Borobudur, built in the 9th century by Javanese Buddhists, is the largest Buddhist temple in the world and represents the ultimate goal of enlightenment. The temple is divided into three tiers, each representing the stages one must go through to reach Nirvana: the “world inhabited by common people”, the one in which “humans are released from worldly matters”, and finally “the abode of the gods”. (For more information, check out the official website here.)
Despite not being Buddhist myself, I’ve had a fascination with the religion/philosophy and Buddha statues for some time now. I’ve never been able to pinpoint it – maybe it’s the peaceful mindset in a world of chaos and violence, or perhaps I associate Buddha statues with my 2012 visit to Southeast Asia and the memories I have of that trip. Either way, I knew a jaunt to Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world, was in order while I was in Indonesia.
The only problem was that I had just over two days to get there and back to Denpasar before catching my flight out. Between Bali and diving the Gili Islands, Chris and I didn’t have enough time to squeeze in a side-trip to Java while he was with me, so I booked a flight the same day that he went home and ventured out on my own.
My first thought when I arrived on this, the most populated island in the world (145 million people on a strip of land the size of North Carolina), was “peaceful temple? What? Where? How?”. The taxi ride from the airport in Jogjakarta to Magelang, the town near Borobudur where I had booked a hotel, was a full hour and a half of pure traffic, chaos, noise, people and buildings. It was hard to imagine finding a calm place to collect my thoughts, let alone anyone attaining Nirvana, in an environment like this. But, it turns out, that place does exist.
I didn’t make it there without some frustration, though. The morning after I arrived, I grabbed a taxi before dawn in order to get an early start – a difficult feat for this non-morning person, as anyone who knows me will tell you. So 5:30 a.m. isn’t really my ideal time for jumping through hoops to avoid being scammed by a taxi driver. First he tried getting a flat rate from me, at about eight times what I knew to be the normal fare (hint #1: ask your hotel receptionist beforehand what the ride should cost). When I insisted that he turn on the meter, he magically got lost on the straight shot from my hotel to one of his own country’s most well-known tourist attractions (hint #2: look up the route on Google Maps beforehand). As we arrived, he tried stating a price higher than the one shown on the meter (hint #3: pay attention). Finally, as I gave him a bank note, he tried keeping my change, maybe thinking I had failed 1st grade math (hint #4: pass 1st grade math). After all that, the slimy bastard had the audacity to ask – nay, demand – a tip from me. My response was a short and simple “NOPE”.
So I arrived in severe need of some Buddha-inspired zen, a few minutes later than the opening time of 6 a.m. I quickly noticed based on the sheer number of people already in the parking lot that I had made another mistake: I arrived later than I wanted to. I hadn’t properly researched my plan, and it turns out that you can arrive before the official opening time – if you’re willing to pay an extra $10 or so – and enter the grounds before the sun comes up. Not only do you get to see an inspirational sunrise, but you beat the vast majority of other tourists to the place. This is one thing I can’t emphasize enough if you’re planning a trip to Borobudur: go EARLY. SEVERELY EARLY. Don’t pay attention to the “official” opening time: go around 4 a.m. Even if you have to wait a bit to get in, arriving before the crowds get there makes all the difference between a quiet, introspective experience and having your view blocked by the guy so self-absorbed that his selfie stick never turns the camera away from his own face. Because heaven forbid he should get home to find that, in the midst of all his self-glory, he accidentally got footage of one of the world’s most stunning wonders (hint #5: don’t be that guy).
Regardless, I was there early enough to snap at least a few pictures without droves of other people and, while exhausting, my two-day excursion was well worth the effort.
Sadly, because sometimes the real world gets in the way of a digital nomad’s fun, I had to work one of my two days on Java, so I didn’t get to check out Prambanan Temple, Ratu Boko Palace or the city of Jogjakarta. That will be left for another trip, I suppose.