Only 50-minute flight away from the capital of Indonesia, in the very center of the island of Java, you will find the biggest Buddhist temple in the world – Borobudur. This place of worship was built in the distant 9th century and is currently listed among UNESCO heritage sites, though I would promote it to the 8th wonder of the world with no hesitation. Borobudur is an astonishing 35-meter-high monument with a size of a football field.
My exploration of Borobudur started at around 4:00 a.m. in a nearby hotel conveniently located right outside the monument area. It was still dark and surprisingly cold for the Indonesian climate, but with that much excitement one puts himself out of the bed very quickly. I took a “sunrise package” that included the possibility to get on top of the monument before official working hours, a cup of coffee with a snack afterwards and a souvenir. This was a unique opportunity, as Borobudur opens to tourists at around 6:00 a.m. when the sun is already quite high, so those few who watch the sunrise from the top are almost alone.
It’s hard to describe the feeling you get when you enter a sacred place at night and all you can see is a blink of your flashlight, dark pathways and religious symbols around you. To make it more complicated, you can only maneuver relying on your senses while climbing narrow steps, as there is not much seen in front of you. The experience you get in return, though, is incomparable and the overall feeling before the sunrise is indeed magical.
When it starts getting brighter you start to realize what structures are around you and how massive the monument really is. Until the moment when it is very bright there is a special combination of calmness and the sound of the nature in the air which I have never experienced. Even several photographers trying to get the best spot for the picture, can’t break this one-of-a-kind aura.
Unfortunately, the weather was not aware of my plans and everything was covered in fog for most of the early morning, so I couldn’t see the sunrise itself. I took this time to explore lower levels of the monument and enjoy the complete solitude. I must say it’s amazing how fresh your mind is at this early stage of the day in the atmosphere of complete calmness. At that point I felt that that was absolutely nothing around me and nothing bothered me, which, as I learned, is the ultimate goal of Buddhism.
Finally, out of the pink clouds the sun came out and the air started to heat up quite quickly. In the sunlight the monument appears differently and more real, but the romantic and special foggy atmosphere remains. I realized that it was only the very beginning of the day and I already had so many impressions.
I spent quite some time already at the monument and decided it was time for a well-deserved cup of coffee and a souvenir which turned out to be an elegant “summer scarf” with ancient ornaments. After the breakfast I wandered around the village and the surroundings of the monument, gaining some insights into Buddhism, the structure of the monument and the way to approach it.
It turned out that the monument is at the same time a shrine to Buddha, on whose teachings the Buddhism was found, and a destination for Buddhist pilgrimage.
Pilgrims (travelers on a journey to holy place) come here to climb the monument and follow the path of enlightenment. This journey starts at the foothills of the monument and finds its way to the top, getting the traveler through three stages of Buddhism: the world of desire, the world of forms and the world of formlessness. I decided to return back to the monument, give it a closer look and follow the path of enlightenment.
As suggested, I started at the bottom of the monument and went through every level of the monument, trying to find illustrations of parables and Buddha’s teachings. It turned out to be very interesting, authentic and not as crowded, as on the top.
I was not lied to that there are still people travelling here not only to take pictures and put a tick on their maps. During my journey I’ve encountered 2 Buddhist monks walking around the monument and praying.
Finally I got to the top of the monument and the view from there is astonishing. It’s quite hot there, so I brought the best sun protection with me which I bought for bargained 3,5 eur from a street vendor.
There are 73 stupas on top of the monument with a Buddha sitting inside each of them but one. The main stupa is empty inside, which, some people say, conflicts with the Buddhist culture. Others, however, insist that it’s symbolic and peace lies in emptiness. Overall, the top of the monument with stupas symbolize the process of achieving Nirvana, but I’m not sure if I’ve done it.
There were almost no clouds during the day, so I decided to experience the sunset at the top of the monument as well, pushing this to ultimate Buddhist experience. The idea is the same as with the “sunrise package”, but this time there were almost no people after official working hours on the monument.
Lack of people gave me an opportunity to have a better look on the area around the monument. Borobudur lies among mountains and volcanoes, which were covered with light fog. Beautiful view, sunset colors, as well as nobody persistently asking to take a photo with you made this experience even more special than previous ones.
Finally, the sun started to descent and it began to darken. I thought of the day I spent with almost no connection to the outside world and realized how little you actually need to relax and achieve peace of mind. You just need to give yourself a real break once in a while.