There is no written record of who built Borobudur or why it was built. It was likely founded as a religious site in the 8th century at the peak of the Sailendra dynasty in central Java. The construction is thought to have taken a period of 75 years and completed in about 825 AD.
The confusion between Hindu and Buddhist dynasties and rulers in Java during this is a little baffling for visitors. Many Hindu and Buddhist monuments were constructed in the central Java region at this time. For example Borobudur and the nearby Hindu Prambanan temple compound were more or less contemporaneous. This, together with many records of royal marriages between Hindu and Buddhist nobles, has led academics to believe that there was little serious conflict concerning religion in central Java at this time. Such an assumption certainly helps the visitor understand the confusing archaeology of the region.
Borobudur lay abandoned and hidden for centuries under layers of volcanic ash and thick jungle growth. Nobody knows for sure why it was abandoned although the popular theory is that the local population just became disinterested when there were mass conversions to Islam in the 15th century. It was never forgotten entirely though with folklore ensuring that stories of the great monument lived on.
Following the Anglo-Dutch Java War, Java briefly was under British administration from 1811 to 1816. The British governor was Thomas Stamford Raffles (the founder of Singapore) and he took a great practical and academic interest in the history of the mystical island of Java. On a tour to Semarang in 1814, he was informed about a huge ‘lost’ monument deep in the jungles near Yogyakarta and he sent a Dutch engineer to. investigate. It took 2 months to clear the jungle and partially reveal the amazing monument but it was not until 1835 that the complex was unearthed in its magnificent entirety.
Appreciation and protection was surprisingly slow to develop though and Borobudur became the domain of unscrupulous souvenir hunters. Modern-day archaeologists speculate that this was due to the European obsession with Ancient Egypt at the time – Borobudor was just too remote and too far away to get the attention it undoubtedly deserved. There was even a Dutch proposal to dismantle the monument and scatter it piece by piece to museums around the world. Thankfully, sense prevailed and by the end of the 19th century the site was left largely intact and a minor five year restoration programme was undertaken in 1907.
In 1973, a major plan to restore Borobudur was created under the auspices of UNESCO. This huge project involved a complete overhaul of the monument between 1975 and 1982. The unsteady foundations were stabilized, everything was meticulously cleaned and a major drainage system installed. After the renovation was finished, UNESCO formally listed Borobudur as a World Heritage Site in 1991. Since then, the profile of Borobudur has increased enormously and it is now a major international tourist attraction. Its statues, reliefs and stupas have spawned millions of replicas which adorn properties worldwide.
As well as being the single most popular tourist attraction in modern day Indonesia, Borobudur has resumed its role as an important place of worship and pilgrimage for Indonesian Buddhists. Visitors should be understanding and respectful of this especially during major Buddhist holiday periods.
The 2006 Jogyakarta earthquake which badly damaged nearby Prambanan, left Borobudur unscathed.
Public buses to Borobudur from Yogyakarta are aimed mostly at Indonesian visitors and few tourists venture aboard. If you are adventurous though, buses from Jombor bus terminal in northern Yogyakarta or Giwangan bus terminal in central Yogyakarta take about 60 to 90 minutes depending on the change at Muntilan and cost Rp 25,000 one way.
Buses run regularly from Magelang to Borobudur via Muntilan and are widely advertised there. Journey time of about 1 hour.
Travel agents in Yogyakarta sell door-to-door minibus tour packages for around Rp 75,000, which is a good deal and a straightforward way to reach the monument.
Yogyakarta is about 40 minutes south of Borobudur by car. Most of the route is on a well-maintained (for Indonesia) four-lane (in many places) highway and there are frequent bus services (see above). A taxi from Yogyakarta to Borobudur costs around Rp 200,000.
The only practical means of getting around is on foot. A toy train of limited practical use shuttles around the temple and between museum and entrance gate for Rp 5,000 a throw.
Entry into Borobudur costs:
Rp 150,000 for adult non-Indonesians
Rp 80,000 for registered students
Rp 15,000 for Indonesian adults
The site is open to the public from 6AM to 5PM. However, the Manohara Hotel (see Sleep) runs a daily Borobudur Sunrise Tour for an additional Rp 115,000 per person, which gets you a flashlight and a lift up to the temple gate at 4:30AM, in time to see the sunrise and explore for an hour and a half before the hordes arrive. This is well worth the money. Hiring a guide who can explain the reliefs well costs Rp 50,000. You should ask for a guide in the evening before going to tour in the morning.
Climbing the pyramid takes some effort, and the dark stone absorbs the sun's heat rapidly to make walking and climbing quite hot by early afternoon. If you have but modest stamina or heat tolerance, you should start as early in the day as possible, and take plenty of water with you.
Borobudur consists of a single stupendously large structure, which can be divided into layers as follows:
The platform at the base of the structure, which was clearly post the original construction and hides some reliefs, is of uncertain provenance and function. The main theories are that the platform was added to censor reliefs depicting earthly desires or — rather more likely — to buttress the subsiding structure and prevent it from collapsing. A section of the platform has been excavated at the southeast corner, showcasing some of the hidden reliefs underneath.
The bulk of the structure consists of four square terraces connected by steep staircases. Each terrace has reliefs in two layers on both sides, recounting the story of the Buddha's past lives and his enlightenment. The "correct" way to view the reliefs is to start from the east gate (the main entrance) and circulate clockwise.
After the square terraces the structure suddenly opens up to reveal the final four circular terraces. Comparatively plain and unadorned, there are no more reliefs here, just several hundred domes housing half-hidden Buddha statues (many headless, some lost entirely).
The peak of the structure is a central stupa. The two chambers inside the stupa are empty, and it is unclear whether they were empty from the beginning as a representation of nirvana, or whether they originally contained now lost statues.
You can discover 6 different postures of buddha's statue for bottom level to the top. They are "contact with earth", "giving and helping", "meditation", "no fear", "teach and learn", "turn of wills".
The rather lacklustre museum, a few hundred meters to the north of the temple, does a haphazard job of presenting the restoration process. Perhaps the most interesting bits are the exhibition of the Karmawiharga reliefs, with explanatory comments, and the photo gallery of old 19th-century shots of the complex before it was restored.
Between Yogyakarta and Magelang lies the volcanic Kedu Plain. This was clearly an important area in pre-10th century Javanese history as it contains a whole host of ruins (both Buddhist and Hindu) dating from the same era as Borobudur and easily reached from there. The most accessible of these together make an interesting use of the late part of the day on the way back to Yogyakarta after you have seen Borobudur.
Candi Mendut. A Buddhist temple that is thought to have acted as a waypoint on the road to Borobudur. It was first discovered in 1834 and holds the distinction of being the first ancient monument in the whole of Indonesia to be restored (from 1897). Some of the statues and reliefs here are of the highest quality and it is well worth a visit. Menut is notable as the start of the modern day Waisak procession. From Borubudor head back towards Muntilan on the main road for 3 km and Candi Mendut is signposted off a small left hand turn off the main road.
Candi Pawon (Branjalan) is only 2 km from Borobudur and you cannot miss driving past it when heading back towards Muntilan and Yogyakarta. It is on a direct line with Borobudur and Mendut and is again thought to have been am ancient waypoint. This temple was restored in the early 20th century.
Candi Ngawen is in Ngawen village just to the south of Muntilan on the main road heading towards Yogyakarta (about 15 km from Borobudur). This Buddhist temple dates from 824 AD and has some interesting wall reliefs.
Candi Canggal dates from the 8th century and is at Gunung Wukir on the main road heading back towards Yogyakarta from Muntilan. The best landmark is the Chinese cemetery which you should look for on the right after leaving Muntilan. A road leads west (right) just after you pass this cemetery. Follow this until the end and walk the last few minutes to Candi Canggal.
On Waisak, Buddha's birthday (held on the night of the full moon in May), an elaborate and colorful multi-day Buddhist festival is held at Borobudur, culminating in a candle-lit procession from Candi Mendut to Borobudur. Walking the Waisak procession route from Borobudur to Candi Mendut (or vice versa) at any time is an excellent experience.
If you are still at Borobudur in the late afternoon, return to the top level stuppas for sunset. It is often very quiet at this time and the sunset behind the mountains to the west is quite magical.
Be nice to the locals. Seriously. There is a lot written in travel guides about the pushy nature of the vendors at Borobudur. And they can be a little annoying it must be said. But a few friendly no's usually do the job. Yogyakarta is a great seat of learning in Indonesia and you will often find many students at Borobudur who are keen to be friendly with you. Take this how it is meant - they are genuinely friendly and rightly very proud of their heritage and keen to talk to you about it.
The vast majority of visitors stay in Yogyakarta and a few in Magelang. It is though well worth spending the night at Borobudur as this will give you a chance the following morning to get to the temples before the crowds arrive. Indeed, if you really want to explore and understand this magnificent monument, overnighting in the immediate area is vital.
There are a number of losmen and basic hotels in the village of Borobudur just south of the park entrance. Owing to the site's popularity with tourists prices are, by Indonesian standards, somewhat inflated for what you get.
Adrian, This budget hotel offers double rooms with prices from Rp 120,000 to Rp 175,000 with inside bathroom but no hot water and A/C. The higher priced rooms have TVs.
Lotus Guest House , +62 293 788281 , Jl Medang Kamulan 2, Central Java, Borobudur, Indonesia, located on northern road near Borobudur
Pondok Tinggal , +62 293 788145 , +62 293 788145 , Jl Balaputradewa 32, Brojonalan, Borobudur, Magelang, Indonesia, located several hundred meters on eastern road of Borobudur, between Borobudur and Pawon temple, Good value option less than 1 km from the entrance to Borobudur.
Rajasa Hotel, +62 293 788276, Jl Badrawati No2, Borobudur, Magelang., Only about 200 metres from the main entrance. Very popular with Indonesian families and the walls are thin, so can get noisy. Good service and good food for the price.
Manohara Hotel , +62 293 788680, +62 293 788680, Jl Badrawati, Borobudur, Magelang 56553, Indonesia, Formerly **Taman Borobudur Guest House**, this friendly resort-style hotel is located inside the Borobudur park, run by the park authority and is just 200 metres from the temple entrance. The grounds are beautifully landscaped and the views are great, but the rooms are little more than functional (a/c, hot water). Still, a room booked here is Rp 575,000 net, which is excellent value as the price includes breakfast and entry to Borobudur for two. Food is excellent. This is the best option for visitors wanting to overnight at Borobudur and gain entry the next morning before the masses arrive. You can also rent a bike here which will cost only Rp 10,000 per hour. Biking in the surrounding villages is recommended.
Ning Tidar Hotel , +62 293 314316, +62 293 314316, Jl Purworejo-Magelang KM 5, Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia, This hotel is about 6 km from Borobudur so it is not the most convenient from that point of view. It is though a very nice property for the price and they offer shuttle bus services to Borobudur. 24 hour restaurant service.
Saraswati Borobudur , +62 293 788843, +62 293 788843, Jl Balaputradewa No10, Borobudur, Magelang, Indonesia, This is a beautiful hotel with views of Borobudur, a swimming pool, and the most gracious staff. The rooms are large with the full range of amenities. Room rates are often deeply discounted (up to 60%) so be sure to ask before you go. Breakfast is included in your rate as is transportation to Borobudur (guide is optional).
Persistent touts hassle tourists on the approaches to the temple but are usually kept away from the temple itself. Be firm and polite about your intentions and they will soon get the message. Be careful when you exit the temple as there are confusing signs pointing to exit gates which lead you through a maze of stalls.
If you do intend to buy some souvenirs here then make sure your bargaining skills at their best.
The telephone area code for Borobudur is the same as Yogyakarta - 0274
Bus route: take a Yogyakarta bus and get down at Jombor Terminal (90 min, Rp 15,000). From Jombor take TransJogya route 2B to Prambanan (45-60 min, Rp 3,000). It will require 3 bus changes- 2B from Jombor to Terminal Condong, 3B from Condong to Maguuro (Jl. Solo) and 1A/B from Maguuro to Prambanan.
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