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Borobudur is a 9th century Mahayana Buddhist temple in Central Java, and is the world’s largest Buddhist temple. Much of this huge complex had been hidden in volcanic ash from Mount Merapi and overgrown by jungle vegetation, but locals knew of its existence long before it was ‘discovered’ by Stamford Raffles. In fact, Raffles never saw Borobudur himself but brought it to the attention of the world after sending a Dutch engineer, Hermann Cornelius, to explore central Java. Since then, it has undergone extensive renovation as tropical rain has undermined its foundations. Today, the temple is in a guarded landscape and the site is changing to accommodate people wishing to pursue Buddhist studies.

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All around the temple walls are intricate sculptures telling the stories of Buddhism. The characters portrayed on the walls suggest that some of the artisans came from India as people have non-Javanese features.

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At Borobudur, you constantly have to remind yourself that this Buddhist temple was built in the 9th century. The ancient kingdoms of Java must have been extraordinary and very powerful indeed. The fact that the spectacular Hindu Prambanan Temple was built nearby and at a similar time, and that both religions coexisted, says a lot about the level of civilisation here. It is no wonder that Stamford Raffles was fascinated by ancient Javanese culture when he lived there in 1811-1816. Although better known as the founder of Singapore, Stamford Raffles also made his name in part by writing an enormous book on the History of Java.

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Borobudur is the most visited site in Indonesia, and even when getting there to watch the sunrise, we were surrounded by many other visitors. Nowadays, Indonesian school children are learning more about their own history, so school groups frequently visit Borobudur. One small group of school children chatted with Lawrence to practise their English under the watchful eye of their teacher. He was also roped in to play a few games with them, which hopefully I have recorded on video for him. 

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After our visit to the Borobudur Temple, our guide had arranged a romantic breakfast for us! We were driven to the top of Dagi Hill (Puncak Bukit Dagi) where a table had been laid out for us with a view over the forest towards Borobudur.

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After a leisurely breakfast in the gorgeous fresh air, we could have visited a market and another smaller temple, but we opted instead to head back to our hotel for a rest. We were staying at the Merapi Jungle Suite on the hillside overlooking Borobudur, and because it was low season, we had an upgrade to a two villa complex with our own swimming pool. Lawrence did go for a brief swim, but the sun was fierce with little shade, so we sat in the shade reading our books. It was nice to take a brief break from being a tourist!

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© Helen Gray 2021