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Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Borobudur Borobudur, Indonesia, Monday, 06 June 2011 1:00am

I'm still not vaguely in the right time zone, so it was surprisingly easy to get up for my sunrise tour of Borobudur, the region's monumental Buddhist temple. However, my bad luck with sunrises is still holding. When we arrived at the viewing point, it was foggy, but we could see lights down in the valley. As it started to lighten, the fog got thicker and thicker, until we could barely see the trees a few yards away. Oh well. We watched the shift change from bats to birds and sipped tea with coconut nectar sugar until it was very clear that the fog was not going to burn off.

We stopped in a nearby village market for breakfast: rice porridge with eggs, tofu, and lots of spices. The two Dutch girls who were sharing the tour with me couldn't finish their portions because of the heat, but I thought it quite tasty. We also tried some cassava in the form of a thick pancake and also fried with sugar inside. It reaffirmed cassava's status as my favorite starchy vegetable.

Before I was allowed to visit Borobudur, I was issued a sarong. I think this is the first time I've been judged too scantily clad for a temple.

The temple is essentially a large hill built of carved stone. There is no interior, just terraced rings around the hill, representing the different levels of existence on the way to nirvana. There are parallel carvings depicting the life of the Buddha on one side and scenes from his previous incarnations on the other. The top three levels are undecorated, except for stupas containing Buddha statues, symbolizing the transcendence of form.

It was interesting to see the mix of people at the site. The vast majority of the visitors seemed to be Indonesians, many of them schoolchildren. As obvious foreigners, our group was often trailed by what the Dutch girls called a "fan club", and we were asked to pose in pictures with quite a few groups. This has happened to me a few times in my travels in Asia (there was one at the Sultan's Palace yesterday), but never before to this extent.

We also visited the smaller Mendut Temple, stopped at a roadside stand for a fresh coconut, and paused to look at the wreckage from a recent eruption of Mount Merapi. The volcano blocked a river with ash and the resulting flood washed away thirty houses.

When I was dropped off at my hotel, I was confused about why the staff were all greeting me with "Good Morning", until I realized that it was just after 11:00. After a seven hour tour, it seemed much later. I decided to take it easy for the afternoon. Lunch and a swim in the hotel pool... just about perfect.

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