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Friday 10 May 2013
Yogyakarta, Indonesia

UNESCO Temples and Buddhist Daleks

Yesterday was a busy travel day.  The itinerary called for a 9-hour minubus, but Sukio gave us the option of taking the train instead for 75,000 Rp (about £5) which would cut 3-4 hours off the journey.  Definitely a no-brainer. It wasn't the luxury carriages we had on our first train ride, but still infinitely better than the minibus.  We didn't avoid the bus completely though, it was still a 90-minute drive to the station over bone-rattlingly bumpy roads, but we were treated to a CD of smooth easy-listening love ballards from the early 90s.  Ah, Celine Dion and Boys to Men, how corny your lyrics really are...

We arrived in Yogyakarta (Jogya, to the locals) early afternoon and had the rest of the day to ourselves.  Ailsa and I nipped up to the spa straight away and booked ourselves a 90 minute massage and body scrub.  We were separated by a curtain, but Ailsa could still tell the moment the masseuse hit the ticklish spots on my feet. One relaxing massage and scrub later, I was shown into the bathroom to shower off.  This was an interesting task as it involved a traditional Javanese bathroom.  The water comes from a square tiled tank in the corner and you use a scoop to pour the water over you, rather than a shower head.  It is not very easy to wash off the remaining scrub on your back while trying to work out which angle to hold and tip the scoop at the same time.

Dinner was at the Via Via cafe bar next door.  A live band started playing 60s music while we were eating, so Jim was in his element.  We later heard them moving down the street playing the same set in each bar as we headed in for an early night.

The reason for that was a 5am start so we could reach Borobudur as soon as it opened.  On the way we glimpsed a beautifully subdued sunrise behind the Mt Merapi volcano - subdued because of a solar eclipse touching northern Australia, so just over the horizon from us but still affecting the light.  Borobudur is the world's largest Bubbhist monument, listed on UNESCO's world heritage list and previously one of the Wonders of the World.  It is classed as a monument rather than a temple because visitors walk around on the outside rather than entering any part of the building. It was started over 11 centuries ago, built around a hill with a clever system of water pipes and gargoyles to prevent the run-off getting under the structure.  Unfortunately, these didn't work and even before it was finished it was necessary to build a solid retaining wall around the base of the beautifully carved walls to prevent them collapsing.  The entire structure had sunk considerably into the hill by the time the Dutch arrived.  They undertook a massive salvage programme and took the entire temple apart, block by numbered block, in order to build solid foundations, lead line the structure as it was rebuilt to prevent future erosion, and restore Borobudur to its former glory.  All was great for a while, but in 2010 the eruption of Mt Merapi covered the area in volcanic ash ten inches thick and it took a year to dig the monument out and clean it up for visitors again.

Borobudur is a large square pyramid of 9 levels, representing the stages on the path to enlightenment, with round stupas on the top representing Nirvana.  Visitors following the levels clockwise can follow carvings the whole way telling them the story of Buddha's life.  Our guide was determined to show us far too many of these for the time of day and lack of sleep, so unfortunately he'd lost most of our attention by the time we reached the top.  The top ring of stupas are made of latticed stones each containing a Buddha statue.  Years of earthquakes and volcanic activity meant that not quite all the original stones were available so two of these statues are now revealed seated inside the bottom rings of their stupas.  Maybe it was the early start and increasing temperatures, but to my mind they looked just like Buddhist Daleks!

We had started our visit in the cool 6am mists but by the time we reached the top it was bright sunshine and surprisingly hot for 8am.  Unlike the Buddhist temples we saw in Burma, Borobudur has no decoration beyond its carvings.  The whole monument is carved of grey volcanic rock and to my mind it is all the more impressive for not being covered in gold and gaudy colours.  We were given half an hour to make our own way back down.  In fact we needed this and more to escape from the hundreds of school groups desperate to have their photo taken with the white skinned Westerners!  They were very polite in asking us if we were busy and could they please take a photo with us, so we found it hard to refuse, but as soon as one person took their photo, the rest of their friends would pile in and want their pictures too.  We had to extract ourselves eventually, but it was a lot of fun - though I dread to think how many oictures there are of me looking tired and sweaty circulating around Java now!



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Zobeedoo's Big World Adventure, Part I

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