I squint my eyes as I look towards the afternoon sun. A large imposing silhouette loomed before me hiding a visage of one of the worlds sacred and impressive monuments, the Borobudur Temple (Candi Borobudur). This huge Buddhist monument, which is also listed in UNESCO’s world heritage list, almost had the same awe-factor I had when I saw Angkor Wat for the first time. I walk towards this colossal stupa with excitement to discover closely this place which name has already enchanted me for some time.
Up on the Hill
One great advantage of staying in Manohara Hotel is to have unlimited access to Borobudur temple. Once settled in to my room, I headed to Borobudur Temple, just a short 5-10 minutes walk from the hotel grounds up a hill. The name Borobudur came from a Sanskrit phrase “Vihara Buddha Uhr” which means “Buddhist Monastery on the Hill” As with any sacred places in Southeast Asia, visiting temples requires respect in terms of attire. For men, shorts should not be above the knee, for women, no mini-skirts or shorts and shoulders are recommended to be covered up. In general, cool, loose comfortable clothes are ideal. A sarong is provided before climbing the temple.
Candi Borobudur by the Numbers
Despite the afternoon sun, it was cool and breezy in the area. Before I went up the stairs I decided to explore the grounds first and look at it in all angles. It may only be one gigantic structure in contrast to the many temples of Bagan, but the level of detail of Borobudur left me astonished. This 8th century monument stands on an 118m by 118m area built with 2 million stone blocks. There are 6 square layers at the bottom and 3 circular layers at the top. And going through the corridor of each levels, there are more than 2,672 relief panels depicting the life story of Buddha divided in 4 chapters. There are about 432 Buddha images looking out into the open while 72 are encased in a concrete perforated shells.
Impressive those numbers are Borobudur has gone through some challenges to keep itself intact. It has survived Gunung Merapi’s eruption and ash flows, terrorist bombing and earthquakes. But recently the most damaging is the wear and tear impact of up to 90,000 people ascending and ascending the temple especially during holidays. In my afternoon visit, I saw how the crowd thicken up until the closing hours. It was an interesting scene, from a bus load of students and tourist filling up the upper layers of Borobudur. Many of them are even locals and they enjoyed having their pictures taken with some foreigners.
It’s a good thing there’s a chance to beat the crowd even before the gates open at 6am. Waking up as early as 4am, I joined the sunrise tour where guest can enter Borobudur as early as 4:30am. They even supply flashlights to guest.
I like the early morning tranquility of being at the upper levels of Borobudur and see the surrounding world still in slumber. I stand beside the serene Buddha images watching the world wake up with all its colors slowly revealing itself upon the misty landscape of the surrounding volcanoes and hills. I saw some guest sitting at the foot of the main stupa deep in meditation.
There is a belief that if one took the pilgrimage of walking through every level of Borobudur in a clockwise direction from the ground up, their wishes may come true. I did try to explore each level but there were closed sections at that time as restorations are being done. But I did end up looking closely at some bas-relief on each level’s corridors and got lost at their intricacies. Slowly I went down level by level while people are climbing up.
The gates were soon open and slowly the crowd started to come in. I am quite satisfied when my foot got off the last few steps of the monument. Finally, my dream of exploring the enigmatic Borobudur has been realized.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.