Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Indonesia: Sunrise on top of Borobudur

When I arrived in Jakarta, the city had several greeting arches which read "Hari Raya Waisak." It was obviously a big festival. Little did I know that it was a holiday the day before I arrived. Although majority of its citizens are Muslim, Indonesia also declares holidays on important Christian, Hindu, Chinese and Buddhist days.

June 1st this year was Waisak in Indonesia, a festival which commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and demise of Buddha. The celebrations center around the largest man-made structure in the Southern Hemisphere, the Buddhist temple of Borobudur in Central Java.

After a nine-hour train ride from Jakarta, I arrived in Yogyakarta (pronounced Jogjakarta) at about 6 a.m. I'll write more about Yoyga when I get back and continue exploring this Javanese city. But I'll go fast forward and talk about my surreal experience in Borobudur, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Friends in Manila had tipped me that there was a hotel within the grounds of the park itself and that by staying there, I would be able to explore the temple long before the crowds were allowed in. So after doing some research, I finally found the Manohara Hotel's contact numbers and asked my friends in Jakarta to book a room for me. It was good that the Waisak was over since that meant rooms would be easily available.

I took a one-hour bus from the Jombor Bus Station to Borobudur which cost me Rp10,000 (US$1.15). The good thing about booking in Manohara was that the entrance to the park was free for two days. That meant close to Rp200,000 (US$24) in savings since foreigners paid hefty amounts to enter. All I had to say at the gate was that I was booked at Manohara and my reservation number.

Manohara Hotel was a sprawling complex of guest rooms, conference rooms and restaurants that followed a distinctly Javanese architectural style which blended well with the surroundings. From the hotel, I could see Borobudur perched on top of a hill. Before climbing up the temple, I checked-in to drop off my bags. The room was Rp351,000 (US$41) a night. While you had to pay an extra Rp102,500 (US$12) per person to be able to enter the temple at 4:45 a.m. the next day. It was most definitely worth it. I didn't take too long in the room since I was raring to climb up this gargantuan structure which, together with Angkor Wat and Bagan, ranks among the great monuments of Southeast Asia.

Sometimes, I ponder how man was able to construct these masterpieces with the little technology they had at that time. Decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 statues of Buddha, this great temple, when viewed from the top, takes the form of a tantric Buddhist mandala, and is thus said to be the biggest mandala in the world. If we Catholics have the Fourteen Stations of the Cross, Buddhists who made the pilgrimage to Borobudur were said to reflect on each of the 1,460 narrative panels which depicted various scenes from the life of Buddha and his teachings. I finally reached the top after several rounds appreciating the reliefs at various levels.

Since Borobudur is the only temple inside the park, I decided to make my way back to the hotel to take a nap, waking up just in time for an early dinner. This was one of the few legs of my journey where I really made sure I maximized my vacation. Later in the evening, I watched an educational video about Borobudur in the hotel audio-visual room. I guess I was just too excited to climb up early the next morning so I had a difficult time sleeping. But I was able to get up thanks to the 4 a.m. wake-up call.

A van took me and two other hotel guests to the back entrance. It was still dark when we got there and the entire temple was lit by strong spotlights on every side. I first took some photos from below then made my way up the stairs to the top of the temple to wait for the arrival of the sun.

It finally made its way up, slowly enveloping the sky and the surrounding mountains with its radiance. The experience was indeed one of a kind. As I absorbed this heavenly scene, the silence around me was broken as I heard the noise of school kids down below. The first regular visitors for the day were making their way up the temple. I had it all to myself, well almost. But it was now time to give way to the droves of tourists which were climbing up the stairs.

I started to walk back to the hotel for my complimentary breakfast. After a quick meal, I was back to bed to get more sleep. By 11 a.m., I was on my way back to the bus station to rush over to Prambanan, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. More photos in Central Java Indonesia 06/06 and Central Java, Indonesia 06/05.

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