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

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.



Grilled and Baked

After the cool climes of Bandung, Souvik & I headed to Yogyakarta, this time with a plan to explore the city on bicycles. On our last visit, the town was overrun with people on account of the wedding of someone in the Sultan’s family and we couldn’t see much.

To my surprise, the hardest task was renting cycles. Apparently, by noon on a dull Saturday, bike hire shops have no cycles to rent, and those that do shut shop for siesta. We were dogged in our determination however, and after a little tantrum on my part, we had 2 rickety sets of wheels.

Stop #1 was Kota Gede, the traditional silver market on the outskirts (about 6 km) from Prawirotaman. Rather disappointing stop, with dhanda manda, not exactly rows of silver craftsmen with their nose to the grindstone, and shop after shop of indifferent displays of some pretty stuff. I wonder why. I wasn’t even tempted to whip out my camera, so we tried to make the most of the situation by cycling off to the Affandi museum via some jalan tikus (that’s little pedestrian lanes, or patli galis as you might call them in India). And the sun – OH! Beat down on us incessantly, so I chose to pour all the ice cold water over my head rather than drink it.

Affandi is one of the foremost artists of Indonesia, and (was) a rather quirky chap, if the impressions of his art and studio are anything to go by. Some of his paintings are quite good, particularly the self-portraits, but I couldn’t see the point of his signature squiggles. The visit gave us a chance to rest in the shade, and revive us for the return ride.

Not sure if this one is by Affandi or one of his daughters, but it was the only one we were allowed to photograph

As a reward for the hard work in the sun, we were met by dark clouds on our way home. Backpacks in plastic covers, and we were happy to ride off in the mild rain, so much pleasanter than the afternoon. Didn’t care to do much for the rest of the day, just chilling in the balcony, watching the numerous lizards in the hotel do their thing.

Sunday morning bright and early, we set off to Prambanan temples, around 20 km from Jogja. An uneventful ride right across town, and pretty steady traffic for an early morning. It was delightful to spot a peloton of riders cycling over from Solo. We took plenty of ‘breakfast’ breaks of chocolate, but the pretty scenery showed itself in precisely one location.

The Prambanan temples themselves were an impressive sight. Built some 50 years after Borobudur, this is a surprising structure for a ‘Muslim’ country – Hindu temples dedicated to Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. They also make a fabulous backdrop for the Ramayana ballet that is performed during the dry season. There are shades of Borobudur and also Angkor Wat, but these temples are quite low profile outside the country.

The grounds are lovely, plenty of space and activity for kids, plus tandem cycles available for exploring the area. We ran into a bunch of kids and their schoolteacher who asked to practice speaking English and I obliged. Tickled by their questions of favorite food, favorite movie, and the like.

After spending a couple of hours there, we cycled back. This time, however, there was the onset of ‘ass pains’, our most common affliction on long-distance rides. We took the long (scenic) way back, and twice as many ‘ass-breaks’. The last km was a real struggle. The wooden seats of Via Via cafe were a welcome relief, and our good humor was quickly restored by an indulgent meal.

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.