A day of culture as we headed out to the famous 9th century Buddhist temple of Borobadur. Surrounded by beautiful forests and mountains, the temple had been hidden beneath vines, bushes and volcanic ash, until being rediscovered by the Indiana Jones of the Day, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, our friend from Singapore, the then British Governor of Java. Intrigued by the Indonesian stories and rumours, he managed to uncover the ruins in 1814. Historians know little about why it was built or why it was abandoned.
Having had two or three rounds of renovations, it’s of course impossible to say how much of the site is original. Certainly parts have been removed or covered to adhere to current sensitivities. The monument’s six square platforms are decorated with more than 2,500 relief panels, some of which has been covered with plain blocks for being too sexually explicit. There are 504 statues of Buddha, 72 of which are seated inside perforated stupa, or mounds, resembling large bells.
To pay the due respect afforded by a temple of this status, we approached it from the east side and circumnavigated the structure three times clockwise, being rewarded with a different view at each level. Once a place of contemplation, it is on the outside of the temple that worshippers gathered – this is not a building in the traditional sense and there is no inside cavern or vestibule to visit.
With the sun beaming down, creating a steamy haze, we were forced to beat a retreat back to the air conditioning of our car by 11 o’clock. It’s worth visiting the temple early in the day, and dawn tours are popular – a little too much for us to manage with the children this time.
On the way back we planned our afternoon’s activities, but there is nothing as unpredictable as weather apparently. “Will it rain today?” is the question I asked our driver. “No. It’s the end of the rainy season.” Five minutes later the heavens opened, the roads turned into rivers and the mopeds were forced to find cover. Those who were hardy enough to venture out, gamely tried to negotiate water a foot deep in places, covering themselves only in a plastic bag.
But an hour after the rain stopped and the pavements were dry again, although the air was still thick with humidity. With an eight hour solid drive on tomorrow’s agenda, let’s hope our car is air conditioned.
Other things to try: stop at Borobadur Silver to see workshops and famous filigree jewellery.
Wander the markets and stop at Mirotar.