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Return Flight Part 2: Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Incheon airport interior

The interior of the Incheon airport, one of the largest in the world. Since I was to laid over for almost eight hours, I booked a free tour into the city for something to do and to put my “feet on the ground” so I can say I’ve visited Korea.

We flew directly over Borneo, the Philippines, and Taiwan (including Kaohsiung, Chiayi, and other places I’ve lived before). We seemed to be following land as much as possible, based on the in-flight pathfinder app. Then we crossed the East China Sea and headed for Korea.

Across mud flat

The mudflat of Incheon Harbor. The Incheon airport is built on an artificial island in the harbor, which is one of the shallowest harbors in the world. Tides change the height of the water by as much as 14 feet, and when the tide is out, it leaves a large mud flat with channels for the receding tide.

We landed at Incheon, a city on the western coast of Korea not far from the DMZ. Incheon is most famous as the site of a major battle of the Korean War, which I’ll talk about shortly. The airport was built on an artificial island built up in a tidal flat in the harbor.

Stranded boat

A small fishing boat stranded in the mudflat at Incheon Harbor, left by the receding tide.

I deplaned and walked through terminal. It was about 7:00 in the morning, local time. At least this flight stayed mostly to a south to north trajectory, so that I was only two hours ahead of Jakarta. But I had left the southern hemisphere behind. No more Southern Cross. My carry-on items were getting heavy, dragging on my arms and shoulders.

Hovercraft

A hovercraft and transport ship heading under the bridge to Incheon Harbor.

I saw the desk I was looking for, advertising free transit tours of the local area. I had read about this when I researched what to do in the Incheon airport when I found I would have an eight-hour layover here. I looked through the offerings, and the man at the desk looked at my next boarding pass and suggesting taking a 10:00 one-hour tour or a five-hour tour. I’m glad they didn’t have any three-hour tours. That could have been disastrous. And if you get that reference, you are a child of the 1960s and/or 1970 reruns. So sit right back . . . He gave me an immigration card filled out for the one-hour tour to a local temple.

Bridge pylons

Pylons to the new bridge across Incheon Harbor to the airport. This bridge and the airport itself are considered to be among the engineering marvels of the world.

Taking this tour would mean leaving the sanctum of the inner airport. I waited in the queue to get through immigration, and took my items downstairs and finally found a trolley. The lady at the tour desk at Door 8 said she would try to get me in the 9:00 two-hour tour, because that one was better. I ate some doughnuts at Krispy Kreme and waited.

New City

Once we crossed the bridge and approached Incheon City itself, we saw this New City which has been built to house over one million people.

At 9:00 my tour group assembled at the desk and we were led at a brisk walk across the terminal to the far end by our guide, Nikki. We met up with two German men, both with walking braces, and we boarded a small tour bus. We drove out of the airport and onto a toll road, which led along a roadway built on top of mud flats. The tide was out, and here it can change up to 14 m between high and low tides. I could see small streamlets leading throughout the flats where the water runs back and forth in the tides. Then the roadway arched up and turned across the main bay entrance onto a long, high bridge with amazing architecture. Huge pylons supported a modern suspension structure. I had seen documentaries about this bridge as one of the modern architectural marvels of the world.

Blue bridge to new city

A bridge from the airport freeway across to the New City near Incheon, Korea. It was nice to be driving on the right side of the road again.

It was foggy in the early morning, and on the other side of the bridge a large group of new buildings, some very tall, emerged from the mist, an entire new city built for South Korea’s growing 50 million population.

Incheon tour bus

Our tour bus from the airport to the sites in Incheon, Korea.

We did a U-turn back to the main city on the left of the highway. Nikki told us that Incheon is now a city of 3 million people. We turned toward hills and wound up to the base of a hill with a beautiful set of Buddhist temples at the top. This was the Heungryunsa Temple complex. She said that there were 108 stairs leading to the top and that local people would kneel and bow down at the top 108 times to bring a blessing to their families.

Streets of Incheon

From the main highway we turned into Incheon city itself and wound through the streets to the hilltop above the city.

This was very similar to Buddhist temples and monasteries in Taiwan. Different landings on the steps had statues of the Buddhas, including the Amitah Buddha (Amita Fwo or Maitreya, the Buddha of Enlightment symbolizing the achievement of Nirvana by the original Buddha, Gautama Siddhartha), Mi Lwo Fwo (the fat, laughing Buddha of prosperity), and others. All the statues were painted gold or coated with gold foil, and decorated with smaller Buddha statues. The landscaping and rocks were beautifully manicured and peaceful. At the top landing were a series of temples and a large golden bell with log striker. It was tempting to ring that bell, but Nikki forbade us on pain of expulsion.

Nikki and group

Our tour group at the Heungryunsa Temple in Incheon, Korea. Our guide, Nikki, is the in the center with dark pants and a white blouse.

This temple complex has been here for many years. It was destroyed by the Japanese in the 1300s and rebuilt. It has weathered many storms of time and ideology. Nikki called out that we needed to move on to our second stop – this was a short tour, after all. She made the last person who returned to the bus sing a song.

David at Incheon temple

David Black at the Heungryunsa Temple complex in Incheon, Korea.

We drove a short distance to the Battle of Incheon Memorial. In 1951 at the height of the Korean War things were going badly for the South Korean forces trying to prevent the northern invasion. They were driven back to the southern tip of the peninsula and Seoul had fallen when the United Nations stepped in, led largely by the United States military. Under General Douglas Macarthur’s command, the combined UN forces planned a counteroffensive. First, the North Korean advance was stopped. Then, in a strategic move, the forces attacked at Incheon behind the enemy lines. They planned many “excursions in force” at other spots to look like they were the real landing site. Incheon’s geography wasn’t good for an invasion – all those mud flats to cross with landing craft. But that was why they chose here – it wasn’t expected. Landing craft carrying U.S. Marines and other forces came ashore at three places and the attack was successful, cutting of the North Korean supply lines and forcing them to pull back.

Fat Buddha 2

A statue of Mi Lwo Fwo, the laughing Buddha of prosperity, at the Heungryunsa Temple in Incheon, Korea.

Then Macarthur made his greatest blunder. The North Koreans had tried to reunify Korean under their communist leadership. Now Macarthur saw the opportunity to do the same under United Nations control and he drove on the advantage, pushing the demoralized North Koreans back past the original border between the two halves of the country.

Main temple

The main temple at the Heungryunsa Temple complex in Incheon, Korea. The entire series of temples sits at the top of a long stairway overlooking the city and is a very peaceful place.

Mao Tse Dung warned the United Nations forces that they should not approach the 38th parallel, the traditional border between Korea and China. When UN forces got close, the Chinese army poured across and reinforced the North Korean line, making it a whole new war. The UN forces were pushed back to the original border, and after two years of stalemate, the two sides signed an armistice that stopped the fighting but not the war and established the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the two countries now. Technically, the Korean War never ended. No side lost, no one surrendered.

Golden gong

A golden gong/bell in a pagoda at Heungryunsa Temple in Incheon, Korea. Nikki, our tour guide, repeatedly threatened us to not ring the gong. But it was very tempting. I wonder what it sounds like?

My wife’s brother, Dan Bateman, was in the Colorado Air National Guard for years and served two tours of duty in South Korea at the DMZ. He’s shown me books and photos of the area and I would love to visit sometime because this kind of history fascinates me. The North Korean government wants us to think that everything is fine there, with happy and productive people. They have built an entire city within view of guards on the south side of the DMZ with people living there to prove how progressive and modern North Korea is.

Stairs to memorial

The stairs to the Battle of Incheon Memorial. The Allied forces stages a successful surprise attach behind the North Korean lines by landing at the shallow Incheon Harbor where they weren’t expected.

Except it’s all a fake. The buildings are like Hollywood sets with fake fronts. Lights are turned off and on at random to appear as if people live there, but no one does except a few random “citizens” who are walking about but are trucked in and out every day. We have binoculars and other surveillance equipment that can see the pretense easily, but they keep it up. The leadership of North Korea appears to be as hollow as the buildings of this town. Dictator Kim, son of the original Kim who attacked in 1951, is spending millions of dollars on rocket systems and nuclear research that his people desperately need for food and basic services in an attempt to join the “big league” of nuclear nations where he can set his own terms.

Scaling the sea wall

A statue of Allied forces scaling the seawall during the Battle of Incheon in the Korean War.

Nikki spoke of her hope to one day see a reunified Korea where she can visit the north and perhaps even travel to Europe by train. Much would have to change before that could happen, but then we never thought the Soviet Union would break apart as quickly as it did. Much has changed in twenty years.

Landing craft

A landing craft for the Battle of Incheon. This acts as both boat and tank, able to cross both water and mud while carrying soldiers to attach the beaches and seawalls at Incheon Harbor. The attack was successful and turned the tide of the war, cutting off the North Korean supply lines.

I didn’t have time to read all the displays and dioramas. As the son of a World War II veteran and a student of history, war battles and strategy fascinate me. I was the last one on the bus (barely) and had to sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”

Incheon memorial gate

Gateway to the Incheon War Memorial.

We drove back to the airport and I got my bags out from behind the tour desk where I had stowed them, worked my way upstairs and through the queue at security. I didn’t even have to take off my belt or shoes. I asked at the information desk where my gate was. It was Gate 12, so I walked that direction, past a procession of traditionally dressed Koreans.

Korean war items

Artifacts from the Korean War, on display at the Incheon War Memorial.

This airport is supposed to be one of the best in the world, with cultural events like this procession and the tours I had just been on. But I wasn’t terribly impressed with the layout. Just another big space full of people waiting in lines and overpriced duty free shops. There has got to be a better way to manage travel without all this waiting in lines and waiting around at gates. Security should be more automated; putting in people as guards only slows down the process. I even had to wait in line again for another set of guards to recheck my passport and boarding pass for the third time after I had already gotten through the security check.

Silver building at airport

Part of the Incheon Airport in Korea.

I had three hours still before my flight. I ate lunch at Taco Bell upstairs, then waited at the gate and waited some more. I sent photos of my Friday activities in Yogyakarta to Becca and the boys and tried to sleep some, with my aching right leg elevated on the luggage cart, but it wasn’t very good sleep. The benches here are hard. There’s got to be a better way to design a waiting area. We’ve gotten better at designing airplanes (at least the First Class sections – the Economy Class cattle car sections haven’t changed much in 40 years). Why can’t we redesign airports to facilitate transportation instead of waiting, which is the opposite of transportation? Even the waiting is poorly designed. I read an article a few days back about how airports will use smart technology to transport luggage and people and become destinations in their own right, with retail shopping and entertainment. Not big cavernous spaces full of bored, waiting people. I’ve seen enough of these in the last two days.

Pink flowers

Pink blossoms and manicured gardens at the Heungryunsa Temple in Incheon, Korea.

Waterfall

A waterfall at the Heungryunsa Temple in Incheon, Korea. The entire complex and gardens had a very Zen, peaceful vibe to it, and it was well worth my time to take this free tour from the airport. If you get a chance, go for it.

Standing Buddhas

Standing golden Buddhas behind the main temple at the Heungryunsa Temple complex in Incheon, Korea.

Tour group at fat Buddha

Our tour group in Incheon, Korea at the Heungryunsa Temple. We were a mixture of Americans, Europeans, Australians, and Indians.

Zen stairway

A very Zen style stairway up the hillside behind the Golden Gong pagoda at the Heungryunsa Temple in Incheon, Korea.

Confucious altar

The altar to Confucius in the Heungryunsa Temple in Incheon, Korea. All the writing and characters here were Chines, not Korean. This temple dates back almost a thousand years when Chinese culture (as the Central Kingdom) heavily influenced Korea.

Golden altar

Golden altar inside the main temple at the Heungryunsa Temple complex. The layout and decor of these temples was very reminiscent of the temples I’ve visited in Taiwan, except with more of a Zen feeling – perhaps representing Korean Buddhism as a mixture of Japanese and Chinese influences.

Across temple roof

The gardens and temples at the Heungryunsa Temple complex are beautifully designed and maintained. It was very peaceful here.

Gray buddha

A gray Buddha statue at the entrance to the Heungryunsa Temple in Incheon, Korea.

Looking down on fat Buddha

Looking down on the Mi Lwo Fwo statue and across to the New City at Incheon. The Heungryunsa Temple is set on a hillside above the city with an amazing view down. All the levels are interconnected with stairways and the whole complex has a very Zen feel to it

Flowers and double Buddha

Orange blossoms and a double facing golden Buddha at the Heungryunsa Temple overlooking Incheon, Korea.

Airport procession

A mock wedding procession a the Incheon Airport. This airport tries to be a cultural center and does provide excursions around the city for passengers who have layovers, but in the end it is still a big cavernous space for waiting around, not really a place that accommodates transportation.

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Yogyakarta Day 2: Thursday, August 3, 2017

Mendot temple with banyan tree

Mendut Temple with giant banyan tree. This smaller temple for the Sailendra royal family was built on a direct line between Borobudur and Mt. Merapi.

On my second day in Yogyakarta, Indonesia I took tours to the Buddhist sites of Borobudur, Pawon, and Mendut.

Borobudur isn’t the only temple in this region. The Sailendra Dynasty also built smaller family shrines and temples for the royal family, including two that we visited after seeing Borobudur. The first was nearby and is called the Pawon Temple (Candi Pawon). It is under renovation and is small but nicely designed. Other than some relief sculptures, there wasn’t much to see.

Candi Pawon

Candi Pawon, a small temple under renovation near Borobudur.

There were some souvenir stands around this temple, so I looked through them and found a nice small brass model of a stupa. You can take the top off and see the Buddha inside. I also bought some wooden wayang puppets with a base to hold them, and hope that they can be kept safe while traveling.

Wayang puppets

Puppets on sale at the gift shop at Pawon Temple. I bought some wooden puppets and a bronze Buddha stupa.

We traveled another short distance to the Mendut temple. All three temples are in a line, all pointing toward Mt. Merapi. The Mendut Temple was more interesting – a large cubic monument with statues of the Buddha inside and nicely carved reliefs around the outside. What was most impressive was a huge banyan tree next to it with multiple root streamers descending from its branches and a gigantic trunk. It was probably the single largest tree I’ve seen, even bigger in sheer size than a redwood tree. All of this was situated in a green parkland with beautiful lawns.

Giant banyan

Giant banyan tree at Mendut Temple, one of the largest trees I’ve ever seen. People were swinging on the hanging roots like Tarzan. For a sense of scale, look at the people underneath it.

Mendut was built in the early 9th Century and is the oldest of the three aligned temples (with Pawon and Borobudur). According to one inscription, it was built during the reign of King Indra of the Sailendra Dynasty. Lost for hundreds of years in the jungle, it was rediscovered in 1836 and restored between 1897 and 1925. The large statue of a seated Buddha in the central chamber is flanked by other lesser Buddhas, including Avalokitesvara, who is known as Gwan Yin Pu Sa in China.

Mendut temple

Mendut Temple, front view. You climb up the stairs to the central chamber, which is relatively small.

On the way back to the car, a lady insisted that I buy souvenirs and was the most irritatingly persistent person I met in Indonesia. I decided to buy another stupa, this time made of stone, to give as a present. I guess her persistence was rewarded. My driver told me that I could go inside of the monastery that is part of the Mendut temple, so I did.

Buddha of Mendut

A seated Buddha statue inside the chamber of Mendut Temple near Yogyakarta, built in the 9th Century by the Sailendra Kingdom.

It is a modern monastery, no more than a hundred years old at most. The grounds were quiet and peaceful, with several small temples with various statues of the many forms of the Buddha. There were winged angels, a temple with a pathway through it shaped like a giant Buddha head with elephants supporting it, a giant bell and gong, some grotesque figures that seemed to be laughing at each other (“What are you laughing at??”). Some of the Buddhas were sitting in lotus position, some reclining. Some were coated in gold leaf, some white, and some carved from gray volcanic stone. I spent more time there than I should have, but it was very enjoyable and I was about the only person around – the monks were back in the living areas behind the monastery. It was all very photogenic.

Buddha consort panel

Relief panel of Avalokitesvara, the female Buddha of Boundless Mercy, carved on the outer walls of Mendut Temple.

I can’t say I am an expert at how Buddhism is practiced here, whether Mahayana or Theravada. From my previous research and classes, southeast Asia and Indonesia practice the Theravada school, which is closer to the original teachings of Siddhartha in following the Dharma, or Path to Enlightenment, as compared to the form of Buddhism practiced in China and other parts of Asia that emphasizes reaching Enlightenment (Nirvana) through the intervention of boddhisatvas. But sources I’ve read said that Borodudur and Mendut are Mahayana Buddhist sites. It is complicated by the fact that Buddhism has almost died out on Java except for this monastery. Yet people do travel here for festivals, walking from Mendut to Pawon to Borobudur and circumambulating through Borobudur on their way to Enlightenment.

I climbed back into the car and we drove off to find lunch on our way to Mount Merapi.

Gardens of Mendot

The gardens and lawns at Mendut Temple, which are beautifully maintained and serene.

Guardian

Guardian of Mendut Monastery.

Gong

Giant gong bell at Mendut Monastery. It would have been amazing to hear this ring.

Buddha head temple with elephants

Buddha head pathway with elephants.

Golden Buddhas in temple

Buddhas inside a temple at Mendut Monastery.

Gold Buddha in stupa

Golden Buddha at Mendut Monastery. I don’t know why I’m suddenly reminded of Indiana Jones . . .

Standing Buddha-red temple

The Mendut Buddhist Monastery near Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

White seated buddha

White Buddha statue at the Mendut monastery near Yogyakarta.

Seated Buddha with bronze head

Inside the Buddhist monastery at Mendut.

What are you laughing at

What are you laughing at? I’m not sure what these statues are supposed to be doing, but they seem to be having a good time doing it.

 

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Yogyakarta Day 2: Thursday, August 3, 2017

Borobudur panorama-s

A panoramic image of Borobudur, a 9th Century Buddhist temple near Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

 

Borobudur model

A model of Borobudur, a 9th Century Buddhist temple north of Yogyakarta, from which I experienced sunrise on Aug. 3, 2017.

My second day in Yogyakarta began very early with a 3:00 wake-up call. I had signed up for an all-day tour to sites around the area of Jogja, as it is called, starting with a sunrise tour of Borobudur, an 9th Century Buddhist temple at the base of the central Java mountains.

Borobudur through trees

A view of Borobudur temple through the trees.

I quickly showered and got ready. Down in the lobby, I got some cash out of the ATM machine to cover my expenses for the day. My tour included only the car and driver; I would have to pay admission to each stop. It had seemed the best way to get the combination of places I wanted to visit. As it turned out, I should have gotten some extra for tips and a lunch that was more than expected.

Buddha-mountains-blue sky

One of many Buddha statues carved from volcanic ash at Borobudur Temple near Yogyakarta. The hills to the east are the rim of an ancient caldera, and rise up beyond to Gunung Sumbing, the peak just to the left of the Buddha’s head.

My driver arrived at 3:30 and I loaded into his car. It was pitch dark still, and the streets were deserted. This was the least traffic I saw all the time I was here. We drove north out of Jogja, passing along a road similar to the one I’d traveled on to get to the Meratus Mountains in Borneo. We passed through several smaller towns, and I dozed off, but the jostling of the road kept waking me up. We turned toward the northwest and after about 40 minutes on the road, arrived at the parking lot.

Yogya area google earth

We traveled northwest of Yogyakarta on Highway 14 to Magelung, where Borobudur is located, about a 40 minute trip. To the east of the gray-green dot of Borobudur lie the foothills leading to Gunung Sumbing. Mendot Temple (next blog post) lies on a direct line between Borobudur and Mt. Merapi.

My driver (I have forgotten his name) took my money and paid for the entrance fee, which included a small cloth printed with a batik pattern of the temple stupas. I picked up a flashlight, and he told me he would meet me back at the bottom when I was done. I followed the pathway and the people ahead of me.

Borobudur predawn

Stupas at Borobudur in the pre-dawn light, looking east-southeast.

It was too dark still to see anything, and the weather was a bit drizzly and foggy. We came to a gate and some stairs that led upwards, and I could see some flashlight beams climbing the temple above me. I began to climb too, afraid that there might be too many stairs for my legs to handle. Although they were uneven, with some stairs taller than others, it wasn’t too bad and the cool pre-dawn temperatures made things better. I took my time, because dawn was still a long time away. There were several levels with pathways leading off in both directions but I stayed on the main staircase, figuring that I could explore better when it was light.

Stupas at Borobudur in early light

Dawn approaches at Borobudur.

I reached the top sooner than I thought I would and circled around the large central stupa to find a spot away from everyone else and their lights. It was still drizzling lightly, but as the first light of dawn began to creep around the eastern mountains, I found a quiet place to sit down. I tried to lie down to rest a bit, but someone came around and told us not to sit or lie on the central stupa (I hadn’t seen the signs). I moved to the overhang at the edge of the top ring of smaller stupas and found a nice spot away from others’ lights where I could watch the dawn come on.

Borobudur cross section

A cross section diagram of Borobudur. Built on a natural hill or volcano, the temple is divided into three main sections representing the foot (Kamadhatu), the body (Rupadhatu), and the head (Arupadhatu). Pilgrims begin at the bottom and circumambulate around the levels, working their way up as they view carvings depicting the life of the Buddha, until they reach the central stupa at the top. This journey represents the journey to enlightenment.

Stupas in the mist

The stupas hold statues of the Buddha. Here, a light drizzly mist set in just before sunrise, hiding the hills to the east.

The drizzling intensified, then tapered off and quit. The clouds began to dissipate, and the sky continued to lighten. It is said that Borobudur is spectacular, and I’ve seen photos, but the reality is always so much better. I tried taking some photos and videos but it was still too dark.

Borobudur stupas 2

The stupas are located in a triple ring around the large, central stupa at the top of the complex. A believer will start at the bottom and walk around each ring, seeing carved reliefs depicting the Buddha’s life, and reaching the top level which represents enlightenment or nirvana.

I walked around the central stupa to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. To the direct south the most people were clumped up, but they were beginning to break apart and start exploring as the light grew. I returned to my spot and continued to wait. It was peaceful, and I could almost imagine I was the only person there, enjoying the solitude of this temple. Then someone would walk by with their flashlight on and shine it in my face. But overall it was a tranquil, meditative experience.

Buddha and toes

The tops of some of the bell-shaped stupas have been removed, revealing the Buddha statues within.

Dawn came on and I began to take more photos. The sun was still hidden behind clouds that came and went, but as the morning progressed the clouds burned off to a brilliant blue sky with a few puffy clouds. I took many photos and video clips of me walking along the pathways. I tried to avoid getting people in my shots, but it was difficult. As I descended to lower levels, there were fewer people and I could take photos easier. Some of the stupas, which look like bells with diamond or square holes in them, have been removed. Inside there are statues of the Buddha sitting in lotus position. Most of the stupas are still intact, and there are 72 of them as you can see.

David with central stupe

David Black at Borobudur, with the large central stupa in the background. The smaller stupas, or bell-shaped structures with the lattice designs, each contain a seated Buddha statue and form three rings around the central stupa.

There are nine levels to the temple, including two circular levels at the top. The lower pathways are enclosed in balustrades. They are laid out in a complex pattern that forms a mandala from above. In addition to the Buddhas in the stupas (72 of these), there are other Buddhas sitting in niches (504 Buddhas in all), with 2672 bas relief wall panels depicted events from the Buddha’s life. There are rain spouts shaped like mythical monsters (very similar to the gargoyles of medieval cathedrals in Europe). There are stone lions guarding the stairwells and pathways. And everywhere there are Buddhas and more Buddhas.

David at Borobudur with mountains

David Black at Borobudur in Indonesia. Notice that the stupa next to me has square holes whereas the stupas on the next two levels down have diamond shaped holes. The hills behind me lead up to the crest of Mt. Sumbing.

Borobudur was built around 800 CE by the Sailendra Kingdom of southern Java. It was designed by the poet-architect Gunadharma and took thousands of workers to carve the blocks of andesitic volcanic ash into these shapes. The entire temple is built over a mound of earth, perhaps a natural hill. It has four main stairways to the main compass points and is the largest single Buddhist temple in the world. Used for about 100 years, the temple was abandoned when the seat of government moved elsewhere.

1-Crowds at Borobudur

The area around the central stupa was very crowded with tourists, especially on the southern and eastern sides. We had a light drizzle of rain just at sunrise, which was unfortunate, but then the skies cleared and it was a beautiful, sunny day.

The temple was reclaimed by the jungle and partially buried by volcanic ash flows, until being rediscovered by the British under Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles in 1814. It has been rebuilt and repaired to its former glory, with several major renovations. The largest problem now is the wear of so many tourist feet on the stairs, so they have been partially covered with wood to protect them. I am one of those tourists, and I tried to show this monument all of the respect it deserves.

BUddha and water spout

In addition to the stupa Buddhas, there are many others inside niches and elsewhere around the walls of the lower levels, for 504 Buddhas in all. The grotesque face in bottom right is a gargoyle rain spout. This candi, or temple, is carefully planned so that rainwater will drain through the various levels.

As part of the religious observances here, devotees start at the bottom of the pyramid and walk the pathways in a clockwise fashion, circling around the temple (candi in Indonesian) completely before ascending to the next level. Tales of Siddhartha’s life, his past lives, and his teachings (Dharma) are part of the relief panels seen on the walls. The pilgrim’s journey through Buddha’s life and teachings represents the journey to Enlightenment as the pilgrim ascends through the nine levels and three main sections representing the Feet (Kamadhatu – the bottom casement and hidden foot reliefs – this represents worldly desires), the Body (Rupadhatu – the square section of seven levels with Buddhas sitting in niches representing the World of Forms), and the Head (Arupadhatu – the upper open round platforms with 72 stupas representing the World of Formlessness, where earthly desires and suffering are stripped away). The large central stupa at the top represents enlightenment, and is dedicated to Vairocana, the Great Sun Buddha. It was built with two inner chambers (now empty – the contents have probably been plundered) and had a golden Chattra on top that has been removed.

Buddha mural

Around the walls of the lower levels are carved reliefs depicting scenes from the Buddha’s life. Born Siddharta Gautama, the Buddha lived a life of luxury free from pain or disease until he left his walled palace. He then met a sick man, and old man, and a grieving widow and realized that life if suffering, that suffering comes from desire, and that desire can be eliminated through following the Eight Fold Path to enlightenment. Buddhists visiting this temple start at the lower levels and walk up in a spiral pattern, reviewing the Buddha’s life as they reach the highest level of the temple, representing the head or nirvana (enlightenment).

As the clouds cleared the nearby mountains glowed green and provided a perfect backdrop to the meditating Buddha statues. I took photos of the entire temple – it is truly huge – as I climbed down from the circular platforms to the lower levels. I took photos of the sun’s interplay with stone, air, and clouds. I descended to the lower levels and finally to the casement, taking photos of the whole structure that I can assemble into a panorama.

Ranks of Buddhas

Ranks of Buddhas in the lower levels of Borobudur. The day started cloudy and drizzly, but the clouds cleared out and the sky turned bright blue with brilliant green vegetation around the temple.

I walked back to the ticket area along a pathway lined with red andong flowers and met my driver. This has already been a day worth remembering. The sunrise wasn’t as colorful as some might be, but the blue sky and green mountains, the tranquil temple and the peaceful ambience made this an experience that I will often return to in my memory. Whenever I get stressed out or busy, I can come back here in my mind and meditate as the sun rises over Borobudur.

4-Guardian lion

The stairwells are guarded by stone lions such as this one.

8-Temple and mountains

The south face of Borobudur and mountains to the west. The entire temple sits on a stone casement or bottom level, but inside the core is a natural hill.

Walls of Borobudur in sunlight

The lower levels of Borobudur, bathed in early morning sunlight. Pilgrims start at the bottom and work their way up, but I climbed to the top before dawn with a flashlight, then walked down through the levels. The top area was very crowded (it took some doing to take photos without people in them), but the lower levels were much less crowded and more serene.

Stairway

View through a stairway leading down from the top of Borobudur. This temple was abandoned about 100 years after completion and was largely reclaimed by the jungle, until it was rediscovered by a team under Sir Thomas Raffles in 1814. It was cleared and repaired several times since. Recently, the steps have been covered and reinforced because of cumulative wear from tourists like me.

Hills in the mist

View south from Borobudur in the pre-dawn mist.

Buddha hair detail

Buddha details with the mountains behind. The long ear lobes represent long life and wisdom in Buddhist iconography. This is one of 504 Buddha statues at Borobudur.

Chariot carving

A scene from the life of the Buddha, one of 2672 carved relief panels at Borobudur.

Borobudur corner

A corner of Borobudur as seen from below, standing on the lower casement level. The walls form pathways and rings, laid out in a complex mandala structure.

Red plants

Red andong plants lining the pathway back from Borobudur. These are commonly seen throughout Indonesia. The gardens surrounding Borobudur were beautiful.

 

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