Earth : Asia : Southeast Asia : Indonesia : Java : Central Java : Borobudur
There is no definite 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 CE.
The haphazard jumble of Hinduism and Buddhism from this period in Java's history can be baffling for visitors. Together with the records of many royal marriages between Hindu and Buddhist nobles, many Hindu and Buddhist monuments were constructed in the region at this time. For example, Borobudur and the nearby Hindu Prambanan temple complex 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.
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 theories are that the local population just became uninterested when there were mass conversions to Islam in the 15th century, or they were simply driven away by a large volcanic eruption. It was never forgotten entirely though, with local folklore ensuring that stories of the great monument lived on.
Following the Anglo-Dutch Java War, Java was briefly 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 two months to clear the jungle and partially reveal the amazing monument, but it was not until 1885 that the complex was unearthed in its magnificent entirety. Raffles also presided over the re-discovery of nearby Prambanan, and it is somewhat ironic that the very brief British rule of Java led to the uncovering of both these ancient monuments.
Appreciation and protection was surprisingly slow to develop, 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 — Borobudur 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, good sense prevailed and by the end of the 19th century the site was left largely intact, and a five year restoration programme was undertaken in 1907.
Modern day Borobudur
In 1956 UNESCO began an assessment process for the full scale restoration of the monument. Finally in 1968, a major plan to restore Borobudur was created, and this huge project involved a complete overhaul of the monument up until 1983. The unsteady foundations were stabilized, everything was meticulously cleaned and a major drainage system installed. After the works were 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.
This huge popularity has its downsides. Both deliberate vandalism and general wear and tear are of great concern for the future integrity of the monument. Pleas for visitors not to touch anything are made in the form of signs, by broadcast warnings, and by the presence of guards, but this does not stop the problem. Many have called for the monument to be closed to casual visitors, and for access to be only via timed guided tours.
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 Yogyakarta earthquake which badly damaged nearby Prambanan, left Borobudur unscathed.
The 2010 eruption of Mount Merapi
Borobudur was heavily affected by the eruption of Mount Merapi in October and November 2010. Volcanic ash from Merapi fell on the temple complex, which is approximately 28 km (17.5 mi) west-southwest of the crater. During the strong eruption of 3-5 November for example, a layer of ash up to 2.5 cm (1 in) thick fell onto the temple. This also killed nearby vegetation. Experts feared that the acidic ash might severely damage the historic site. The temple complex was closed from 5-9 November 2010 to clean up that ash-fall, and the upper levels remained closed to the public until late September 2011. Upon reopening the upper levels, the Borobudur Conservation Agency announced that visitor numbers to those levels were restricted to under 82 people.
UNESCO donated US$3 million as a part of rehabilitation costs to rid the temple's stones of volcanic sediment, then to plant trees to stabilise temperatures, and finally to support the living conditions of local residents. More than 55,000 stone blocks from the temple structure had to be dismantled to enable restoration of the drainage system, which had been clogged by slurry after rains. This restoration programme is predicted to be finished in November 2011.
Borobudur lies in the the Kedu Plain - a very fertile volcanic plain between the twin volcanoes of Mount Sumbing and Mount Sundoro to the west, and Mount Merbabu and Mount Merapi to the east.
The nearest larger airports are Yogyakarta's Adisucipto International Airport (IATA: JOG) and Solo's Adisumarmo International Airport (IATA: SOC). Both are well connected domestically, and also offer some international connections to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. AirAsia for example flies from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to Yogyakarta daily.
It is possible, if one rushes oneself a bit, to visit Borobudur on a day trip from Bali or Jakarta.You can also via Semarang to Borobudur. There are direct flights from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to Semarang with Air Asia
The public buses to Borobudur from Yogyakarta are aimed mostly at Indonesian visitors, and only a few tourists venture aboard, but it is simple. The buses to Borobudur leave from the Jombor bus terminal. You can get to the Jombor bus terminal by either taxi (the simplist) or by local bus. The Trans-Jogja busses 2B and 2A (Rp 3,600) runs from central Yogyakarta to Jombor bus terminal in northern Yogyakarta, where you can change to another bus to get to Borobudur Bus Terminal. The Trans-Jogja staff and Jombor station staff are very friendly and will direct you to the correct buses. Bus takes about 60-90 minutes, and will cost Rp 25,000 one way (pay on the bus). The bus will stop at Muntilan Bus Terminal inbetween for around 10-15 min. From Borobudur Bus Terminal walk 5 minutes to the south and reach the big parking lot of Brobudur Temple.
On arrival in Borobudur, exit the bus station and turn left (away from the arch like structure on the main road). There temple is only 100 m away. Many tricycle and horse cart operators will try to convince you that it is very far and want you to take their transportation.
Buses run regularly from Magelang to Borobudur via Muntilan and are widely advertised there. The journey time is about 1 hour.
The Hindu Temple at Prambanan is located at the end station of TransJogya Route 1A. To get there is simple - Go with bus back to Jombor Terminal (If you sit in front the driver will tell you when they arrive at the terminal). Then go with TransJogya Buses through the city. In every TransJogya station exists a high-level map. Other version: To get from or to the Hindu temples at Prambanan, take a Yogyakarta bus and get down at Jombor Terminal (90 min, Rp 15,000 for visitors, Rp 7,000 for Indonesians). From Jombor take TransJogya route 2B to Prambanan (45-60 min, Rp 3,600). It will require 3 bus changes: 2B from Jombor to Terminal Condong, 3B from Terminal Condong to Maguwo (Jl. Solo) and 1A/B from Maguwo to Prambanan.
From Semarang or Semarang Harbour you can go to Borobudur with rent car or tourist van with 7 seaters van,with 3 hours driving approximately.Like Central Java Transporter, ☎ +6285225993574 ([email protected]), . who operates transport with 7 seaters van in the central of java.
Travel agents in Yogyakarta sell door-to-door minibus tour packages for around Rp 75,000. This is a good deal and a straightforward way to reach the monument, although some operators may stop off at batik and silver factories along the route. Many agents offer combined packages with Prambanan or Merpati, these are a good option to visit multiple destinations however ask around as prices vary wildly (from 60,000 Rp to 200,000 Rp).
If visiting both Borobudur and Prambanan temples you can buy a 'package' ticket for both for $30, cheaper than paying both separately, these are available at either temple entrance though not advertised on the boards (the websites confirm that the ticket exist though). Free tea/coffe and bottled water is included. Tour operators may try to sell you a 'discount package' including the entrance fees, assuring you it is cheaper than the individual entrance prices, this is true, but they neglect to tell you that the package ticket exists!
Also note, the early morning packages are offered with or without breakfast for 10,000 extra. Better to choose without as the included breakfast, provided at one of the many food stalls outside the temple complex, consists of a small plate of fruit salad and some poor quality toast and jam. For 10,000 you could buy yourself something of your choosing that would be better value (bakso is 8000 at most stalls for example).
Borobudur is about 60 to 90 minutes north of Yogyakarta by car, depending on traffic condition as the roads from Yogyakarta to Borobudur can be very congested during daytime. 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 central Yogyakarta to Borobudur costs around Rp 200,000, and fixed price taxi from the taxi counter at Yogyakarta airport is Rp 190,000.
The nearest stations are in Yogyakarta which is the major rail hub of Central Java. Connections are frequent from major cities in the west such as Jakarta and Bandung, and in the east such as Surabaya. From the main Tugu station it is easy to arrange taxi or bus transfers to Borobudur.
The only practical means of getting around Borobudur is on foot. A toy train of limited practical use shuttles around the temple, and between the museum and entrance gate for Rp 5,000 a throw.
If you are staying in the area, most local hotels and guesthouses will rent bicycles for about Rp 30,000-50,000 per day. This is a good way of exploring the other sights and local villages around Borobudur.
For those with longer stays, a hired car offers opportunities to explore the beautiful waterfalls and rice terraces of Selo Griyo in the surrounding mountains. The cost is usually at Rp 500,000 per day.
Entry into Borobudur costs:
If visiting both Borobudur and Prambanan temples you can buy a 'package' ticket for both for $40 (Rp. 520,000), available at either temple entrance though not advertised on the boards. These tickets are valid for two days, including your day of purchase. There is also a combination ticket for students, costing $25 (Rp. 325,000). These rates have increased as of May 2017.
The site is open to public entrance from 6AM-5PM. However, the Manohara Hotel (see Sleep) runs a daily Borobudur Sunrise Tour ] for Rp 450,000 for foreigners (Rp 250,000 if you are a hotel guest) and Rp 270,000 for Indonesians, which gets you a flashlight and an escort to the temple gate at 4:30AM. This is in time to see the sunrise, and to explore for an hour and a half before the hordes arrive. This is well worth the money if the sky is clear; otherwise arriving around 5:45am would make no difference. The sun rises in the same direction as the entrance you used to gain access to the temple. The top few levels offer a great view wherever you position yourself. If you're so inclined, grab a private spot facing East and enjoy your own precious few minutes of reflection (or photography).
Hiring a guide at the gate who can explain the reliefs in some detail costs Rp 75,000-100,000 per hour. Some guides may insist on a minimum time of two hours. You should ask for a guide in the evening before going to tour in the morning. It is also perfectly possible to roll up and find a guide available, it all depends on how busy the site is. Guides speaking European languages other than English may be available. For the sunrise tour, the Manahora will arrange a guide for Rp 200,000 (although the guide might try and charge 250,000).
In April 2011 it was announced that to assist in the ongoing preservation of the temple, future visitors would be required to view the temple in groups of no more than 30 persons and must be accompanied by Taman Wisata Candi Borobudur (TWCB) staff members.
Visitors are required to wear a sarong whilst visiting the temple, although the rule doesn't appear to be strictly enforced. If you do not bring your own, then one is provided free with the entrance ticket. These are available at a post located at the bottom of the temple entrance stairs, and should be returned before leaving at an exit post.
The main site is approached through a large open and pleasant park inside the complex.
Borobudur consists of six square platforms topped by three circular platforms, and is decorated with no less than 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues of various types. The main dome, located at the centre of the top platform, is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues seated inside perforated stupas. The square base is 118 m (387 ft) long on each side, and the highest point 35 m (114 ft) above ground level.
The whole monument is constructed from dark grey andesite stone, and so synonymous has this become with Borobudur and other temples on the Kedu Plain, that Indonesian for the material is simply batu candi (temple stone).
Climbing the structure takes a little bit of effort, and the dark stone absorbs the sun's heat rapidly to make walking and climbing quite hot work 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. Some free bottled water and coffee usually comes with the ticket for international visitors.
The single stupendously large structure can be divided into layers as follows:
The monument's three divisions (the square terraces and central stupa at the peak are regarded as one division) symbolise the three realms of Buddhist cosmology, namely Kamadhatu (the world of desires), Rupadhatu (the world of forms), and finally Arupadhatu (the formless world).
There are six different postures of Buddha's statue from the bottom level to the top. These are contact with earth, giving and helping, meditation, fearlesness, teach and learn, and finally turning the wheel of dharma.
The wall reliefs
You can think of Borobudur as a very large teaching graphic recounting the life story of the Buddha, his teachings and his progress towards Nirvana. If you want to truly understand the reliefs, it is best to employ a guide to explain the stories to you.
In summary, the 2,760 reliefs tell four key sets of stories in the form of carved illustrations and Sanskrit inscriptions:
The Borobudur Museum
There are two museums located within Borobudur Archaeological Park, the Karmawibhanga Museum and the Samudraraksa Museum. These museums are housed inside the park just a few hundred metres to the north of the temple. These museum ticket are already included within the Borobudur entrance ticket, so visitor are free to enter the museum.
The Samudraraksa Museum display the actual size replica of Borobudur Ship. It also display the maritime technology and trade network of 8th century Asia and Africa, especially the maritime trade of Indian Ocean. In 1982 a British naval history scholar called Philip Beale was visiting Borobudur when he noticed 10 panels depicting ocean-going ships. He surmised that these ships may have been a part of a famous shipping route — the Cinnamon Route — that linked Indonesia to Africa many centuries earlier. This led Beale to build a model ship based on those depictions, and that is now housed in its own dedicated space within the museum.
The Karmawibhanga Museum display archaeological findings around Borobudur, the restoration process, as well as the photographs of Karmawibhanga relief on hidden foot of Borobudur. It does a sometimes haphazard job of presenting the restoration process. Perhaps the most interesting exhibitions about this are those of the law of karma reliefs, with explanatory comments, and the photo gallery of late 19th-century shots of the complex before it was restored.
The museum is open daily 6AM-6PM and entry is included with the main Borobudur ticket.
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. If you have a car, 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. Alternatively, if you are staying in the Borobudur area, rent a bicycle and explore these temples together with the verdant local countryside.
A combined ticket for entrance to both Candi Mendut and Candi Pawon costs Rp 3500. You should be able to visit any of these in the hours of daylight.
If you are still at Borobudur in the late afternoon, return to the top level for sunset. It is often very quiet at this time, and the sunset behind the mountains to the west is quite magical. Please note that you must purchase a sunset ticket from the Manohara Hotel at the park entrance (Rp 450,000), if you have the regular ticket the guards will ask you to leave at around 5 PM.
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 want to avoid the maze of handycraft stall, do not turn left and follow the nearest exit sign, just move straight forward to the exit located nearest to the entrance.
If you do intend to buy some souvenirs here then make sure your bargaining skills are at their best. Pedlars sell small statues that they claim are carved from lava stone, but most are cast coloured cement. Identifying genuine lava stone is easy enough as the stone is quite light for its size compared to the weightier concrete. Nonetheless, if a concrete Buddha head will suffice you should not pay more than Rp 20.000. Their first offer is around Rp 150.000. Just tell them, that you already bought for Rp 20.000 and they will give you this price. An authentic lava stone version carved by a skilled craftsman will cost, and be worth, considerably more.
Should you be in need of cash, there is a Bank Negara Indonesia (BNI) ATM close to the main park entrance.
Muntilan is a market town on the main route from Yogyakarta to Borobudur, and it has developed as a leading manufacturing centre of carved stone Borobudur replicas. If you are thinking of buying a stone Buddha, stupa or wall relief, this should be your port of call.
Muntilan is 13-14 km (8.5 mi) back towards Yogyakarta from Borobudur on the main road (Jalan Magelang). You cannot fail to find it.
Eat and drink
The bus station area is home to a multitude of hawker stalls selling standard Indonesian street food and all manner of drinks.
The vast majority of visitors stay in Yogyakarta and a few in Magelang, though it is 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, over-nighting in the immediate area is vital.
There are a few losmen (guesthouses) 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.
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" and keeping on walking usually does 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. To avoid the largest crowds, skip weekends when large numbers of domestic tourists visit, along with the occasional school trip of students, sent by their teachers to practice their English on overseas visitors. Alternatively, visit as early as you can in the morning.
If you look vaguely foreign, you'll be a bigger tourist attraction to school students than the monument itself. Expect to be filmed or audio recorded as students ask you all sorts of harmless questions and perhaps ask for a photo with you. They are highly appreciative of your interaction with them and are lovely.