Borobudur, in Java, Indonesia, is one of the world’s most impressive temples. Sitting on each level are 72 stupas, each containing a Buddha figure, just visible through the latticework perforations. It’s as if each is strapped into his own private module and awaiting spiritual lift-off – an extraordinary spectacle that is, literally, the crowning glory of this significant religious monument.
Even if the focus of your trip to Indonesia is wildlife, it would be a rare opportunity missed if you failed to visit the Buddhist temple of Borobudur, set amid misty, jungle-clad hills near the city of Yogyakarta in Central Java. The structure was built in about 800AD, 300 years before Angkor Wat in Cambodia, in the form of a stepped pyramid.
A series of five square bases is succeeded by three circular terraces ringed by those 72 stupas, representing the spiritual journey from the life of desire, through meditation to Nirvana. While viewed from above the whole resembles the sacred lotus flower.
Borobudur is a vast structure. It consists of two million blocks of lava rock, reaches 115ft at its highest point and features nearly 1,500 carved story panels and 504 statues of the Buddha. But after being abandoned, possibly in the 14th century, it quickly became invisible beneath layers of tropical foliage and volcanic ash. Sir Stamford Raffles, the British Governor General of Java, re-discovered the temple in 1814 and after extensive restoration by Unesco in the late 20th century it was designated a World Heritage Site.
The landscape around Yogyakarta, dominated by the Gunung Merapi volcano, is a sacred one, for Borobudur is merely the most renowned among many ancient temples.
The next most significant is another Unesco World Heritage Site, the 9th and 10th century Hindu complex of Prambanan, with its principal temples dedicated to Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma and hundreds of surrounding shrines. A tourist “train” takes you to outlying temple complexes and all in all there are more than 500 monuments on the site. Some have been restored but many remain as rubble, giving an idea of the size of the archaeological task still to complete.
Borobudur and Prambanan can get overrun with tourists, especially around Christmas and in the domestic holiday season of mid June to mid July. But lesser temples around Yogyakarta, such as Pawon, Mendut, Plaosan Lor and Kalasan, attract few visitors, retaining an air of contemplation and peace.
Prambanan temple, Alamy
- The Borobudur site is open 6am-5pm, admission USD20, but you can gain earlier access with a “sunrise ticket”, available through the Manohara Hotel (manoharaborobudur.com/package/) for Rp380,000, about £20.
- A local guide within the temple (recommended) costs Rp75,000, about £3.75.
- Prambanan is also open 6am-5pm, admission USD17.
- Reef and Rainforest offers visits to visit Borobudur, Prambanan and the other temples mentioned, as part of a package, for an additional £285 per person including return flight, Jakarta-Yogyakarta, accommodation with breakfast at the Plataran Resort & Spa (0062 293 788 888; plataran.com/area/Borobudur), private vehicle and guide and entrance fees.