddhist teachings through it’s many levels of beautifully carved relief panels {2,670 to be exact!}…it’s quite overwhelming! Also, as I am a collector of Buddha statues…how can I not adore the 504 Buddha statues that are situated throughout the monument…not to forget the 72 stupas that adorn the temple. It really is quite spectacular.

It’s said that Borobudur perfectly reflects the Buddhist cosmology, which divides the universe into three intermingled separate levels.
The three levels are:
Kamadhatu – world of desire
Ruphadatu – world of forms
Arupadhatu – world of formlessness

For those of you who don’t know… As Borobudur doesn’t seem to have the same claim to fame as Angkor Wat in Cambodia, but Borobudur which is 300 years older than Angkor Wat {and 400 years older than the grand cathedrals in Europe}, is the biggest Buddhist temple in the world! UNESCO formally listed Borobudur as a World Heritage Site in 1991….and today it is Indonesia’s single most visited tourist attraction.

Borobudur is surrounded in mystery…there is no written record of who built Borobudur or its intended purpose. History says that the rulers of the Sailendra dynasty founded Borobudur some time between AD 750 and AD 850.

The thing that amazes me is that not long after its completion, due to the decline of Buddhism and the majority of the population converting to Islam, in the 15th century Borobudur was abandoned and lay forgotten, hidden under layers of volcanic ash and lush jungles for centuries to come. How could such a beautiful temple be forgotten at all?… Let alone, forgotten for centuries!?

It wasn’t until 1815, when Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles governed Java that the site was cleared from metres of volcanic ash and the pure magnitude of the temple was revealed. And early in the 20th century the Dutch began to tackle the restoration of Borobudur but it took a US$25-million Unesco-sponsored restoration project from 1973 to 1983 to stabilise and fully restore the monument.

Anyhow, onto my journey that began with a 4am departure…to see the magnificent Borobudur…

I had two options for a sunrise tour; option A was be at Borobudur for the sunrise opening and option B was go to a small village in the hills just on the outskirts of Borobudur where you could view both Borobudur and Mount Merapi with the sunrise behind them. I chose option B; it sounded magical!

It took approximately one hour from Yogya… And it was still dark when we got there but we continued to walk up the slim dirt trail up a hill to the viewing spot at ‘Punthuk Setumbu‘. The guide told me that yesterday’s weather was really bad; it had been raining and was so cloudy that you couldn’t see anything! OMG this was going to be pure luck whether we would see anything at all…let alone that picture perfect vision I was hoping to capture!

However, when the sun’s light did begin to shine from behind Mount Merapi, I found we had an awesome view…we could even see Borobudur straight ahead of us…the shadow of the many stupas was clearly visible! Wow…it was pretty breathtaking! But as the sun rose higher, the cloud cover became heavier and sadly Borobudur became hidden behind the clouds. It looked mystified and the view was still quite spectacular!

Borobudur Sunrise Pic Collage1

Borobudur Temple Sunrise Closeup Pic

Borobudur Sunrise Mountain View Pic

When the sun had fully risen, we headed straight to Borobudur. It was so early that there were hardly any other tourists there at all! Perfect – this is how I wanted it! {All my past experiences of Borobudur, and I visited the temple several times when I lived in Semarang in 1995-96, were during the heat of the day and totally packed with local tourists who all wanted their photo taken with me! It used to drive me gila!!!} So I was determined to have a different experience this time! One of solitude and reflection, as it should be. As I began wandering through the temple, I could already feel the bite of the sun’s rays so it was lucky that we did arrive here super early!

Borobudur Temple Pic Collage1

A pilgrimage to the great Buddhist shrine entails walking around the base to view the reliefs, which illustrate the consequences of living in the ‘World of Desire’. After completing this circuit, you must walk clockwise around and up the five levels in a gradual ascension of the pyramid shaped monument. Through circuiting these five levels, one is shown how to conquer desire by viewing the 1,300 relief panels that illustrate the life of Buddha and his incarnations. These levels are called the ‘World of Form’. And above these levels, lies the ‘World of Formlessness’ where the heavily decorated passages gives way to a round summit that is adorned with meditating Buddhas…over looking the beautiful view of rice fields and mountains/volcanoes. In the centre stands a bell shaped tower, a stupa, that points to heaven – nirvana.

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Borobudur Temple Pic Collage2

Borobudur was always one of my top fav places in Indonesia and it was really cool to be back there again after all these years! Although, sad to say that the temple had received more destruction and devastation since the last time I had visited. Borobudur has repeatedly suffered attack from both natural disasters and also at the hands of man. Not only was Borobudur abondoned and lost to the jungle for centuries, after its rediscovery and its fame, in 1896 King Chulalongkorn of Siam visited and removed dozens of sculptures and relief panels {some are now on display in the National Museum of Bangkok!}, then in 1985 bombs were planted by opponents of Suharto that exploded on the upper levels of the monument and more recently Borobudur was heavily affected by the eruption of Mount Merapi in October – November 2010. Volcanic ash from Merapi fell on the temple complex, which is approximately 28 km west-southwest of the crater. Restoration of Borobudur temple and the removal of volcanic ash still continues today!

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I can’t help but believe that Borobudur really is a special spiritual place…after all the attacks that Borobudur has suffered over the last 1,200 years, the monument still stands strong today.

Borobudur temple will always be a very special place to me.

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*Reaching in to touch the Buddha inside the stupa was something I loved to do on every visit in the past…and I just had to do it this time too! It’s a traditional belief…if you touch the Buddha, your wish will come true! Of course, I can’t tell you what I wished for but I can tell you that my past wishes have come true! 😉

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