Went on the back of a motorcycle to Borobudur, a large Buddhist temple in a forest before a backdrop of green hills. It’s a square of 120 meters at the base, with four square terraces topped by three round ones. The four square ones are walkways with very intricately carved panels on both sides, topped with (often headless) buddhas. The panels at the bottom show everyday life: people working, learning, dancers, houses, ships, animals, and a frieze of what looks like winged platypuses linked head to tail. Higher terraces show spiritual scenes. My crude estimate is some 10,000 people in deep relief, with millimeter detail but sometimes somewhat eroded. The floors look like a frozen tetris puzzle of carefully fitted pieces. There are two million blocks total, precisely fitted without mortar.
The round terraces have no carved panels, just 72 stupas with buddhas inside. You can reach in and touch the buddha, people believe it’s good luck. Everything is crowned by a large central stupa. Much of the there time I didn’t see any tourists because they all rush to the top, snap some pictures, and rush back down. Fools.
The whole thing feels like walking a giant mandala (a picture of the buddhist world). Except that all mandalas I have seen lack tourists with gaudy parasols and guides with megaphones in the center. I bet that when devout buddhists, after accumulating virtue on the wheel of incarnations, finally have their ticket stamped for nirvana, they’ll get there and find chirpy tourists snapping pictures of them with cell phones. Bummer.
We continued to Magelang, a village and mountain pass with a vista point from which the Mt. Fuji-like Merapi volcano can be seen in all its glory. The volcano last erupted in 2006, sending lava down the slope and through a few villages. The panorama is beautiful, and so is the road there through rice fields and villages.