Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Days of bliss at Borobudur on Java...

 Stupas on the top of Borobudur - each of which contains a statue of a meditating Buddha.
Another short interlude away from the daily rush of Singaporean city life; this time, a long-lived wish of mine was fulfilled by touring the Borobudur temple on central Java. For no reasons quite clear to me - religious, spiritual or otherwise - I'd been drawn to this enigmatic temple for long time, and was absolutely happy to get to see it with my own eyes.
Why enigmatic? Well, despite many authoritative-sounding explanations, no-one really know exactly why and who built the temple, even if some reliefs on it tell that it was constructed sometime in the middle of the 9th century, during the time of the Saliendra dynasty rulers in Java. As no great cities or centers have ever surrounded it - no remains has been found - no-one quite knows why the temple was built just where it is, in the middle of a fertile volcanic valley in the middle of the island.
Even the purpose of the temple is a bit unclear, but at least, several theories of what it represents have been given. The most popular theory says that it was built to represent the many layers of Buddhist theory in the shape of a traditional Buddhist mandala (a traditional symbol in both Buddhism and Hinduism that represents the universe). According to this view, rising from the lowest levels to the highest, one wanders through three zones of consciousness, until reaching the central top sphere representing unconsciousness or Nirvana. Of course, the crowded consequences of Borobudur being an UNESCO World Heritage site were there, but arriving just before sunset, the tour buses had left and we could wander around the many stupas and statues of Buddha in the calm of the evening - until it was time for the evening prayers, and the loudspeakers of countless mosques of the now Muslim Java started airing out their litanies. The resulting atmosphere was quite surreal - tens of serene Buddhas listening to the blaring message of Islam - but at the same time very revealing, reflecting the strong religious dedication of the Javanese since centuries back.
As impressive as Borobodur was, I was even more taken by the local nature, lush and abundant with plants with names from stories and history books; spices like cloves and coffee, luxurious hardwoods like teak and mahogany; fruits and vegetables from bananas and pandan to chili and taro. I'd been so focused on the temple that I'd given no real thought for anything else, but this "else" proved to be just as interesting, and at least as beautiful. A couple of days of unexpectedly serene bliss, really.
Sunrise from our terrace - with two volcanoes, Mount Merapi and Merbabu in the horizon.

Another - almost steamy, when the morning mist was being burned off by the rising sun - view to the fertile volcanic valley, with fields of rice, corn, chili and tobacco.

 A Javanese version of a Chinese brush painting... I just couldn't stop drinking in the view (and taking pictures).

The temple of Borobudur in the morning mist.
A Buddha without a stupa, gazing towards the rising sun behind Mount Merapi.

More stupas... on the upper levels. My youngest actually looked into every single one of them, checking that the Buddhas were still there.

Yet another view of the stupas... this time, in the fading evening light.
Layers of  steamy jungle...

A hike high up to the mountain - we thought we were doing well, and then met a grandmother, carrying her grandchild on the steep path, all the way down to the village. And soon after, an old man with his shopping bag. Our guide told us that the people living on the mountains do this several kilometers long hike just to buy groceries or to go to the mosque - so much for our "achievements"...

A popular shady resting place under the large stone - the village can be seen long way down the mountain on the left in the picture...

One of the houses up on the mountain, beautifully built of bamboo and wood.

Another house, with the typical high pitched roof form that cools down the building...

More buildings, with the lovely, woven bamboo walls. 

On the top of the mountain, with the villages below...

And to our surprise, behind us on the top of the mountain was a garden growing corn, chilies, bananas and coconuts - the lava soil being so fertile, even so high up!

On the way down, an old man was having a break under the large stone. 

 And yet another view of the valley, with the temple of Borobudur just barely visible in the middle.

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