Accommodation: Stayed at the budget Pondok Tinggal Hotel. First impressions of this large hotel constructed of bamboo and timber are that it looks far too grand for budget travellers, but actually it’s really cheap and it’s definitely everything you pay for (IDR. 25.000 per person).
There isn’t proper plumbing, and the dorms are a little dilapidated, but it has a beautiful atmosphere, especially with its stunning courtyard. I found hair and glass in the food, but if you’re a bit like me, it doesn’t really spoil the mood. As we went during the monsoon season, it was a little damp and cold.
Borobodur itself is absolutely breathtaking. It is a Buddhist stupa and temple complex in Central Java, Indonesia dating from the 8th century, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is one of world's truly great ancient monuments, the single largest Buddhist structure anywhere on earth. Entry into Borobudur costs US$15/Rp 135,000 for adult non-Indonesians or if you are a student, like I was at the time, it’s US$8/Rp 72,000 – but you need proper proof like student ID.
We also did the Sunrise Package, for IDR. 250,000 per person, which was arranged by the hotel. This consisted of driving on the back of a motorcycle by experts in their field, to watch the sun rise over Borobudur from a near by hill. It’s pretty easy to get around and fun to do.
Getting to and from Borobudur: From the airport, we chartered a taxi, which obviously is a lot easier to do when there are five of you. A taxi from Yogyakarta airport to Borobudur costs around Rp 225,000. There are also buses to get to the main bus terminal in Yogyakarta. It’s about 10,000Rp from Borobudur via Muntilan to Yogyakarta for about 1 1/2 hours, and 5,000Rp from Borobudur to Muntilan.
Transport: Borobudur is definitely best on foot. It’s quite a small town and exploring around is the best way of getting authentic cuisine. But you can easily charter motorbikes from hotels.
The hotel was incredibly welcoming and looked very luxurious. But the monsoon season and recent natural calamity made the town look a little worse for wear. There were still traces of ash covering the horizon from Indonesia’s many volcanic eruptions.
In the dark, we were completely oblivious to the surroundings. But after a bit of an awkward sleep in the dormitory, and an even more awkward awakening at 5am to catch the sunrise, we realised that we were in a valley, encircled by volcanos.
In our sleepy states, we shuffled towards the back of the fleet of motorcycles awaiting us. It was rather exhilarating having the wind sweep across our face, the perfect wake-up call. But then came the struggle up a rather muddy hill. It was touch-and-go, but eventually we made it to the top as the sun started peaking through the gaps.
Now being monsoon season, it wasn’t exactly the best time to watch the sun rise over Borobudur. It was damp and cloudy, and so we could barely make out a silhouette in the distance next to Mount Merapi. But there was something mystical about the whole area, touched by restless spirits.
And then the big climax came. We headed towards the UNESCO World Heritage Site, excited to see what they had created.
Okay, on a sunny, clear day, it should look like the above picture. But it was very misty, and the volcanic eruption overshadowed the glorious structure. There was extensive renovation taking place, with builders removing ash, as well as local Indonesian students swarming the area, attempting to use their English skills – which meant only one thing.
Apart from being pursued by local hawkers, students darted questions at us from all angles. In the end, we ended up as Spaniards, and pretended we didn’t know any English. They were lovely and all, but at 7am, no one was in the mood to teach.
But no doubt, it was overwhelming to see the sight. Borobudur consists of six square platforms topped by three circular platforms, and is decorated with no less than 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues of various types. Climbing it can take some effort, so the earlier the better, before the midday sun hits the stupa.
There are six different postures of Buddha's statue from the bottom level to the top. These are contact with earth, giving and helping, meditation, fearlessness, teach and learn, and finally turning the wheel of dharma. The only way to fully appreciate the reliefs is to circulate clockwise throughout going upwards towards nirvana (and I don’t mean Kurt Cobain).
On the short walk back, we stopped off at a local food haunt, and the taste can’t get any better than sustenance made lovingly by someone’s own hands. And then it was time for a quick wash, and catching a bus to central Yogyakarta’s bus terminal for the next stop.
I was hideously wary of the fact that my friends were reluctant to go to our destination. And losing my favourite red scarf that had travelled with me throughout the world, was another dampener. It was another bad omen on our journey through the Indonesian isles.