The ancient temples of Borobudur, Sewu and Prambanan in Java are impressive monuments to Asia’s oldest civilizations. The Borobudur temple compound was established in the 8th century. It has been witness to more than 1,200 years of history.
The Hindu temples at Prambanan and Sewu Buddhist temple date back to the 10th century. The temples at Prambanan have been ravaged by theft, decay, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. It is a testament to the resilience of the local people that they repair and rebuild each time nature destroys or damages their community and heritage.
The temple compounds are open to visitors and devotees making offerings to the gods. It is considered polite to dress conservatively when visiting the temples. Bare chests, shoulders, and skirts or shorts that come above the knee are generally frowned upon.
Arriving in Java
I flew into Yogyakarta from Singapore. Many flights are also available from Indonesian airports including Denpasar (Bali) and Jakarta. Java is mainly serviced by budget airlines.
Check with the Indonesian consulate web page to see if you need a visa to enter Indonesia.
Australians will need to apply and pay for a Visa on Arrival at the airport. The fee is payable in USD. Always keep your boarding pass from the plane to show to immigration officials when you arrive.
I was able to arrange airport transfers via the hotel where I staying. A driver with a clean, air-conditioned car was waiting for me when I arrived.
Motorbikes are the most popular form of local transport. Because (pedicabs) provide tourists with an alternative method of touring the city. Negotiate the fare with the driver before accepting a ride.
There is very little in the way of organized tours to the temples. The best method for exploring these sites is to arrange your transport. A local guide can be hired when you purchase your tickets at the temple compound.
When I arrived the city had recently been showered in volcanic ash from Mount Kelud. The clean up was still ongoing. To avoid the worst of the dust I decided to hire a driver and a car from the hotel. Bookings could be made for either a day or half-day as required.
The ancient Buddhist Borobudur Temple is about 40 kilometers from Yogyakarta. The temple attracts both tourists and pilgrims.
Bring your walking shoes, hat or umbrella to keep the sun and rain off your head. There is a long walk from the car park to the temple. Very little shade or shelter from the weather is available.
Borobudur is a fascinating and imposing structure consisting of 100’s of well-preserved statutes (506 Buddha in total), stupas and carved stone reliefs.
Borobudur is on the UNESCO World Heritage list for great cultural and religious significance. There is a UNESCO billboard with instructions for entering and appreciating the temple compound for the uninitiated.
I was in Java about a week after a volcanic eruption had dumped ash on Yogyakarta and the surrounding area. Some parts of the temple were still closed for cleaning. It was raining constantly on the day that I visited. Not to be put off by the weather, I bought a bright red rain poncho from the market stalls located near the entrance gates.
The temple compound was not crowded. A handful of people in their brightly colored ponchos could be seen walking around admiring the ancient temple.
I enjoyed being able to take my time to walk around in relative solitude. There were times when there was no one in sight. It is eerie to stand within an ancient temple and feel completely alone.
It was very quiet until I met a group of high school children on an excursion to learn about the temple.
The students were keen to practice their English language skills with me. Talking to the students made it a very entertaining afternoon!
Prambanan Temples and Shrines
The Prambanan temple compound is about 15 kilometers from Yogyakarta. It is a popular destination for tourists and devotees.
Prambanan is the largest Hindu temple complex in Indonesia. The three main temples are dedicated to the gods Shiva, Visnu, and Brahma. There are 240 Hindu temples and shrines within the compound.
I was able to hire a local guide who spoke many languages to walk around the site with me and point out or explain significant structures when I bought my ticket to enter the temple compound.
My guide was an excellent storyteller and had many informative and amusing tales to tell about the statutes and scenes carved in the stone reliefs.
I found that having a guide ensured that I saw and understood more about the temples, local history, and legends than I would have walking around alone.
The compound is huge and the ground is very uneven in places. Flat walking shoes are essential.
It was fairly quiet on the day that I visited. I was able to walk around uninterrupted and enjoy exploring the multitude of temples and shrines at my own pace.
It is fascinating to see the level of detail and workmanship that has gone into creating each stone in the monuments. Every object is designed to be a thing of beauty.
Some of the structures only had the base and a few carved stones remaining. Others looked as if they had been completely restored.
Only temples and shrines that have sufficient stones remaining (75% of the original structure) have been rebuilt.
The Prambanan temples are surrounded by a large park that includes the Sewu Buddhist temple compound.
The park covers 39.8 hectares and contains the ruins of around 500 shrines and temples. You could easily spend an entire day exploring the site.
There is a small train that loops around the temples if you are unable to walk or have young children to entertain.
I did a loop of the park on the train to get my bearings.
The best way to soak up the atmosphere of the temples is on foot.
Sewu Buddhist Temple
The Sewu Buddhist temple compound is in the same park as the Prambanan Hindu temples.
The presence of the temples so closely together is evidence of the two religions co-existing peacefully at the time.
My guide informed me that it was common for the local people of different faiths to inter-marry with the women mostly followers of Hindu and the men followers of Buddhist traditions.
The Buddhist temple is a little more decayed, but just as beautifully constructed as the Hindu temple. Some signs display the original layout to help you make sense of the jumble of rubble and standing structures.
The Sewu temple attracts fewer people and you may even find yourself alone amidst the ruins. Devotees still come to the temple to make offerings to the gods. You mind finding their brightly colored offerings in various locations as you walk around.
The restoration process at Sewu is still ongoing.
The site that incorporates Prambanan and Sewu is now included on the UNESCO world heritage list.