Thursday, July 4, 2013


The Global Foodie Visits Borobudur!
Twenty or so miles to the east of the city of Yogyakarta, Java, is the ancient Hindu site of Prambanan, which I've written about previously. About twenty miles to the west of Yogya, on a slight rise, lies the once-lost ruins of Borobudur temple. While Prambanan is a grouping of temples, Borobudur is a massive pile of over two million pieces of grey stone. How it ever got "lost" is beyond me, but this enormous site was known only to the locals who canibalized it for their own building for a millennium. "Discovered" in the mid-1800's, it was a ravaged pile of tumbled stones. Talk about your tough jigsaw puzzles!
We stayed in the hotel adjacent to the site, so had easy access across a field to the site. The first photo shows our view from the gardens of the hotel.
Due to heavy foliage, a clean long shot is nearly impossible (unless you get up at 4AM for a one hour ride to a nearby volcano, and it was pouring heavily at 4AM).
Borobudur opens every morning before dawn, as that's the ideal time of day to photograph its many terraces. The effects can be magical: the sun slowly rising above the mist, gilding the dark stones and highlighting the thousands of carved faces on the friezes. Official opening is 6AM, but by that time hundreds of people have paid a premium for early admission and trooped across its wide platforms, mounted its treacherously steep stairs (at the four cardinal points, rising through seven levels to the massive top stupa), and taken literally thousands of photos.
The photo of some of the scores of stupas at left, taken at 7:00AM on the third level from the top, is looking west. At that time, perhaps a thousand people had poured onto the site (and thousands more of all nationalities and religions would come throughout the day) and it was difficult to get a clean shot without someone posing or shooting. Another impediment was groups asking to pose with us; apparently, having a westerner in your photo is an accomplishment of great importance. Who knows how many Facebook sites we'll appear on?
Borobudur makes your finger itch to take the next photo and the next...and the next. Everywhere you turn there is something you think you'll never see again, something marvelously unique. The carvings tell the story of the Ramayana (feel free to Wikipedia for details, the ancient spiritual story of Prince Rama is incredibly long and complex), and there's probably a mile or more of high relief carvings, mot of them incredibly lifelike. A casual look tells you that the craftsmen used some of their family and friends as subjects, as many of the faces are remarkably different. The style of mustaches alone is amazing.
These dancers on the right, one of hundreds, are part of a ten foot party frieze, and show some of the wear and tear over a thousand years of tropical climate can do. Note also that the lower right portion of the dancers isn't carved; the rebuilders never found the last piece, so put in a blank. There are surprisingly few blanks, and some of the long friezes are remarkable in their composition and complexity. The last
photo, taken at one of the lower (maybe the third) levels, shows a gargoyle in the foreground, with one of the dozens of niches on the upper level that originally held statues of Buddha. Considering the age of this monument, it's in amazingly good condition.
Borobudur is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as is Prambanan, which ought to protect it from art thieves and further deterioration. This was one of my Bucket List items, and it was everything I hoped it would be (except that it was raining all night, so the fabulous dawn photos will have to wait for another visit).

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