Borobudur is a wonder … even thought the sunrise tour is overrated …

In my first post about Borobudur, I mentioned my lack of enthusiasm for the whole “sunrise” experience. This being said, one of the main reasons for me coming to Yogyakarta, was to photograph and see Borobudur.

After the morning debacle with our guide Daniel (who you can email directly here … he is awesome, friendly and well known at Borobudur – since he works there – 😛 ), he felt really bad about the poor sunrise, so he took us through the employee entrance (i.e. “We didn’t pay again to get in“) … VIP style. It was awesome not getting hassled or anything.

If you’ve been to a couple old temples or ruins in the world … Angkor Wat, Teotihuacan, Pompeii; one could argue that they all look alike in some way. This is remarkable when you think about places/structures that are 1000’s of years old, geographically and culturally independent and yet supposedly people never travelled around before Columbus discovered the “New World”. Think about it!

Anyway Borobudur, is pretty phenomenal in the overall context of sacred places. The structure is remarkably well maintained through grants from the Dutch government.

The bas reliefs are stunning in their detail and complexity. The reliefs show the stories based on the manuscripts of Lalitavistara, Jataka-Avadana and Gandavyuha. The Lalitavistara reliefs, consisting of 120 panels, tell us about the life of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha. It starts with the descent of Buddha from the Tushita heaven. Born as Prince Siddhartha, Buddha’s childhood was isolated from the outside world’s misery. Accidentally witnessing the misery of sickness, decrepitude and death, young Prince Siddharta decided to escape from the worldly life and commencing his search of freedom from suffering. Siddhartha’s long and painful search finally led him to the highest level of enlightenment and made him Buddha, the Enlightened One. This story ends with Buddha’s sermon in the Deer Park near Benares.

Even the floor is a jigsaw puzzle all put together without cement/mortar/plaster – each section with its own keystone that unlocks the floor for cleaning. Daniel was also clear to mention that under the floors, there are a lot of snakes.

At the top, there are, 72 stupas circle the huge main stupa that crowns the top of the temple. The circular form represents the eternity without beginning and without end, a superlative, tranquil, and pure state of the formless world. There are no reliefs on the three circular terraces.

All but the largest central stupas on the upper levels contain a (more or less) life-sized statue of the Buddha kneeling, although many of these statues are missing or damaged. There are also many alcoves along the lower levels which contain similar statues but many of these are missing or damaged as well.

5 Essential Details for seeing Borobudur and being happy about it

  1. The lighting is best for photography around 2pm – the harsh overhead sunlight at noon make pictures taking tough
  2. Read about the structure, the history and the details of the reliefs. It will put a lot of the structure in perspective.
  3. Find a reliable guide to take you around and explain the history of Borobudur. Getting from Yogyakarta to Borobudur takes an hour by car. Vehicles with a driver can easily arranged for about $30 a day.
  4. Plan to climb some steps. Stop a while, take some pictures and enjoy the daytime view
  5. It should take about 2 hours to walk the grounds and take pictures.


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About Rishiray

Rishi Sankar is a Cloud HRMS Project Manager/ Solution Architect. Over the past 15+ years, he has managed to combine his overwhelming wanderlust with a desire to stay employed, resulting in continuing stints with 3 major consulting firms (IBM, Deloitte, Accenture). He documents his adventures around the world on "Ah Trini Travelogue" with pictures and stories from the road/tuk-tuk/camel/rickshaw. You can follow him on Twitter at @rishiray and on Facebook at "Ah Trini Travelogue . He doesn't like Chicken Curry but loves Curry Chicken and is always trying to find the perfect Trinidadian roti on the road. He also doesn't like cheese and kittens ... and definitely not together. E-mail from his blog is appreciated like a 35 yr old Balvenie at

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