Saturday, 11 August 2012

Borobudur - Indonesia's Angkor Wat

The monument from the approach road
I have to confess that I’d never heard of this World Heritage Site before going to Indonesia.  In fact, I read about it in the in-flight magazine on the way over!  At just over an hour’s drive from Yogyakarta, we were able to fit it in to our tour around Java and I’m so glad we were!!

The guidebook (Lonely Planet Indonesia) compared Borobudur to Angkor Wat in Cambodia in terms of its beauty and its historical importance.  As those of you who read this blog regularly will know, I was distinctly underwhelmed when we visited Angkor earlier this year so, whilst I felt the need to see Borobudur for myself, my expectations were not that high.  I balked a little at the $20 per person entrance fee, but tantalising glimpses of the site from the approach road had made me think it might be worth it, so we paid up with good grace and went in.

The view from one corner
We were accompanied on our visit by Murman, our English-speaking guide who was travelling with us from Yogyakarta to Pangandaran.  He urged us to take advantage of the free tea, coffee and bottled water on offer.  I pointed out that at $20 to get in, the beverages were hardly ‘free’!

Still, I have to say that, once through the entrance barrier, our first view of the monument was breathtaking.  Having put on the obligatory sarong as a sign of respect, we proceeded up the approach road, flanked on both sides by pristine flower beds, to Borobudur itself.  I think it was the abundance of greenery – perfectly manicured lawns, neat shrubs and magnificent trees – around the monument that really showed it off to its best.  In stark contrast to Angkor Wat which, I felt, blended in to its surroundings, Borobudur stood out from them as a wonderful example of stunning engineering.

One of the exquisite panels
Borobudur was built some time between 750 and 850 AD as a Buddhist monastery.  Two million stone blocks (60,000 cubic metres) were used in its construction.  Finished, it is a massive symmetrical stupa built around a small hill but standing solidly on a 118m by 118m base.  There are six square terraces topped by three circular ones.  The whole building represents a Buddhist vision of the cosmos in stone, starting in the everyday world and spiralling up to nirvana, the Buddhist heaven.

Some of the stupas
The sheer size of Borobudur is impressive, but so is the detail in the sculptural work.  The walk around the monument is about 5km (going clockwise around every level and up the stairs in between) and takes you past 2672 richly decorated panels telling the story of Java and explaining Buddhist doctrines.  There are 432 Buddha images on the way up and, on the top three terraces, there are 72 more hidden in latticed bell-shaped stupas.  One of these has had its top half removed to reveal the sculpture of the Buddha.

A craftsman cleaning a panel
We had been warned that Borobudur gets overrun by tourists, especially at weekends, and that this can detract from the meaning of your visit.  We were lucky, however.  Perhaps because it was Ramadan, there were very few visitors on the day that we were there so we were able to get a real sense of the place.  We were also able to appreciate where the entrance money is being spent as we watched craftsmen painstakingly restoring some of the panels.

All in all, Borobudur was well worth a visit!  See more of my photos here.


  1. I been to both borobudur and Angkor and I will say Angkor wat beats Borobudur hands down! Angkor is just too huge and impressive!

    1. Thanks for commenting on my blog. I agree that Angkor Wat is very impressive! I think that, for me, my mood on the day affects how I feel about a place and I just found Angkor too overwhelming on the day I went there. Borobudur was much more manageable and I learnt a lot whilst I was there.

  2. Wat in Cambodia in terms of its beauty and its historical importance.