Stairway to Heaven
Replete with exquisite stone reliefs and massive statues of the Buddha, the sleeping beauty of Borobudur lay buried under volcanic rock and jungle for a millennium. Now, after a series of excavations and a vigorous scrubbing, the monument preens in a verdant setting for all to see.
Borobudur's unique design reflects the intricate struggles for power on the island of Java during the eighth and ninth centuries. Hindus began constructing the monument in approximately 760AD, probably as a temple to Shiva. They laid out the temple as an enormous stupa, or ceremonial mound, in the shape of a mandala, an intricate pattern of circles and squares that generally represents the universe. Buddhists completed the work 70 years later, adding 7,400 square meters of stone reliefs now considered the best illustrations of Javanese life and teachings from the period. As you ascend the mound, always walking clockwise, the carvings depict a progression from the worldly to the spiritual. (The reliefs on the very bottom are best described as titillating.) Near the top there are 72 stupas, each of which originally supported an enormous sculpture of the Buddha. The pinnacle, representing nirvana, is completely bare.
In 1973, restorers began the painstaking process of dismantling the monument, numbering the pieces, cleaning them, constructing a new foundation, and putting more than two million blocks of stone back together again. Borobudur was dedicated as a World Heritage site in 1991.
Borobudur is 42 km north of Yogyakarta in central Java. Buses run from the central bus stations in Yogyakarta (beware of pickpockets), and numerous tour operators offer day trips. There are also a few reasonably priced guesthouses in the vicinity. Tourists throng the place during the afternoon; your best bet is to go early in the morning, when Borobudur is coolest and at its most peaceful.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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