Indonesia: Borobudur Buddhist Temple

We were about to climb the steps to enter Borobudur Buddhist Temple, a UNESCO world heritage site, the world’s largest Buddhist Temple. It is both a shrine to Buddha and a place of pilgrimage. Certainly it attracts a huge number of tourists every year and we needed to get moving before buses arrived and people swarmed all over the place.


A map of such a huge place is always helpful! The Temple has nine platforms, stacked one on top of the other… six square and three circular, topped by a central dome. The base is approximately 118 metres (387 ft) on each side. We would enter from the east, with the newly risen sun at our backs, and exit from the north.


One of the amazing things about this massive ancient 9th Century shrine is that it was lost for many centuries, the stuff of myths and legends.


It was, in fact, buried under ash from the nearby volcanoes… Sundoro-Sumbing and Merbabu-Merapi. Over the following centuries, the jungle took over and the shrine was totally lost to sight. There were many folk stories and beliefs associated with this mythical temple… all telling of bad luck and misery. I guess that any volcanic eruptions that spewed enough ash to cover this enormous shrine must indeed have caused much misery and loss of life in the area, and so given credence to these stories and legends.

The Temple didn’t come to light again until 1814, when some natives told Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, then the British ruler of Java, about its existence. There have been several periods of restoration, the most comprehensive being from 1975 to 1982.

An eruption of Mount Merapi in 2010 also had an affect on the Temple, covering it with a layer of ash up to 2.5cm (1 inch) thick. It was cleaned off fairly quickly but it was feared that the acidic ash might damage the historic site. But, once again it has survived.


Originally, every one of those niches contained a statue of Buddha… 504 in all. But they’re certainly not all there now. Many pieces were stolen or ‘souveniered’.


Some of the original pieces were given away with permission from the British Colonial authorities. And some of those can be seen today in the National Museum of Bangkok. Apparently, in 1896, the then King of Siam, was given permission to take back to Bangkok eight cartloads of sculptures… five Buddha images, two lions, thirty pieces of relief panels, one gargoyle, several motifs from the stairs and gateways, and a guardian statue.

There was even talk of completely taking down the Temple and dividing up the important pieces between museums around the world. However, an archeologist, named Groenveldt, recommended that the Temple be left intact… and for it to be restored. And so it was.


Our verbose guide told us about each Buddha, what it’s pose meant and so on until it all became a blur. I wandered a little away to do some independent photography. After all, I knew that I could learn as much as I needed to about the Temple on the web when I got home where I could concentrate a little bit more on the task at hand. I did not wish to stand around for an hour in the heat being bombarded with information that, quite frankly, under those circumstances goes in one ear and out the other! So, I wandered off, to see what might be worth a photograph in this ancient complex. And here they are!


No mortar is used between the stones of this building.


Many more steps to climb.  The main groups of steps have been encased in a metal framework which in turn supports wooden treads, thereby protecting the stone underneath.


It’s amazing how well the stone sculptures and reliefs have been preserved.  This group of figures are this colour because they were ‘cleaned’.  The cleaning agent discoloured the stone.


Detail of the above photo.


Detail of some of the hundreds of faces carved from stone.


All the friezes tell a story – far beyond my comprehension.


Another frieze, another story.


Yet another intricately carved stupa.


One of the stone heads of Buddha that survived the pillaging.


Not all carving depicted stories or were of Buddha.  Intricate borders were included on most levels.


Although restored to prevent further damage, water is obviously a problem here.


Finally, almost up to the top.


A view of one of the volcanoes that caused the Temple to be lost for so long.


On the upper platform there are seventy-two small bell shaped stupas surrounding one large central stupa. Each stupa is pierced by numerous decorative openings and in each opening sits a statue of Buddha. This section is quite impressive.


And then it was time to go back down all of those steps… this time by the northern steps. And yes, we had beaten the hordes of visitors… not one of them in sight. The process of “in by the eastern steps and out by the northern” was working. First in, first out!

As you climb up and descend these steps, it’s rather obvious that the authorities face a growing problem from the high volume of visitors causing severe wear to the stairs. I guess we all added something to that problem.

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After the 40km bus ride back to the city, most of the group decided to get off the bus at one end of the major tourist street, Malioboro Street. Here there are many shops and stall holders all tempting the shoppers amongst us to purchase their wares.


Malioboro Street is also famous for it’s horse-drawn carriages and tri-shaws.


Snooze time for a tri-shaw driver!

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A mobile duster and mat stall in the busy street.

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It was a hive of activity. One stall holder did manage to sell me a tee shirt for the princely sum of IDR 30,000, just a tad over AUD 3… another one for my travel tee collection!


I just had to try a tri-shaw! A fun way to get back to the hotel.

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Other tri-shaws were powered by small motors.

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The streets were abuzz with the noise of motor bikes… the favoured form of transport in this area. They whizz by the tri-shaws, but everyone seems to know their space!

Safely back at the hotel, and after a shower to wash of the sweat of the day, I caught a taxi across town for a massage. It cost me AUD 8 plus a two dollar tip! It was a good massage, administered by a male, but he did give my calves a real work over. I was quite sure I’d never walk again! However, they actually felt better some hours later after I’d had a bit of a wallow in the pool back at the hotel.  And that was that for me for the day.

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