Once again I found myself in a new country with minimal plans, no guidebook and a wide open agenda. What I did have though was arrangements to volunteer in Klaten with Rani and her friends, teaching English. I knew I wanted to visit the two major temple complexes, Prambanan and Borobudur, along with Mount Bromo in East Java, but the details of these were all yet to come together. As I anticipated plans were not necessary, shortly after I arrived in Klaten I was told I’d be visiting Prambanan the following day and we’d also all go visit Borobudur for sunrise on Saturday.
After a quick hour of English conversation class Friday morning I rode out to the Prambanan temple complex with Uki (one of the group that works with the volunteers in Klaten). We then met up with Pooja, another volunteer from New York, bought our tickets, enjoyed a free cup of coffee and entered the temple. This is the first Hindu temple I’ve visited during my travels so it was interesting to learn more about a religion that, until now I've only had a small taste of. Thankfully, my two travel companions were more well versed on the history of the temple and Hindu religion so I was able to learn at least the ‘spark notes’ version from them.
Prambanan dates back to the 9th century when it was constructed as a dedication to the expression of God as Creator (Brahma), Preserver (Vishnu) and Destroyer (Shiva) each of which are represented in one of the three main temple shrines, with Shiva being the largest. Prambanan is now one of the largest Hindu temple sights in SE Asia, but was only discovered by Dutch colonists in the early 19th century. First excavations occurred in 1880 with reconstruction and restoration following in the early 20th century. There were originally 240 temples in Prambanan but today only a fraction of those exist, including: the 8 main temples and 8 small shrines but only 2 of the 224 pervara temples.
In order to save some money we decided to buy the combo ticket for both Prambanan and Borobudur temples, 375,000 vs. 450,000 if you buy them separate. The only catch with this is that you must use both entries within two days of purchase, which meant we’d be rising early Saturday morning if we wanted to catch the sunrise at Borobudur. Coming from Klaten it’s about a 2-hour drive so after a nap we rose at 2:30 to start our long but hopefully worthwhile day.
It’s possible to enter the temple complex for sunrise but the ticket to do so is an additional 100,000(?) so we chose instead to catch the view from Punthuk Setumbu which only cost an additional 30,000, nothing’s free for foreigners in Indonesia. We arrived well before sunrise which meant there was nothing to do but wait, something you become very good at while traveling in SE Asia. There were only a few other people there when we arrived but as the minutes ticketed by the crowds formed. The sunrise was gorgeous (are they ever bad?) and we took more than enough pictures to prove we were there. Finally, we decided it was time to move on and made our way towards the temple.
Bagus, has a friend that lives near the temple and is studying to be a tour guide so we went to her house for a quick coffee and snacks before entering the temple, where she joined to practice her skills. One of the major downsides to the day was that we went on a Saturday which meant crowds, and lots of them, mostly school groups. Fighting crowds is one thing but when they’re all giggling teenagers that want a picture with the foreign white girl it’s a whole different story. I’m not new to the idea of having my picture taken with complete strangers, let’s be honest my picture is on cameras and smart phones all over Asia, but Borobudur brought this to a whole new level.
I guess Indonesia hasn’t encountered the same influx of western tourists as some of it’s neighboring counties so we’re still viewed as quite a novelty, one that everyone must get a picture with. I posed with families, grandmothers, children, and of course many many students, only few of which could actually say much more than “picture, selfie!” in English, but all of whom seemed to be extremely happy with the outcome.
When I wasn’t busy playing movie star I had time to admire the work it took to create this masterpiece of a temple. Our guide struggled to express detail of the work in English but she’s still learning and I appreciated her joining us to share what she could. When I visit ancient temples I’m continually impressed by the detail and craftsmanship of each structure, this one apparently made from over 2,000,000 blocks of stone. I couldn’t imagine the hours and labor it would take to build these temples in modern day, much less thousands of years ago without the help of modern tools and technology we have today.
Borobudur was built to represent the various layers of Buddhist theory, taking the shape of a Buddhist mandala (from above) and comprised of three zones, each of which represents a state of consciousness. The three parts are “Kamadhatu”, “Rupadhatu”, and “Arapadhatu” which represent basic human life, realization of religion and ability to curb desire, and finally nirvana. Traditionally worshipers would walk around the temple in a clockwise fashion to pay respects and honor the spirits. We attempted to do this (three times, once for each level) but were continually distracted by students and other tourists, not the most peaceful of settings.
After a few hours I was significantly exhausted, a combination of lack of sleep, minimal food, huge crowds, steep stairs, hot sun and finally no water, I was ready to move on. Of course there is no simple ‘exit’ from tourist attractions, first one must wind their way through the various vendors trying to sell their goods. From T-shirts to flip flops, purses, key chains, fans, hats and bags they had it all, none of which I wanted. Eventually I gave in and bought an overpriced drink simply because I felt like I’d pass out without it. We made a stop for snacks and coconuts before breezing through the ship museum which highlights the Cinnamon trade route from years ago, of little interest to me.
Although it was a long two days I’m glad that I was able to visit the temples without much pre-planning, hassle or thought on my part. With the help of my hosts in Klaten, transportation and logistics were quickly taken care of giving us (the volunteers) plenty of time to relax and enjoy. This experience has once again proven that my recent means of travel (through HelpExchange relationships and couchsurfing) are sure to provide rewarding and memorable experiences, oftentimes lasting friendships, too.
Well known as the parent to ever-famous Bali, this is a country that has so much more to offer. Similar to the Philippines the beauty is spread out over thousands of islands, which means you need time. Once you start exploring, trust me, you won't want to stop.