After an incredible week in Sumatra, we carried onto the next leg of our journey; Java Island. Many people choose to visit the capital, but we’d heard that there wasn’t much to do in Jakarta, and that it was crowded and polluted, so we opted to stay away. Instead, we zipped over to Yogyakarta (which is mostly referred to as ‘Jogja’ in Indonesia).
We arrived late at night, and although the airport was crawling with cab drivers trying to take foreigners for a ride (in the figurative sense), we quickly found a company who was giving legit pricing, and we were on our way to our tiny little Bed and Breakfast in downtown Jogja.
There were 2 reasons we wanted to visit this Yogyakarta: Borobudur and Prambanan. These two beautiful temples are very different from one another. One is Buddhist and the other is Hindu. They don’t really share much in terms of architecture, but they are both located about an hour outside of Jogja (in different directions), making this small city a popular destination for tourists going through Java.
We decided to hit Prambanan first, as it was a little closer to Jogja, and we had begun our day a little later than we’d intended. It was a nice hour-long drive to the temple, that gave us a chance to see a bit of this lovely little city.
We were a bit taken aback by the entrance fees to the temple, but we figured it would probably be the only chance we’d ever have to see Prambanan and Borobudur, so we bit the bullet, as they say, and forked over the $80 it cost to get us both into both temples. Of course, once we were inside, I ceased to worry about the pricing, because the money is clearly being put to good use.
Before even entering temple grounds, we saw an incredible photo opportunity. There was a section of rubble in front of one area of the temple, where tourists were able to take photos. It took us a few tries, but we finally got a couple of good shots ourselves (we were using a timer…10 seconds is not enough time for me to scramble on top of rocks!)
Once entering the temple, we were impressed by the level of detail on the walls, and were very quickly reminded of our time at Ankor National Park in Cambodia. There were clear similarities between Prambanan’s and Ankor Wat’s architecture, so it didn’t surprise me to learn that Prambanan, like Ankor Wat, is a Hindu temple.
We spent a few hours walking around, admiring the temple. There were many other tourists there, but they were mostly from Indonesia, as we visited during the off season (something I highly recommend…as long as you aren’t too afraid of a bit of rain).
The park was quite big, and we wandered around to check out some of the smaller and less glamorous buildings. The park’s general upkeep really impressed us both.
The stone carvings at Prambanan were really something to admire. If it hadn’t been so hot out, we probably could have spent an hour or two longer walking around, just admiring the architecture. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the heat became too much and we were forced to hop on our rented motorcycle and head back to Jogja.
Borobudur was my main reason for wanting to go to Jogjakarta. Built at around the same time as Prambanan, Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world. The architecture there is very different from the many Hindu and Chinese Buddhist temples we’ve seen over the last few years.
Borobudur was built in the shape of a Mandala, which represents Nirvana, or Heaven in both Buddhism and Hinduism. There are 9 levels in total, which include more than 2500 relief panels (art depicting Buddhist stories) and 72 Buddhas.
Every inch of every wall at Borobodur is covered in carvings that depict a mixture of Buddhist and Indonesian stories and myths. We walked around a good portion of it, but it would have taken hours to study really examine all of the carvings.
A lot of Borobudur’s history is unknown, but what we do know is that it took about 75 years to build, and at some time around the turn of the 1st millenium, it was abandoned. There could have been several reasons for this, but the two most likely are that: A.) people had to leave due to the very active volcanoes nearby or B.) Indonesia began converting to Islam, and Buddhist Temples became less important. Either way, the temple was all but forgotten, and was slowly taken over by volcanic ash and jungle.
Until it was rediscovered in the 1800s.
While Borobudur’s history fascinates me, it isn’t what pulls thousands of tourists to the site each year. The Bells and 72 Buddhas on the top levels of the site are what drive the tourism. Each bell has a Budha within it, and several bells have been left open so the Buddhas are exposed. It’s an incredibly photogenic place and I’m glad we had some blue skies while we were there.
Borobudur is one of the nicest and most interesting temples I have ever visited, but it pains me to say that its in trouble. Between the volcanic ash that plagues the building, and tourists who insist on touching everything, officials have considered closing the site to unguided tourists. While we were there we saw all sorts of bad behaviour.
The worst case of this behaviour was an elderly Chinese woman, who climbed onto a bell and reached inside to try and touch the Buddha. This didn’t seem to be as much of an issue at Prambanan, where tourists were allowed to walk on certain areas of the walls. I think because of the acid in the volcanic ash that routinely covers Borobodur, the site is especially at risk.
In short, if you’re stopping by Java Island, definitely take the time to stop by these incredible temples.