Half-baked Pilgrim

The good part about hanging out with Rajbir is that she is so organised about photo trips that I don’t have to do much except copy-paste the packing/booking lists and soon the program is under way. I do miss Sara, and not just for her delicious chocolate mint cupcakes that were a photo hunting staple.

So, this year, thanks to Rajbir, we made it to Borobudur on the holy day of Waisak, or Buddha Purnima. No less than pilgrims, with a load on our backs, tracking the monks with our cameras, giving up some of our worldly necessities of food and shelter.

The walk from Candi Mendut to Candi Borobudur in the heat of the afternoon morphed into a moonlit, chaotic evening following the path of lanterns as they took our prayers and wishes into the heavens above. Something like nirvana was achieved at daybreak after a night spent in the company of sermons and chants, with the final pradakshina (circumambulation) of the monks around Borobudur.

Pradakshina at Candi Mendut

Pradakshina at Candi Mendut

Pradakshina at Candi Borobudur

Pradakshina at Candi Borobudur

I found the whole ‘light-and-sound’ show a little too much for my nirvana-seeking sensibilities. A giant golden Buddha statue seems wrong to me somehow, as do the floodlights and loudspeakers. The glow of simple fire lanterns was far more benign, the chants of Buddham Sharanam Gachchami in unison by the people minus the electronics, making goosebumps.

We did earn our reward that morning of a foot soak and massage at the airport, which is my definition of pure bliss.


Just Another Gorgeous Sunrise at Borobudur

Going to Jogja and not to Borobudur? Next to impossible! I believe I’d covered most of the angles of the largest Buddhist temple in the world, except the one where you watch the sun rise from behind Gunung Merapi, and the temple emerge from the misty landscape. The day after Dieng, Sara and I thought it wise not to waste too much time catching up on sleep, but to rouse ourselves at another unearthly hour to make the short drive to Puntuk Setumbu behind Borobudur.

The ‘safe’ driver and my awesome climbing speed ensured that it was a race against time to the top before the sun appeared. The hill is as cute as its name. For a change, the local villagers have claimed the site, added some rudimentary ‘just right’ development, access to which is a paltry sum of Rp 15,000 (about a dollar). That’s a far cry from the sunrise tour at Borobudur from the hotel which costs about $35! This spot has got popular; we had a good sized crowd of sun worshippers.

Sunrise from Setumbu

After the mild disappointment from the day before, we were rewarded for our patience with a bright sunrise.

The landscape is magnificent! Merapi, furiously puffing up clouds of sulphur towers over Borobudur, and everything else in the vicinity. It’s a humbling sight.

After the sun was up, we enjoyed those famous mint-chocolate brownie treats as a mini-breakfast. At which point this guy rolled his tobacco and struck a pose that was too good to resist. I don’t ever endorse smoking, but it does look exciting in a photo!

The Hotel Plataran en route to Setumbu offers good views of Borobudur and an even better breakfast spread. We had a bit of both.

As profiles and silhouettes go, here’s some food for thought.

Sunrise from SetumbuSunrise at Borobudur

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Golden Hour

Indonesia has some of the most spectacular sunrise landscapes. It takes waking up at unearthly hours, then a drive and a trek to catch these views. And lasts only a few minutes.

Bromo at sunrise

Sunrise at Mount Bromo, viewed from Mount Penanjakan

Sunrise at Borobudur

A perfect sunrise at Borobudur over Mount Merapi, as Buddha watches


Yogyakarta – Can I do yoga there?

1 year ago, my cousin Souvik and his wife Aarti came to visit us in Vancouver Canada.

6 months ago, my husband David and I decided we needed to experience a unique travel adventure with our kids and booked our flights to Indonesia.

Planning began; travel advice and recommendations whirled around via email.   The Busy Life of Leisure Lady in residence, Aarti, was an invaluable resource of the what, where, when and why’s of experiencing Indonesia.

She mentioned a town called Yogyakarta, the home of one of the largest Buddhist temples in the world called Borobudur.  I was drawn in by the name.  Hey, this place must be a yoga haven!  “Pia” says Aarti, “it’s pronounced Joag-Jakarta.”  Y = J.  Ok.  Got it.

A few days after arriving in Jakarta, Aarti and I escaped on our own mini-adventure, with no husbands, kids or sister-in-law, to experience what Jogja had to offer.

Jogja had plenty to offer where my body, mind and soul were concerned.

We arrived in the morning and headed straight to our hotel, D’Omah Yogyakarta.  http://www.yogyakartaaccommodation.com/accommodation.html

It was an absolutely beautiful, serene, wonderful, quiet retreat in a small village past the main town center, across from a rice field.   Our room felt like a honeymoon suite!! The architecture was typical Javanese, and the surroundings held a balance of serenity and nature.  No stress here.

Enjoying a pool side break at D'Omah Yogya

Aarti enjoying a pool side break at D’Omah Yogya

We decided to take a drive around the city, check out some of the sights, including an interesting bird market.

Pink and green chicks?  Happy Easter....

Pink and green chicks? Happy Easter….

Then in the morning we woke up before the light and drove out to Borobudur to experience the temple at sunrise.

Rolling with the flow of ups and downs ( forgotten wake-up calls, and an unfortunate accident with a stray cat on the road – sorry Kitty!), we made it to the temple by 5 am.

Arriving at sunrise in Borobudur was absolutely one of the highlights of my trip to Indonesia.  We were at the top of this 9th century temple even before the roosters started. The surrounding area is rural and peaceful…Seemingly far from any chaos.  Very few tourists enhanced the experience of the awe-inspiring views of the volcano Merapi in the distance.

I was fascinated by the number of Buddha statues (over 400) and panel carvings depicting scenes from the life of Prince Siddharta. The site was abandoned in the 14th century after Hinduism was on the decline in Java, and Islam was on the rise.  It wasn’t until the early 1900’s that someone happened to find it buried under the jungle overgrowth and volcanic ash.  It is a very special place, and a memory I will keep with me for a very long time.

Half Lotus Tree Pose!

Half Lotus Tree Pose!

Gorgeous views at every turn.

Gorgeous views at every turn.

Returning back to Yogya, we had a wonderful lunch with papaya/lime juice and homous appetizers at a typical young tourist café, where young people were eagerly chatting and sharing their travel stories.  I watched them enviously, I must admit.  To be a young, single traveller again with no responsibilities…impossible at this stage in my life, but fun to dream about.

We continued on to the Prambanam Hindu temple.   It is dedicated to the Trimurti – the three aspects of God – Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver) and Shiva (the Destroyer).  The structures, surroundings, and deities were very different from Borobudur.  However, despite many travels to India, I have never experienced a Hindu temple before.  I was thankful to have had the opportunity finally in Yogya.


With no offense intended, after experiencing Borobudur first on our itinerary, Prambanam felt like a 3 star hotel after a spectacular, glistening 5 star resort.   Definitely worth seeing, but it did not have the same impact on my Spirit.

That was the end our getaway and we set off for the airport to continue our separate journeys.

I am grateful to Aarti, my personal tour guide and friend, for taking the time to spend with me on this trip.  Yogyakarta left an impression on me in many ways – how much I value  my independence, my Spirit and moments of stillness.



Weekly Photo Challenge: Silhouette

My top 5 silhouette shots, in random order:

We aren’t allowed to photograph the original at the Museum, so we have to make do with replicas. Here is one of David at Piazzale Michelangelo, Firenze.

Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, is best associated with the bustle of traffic around the lake and crowds of people enjoying the breeze. This is a rare sight of people meditating amidst all that chaos:

Buddha is one of those forms that lend itself beautifully to silhouettes. One of my favourites at Borobudur, Indonesia:

Photographing exotic orchids at Singapore’s Orchid Garden can get tiring for the eyes and the feet. Then when I lay down on the ground, exhausted, I had to raise my arms for one more click:

This may not be the best silhouette shot, but it is my absolute favourite, bringing back memories of a wonderful trip to Angkor Wat, Cambodia. A sunrise cycling trip, and we were looking at the wrong side until Souvik decided to walk around the monument, then rushed back to let me catch the view just in time:

The aura of Borobudur

The nice part about Souvik’s touring job is that I have an opportunity to tag along, and do my own thing while he works. Last week it was Yogyakarta, where I chilled out at Dusun Jogja Village Inn, interspersed with some unsatisfying shopping, but the highlight of that trip was the sunrise visit to Borobudur. We had friends, Jaya & Prabha, in a conference at Jogja, and the Delhi girls were dragged out of their hostel at an unearthly hour of 3.30 am on an hour-long drive to Borobudur. Ever since we moved to Vietnam, we were keen on visiting Borobudur, but after the tour of Angkor, we were quite ‘templed out’, and put Borobudur on a back burner, until now.

So here we were, driving up to Manohara Hotel for the sunrise tour, all of us having to drape ‘sarongs’ over our regular clothes as appropriate temple wear. The cloud cover didn’t deter us, especially as the moon was clearly visible.

The sun took its time to peek out from above a cloud, though when it did it was worth the wait. The gradual ‘unveiling’ of the monument as the sun came out gave us a huge spiritual fix, but we were brought down to earth with a thud when one unimpressed lady remarked that she could see the sunrise from her window everyday, and what was the big deal. UGH.

Before long, the daytime tourists started to arrive, and there was some jarring jazz music to be heard unnecessarily, but nothing detracted from the grandeur that was Borobudur. From the bottom, looking up, you can hardly tell what sort of structure to expect, so after the short climb to the top, when you spot the bell-shaped ‘stupas’, it is an absolute WOW moment.





We material girls did our best monk-like serene smiles:

Comparisons with Angkor were inevitable after this visit. While Angkor dazzles by its sheer size, I have to say that Borobudur, though just a single structure, is a shade more elegant.