I paid $10 USD for an intense day of historic relic discovery at Java’s two most famous religious sites. I woke up at 4:30am and slouched into my mini buses. We picked up one more passenger, a Malaysian school teacher who I would be my buddy for the day. We drove in the dark for about an hour to the countries most famous historic site, Borobudur. Like most world famous tourist sites, most tours leave very early in the morning so you can enjoy the sun rise.
The temple is a stunning and poignant epitaph to Java’s Buddhist heyday. It consists of six square bases topped by three circular ones, and it was constructed in the early part of the 9th century AD. With the decline of Buddhism, Borobudur was abandoned, covered in volcanic ash by an eruption in 1006, and only rediscovered in 1814 when Raffles governed Java. Nearly 1500 relief panels on the terraces illustrate Buddhist teachings and tales, while 432 Buddha images sit in chambers on the terraces. On the upper circular terraces there are latticed stupas, which contain 72 Buddha images.
Borobudur is worth the early morning wake up, as the sun rises mist hangs over the lush surrounding valley and distant hills. By 7am, the hordes have arrived: it’s a very popular school trip for students, so expect requests for pictures and a long list of questions from giggling teenagers. I had already endured this painful ordeal in Japan and Cambodia at the more famous temples so was hoping to avoid students at all costs. They sort of lure you in with their little smiles. But soon you realize they have about 50 questions they need to ask you (any tourist) for an English class school project. I refused to spend hours answering students questions…I quickly came up with a brilliant idea. Instead of speaking English I responded to these students with a horrible Russian accent. It worked like magic! As soon as they realized I didn’t speak English they would bow and walk away! Russian Magic!
Once finished at Borobudur we hopped back into our mini bus and sped back onto the main road to Prambanan, the grandest and most evocative Hindu temple complex in Java. Before I left my driver indicated that he needed to head to a Mosque for prayers either in an hour or directly after that. I told him I would take whatever time I needed and would meet him back at the mini bus when I was finished.
With beautiful blue skies and intense heat I will never forget my visit to Prambanan’s 50 or so temple sites as I ran for cover under whatever shade I could find. Many of the temples were damaged by the large earthquake that struck the region in 2006 so there was a significant amount of construction going on at the various sites to restore the temples to their original glory.
I spent about 90 minutes visiting the temple complex. I was dehydrated, starving and heat stroke by the time I reached the mini bus. When I arrived my driver was no where to be found. A small man motioned over to me and pointed towards a little mosque at the corner of the parking lot. I was amazed at what I found. Every driver sat in this mosque for an hour during the day as their customers (aka tourists) sat sweating in the heat. I tried to find a spot of shade, a French family were clearly irritated as the wife has a bit of a spat with her husband while their two daughters passed out in the heat. I couldn’t help but think that this would never happen in the West. When paying for a tour guide if they decided to just stop working and take time to pray people would simply use a different company after complaining about how inconvenienced they were by the ordeal. Needless to say I was very happy once I spotted my driver. He looked me in the eyes and could see I was feeling bothered. He gave me a big smile and said “you and me back to Yogya ok you?!” I hollered a “hooray.”
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