1YoT: Borobudur and Yogjakarta

Despite the amazingness of Bali and Nusa Lembongan, it was actually Borobudur that sold me on visiting Indonesia. Neither Inna nor I had ever heard of Borobudur before and I don’t know how that was possible, because it is one of the most amazing destinations in the world. Our Sydney Airbnb host sealed the deal when showed us a pictured of it; we saw it and we knew we were coming to Indonesia.

Located in the middle of Java, Indonesia’s most populated and one it’s largest islands, Yogjakarta (not to be confused with Jakarta) is a decent sized city. Even from the plane we could tell we were in for a very different experience than the one we had at Bali.

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A rusted out plane at the end of the runway? That’s unsettling.

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Like Bali, Yogjakarta was busy and crazy. But unlike Bali, it wasn’t super beautiful here, it was most urban, crowded, and dirty.

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The shopping here was great though! This is common in Southeast Asia; the shopping here is incredible, although the quality of the goods is hit or miss.

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Above is an “art school”, the first scam Inna and I ran into on our travels. These art school profess to sell unique Yogjakarta style artwork made by students and teachers. In actuality many are prints, none are made by students or teachers, and all are overpriced. Unfortunately, despite being a scam the actual artwork was beautiful and was also perfect for traveling, so Inna and I found one we liked (an authentic one, not a print) and bought it, probably spending too much.

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Enough beating around the bush, lets get to Borobudur! Even though Inna and I had never heard of this place before (neither had several other Western travelers we spoke to), this site was incredible, one of the most spectacular destinations in the world. 

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Here it is: Borobudur in all its glory. I have no idea why this temple isn’t more well know; it is 1000+ years old and is the largest Buddhist temple and third largest of all temples in the world.

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This is what Borobudur looks like from an angle. The temple, built on and covering a 850 foot hill, is square in shape, with each side measuring more than 400 feet. Pictures cannot capture how massive this temple is.

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Enough admiring, lets explore! For some reason, I’m reminded of a Sir-Mix-A-Lot song right now…

The relics on this temple were stunning, and there were so many of them! 2672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues to be exact, all across nine stacked platforms. 

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This relic is part of the temple’s water drainage system. Borobudur is located in the middle of a rainforest, and so numerous drainage relics were included to handle the rain. When it rains, the water from each level cascades through a relic like this, down to the next level where it cascades through another relic and another until it is drained completely out of the temple.

The top of the Borobudur contains 72 stupas, each with its own Buddha inside. One Buddha was left uncovered and our tour guide told us why, but unfortunately I can’t remember what he said.

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The top of Borobudur also provides spectacular views of the rainforest and the seven(!) volcanoes that surround it. Four (I think) of the seven volcanoes can be seen in this photograph.

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Here’s a better view of one of the volcanoes. Each of the seven volcanoes surrounding Borobudur is active, with explosions as recent as 2010.

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Even better than the views and the stupas were the schoolchildren at the top of Borobudur. Borobudur is a common field trip destination, and for the majority of the kids, the travelers here are the first Westerners they’ve ever seen in person. They were so excited to see us, we took lots of selfies and it was tons of fun.

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So far I’ve described what Borobudur looks like, but what about its history? Built in the 9th century CE, Borobudur was a major Buddhist pilgrimage site for several hundred years. However, with the rise of Islam on Java, this temple was abandoned sometime in the 14th century and later forgotten by the majority of the world. Things remained this way until 1814, when Indonesian natives told the British ruler of Java about a giant ancient temple in the area. The temple was completely covered in ash, making it difficult to find, but eventually the British found it, and several restoration efforts over the next 150+ years (an example of which is shown above) brought the temple back to its former glory. Today, Borobudur is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and once again serves as a major pilgrimage destination for Buddhists.

As of today, Borobudur’s restoration is incomplete. This primarily because of the pieces pictured above, pieces that belong somewhere in the temple but the restorers don’t know where. 

Here are two final pictures before we go. Left is Inna and me outside the temple grounds, and right is a beautiful elephant forced to give people rides around the grounds (we’ve since learned to visit elephants in sanctuaries and not support industries/businesses that force elephants to work).

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In addition to Borobudur, Yogjakarta is actually close to two other UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Unfortunately, these sites (Prambanan, one of the largest Hindu temples in Southeast Asia, and Sangiran, one of the world’s most significant fossilized man archaeology sites) were too far to travel to from Borobudur and we didn’t want to pay for a driver for a second day, so we chose to skip them. Instead, we spent our second day exploring the Kraton of Yogjakarta, the main seat of the sultan/governor of Yogjakarta.

The Kraton of Yogjakarta was built in the 1750s following a truce between the Javan King and the Dutch East India Company. The truce split central Java in two, with the Javan King controlling the eastern half, of which Yogjakarta became the capitol. In 1812, all of Java was captured by the British, who seized it after Napoleon conquered the Netherlands. Once the Napoleonic Wars ended, the British gave Java back to the Dutch, but not before burning most of the Kraton to the ground. The Kraton was rebuilt in the 1920s, when Indonesians first started campaigning for their independence. The Dutch refused until WWII, when everyone was conquered by the Japanese. After WWII, the Dutch (with British support) attempted to reassert control of Java, but failed. Finally, in 1945, all of Java was united as the most populated island of Indonesia. Quite a complicated history for this island in the Indian Ocean!

Today, in addition to serving as home for the sultan, the Kraton of Yogjakarta is also a museum, displaying clothing and artifacts from Yogjakarta’s monarchy.

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Even more significantly (at least for locals), the Kraton hosts daily cultural performances. They hosted a puppet show the day we visited. 

With this we’ve reached the end of our Yogjakarta visit. Yogjakarta was a crazy place with tons to see and do, and while Inna and I were disappointed we didn’t get to visit Prambanan, we still has a great time here. Continuing forward, it is now time to head back to Bali, to spend one more day there before flying out of Indonesia. And we made that day count, spending it at one of the most awesomest places on our entire trip!

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