Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve, part 2

It's still Christmas eve here in Jakarta. We're in our hotel and, while it's nice, it's not particularly Christmasy.

The next dispatch on our travels:

The day after we went to Prambanan we woke up nice and early to head out to Borobudur. Our car picked us up at 5:00, so that we could be there by 6:00 when it opened.

On the drive out we had very good view of Mt. Merapi, the volcano that has threatened/abused Yogyakarta, Borobudur and Prambanan for centuries. It has been more active in recent years and this morning a good amount of smoke was coming off of it. The fact that we could see it was very good news, as it meant that we weren't going to get the kind of rain we saw the day before.

When we got to Borobudur we got a guide and did the rounds. It turns out that Borobudur isn't a temple at all, actually it's just a great big Buddhist monument. The difference is that there's no inside, it's a big structure built on a hill, but you can't go into it.

Temple or monument, it was fantastic. The thing is huge. It's got 10 stories, each one slightly different that the one before. The bottom levels were all reliefs showing the day to day lives of people in the 8th century, when it was built. This is meant to show the challenges of everyday life and how desire interferes with our attainment of higher states of being. However, you can't see any of that any more. It's been all covered over with a thick layer of stone, due to the fact that what was depicted was deemed to be pornographic, and all us tourists coming thousands of miles needed to be protected from 8th century stone porn. Pretty sad.

The next layers show depictions of the Buddha's life and a variety of statues of the Buddha. On each side of the monument he is depicted with his hands in different positions, which indicate different themes of Buddhist thinking. There are also some Hindu elements mixed in, showing the various influences that hit Indonesia at the time.

The top layers break away from depictions of the tangible world and move into a world without form. This is shown through rows of what look to be upside down bells (called stupas). Each of the bells has a Buddha inside a stone exterior with diamond or square shaped openings. Then, on the top, is one last big upside down bell, to indicate the state of uber-Nirvana. (Not a Buddhist term.) Even though this too is enclosed, when the monument was discovered there was one last Buddha hidden inside.

One of the upside down bells, on the 6th or 7th level, is considered to be good luck if you can reach inside and touch the Buddha. We had our guide take us there, where we easily reached in a touched him. I guess they weren't thinking of freakishly long and tall North Americans visiting when they decided that that would be good luck.

We also got our first taste of being "foreign objects" here. A school group from Aceh province on the northern tip of Sumatra (you remember it from the tsunami, which hit there particularly hard) was touring the monument at the same time as us and apparently appearing in photos with us odd white folks was pretty cool. We posed a few times, with what were probably perplexed looks on our faces.

It may not sound like it from this post, but Borobudur was terrific. First of all, it's huge. Secondly, the detail and work put into the whole thing is amazing. It's a beautiful monument to Buddhism in a wonderful lush setting. Definitely a highlight of Indonesia.

As we were leaving we realized the reason for our early arrival. The tour buses were pouring in. This is Indonesia's number one tourist attraction. Another UNESCO World Heritage site. And a very busy place after 9:00.

After we left we visited a couple more Buddhist temples in the area. The first one very small. The second larger, with a very large Buddha inside. We had a few more photos taken of us with Indonesians fascinated by us foreign devils. Then we headed back to Yogyakarta.

When we got back we crashed for the next few hours, trying to get back the sleep we'd missed. After getting up we went shopping on Yogya's main market street, which was chaos. Then went to bed after an early supper. The next day was to be a long train ride to Jakarta.

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