You could say that our love affair with Southeast Asia started with our first trip to Bali in 2015, but since moving to Malaysia we’ve discovered that there is far more to Indonesia than just the Island of the Gods. Still frothing from the most amazing trip to Sumatra back in December, a few weekends ago we got our passports stamped in another one of Indo’s beautiful islands: Java.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been wanting to see the Borobudur Temple in Central Java, for no other reason except that the pictures look epic. I mean:
So while the main purpose of this trip was to finally see this temple, it ended up being one of favorite weekend getaways yet. Central Java actually has quite a few temples, and our first stop was Prambanan temple in Yogyakarta.
Prambanan is the largest and most beautiful Hindu temple in all of Indonesia, originally constructed in the 9th century. The temple consists of three main shines that were beautifully restored in the 1930s, surrounded by piles of rocks and ruins. The main shrine towers over 150 feet and is dedicated to Shiva the Destroyer. Interestingly, the Hindu god on this shrine stands on a lotus flower, incorporating Buddhism into the Hindu motif. It’s rare for temples to mix Hundu and Buddhist elements, and archeologists believe the reason for this one might be because Prambanan was built when the princess of the Buddhist Sailendras dynasty (ruling the south of Java) and the prince of the Hindu Sanjayas of Old Mataram (ruling the north of Java) were married, uniting the two dynasties into one.
The temple’s other main shrines are dedicated to Brahma the Creator and Vishnu the Keeper, and are equally as stunning with their intricate carvings.
Our visit to Prambanan was short and sweet, due to the sweltering heat. Multiple school groups were visiting that day as well, and the kids wouldn’t stop asking to take photos with us. We literally could not go more than 10 feet without being hounded for a photo, so now I know how the Kardashians must feel!
After exploring Prambanan, we headed to Borobudur, the spiritual heart of Java, where we were lucky to stay at Villa Borobudur Suites & Villas. This gorgeous resort is nestled in a secluded mountaintop, surrounded by verdant jungle and amazing views. From our private pool we could see majestic volcanoes, lush rice paddies, villages, and even the Borobudur Temple when the weather was clear. The concept behind the resort is to provide an authentic Javanese experience with modern luxuries, so the resort was designed with traditional Javanese joglo-style architecture which really complemented the exotic setting of Java. The owner employs only local Javanese people in order to support the local community and their rich culture, and the staff was so polite and accommodating, giving us a true taste of the hospitality Javanese are reputed for. Our villa was tucked away in a secluded location and we didn’t see another guest the entire time we were there. Because we were celebrating Valentine’s Day, they arranged a romantic dinner for us complete with candles and rose petals. 🙂
Our second day in Java, we woke up at 4am in order to get to the Borobudur Temple in time for the sunrise. Michael wasn’t very happy about the early wakeup call, but I considered it payback for all the times I’ve woken up at the crack at dawn so that he can surf.
Majestically sitting on a hilltop and surrounded by volcano views, Borobudur is the world’s biggest Buddhist monument with unsurpassed artistic merit. The temple was created around 750 AD and was brilliantly built using no cement or mortar, just interlocking stone. Designed as a single large stupa, Borobudur contains over 2 million stone blocks plus some 500 serene-faced Buddha statues. Viewed from above, it takes the shape of a giant mandala, which represents the path to reach nirvana. The extraordinary monument was rediscovered in 1815, hidden under layers of volcanic ash, and has since undergone an 8-year restoration project.
When we arrived at the base of the temple, we were given flashlights so that we could scale the steep steps in the dark. Climbing to the top of Borobudur is meant to be a pilgrimage, where you are guided by stone narratives that illustrate the life of Buddha Shakyamuni as well as many aspects of Javanese life 1000 years ago. The top of the structure consists of three levels representing Kamadhatu (world of desire), Ruphadatu (world of forms), and Arupadhatu (world of formlessness). 72 buddha statues sit on these three levels, each of them seated inside a perforated bell-shaped stupa. This is where we sat as we watched the sunrise over the surrounding ring of volcanos, while gazing down over the temple’s stupas. Having dreamed about seeing this place in person for so many years, it was surreal to finally be there, and I was overwhelmed with a feeling of peace.
It seems like everywhere we go in Indonesia, I leave another piece of my heart. I can’t wait to explore the Mentawai islands and Lombok next!