Watching Sunrise at Borobudur Temple Indonesia
Carefully I watch each of my steps as I try to climb the steep stairs in pitch darkness. Pitch darkness as I am trying my best ignoring the countless light sabres around me to find the path. Luckily these sabres are so weak that their undernourished beam dies before hitting the stone steps of the largest Buddhist temple in the world Borobudur in the largest Muslim nation in the world. Well, that is Indonesia for you, every step you take you to learn something astonishing about this country of more than 17,000 islands spread over 3 time zones that almost 250 million people call home.
I had great expectations from Borobudur and it was number one on my Baltee list (Baltee = Bucket in Hindi) when I signed for Trip of Wonders on the invitation of Ministry of Tourism of Indonesia. I was looking forward to watching the magical Sunrise from the top of the Borobudur Temple, but even then I was a taken aback when I was told we will be leaving our hotel at 3 in the night to catch the Sunrise at Borobudur temple. Not the biggest challenge at leaving at 3 in the night is you need to get up at 2 in the night which is about 2 hours early to my bedtime as I am a nocturnal in my habits thanks to many years of working for American companies that turned by body clock upside down.
Anyways I tried to catch up some sleep on the bus journey to the Borobudur Temple with absolute confidence that I will wake up only when everybody will come back after photographing the Sunrise from the Borobudur Temple top. Luckily I was wrong and boy was I happy to be wrong in this case ? We were greeted by the staff of Manohara Center for Borobudur Studies at the base of the temple and I decided to have a hot cup of tea to wake myself .
It was here we were given the tiny torches that were to be our Sabres to tear apart the darkness as we ascended the path to Nirvana to the top of the world’s largest Buddhist temple to see what is termed as one of the most magical sunrises anywhere in the world.
As I huffed and puffed to the top, keeping each of my steps carefully that would have made the Donkey’s who climb to the monastery in Petra proud. Everywhere around me the light sabers were trying to criss-cross each other’s path but none tried to overtake others on the narrow path that allowed only one person at a time. I soon realized we were not the only group that had plans to capture the Sunrise, but every step, every stone and every one of the little Stupa at the temple was covered with all kind of sun catchers, varying from Droned Dudes to Selfie Queens to movie makers to many other varieties of photographers, travelers, tourists and god know who else.
By the time I reached the top level of the Borobudur temple, I realized all the best spots to photograph the sunrise from Borobudur temple were taken, or so I thought. For there was some confusion among those present on the true direction of Sunrise and some people were too busy to change their spots, set up their tripods and jostle for space.
I was told that Sunrise at Borobudur temple will happen at 5 am and I was patiently waiting for Surya Deva to make his grand appearance. But the Sun was more elusive than the Karwa Chauth Moon and was nowhere to be seen. I fail to understand what is with these Celestial bodies – Moon, Sun, Hailey’s Comet and god knows what else when you are waiting for them they decide to play Hide and Seek with you.
Did I say Hide and Seek ? Yes, that was the plan for the day by Mr Surya who rather than accepting our early morning Surya Namaskar decided to play Hide and Seek with the dark October clouds.
As the murmurs in anticipation of the coming Sunrise became louder a faint orange glow appeared on the horizon, that some dismissed as an effect of Red eye due to keeping awake the whole night. But no Sir this was no red eye or red bull’s eye, it was the first glow of dusk that is known to tear apart even the darkest of night clouds. But as the orange of dawn became brighter it was clear that there will be no sunrise today. Well, let me paraphrase, “ There was to be no sunrise worthy of photographing today ” was my thoughts.
But that is the story of every landscape photographer who rises up to click a sunrise, many a time there is no sunrise or even rain just as you set your gear to click the first rays of the morning. I was not the only one disappointed, every photographer, traveler, tourists, Droned Dude, Selfie Queen and GoPro star worth his or her camera was wondering what to do as it became clear that it will be a very cloudy day.
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“ Fikar, not desi, you come from the Land of Jugaad, how can you get disappointed if the Sun wants to play Hide and Seek, maybe this is a sign ?
So I composed myself and on a serious note I told myself
A Sunrise is not just getting some pretty pictures, a Sunrise is also about hope, a sunrise is about new beginnings, a Sunrise is about the message that no matter how dark and stormy the night is the Sun will still rise in the morning. So I started playing with the settings of my camera and also composition. What was to be a session on sunrise soon became a fun session clicking all kind of pictures from the top of the most magnificent Buddhist temple in the world in Wonderful Indonesia.
So dear reader let us play hide and seek at the Borobudur Temple, and click some pictures of what is happening around me. So dear reader what was supposed to be one of the most beautiful Sunrise became my opportunity to click fellow travellers tourist, Droned Dudes, Selfie queens etc. at the world’s largest Buddhist Temple in the world.
Here a brief history and geography of the Borobudur Temple will not be out of place, more details can be read on Wikipedia, from where I have anyways copied it .
It is believed that Borobudur Buddhist temple was built in 9th Century during a now lost kingdom of Srivijaya, that clearly had ties with India and China. But around the 14th century, the Kingdom of Srivijaya declined and volcanic ash and the Jungle swallowed the temple, while people around the temple slowly forgot about it except for Borobudur continuing to live in folklores. Then in 1814 it was Thomas Stamford Raffles, the man credited with the founding of Modern Singapore got the temple excavated and the world came face-face with the largest Buddhist temple in the world that is also now UNESCO World Heritage Site. Rest as they say is history. Soon pilgrims started coming, and then came the travellers followed by hordes of tourists, Selfie Queens, Droned Dudes, and photographers for every kind. Today Borobudur is the most visited tourist attraction in Indonesia. Besides tourists every year during the month of Vesak on Buddha Purnima thousands of Buddhist pilgrims visit the Borobudur temple and climb the steps to the top just like pilgrims thousands of years ago .
What is so special about Borobudur UNESCO World Heritage Site ?
The 9th-century Borobudur temple is a great example of indigenous Javanese architecture though it has influences from India and has a total of 9 levels symbolising the level of enlightenment ( I am guessing this was not given on Wikipedia 🙂 ). The complete temple is built of stone that god knows where and how those ancient people brought without any highways and heavy machinery. Even more surprising is that all the stones are interlocked without the use of any kind of mortar or binding material etc. I have seen some stones with an interlocking pattern in Golconda Fort in Hyderabad, it seems it was a method used across India and Asia to interlock stones used in construction.
What is the meaning of Borobudur: There are many theories about the origin of the name ranging from being Big Buddha Temple to , a temple on the hill to Vihara for Buddha and much more. If you are interested in them you can check this detailed article on Wikipedia
Each level of the temple is adorned with decorated relief panels depicting life and times of Buddha and also the life in Java when the temple was built. I did not focus on clicking these panels as the light was not good, but you can visit this gallery by UNESCO to check some of these images that transform you 1400 years back in time. Many of the original 504 Buddha Statues ( 5+4 =9 does it tells something about my theory ? ) lost their heads to plunder and invaders. It seems stealing Buddha Head is a common practice around the world as I saw many headless Buddha Statues in Ayutthaya in Thailand also including the famous Buddha Head in Tree Roots. But the real grandeur of Borobudur is visible from the top and thank some of the Droned Dudes in our group we got to see the same on screen . From the top, the Borobudur temple looks like a Tantrik Buddhist Mandala. Check this design from Wikipedia and the Drone image captured by Will Cho from Hong Kong.
As the day progresses and the Sun continue to be elusive while the clouds add drama to the sky, I change my strategy and focus on the happenings around me and make the most of the day as it unfolds. But the clouds above prove to be a blessing in disguise for my Jugaad. As most of the photographers start descending from the temple only a few diehard ones remain and I try to frame the photographers in my pictures.
I have this girl in a very stylish headgear that I am unable to figure out from which country it belongs to but she is sure busy clicking selfie of her. I have never observed a more diligent selfie clicker than her.
She adjusts her little tripod to which her smartphone is attached, composes the shot and smiles at the right moment when the phone clicks the picture. She repeats the process at various places in the complex, as I am on a higher ground I am able to follow her from a distance. ( I know some of you think I am a stalker !!! – but guys I am just an observer, a fly on the wall who just watches and occasionally clicks the button on his own camera till he finds a more interesting picture like the one above ). On further observation, it was found that some of the solo travellers were taking help of other people / photographers around and asking them to click them. How do I know ? Well, I was stopped by more than one to click them, unfortunately, I do not have any proof of this selfless social service I did to clear the good name of Solo Travelers. Check this image of a solo traveller below clicked by Internationally World Famous on Instagram – Pratik Talreja aka Sadak_Chap
But call me a stalker or a fly on the wall. The eternal question “ How Solo Travelers, click there own pictures has been answered by my through research into the photography habits of Solo Travelers in the haloed and sacred precinct of Borobudur Temple. I am sure a certain Smt. Paladini will be pleased as a plum on the results.
Now this guy must be the Indiana Jones of the archaeology photography world armed with a stylish hat, a longish f selfie stick he was moving from one spot to another trying to get that perfect selfie when I clicked him.
But my best experience at the Borobudur temple was clicking these wonderful kids who had a smile brighter than the sunrise we missed. (Note to my desi self – Look for smiles and the sunshine will follow)
Soon I was being called by my friends from Indonesia to join for a group shoot at the base of the Borobudur Temple so I had to stop my shooting spree at the top and start my climb down the very same steps, but now they were well lit but guess what? A lot of people were still climbing them, so I guess Sunrise is not the only time you can go to the Borobudur temple. There is so much to see, observe and click at Borobudur temple that one can spend as much time as one wants. And if you are one of those folks who are not early risers, fikar not the temple is open till sunset in evening.
After my climbing down from the temple it was time to walk back to the Manohara Centre for Borobudur studies where a scrumptious breakfast was waiting for us. But not before I had my first brush with bargaining in Indonesia. But more on that in a coming blog post.
Some useful Information and Travel Tips for Borobudur
How to reach Borobudur
- Borobudur is about 40 KM from the cultural hub of Yogyakarta on the island of Java. Direct flights are available from all major cities in Indonesia to Yogyakarta. From Yogyakarta, it is about 1.5 hours drive on decent roads. Buses and taxis are easily available from Yogyakarta to reach Borobudur temple.
- The best time to visit Borobudur is sunrise so you better reach there around 4:30 am to get best spots. Manohara Hotel has special packages for visitors that allow early entry before others ( which means you need to reach even earlier )
- Entry Ticket to Borobudur costs 400,000 Indonesian Rupiah that is about 2000 /- Indian Rupees or 30 USD. Locals pay 275,000 IDR ( Just like in India, Indonesia also has differential pricing for locals and foreigners ). Our ticket included include tea/coffee, light snack at Manohara Hotel, a torch on a returnable basis and a beautiful batik headband on the return of the torch.
About images in this post: Some of the images have been deliberately oversaturated to add drama to them to show how I felt at the Borobudur Temple and not just what I saw. The Instagram images have been credited to the respective photographers.
I would like to thank Indonesia Tourism Ministry for inviting me to Wonderful Indonesia on the Trip of Wonders. Watch this space for more.
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