Friday, 9 December 2011

Burness Corner: Borobudur

The latest in the series of snippets from the blog of my travelling companion, Burness, as well as a short interview, on his views on a World Wonder. This time: Borobudur.

Burness's Blog

Borobudur is an ancient temple that was lost for hundreds of years and only recently discovered in the early 19th century.  It’s an extraordinary temple, there is no other building like it on earth.  It has a square base and an almost step pyramid design with nine levels.  It’s a Buddhist/Hindu temple, the bottom six levels have incredibly ornate carvings telling the story of Buddha and his predecessors.  Our guide on our second day had a very good way of describing it as “the biggest story book on earth”.  You can imagine before paper and parchment, and with the low level of literacy, that the common people could come and walk round Borobudur reading it like a Tripitaka (Buddhist bible) picture book.  The top 3 levels have lots of stupas, each containing a Buddha, with a final grand stupa at the peak.  It really is some building.

The location is spectacular, surrounded by palm trees with an active volcano, Gunung Merapi, in the distance.  The temple is impressive both by its sheer size and by the exquisite nature of the sculpture work.  It also has a great story.  It was lost for centuries surviving many earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and the power of the jungle.  Standing at the top of Borobudur I liked to try to imagine what it would have been like for the Raffles expedition hacking through the wilderness with their machetes and stumbling upon this magnificent temple.  It really is the stuff of an Indiana Jones movie.  

We hired bikes and cycled around the area visiting some smaller temples.  We cycled around Borobudur and it looked really great from every angle.  While cycling around we passed many school children and were greeted with many choruses of “Hello”.   It was a great day until Nev’s chain broke and he ended up having to push his bike home.

The Manohara Hotel has Borobudur on its doorstep.  You get free access to the temple and can also access it before the official opening time.  We stayed in the Hotel for one night and got up at 4:30am for the sunrise.  There was a bit too much cloud cover to see the sun but it was cool being there before the rest of the tourists as it can get pretty mobbed.  It was also great having the approach in the dark, using torches to check out the carvings.  We left the next day to go back to Yogyakarta.


Had you heard of Borobudur before travelling?
Nope. But you told me about during travelling and showed me photos of it, and I was quite excited before arriving there just from hearing the story and seeing photos.

What were your expectations?
Um, pretty high. Photos made it look pretty magnificent and a fascinating story too.

What was your first impression?
The approach... I mean initially we couldn't see it because it was hidden behind some trees... is that right? Then it kind of jumped out on us. And it looked great.

What did you like most about Borobudur?
It was very different, very unique, the stone carvings were amazing. And it was good to walk around it, walk up each level, and it was in a quiet litle town as well which was nice.

What didn't you like about the Borobudur?
Too many people? Too many tourists. But you can say that about every one though. There was not much I didn't like about it.

Would you regard Borobudur as a World Wonder?
Ach... maybe. It's probably going to be in the top 7 for the Asian candidates I'll see.

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