Friday, November 2, 2012

[MAGELANG] The Stuphas of Borobudur

When one says Borobudur, what is automatically conjured in mind are images of ancient prestige, magnificence, and almost perfection. Synonymous with Yogyakarta although it seems a bit unjustified, this Buddhist temple complex is the more popular of the two UNESCO World Heritage sites in Central Java, the other one being Prambanan, which is Hindu in orientation. Located at the regency of Magelang, Borobudur is around an hour away by bus from Yogyakarta’s Jombor station.

I don't know if it's because I went on a Friday and there was supposed to be less traffic, but my bus arrived at Borobudur terminal exactly an hour after it left Jombor, that despite repeated warnings from locals that it would take me two hours or more, persuading me to just go to Prambanan instead. At the end of the day, I think it was the same temple that I saw as most people. So, why the big difference between estimated travel times? Oops, you need instructions on how to go there. While there are many tour groups available, their prices might be too costly for your budget. Okay then, listen closely.

I suppose you're coming from Jogja. Establishing a base there is a good thing because it serves as a good connection between Borobudur and Prambanan. Head to Jombor terminal north of the city past the Yogyakarta Kembali monument. You need a Transjogja bus to get there. What is a Transjogja bus? It's a simple bus but has an established route which stops at every station that is elevated on the sidewalk, pretty much like a make-shift MRT but way smaller. There are around six routes and I already forgot which one goes to Jombor. It's easy though, you just have to ask the attendant selling tickets. Just tell her Jombor, to which she would reply with the number and the letter: 1 = satu; 2 = dua; 3 = tiga; A = ah; B = beh; C = chi. The bus number and letter are on the windshield, make sure you check while it approaches the stop, as you do not really want to get the wrong one and lose time doing so.

Jombor is the terminus to the north, and while the conductor will also announce it once you arrive there, you will also notice many other buses parked and headed for different destinations. That is your clue. It takes around half an hour to get to Jombor station due to the narrow roads of Jogja that often causes some traffic. Plan your trip accordingly. A Transjogja ticket costs 3,000 rupiah one way (~13 pesos). The Jogja-Borobudur bus costs 20,000 rupiah (~86 pesos). This way is cheaper by more than half than booking a tour bus, which asks for a minimum of two persons and around 100,000 rupiah for each round trip. No, that does not include admission to the park. Moving on, Transjogja passes through Muntilan station before heading to Borobudur. I don't know what to see in Muntilan, but it's also possible to go to Borobudur if you are coming from there.

Borobudur terminal is one big parking lot. Touts will hound you to ride their rickshaws once you get there. You might want to. The road leading to the park itself is the one with the two aptly designed posts at the middle of the market and the station. Go straight and turn right. It's around ten minutes on foot if you are a brisk walker, under a rather angry sun. There is an Alfamart and Indomaret along the way if you decide to seek refuge from the heat. If you opt for the rickshaw, I couldn't give tips as to how much because I didn't ride one. Once you reach the entrance, look for the signs saying Loket Masuk. That means ‘entrance counter’.

The first one you come across is for the locals, wherein only two prices are displayed: ‘Adult’ and ‘Child’. I did not know that there was a separate office for foreigners, an air-conditioned one where they charge you 200,000 rupiah (~860 pesos). I have functional literacy in Bahasa Indonesia, and so I went straight to the local counter, ordered a ticket in Malay, and that was it. They charged me 30,000 rupiah (~130 pesos). Am I evil? The counter girl probably thought I was Indonesian. I thought they abolished the astronomical 200,000 rupiah levied on foreigners and opted for a uniform 30,000 rupiah charge for everyone. I only figured out that they did not when I came out of the park and saw that air-conditioned office to my left, quite hidden, really. I thought it was some kind of air-conditioned canteen.

The park is huge and looks like one giant garden where you can spend a day in peace, if you find a quiet spot away from the tourist hordes, which is not that hard to do because of the large area covered. If you want to go straight to THAT temple abounding with stuphas on top, just follow the signboards saying Candi Borobudur. There are several other ‘candi’ around the area but smaller in scale. That specific candi is obviously the star of the show here. Japanese tour groups are common, accompanied by their Japanese speaking Indonesian tour guides. I also ran into two Italians there and their Italian speaking Indonesian tour guide. It suddenly made me want to rethink my chosen career path. HAHA.

I forgot to say that you have to wear a ‘sarong’ before entry to the temple’s premises regardless if you are wearing pants or not. They will assist you in wearing it. It's free but you have to give it back when you reach the exit. Even from the entrance, the giant stupha that serves as Borobudur’s crowning glory is already visible. While climbing those steps leading to the complex, everything gradually becomes visible, hitting you with some brand of ancient splendor that is simply hard to ignore. When you reach the steps going up, the whole temple complex will be visible from one side. Its square shape means simple navigation and around an hour or so to finish everything if you are not that much of a hardcore camwhore. There are some shades care of trees with benches under them, but are limited, so you might have to contend with other tourists for that privilege.

The marvel of this mega structure is on the intricacy of its designs, with every carving on the wall painstakingly detailed to give a good depiction of the life of Buddha and his ways. While this aspect of Borobudur is noteworthy, let me tell you that it doesn't come close to those of Prambanan, which sort of blew me away. The carvings, I mean. At Borobudur, the stuphas are the main attractions, all of which are spread on the penultimate level going to the top. As mentioned, the topmost level is reserved for the giant stupha, which archaeologists discovered to be empty, something that baffles them until now. They can't reach a consensus if it was really built to be empty as a representation of Nirvana or if it was just looted, the same fate suffered by the many headless avatars on the lower levels of this mega structure.

All the camwhoring happens on the second to the last level going up, as the surrounding views really command an amused gasp from your Facebook friends. On a cloudless day, one can clearly see Mount Merapi from afar. Unfortunately, she was hidden by a gang of clouds when I was there. Other mountain ranges are also visible from the summit. Just make sure that you know which angle would be best for that photo-op, as the sun could contribute a lot to either making you look stunning or just a mere shadow amidst that breathtaking landscape.

The park closes at 5 PM, which I guess is just okay because the sun starts to set here by that time. If you want to catch the sunrise, leave Yogyakarta at 5 AM, which is what most people do. This is not only a good way to avoid the crowds, but also to see something bound to be so awesome, and maybe Mount Merapi too, if she feels like it. Do not anger the volcano, by the way. She buried some sections of Borobudur under ash when she erupted a few year ago, killing some vegetation along the way. That is why you will still see ongoing renovations here. You can finish Borobudur in an hour if all you do is walk and occasionally pose for a photo. If you will be doing some spiritual what-have-you’s, then give it maybe three hours, better in the morning when the sun is not yet grumpy.

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