There are certain moments that stick with you, moments that sink beneath your skin and settle into your bones. As we ascended the steps of Borobudur in the dark stillness of the morning, the first call to prayer echoed out over the city. Layers of religions. This temple was built by buddhists in the ninth century. As I allowed my awe to escape from my lips into words, my host, Ika, studied me. You really care about this, don’t you? he said. Yeah, I laughed. The social fabric that makes up Indonesia is exhilarating to me–there’s so much religious history here–it’s remarkable. In the light of the half moon, it felt like one of the most magical places I had ever been. Jasmine flowers infused the air that still lingered with last night’s rain. When we reached the top, I traced the circle of stupas, stopping for a moment to place my hand on the cool stone. My heart was racing. I had waited so long to come here.
Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world, is the Buddhist view of the cosmos rendered in stone. With seven layers, each ascending step is a physical representation of the spiritual journey. While the lower floors are surrounded by walls covered in carvings of human sin, and the middle floors the story of how the Buddha became enlightened in our flawed world, the upper most levels are free of any restrictive walls-the stories and the teachings are over at that point. One feels a vastness upon reaching the top, the endless freedom and spacious perspective symbolizing Nirvana. I’m not religious. But if there is one organized religion I have more of an affinity with than others, it’s Buddhism. Multiple lives, karma, and enlightenment all make more sense to me than heaven, hell, and the Bible ever did. And the endless jungle and sunrise definitely light a flame that being inside a church was never able to do.
I sat in utter calmness, perched on a stupa facing eastward. The sky changed from a dull lavender to a grey haze and finally to a brilliant blue. As the sun rose higher in the sky, I circled the top of the temple countless times. The sun’s light collided with the dense fog to paint the surrounding jungle different shades of blue, green, and indigo every time I made my way around. The silhouettes of towering trees shrouded in mist were just as stunning as the temple itself. As the morning continued on, most of the other tourists left, and I had the place almost to myself. I was more contemplative than I might have been normally, having recently spent days talking about spirits and multiple lives with a man I met in sapa. My head swam with our conversations, and all those bigger questions I usually don’t demand of myself.
As wonderful as the sunrise was, Borobudur is so much more than the temple, but most people miss out on the experience of the town because they come in on tour busses from yogya for a few hours. Spend the night, take a breather from the hectic streets of yogya. You’ll be rewarded with welcoming homestays, a bourgeoning restaurant scene, and a picturesque countryside of rice paddies and palm trees.
*Travel Tips for Borobudur*
Efata Homestay–Kindest host you’ll ever meet-not only did he get up to drive me to the temple at 4:15 in the morning, but walked me up to show me his favorite spot to watch the sun rise. After I got back, he took me on his scooter to a traditional tofu making house, as well as a local community center project.
Take the local bus! No need to hire a car. For less than $2 each way, there is no reason to hire a car or take a tour bus, as most tourists do. Catch the bus from the Jombor terminal–it’ll take you straight to Borobudur. The town is small so all homestays and the temple itself are in walking distance.