We climbed the stone steps up to Nirvana in the darkness. Around the nine stacked platforms, past the 1460 ancient reliefs of a journey from mere earthly desires to ethereal wonder. At the top the emerging sun bathed the stupas and our faces.
We are at Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world, symmetrical on all four sides, still surrounded by jungle and close to two volcanoes.
Built in the 9th century, (three centuries before Angkor Wat), Borobudur is the second oldest building we have seen this year. It was lost for nearly 700 years before being rediscovered, under volcanic ash and jungle, by British Governor General Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles in 1812.
How lucky we are to live at a time when these treasures of art and engineering are protected and restored. We saw a photo taken as late as 1971, when it was a derelict, fenced off nightmare, but two years later a major restoration programme started, followed by an ongoing battle to protect the site from volcanic dust, earthquakes, terrorists and wayward tourists.
Today the temple, made entirely of dark volcanic stone, can appear uninspiring when the light is flat. But reading Wikipedia it appears the “bas-reliefs of Borobudur were originally quite colourful, before centuries of torrential tropical rainfalls peeled-off the colour pigments”.
Unlike Angkor Wat, which we visited five years ago with our children, it was wonderfully peaceful at sunrise. Just a 100 or so tourists savouring the mist over the lush jungle and the silhouettes of the Buddhas.
If you plan to do this Firstly come here before the millions of Chinese tourists arrive. Secondly, stay close-by, in the town of Borobudur, rather than attempt to do it as a day trip from Yogyakarta. Thirdly, note you need premium tickets for sunrise and sunset. We bought ours for sunrise but stayed late into the day.