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Full Circle

Day 119: Yogyakarta to Borobudur

Michael Palin - Full CircleThe monsoon rains are back again as we leave Yogyakarta. The incoming rush hour is a swirl of people on gurgling mopeds, hoods down and plastic capes flapping, heading into the city like a flock of strange birds.

Out in the countryside, swelled by twelve hours of continuous downpour, rivers, the colour of strong tea, are running wide and fast. The rice fields are dotted with bright, unfamiliar colours as work goes on under a forest of plastic umbrellas.

Not far from Yogya there rises one of the great monuments of the world, the huge Buddhist temple of Borobudur, a massive construction of black larval stone that has stood on a low hill surrounded by rice fields and coconut groves for twelve hundred years. Rather like the Nileside temples in the sands of the Sahara, Borobudur was neglected, overgrown and half-submerged in volcanic ash when, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, it attracted the attention of European colonists. Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore, who once administered Java, wrote a book about the 'rediscovery' of Borobudur that captured the western imagination and from that time on it was progressively repaired and restored. Work still goes on, supervised by UNESCO who have spent over twenty million dollars here.

The huge complex is designed as a series of five terraces which represent a mandala, a symbol of the harmony of the universe. The terraces form a path to enlightenment that runs around the temple for almost two miles. It is flanked by walls intricately and profusely decorated with stone relief carvings depicting the Buddhas own search for enlightenment.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 119
  • Country/sea: Indonesia
  • Place: Borobudur
  • Book page no: 172

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