Day 30: The temples of Borobudur and Prambanan

About 45km north (1 1/2 hours’ drive) of Yogjarkarta is the temple complex of Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Another 57km (1hr 45 min drive) from Borobudur is the Prambanan temple complex, which is dedicated to Hindu divinities Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. Both are UNESCO World Heritage sites. We visited these two temples on the same day.

The temples of Borobudur

Borobudur was built in the 8th and 9th centuries AD, so it’s about 1200 years old. Tourism and proximity to volcano Mt Merapi — only 28km away and whose volcanic ash hit the temple complex in 2018 — are threats to Borobudur’s longevity.

When Paul and I visited here in 1999, we were only two of about 30 mostly Western tourists visiting the complex. Fast forward to 2019 and we were three in a throng of more than a thousand, mostly Indonesian, visitors. We didn’t expect this at all.

What Paul and I thought would be a serene, contemplative, even spiritual experience walking up the nine levels of the complex now turned into a hot, humid, claustrophobic experience.

On top of that the entrance fee was exorbitant. As foreigners, we had to pay US$40 (AUD$55) per adult and US$25 (AUD$35) per child for tickets to both Borobudur and Prambanan. (Entrance fee for just Borobudur is US $25.) The domestic visitors, on the other hand, only had to pay 8000Rp (AUD$0.80) each. I tried to buy domestic tickets in Bahasa but the ticket lady asked to see my local ID and of course I didn’t have any.

Despite that, we really wanted to see the temple again.

The temple is laid out in the form of a lotus, the sacred flower of Buddha. It has nine levels or platforms. We were going to walk around and up all nine levels.
So to begin, we circled round the ground level.
We didn’t get far before a group of teens from a local high school asked us to sign their papers so they could prove to their teachers that they’d practiced their English with foreigners. It felt like we were celebrities being mobbed. You can see other students lingering, wondering if they should also approach us.
First level.
Apparently, the temple was designed for circumambulation. We walked around in a counterclockwise direction before I remembered that Buddhists walk clockwise around temples.
These ornate carvings were on every level of the temple.
Elina probably wondering why she agreed to walk around all nine levels on a blisteringly hot day; her fanning, a hopeless gesture against the oppressive heat.
Many carvings were about the Buddha or lessons taught by the Buddha.
Ah, almost near the top! What a view.
But Elina is interrupted by a mother who wants her daughter to take a photo with her. This was about the 6th or so time that Elina in particular was stopped by Indonesian people and asked to take a photo with them. Elina was reaching serious celebrity status! I heard them say “cantik!”, which means beautiful in Bahasa. My little girl, the beauty 🙂
But before we reach the top, let’s pay some attention to the big blocks underneath our feet. They felt solid for a 1200-year-old building. It was also interesting to note that the spaces between the blocks allowed rain to fall through …
The top!
Sunburnt and sweaty, but we made it!

The temples of Prambanan

The Prambanan templex complex consists of the main temple and smaller outer temples. The Hindu temples were built around the 9th and 10th Century, so not quite as old as Borobudur but still old!

Family selfie: someone appears a little tired …
Being a Hindu temple, the carvings depict a number of stories from the Ramayana, the hero of which is the monkey god, Hanuman. Not sure if one of these is Hanuman but they’re definitely monkeys. Aggressive monkeys with sharp teeth.
There were four of these gigantic gateway door things and inside was …
… a Hindu god. This one is Ganesha.
The stairs were steep.
Rain spouts
We rented bicycles to ride to one of the outer temples. First time we were on a tandem bike! Paul and I took turns riding with Elina.
It was the late afternoon and there weren’t many visitors at the outer temples.
Blending in.
Someone is obviously templed-out!

Animals at Prambanan

Interestingly, there were other attractions at this site than just the temples…

Yes, that’s right, there was a snake charmer.
An albino python.
What is a cassowary doing here?
Goodbye, Prambanan! It was quite late in the evening when we left and it took about 1hr 45min to get back to our guesthouse. A huge day for us and our driver.