It was a tinder date that directed my attention to the Island of Java; after my Christmas vacation with my parents in Australia and Bali. Originally I was going to Thailand for a few weeks. Hang-out and wait for my New Zealand Working Holiday Visa to be approved. However, a girl I met in Bali, invited me on an adventure to Borobudur. The largest standing Buddhist temple in the world.
I’ve been fascinated with Buddhism since I was a kid. My Uncle is a Buddhist. He’s been on several trips to India and Tibet to pray with the Dalai Lama. He would always return with trinkets and stories from these mystical parts of the world; filling my head with wonder.
To go to the largest temple seemed like the ultimate ‘finding myself’ Millenial challenge I needed before heading to New Zealand. I had already kicked off 2019 by diving the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. With a natural wonder under my belt, it would be great to balance the equasion with a man-made wonder. Especially one, pertaining to a philosophy that always intrigued me. Especially with a girl that interested me.
My first day on Java will be a good topic to talk about tomorrow. I didn’t see the girl, Eva, until my second day on the Island. On an island inhabited by 146 million, in a city populated by 12 million, it was rather difficult to locate an individual 4’11 girl. Especially with a dead cell phone, no set plan of meeting, and no knowledge of Bahasa. Indonesia’s official language.
We met, and discussed the best way to reach Borobudur. Eva suggested flying. To me, this was a no-go. I had such a stigma built towards domestic flights. I always assumed flying domestically would cost a fortune, as well as glancing over many great sights. That is the problem of growing up in Canada. Flying internally is expensive as hell.
Instead, this flight would only cost us 70$ and take 40 minutes. I’ve never been on a flight so short. My excitement was immense. A forty-minute flight, that would wind up being cheaper than a 14hour train ride. How was this possible? I decided to let the Asian do as Asia does and book our flights. I was in a different hemisphere and things were surely different here.
We landed in Yogyakarta. Special Province Yogyakarta, if I’m to use its proper name; and the Yogyakartans are very proud of this title. Yogyakarta, with its small city, and scattered villages, hosts several world wonders, and serves as the bastion of Indonesian resistance to colonial rule (the part of Indonesia to never be colonized, conquered, or infiltrated. Many resistance movements sprung from this tiny mountain valley. That too is for another blog post).
Eva said we should get some rest if we’re to wake up early and catch the sunrise. I was very keen.
But when the 4:30 Alarm rang, I was suddenly not keen. I wanted to sleep. More importantly, I wanted to rent a bike and drive myself to the Temple. The local rideshare app ‘Grab’ said I could hire a personal driver for 15$. Or I could rent a bike for the day at 5$. I had just finished reading Shantaram, and the lead character Lynn had a motorcycle. I thought Lynn was an exceptionally cool character and wanted to ride a bike just like him.
How incredible would it be? Blazing through mountain trails, on a motorbike with a chick clinging to my back? It would cement the image of being that ‘cool, badass vagabond’. Yes. My ego needed this bike.
However, Eva refused to let me drive. She didn’t trust me. She called me incompetent, and cocky and said she would have to drive because mountain roads, were no place for a rookie to learn to drive. I was insulted at first and grew bored clinging to her back. She complained about fatigue while driving. I offered to drive, she frequently refused.
After two hours of blazing the dirt roads into the mountains and jungle, Eva decided I should get a chance to drive. Since my nagging had become relentless and she grew tired.
It took me 5 minutes to drive straight into an oncoming car.
The bike shot up, Eva screamed as my body flung over the handlebars. My chest smacked into the car door, while Eva was thrown across the road. We were wearing helmets, and they paid off. However, our bodies were bruised. The bike received minor damages. The guys I hit were really cool about the whole situation. Despite putting a tear into the metal on their car door, they just gave me a lecture and drove off. Eva’s arm was badly bruised, and this crash would result in her feeling nauseous all day, but otherwise, we were fine.
She insisted she would do all of the driving for the remainder of our time in Yogyakarta together.
When we got to Borobudur, I was disappointed to see how touristic the setting was. It made sense. A landmark such as this would generate streams of tourist revenue. It killed the illusion of being some hidden away temple, deep in the jungles of this unfamiliar island. The roads went from poorly maintained, to pristine almost instantaneously, and the world went from quiet and isolated, to loud and vibrant. We parked the bikes and supported each other to the line of the temple. My ankle was banged up pretty bad.
I was annoyed at the price difference upon arrival. 5$ for Indonesians, 35$ for foreigners. While it felt less attacking than the Ghanian system, where your price is dependant on skin color; very rarely was the difference this stark. Still, it is their culture, their history, and their land. If I can afford a flight that costs hundreds, if not thousands to fly into this Holy Island, I can afford to shell out some additional beer money.
What really bummed me out with Boroubudur was the commercialization of the place. It was packed with tourists and vacationers seeking the perfect selfie. These extra bodies got in the way of my perfect selfie! How dare stand and gawk, in line of where I want to be photographed, standing and gawking. The walk to the temple, from the park’s gates, felt less mystical by the step, with vendors, planned gardening, and information booths in every direction. The illusion of tucked away temple was shattered. This was a meer tourist hotspot.
And then I saw it. Basking in its might glory. Standing over a hundred feet high. This massive stone pyramid. Only fortress would be a better word to describe it. A stone monolith, towering above the trees, and hills! My only thought was “HEY! Who put that rock there?” For that’s what it looks like. Just a giant rock with steps, overflowing with tourists.
As I drew closer, my opinion changed again. Every stone had detailed and intrisiquite carvings. The carvings told a story, and their detail was preserved miraculously. I asked Eva for an explanation. How was this monument possible. What did the carvings mean? What would we find at the top of this pyramid?
“I don’t know.. I haven’t been here since I was a child.”
“But you said this was your culture! that you learned about it in school and knew about this place!”
“Yea, but that was years ago….”
I was furious for letting her talk me out of the tour guide at that moment. I was so curious about the carvings and their history… I asked tourists as they passed by. They either didn’t know or didn’t speak English. No one was in the mood to give free tours anyways.
So I pulled out google and began looking up everything and anything I could about Borobudur. I gleefully dragged Eva by the hand, up and down its many steps. running to stone pannels, and Buddhist statues to explain their importance to Eva, as I was learning it from google.
“OKOKOK! Look! So this first floor here. It Tells the story of worldly corruptions, and the day to life of humans, as they face distractions and corruption!”
“Yes… Yes… Cool.”
Then I pulled her up the stairs. And made her look at her at more stone carvings, that similar to those on the floor below us, but also very different. “Ok! SO these rocks! These stones here EVA! They’re the Buddha’s life! and each level will show his path to enlightenment.
You can best believe I made her walk the permiter of the pyramid, over, and over, and over. “Look at this rock!” It would have been cringy if I wasn’t so awestrucken, enthusiastic, and genuine. Borobudur is truly a special place. I won’t lie, it began to get a little bored going through the Buddha’s story. The rocks and carvings seemed to repeat themselves. Eventually, Eva chimed in.
“So, this place was covered by a mountain that collapsed after an earthquake. They dug it up around the ’20s. It was built in the 8th century, and there were three dynasties that had to build it.” “Where was this earlier?” “I forgot… You know I was in a motorcycle accident.” And it was then that I noticed the blood dripping from her forearm. “If this fucks me up for practice next week I’m going to be pissed. I have a competition coming up Ty.”
I felt bad. It was becoming clear Eva wanted to go home. I had to see the top though. How could I reach this monument and not discover what laid for me at the top?
At the top there were bells. These belles represented clarity of mind, a wholeness, and realization of the cycle of life. The bells were at the top of the monument to signify clarity and enlightenment. Inside each bell was a statue of a buddha. With a grand bell in the center. Eva was annoyed, but a good sport about following me around as a paparazzi, as I begged for photos with one bell, then another bell, and so on.
The drive home was far less eventful than the drive to the ‘hidden’ temple. However, Eva did surprise me with another stop. She took me to the sunken theater in the middle Yogya, and several underground tunnels. While the tunnels were cool, I longed to have spent more time eyeing those impressive stone carvings.
“So how did they find the temple?”
“There was another earthquake. the collapsed mountain broke down even further, and certain rocks poked out. People began to investigate, and eventually, they dug out this massive temple.” Her tone lightened. She was growing annoyed with my fixation on the pyramid, but speaking of its rediscovery made her chuckle. “It was dumb luck the monument was preserved. It was lucky we found it again. Pramadian temple collapsed from an earthquake, and a lot of its carvings washed away from rainfall. But Borobudur was buried and protected from rain. And then when the second earthquake came, the dirt on top supported it, so it wouldn’t break anymore.”
And it was that conversation that made me realize how lucky we are to live in the 21st century. Where ancient wonders and different cultures are available at our fingertips. What would have been a several month-long expedition back in the colonial days, took hours to plan, and a day to execute in modern times?
I fully intend to take advantage of the gift this generation gives me.