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Borobudur is not only the world’s largest Buddhist temple, but it’s also the most visited attraction in all of Indonesia. As such, you can usually expect to spend your visit there with hordes of other tourists, jostling for position to get the all-important selfie atop the temple. This is exactly what we thought was coming our way on our visit, but thanks in part to getting lost, we ended up being the only two people on Borobudur at sunset. Here’s how it all went down:
Having already visited Prambanan and ridden all around Yogyakarta by motorbike, we decided to head out of the city for a few nights to check out Borobudur and the Dieng Plateau. Without a smart phone or GPS device of any sort, we went old-fashioned and actually wrote the directions down – it seemed simple enough. A wrong turn happened somewhere, however, as we ended up driving in circles down backroads for a couple of hours in a sad attempt at following directions in Indonesian (I hadn’t gotten to that topic in class, yet). It should have been a rather simple ride, but thanks to our little directional mishaps we didn’t arrive at the hotel until around 4 in the afternoon.
As the only hotel on the actual temple grounds, Manohara is a great place to stay for a night if you’d rather spend a little more time than the average tourist exploring this ancient marvel. As we were nearing the end of a 7-month backpacking trip around SE Asia, splurging on a hotel room wasn’t exactly in our budget. However, when you take into account the fact that this hotel includes your admission to the temple and a buffet breakfast, it ended up being a great deal.
Thanks to our late arrival, there wasn’t much time to visit the temple – it’s open from 6AM-5PM. All was not lost, though, as we were informed that guests of the hotel can get sunrise and/or sunset access to the temple for an extra $20 each, which also included tea and a snack later on. As we’re not the best early risers, we opted for the latter. After quickly dropping our bags off and putting on our sarongs, we rushed off to scale the temple. Of course, a hawker managed to stop us, convince us to let him snap a few photos, and then told us he’d be waiting if we changed our minds about buying magnets. Wouldn’t you know it, the guy actually sat there and waited in the dark for over an hour! Not sure whether to admire his determination or begrudge him for his persistence in taking my money, I decided to be nice and bought a few overpriced souvenirs.
Finally, we got to the temple and began our ascent. With time and daylight running low, we opted to skip making the rounds of each level and save it for the next day. Although not the conventional way of visiting the temple, this proved to be a good idea as we would later see a short film in the hotel that explained the design of the temple and really helped us understand exactly what we were looking at. At the top of the temple, there were quite a few people snapping photos who we just assumed would be joining us for sunset. Once the clock struck 5, though, the guards shuffled everyone off aside from the two of us and one other girl. Much to our surprise, she simply took a few photos and quickly headed out as well. Just like that, we were all alone atop the world’s largest Buddhist temple. While I usually enjoy a laugh at the expense of people and their selfie-sticks, I couldn’t help but convert my monopod into one to capture the moment.
I’m not a Buddhist, nor am I a particularly religious individual for that matter, but standing atop this ancient, awe-inspiring place of worship was a powerfully spiritual moment. It’s times like these that make it all worth it – the long bus rides, the hours spent getting lost, and general ups and downs of backpacking all disappear when you find yourself in a situation like this. It’s hard to find the words to accurately describe it, so here are a few pictures instead – remember, each one is worth at least a thousand words.
While going for sunrise allows you to stay on the temple for as long as you want and take it all in with just one visit, we thoroughly enjoyed watching the crowds disperse and the sun disappear behind the clouds. In total silence, we turned on our flashlights and took a closer look at some of the intricate bas-reliefs that adorn Borobudur’s walls. It was a rare moment of peace, quiet, and reflection on a hectic trip traveling across the world’s most populous island and one we’ll cherish as long as we live.