Entry into the Borobudur site costs US$11 - Rp93,000 (US$7 student, or Rp9,000 if you are Indonesian) and the site is open to the public from 6 AM to 5 PM. However, the Manohara Hotel runs a daily Borobudur Sunrise Tour for an additional US$10 (115 000 IDR) per person, which gets you a flashlight and a lift up to the temple gate at 4:30 AM, in time to see the sunrise and explore for an hour and a half before the hordes arrive, and is well worth the money.
Hiring a guide who can explain the reliefs well costs Rp 50,000. You should ask for a guide in the evening before going to tour in the morning.
Borobudur consists of a single stupendously large structure, which can be divided into layers as follows:
- The platform at the base of the structure, which was clearly added on later and hides some reliefs, is of uncertain provenance and function. The main theories are that the platform was added to censor reliefs depicting earthly desires or — rather more likely — to buttress the subsiding structure and prevent it from collapsing. A section of the platform has been excavated at the southeast corner, showcasing some of the hidden reliefs underneath.
- The bulk of the structure consists of four square terraces connected by steep staircases. Each terrace has reliefs in two layers on both sides, recounting the story of the Buddha's past lives and his enlightenment. The "correct" way to view the reliefs is to start from the east gate (the main entrance) and circulate clockwise.
- After the square terraces the structure suddenly opens up to reveal the final four circular terraces. Comparatively plain and unadorned, there are no more reliefs here, just several hundred domes housing half-hidden Buddha statues (many headless, some lost entirely).
- The peak of the structure is a central stupa. The two chambers inside the stupa are empty, and it is unclear whether they were empty from the beginning as a representation of nirvana, or whether they originally contained now lost statues.
- You can discover 6 different postures of buddha's statue for bottom level to the top. They are "contact with earth", "giving and helping", "meditation", "no fear", "teach and learn", "turn of wills".
A few sights of interest are located outside the main temple itself.
- The rather lacklustre museum, a few hundred meters to the north of the temple, does a haphazard job of presenting the restoration process. Perhaps the most interesting bits are the exhibition of the Karmawiharga reliefs, with explanatory comments, and the photo gallery of old 19th-century shots of the complex before it was restored.
- Candi Mendut, 3 km from Borobudur (along the road to Yogyakarta). A comparatively small temple that may have acted as a waypoint on the road to Borobudur. Now notable primarily as the start of the Waisak procession.
Insider travel tip:
While most visitors stay in Yogyakarta or Magelang, it's worth spending the night here as this will give you a chance to get to the temples before the crowds.
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