The Biggest Buddhist Monument, Like, Ever

You’re meant to get up for sunrise at Borobudur. You can either pay someone to scoot you up the sunrise hill, or you can cycle there and walk up it, or you can fuck it off all together in favour of a bit longer in bed. Option three please, Borobudur. The sunrise point isn’t far from the Chicken Church and the temple complex from there is actually only a tiny postage stamp amongst a load of jungle so you’re more watching the sunrise over the admittedly gorgeous landscape rather than the temple itself. Also, we’d been told there was a lot of cloud around in the mornings at the moment. Also, bollocks to getting up for two sunrises in a row. You can actually pay extra cash monies and go and see the sunrise from within the temple itself but the entrance fee for foreigners will already have you sizing up your organs for flogging without adding on extras so we rocked up just before 6am to get in with the rest of the riff raff, reluctantly parted with Rp325,000, and tried not to cry as we were compensated with free tea. That’s about US$25. I get it, it’s UNESCO, it costs a lot of money to maintain, but still. Ouch. On account of the cost we decided to see either Borobudur or Prambanan and they both look incredible but we’ve chosen this one so please don’t tell us how amazing the other one is because my poor little budget can’t handle it.

GoPro fish eye shot of Borobudur because that’s the only way you can fit the whole fucker in the shot. I would have waited until there was no humans in shot but I’d have been waiting my whole life.
Our guide. His name is on his badge but you’ll need that badass CSI technology where you zoom in and sharpen it up to read it.

Once you’re inside there’s no point in paying a fuck tonne of money if you don’t know what you’re looking at so we enlisted the help of a guide whose name I’ve forgotten along with a Dutch couple. He took us to take a long shot of the temple first then told us a bit about it. It’s 9th century but no one knows how long it took to complete. Fucking ages I would imagine. It’s made from volcanic rock which isn’t actually that hardy and breaks easily, and no mortar is used. Instead the stones are locked together with shapes, for want of a better way of describing it. Basically they’re loose. We were about to casually stroll up a centuries old monument consisting entirely of loose, brittle bricks. Wonderful. So it’s the biggest Buddhist monument in the world and there are obviously a shit tonne of Buddha statues, each having one of six mudra which is a symbolic hand gesture. I can’t remember what they all mean, mind. I’m not a bottomless pit of information.

The three colours of Borobudur as modelled by these bricks which are held together with fresh air, engineering and faith.

Lots of the statues are damaged by earthquakes or by people lopping the heads off to take home for a collection. I’m pretty sure that’s not permitted any more though. Anyone trying to escape out of the temple with a Buddha head under their jacket will most likely be tackled to the ground and arrested. He told us that it was probably abandoned after nearby Gunung Merapi erupted but this is just a theory. I don’t think anyone knows for sure. Then he told us that the bottom steps were new, they’re small steps, but the original steps in the rest of the monument are very steep so you’re forced to keep your head down in respect. I think if my quad muscles were capable of glaring they’d have done so right about now.

One of the reliefs. It’d have been a bloody relief when they finished it without chipping Queen Maya’s face off anyway.

Okay, so this volcanic rock it’s made from. It’s naturally in three colours and what they did was build the whole thing first and then they carved the reliefs into the walls which basically meant you couldn’t fuck up. If you accidentally chipped a nose off a figure you couldn’t then replace the brick. So no pressure then. There are nine levels, three of them just have stupas on them and the rest have carvings all the way around and it tells a story. It’s really quite incredible. The very bottom layer is called Kamadhatu and this layer represents desire. This is you and me and Bob down the pub; the normal folks that want shit all the time like material wealth and sex and Kit Kats. The less desire you have the closer you are to enlightenment until you have exactly zero desire and that’s when you achieve Nirvana. You can’t see the top stupa from down here, because you can’t see Nirvana when you’re a lustful mortal. Actually you can’t fucking see the bottom layer at all because they’ve built a bloody wall around it. Possibly because the carvings are erotic? I don’t know. But they’re out of bounds, you can’t see them.

If Buddha had Instagram this would be his profile picture.

The next five layers are called Ruphadatu and these tell lots of stories of good deeds, including a king who gave his eyes to an old, blind subject so he could see his family and in return he got a thousand spiritual eyes which probably aren’t any good for watching your programmes with your feet up in the evening. The main stories told though are of the Buddha and how his parents, Queen Maya and King Śuddhodana longed for a child so they prayed and wished. One night, Maya had a dream about a white elephant with six tusks. The mystic dude they consulted told her she was pregnant so she travelled home to have her first child. Buddha was born in Lumbini, Nepal, on the full moon in May and as soon as he was born he walked seven steps, and where ever he stepped a lotus flower appeared. No, really, this is what they believe. Anyway, all this is depicted up throughout the layers. His parents, his birth, his growing up, leaving for a life of poverty before becoming enlightened and preaching the Middle Way. He became enlightened on the full moon in May, and he died on the full moon in May.

This is just a stalky photo of some Buddhist monks at the biggest Buddhist monument in the world, because I thought it’d look cool on my blog.

You have to walk this whole thing clockwise as you would any Buddhist monument. Arupadhatu is what the top three layers are called and they have stupas all around them and in each of the stupas is a statue of The Buddha. There’s one particular one which people used to touch for luck but you’s clearly prohibited now and they even have a guard next to it to keep people’s grubby little mitts off. And on the very top layer is the biggest stupa of them all which is apparently hollow but you can’t get inside. Just as you can’t see the top layer from the bottom, you can’t see the bottom layer from the top because you have no desire left and you’ve achieved Nirvana. If you walked the whole thing, every layer, clockwise, you’d cover 5 kilometres which is actually quite a long way without the promise of cheesecake at the end. It cost US$25,000,000 to restore Borobudur to UNESCO standards and UNESCO paid 25% of that. The Indonesian government had to foot the bill for the rest so you can see where the huge entrance fee comes from. Our guide left us at the top where we joined the ranks of the selfie makers and wandered around a bit more admiring the view, and what a fabulous sight to insert into your eyeholes. Honestly, it’s breathtaking, and in a way you like it to be and not the way that involves far too many steps before breakfast.

It’s worth dragging your sleep deprived carcass to the top of the monument just for the views.

Obviously there are going to be loads of people trying to sell you shit on the way out. It’s basically the rules. There was a bloke who’d approached us before we’d gone in and as we left he tried to sell us, amongst other things, a tiny replica of one of the stupas on the upper layers and the top lifted off to reveal the little Buddha. Yeah okay, that was kinda cool but no way were we paying US$20 for it. To be honest we didn’t even really want it but as we walked away he chased us, dropping the price lower and lower. He followed us through the gates saying “Shhh, shhh, 70,000. 60,000.” As if prices this low were some big secret he didn’t want the other white people to know about. Eventually he got to Rp40,000 which is about US$3. I’m not even shitting you. Haggling in Indonesia is a piece of piss, you don’t even have to actually haggle which is awesome because I hate it. It was probably worth half that to be fair but we bought it. Pity purchase. I have doubts about it making it back to the UK in one piece but hey. It cost less than a shit pint back home.


Ooh, tell you what was pretty cool though, there were loads of Indonesian students who had obviously been brought here with the express intention of talking to foreigners, I assume to practice English. They had lists of questions to ask us and to be fair their English was already at a brilliant level. Massive kudos to anyone who speaks more than one language because I can only speak one, and even that’s questionable after a few beers.

Each of the stupas on the upper levels has a Buddha statue inside it, like a really ancient Kinder Surprise but less disappointing.

Anyway, the town of Borobudur is mercifully tiny and the bus terminal is located a sane distance from the temple so we didn’t have to walk for too long in the bastard blistering heat after the amazing included breakfast at Lotus 2 before we were ushered onto a bus to Yogyakarta. We ended up staying at a Lotus in Jogjia too, Lotus Losmen. Heads up, I know Andrea Hotel is listed in the Lonely Planet and seems to have a good name but you can get much better rooms with attached bathrooms for a much better price if you wander around the gangs, the tiny alleyways that the Sosrowijayan area is made up of. We checked in, applied beer to our faceholes like good little tourists then headed to bed, because we’d been awake since some ungodly hour which was becoming some manner of trend and all of our basic motor functions were threatening industrial action.

Borobudur, Indonesia
Stayed at: Lotus 2 Guest House

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