A visit to Yogyakarta is incomplete without visiting the magnificent temples of Borobodur and Prambanan. Here we get the opportunity to see Buddhist and Hindu temples in the same day.
This is Borobodur, at sunrise.
Sunrise at Borobodur
It’s an expensive sunrise, being that we took a tour from our hostel, the Casa de Raffles in Yogyakarta (Jogya to the locals) and that the ticket to get into this UNESCO World Heritage Site for sunrise is 380,000 IDR.
Thats compared to the regular ticket of Us$20.
No we don’t know why the prices are quoted differently, but they are EVERYWHERE. Regular ticket = dollars, sunrise ticket = rupiah. But of course you pay in rupiah, which is 270,000 IDR.
Our sunrise ticket gives us early access, from 0430 – and while the sun doesn’t rise at that time, it does give you the chance to get in position to see it rise from your perch on the Buddhist monument.
So, we got up at 0345 and now we’re 40km northwest of Jogja.
What to Read in Indonesia
History of Borobodur
The name Borobodur is derived from Sanskrit and means Buddhist Monastery on the Hill. This spectacular Buddhist temple was built somewhere between AD 750 and AD 850 by the Sailendra dynasty with more than two million stone blocks. That’s 60,00 cubic meters of stone and 300 years before Angkor Wat was built.
Buddhism in the area declined, power shifted further east on Java and volcanoes erupted, covering it in layers of volcanic ash. It wasn’t until 1815, when Sir Stamford Raffles was governing Java (he was here before he went to Singapore, which he founded in 1819) and the site was cleared.
Restoration of Borobodur
The Dutch were the first to tackle restoration, giving away cartloads of “souvenirs” to a visiting Siamese king in 1896. They started restoring the monument from 1907 until 1911. UNESCO got involved and a huge project between 1973 and 1983 stablized the monument,which was granted World Heritage Status in 1991.
Borobodur is tiny.
The temple is tiny in comparison to other monuments we have seen, despite being the world’s largest Buddhist monument. There’s a 118m x 118 m base, then six square terraces topped by three circular ones. There are four staircases leading up through gateways to the top. The pilgrims walk (walking clockwise), from the bottom, around each terrace is 5 km long. We manage most of it, apart from the small areas that are closed.
From the air, Borobodur forms a mandala – a geometric aid for meditation. From a distance on the ground, it’s a stupa.
See Borobodur with Fewer People
It’s glorious. Especially in the pre dawn light that we’re sharing with about 60 other folks. Regular tickets are allowed in from 0600, and they do start to trickle in at that point, but not in the hordes that we’d expected. Such is traveling in the off season.
The Buddhist Meaning behind Borobodur
The temple is loaded with Buddhist meaning – from the Jataka tales, to the life of Prince Siddartha on his way to becoming the Buddha – there’s much more on that HERE.
Despite the people it has the serenity of Sanchi, in India (which we visited with perhaps a dozen other people at the site) and it’s survived many attacks over the years.
There have been regular volcanic eruptions, the latest was in 2010, when 55,000 stone blocks had to be removed in order to repair the drainage system. It’s been bombed, by an opponent of Soeharto in 1985, when nine small stupas were damaged, but later fully restored.
Visitors damage Borobodur
And it suffers from us and our visits. We can see it happen. Visitors clambering up and onto stupa’s for a better photo. On holidays more than 90,000 people visit each day. (yes, 90,000!) There’s a drone flying over head. I can’t find a weapon to bring it down.
Our expensive sunrise ticket also includes a “snack” and tea and coffee at the Manodhaara Hotel, which is where we entered through, so coffee and a fried banana latter we’re waiting in the parking lot for the rest of our group, who opted for the cheaper sunrise option – watching the sunrise from a nearby hill, then entering the temple after 6am.
Joint Tickets for Borobodur and Prambanan
Doing it that way allows the purchase of a joint ticket (US$30) to also allow entry to the Prambanan Hindu Temples, which is where we’re heading next. Because folks who come to the actual temple for sunrise clearly aren’t trying to save money (I’m surmising, because I am at the temple for sunrise to see the temple without the hordes) there’s no joint (money saving) ticket available. (there isn’t)
Prambanan is 17 km northeast of Jogja and a bum numbing 90 minutes in our minivan from Borobodur. Prambanan is the best remaining example of Hindu development in Java.
It’s a frustrating ticket purchase US$18, with a line that would do India justice and organization that needs a slap. You can pay with cash or buy your ticket to Borobodur and Prambanan with a credit card. A smart card purchased from a ticket window that is 2 meters away from the smart card entry smacks of over investment in nonsense. And it’s now baking hot.
50 years after Borobodur was built, the huge temple complex here at Prambanan was built, in the middle of the 9th century. It was to commemorate the return to sole power in Java of a Hindu dynasty.
The temples were in ruins for centuries, despite some efforts in 1885 to clear the sites. It wasn’t until 1937 that reconstruction was first attempted. Everywhere are piles of blocks.
Even some of the reconstruction appears like a small childs first efforts at Lego across the 244 temples that there are remains of here. The site is large, walking is pleasant if you take it slow, but there’s a fair area to cover.
Prambanan – the Candi Shiva Mahadeva
In the central courtyard there are eight major and eight minor temples, the largest and the most decorative is Candi Shiva Mahadeva (the Shiva Temple). This main temple’s spire is 47 meters high and has small lions in niches flanked by trees of heaven.
Here we find scenes from the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. It tells how Lord Rama’s wife, Sita is abducted and how Hanuman the Monkey God and Sugriwa, the white-monkey general find her and release her. (It was this part of the Ramayana that we tried to see in the Kecak Fire and Trance Dance show in Ubud recently – but ended up watching most of the action through the folks in front’s camera..).
The 2006 Earthquake and Prambanan
It’s sad to see the reconstruction efforts here. While Prambanan was inducted to UNESCO World Heritage Status in 1991, an earthquake in 2006 sent hundreds of stone blocks to the ground – 479 of them on the Shiva temple.
We’re sharing a van back to Jogja with an Eastern European couple, they’re here in Java for a few months, this is their first Hindu temple.
They’re awed. They’re concerned that we’re disappointed. We explain that after five months of Hindu temples in India, we’re probably spoiled for life for other Hindu temples.
Back to Yogyakarta
Back in Jogja, we learn a key Bahasia Indonesian phrase I wish we could learn in every language. “Jalan, Jalan” – or “just walking around.”
Far from putting off each tuk tuk driver we meet, it starts a conversation with “Oh so you speak Indonesian”. But, we have fun and Jalan Jalan around the dusty, busy streets.
We’ll be heading out with a bicycle tomorrow, because we’re going to visit a few sites, and then get out into the villages south of the city.
When we travelled there was very little online booking available for buses, trains and ferries in Indonesia and South East Asia – the folks at Easybook have now remedied that – check timetables and book tickets online now – its WAY easier!
- Where we stayed in Yogyakarta – the Casa Raffles
- Our Guide Book in Indonesia – was Lonely Planet Indonesia
- What to Eat in Indonesia