Most travellers have a bucket list – a list of places they want to visit and experiences they want to try before they die. I am no different, and I was lucky to tick off an item high on my bucket list during our recent trip to Indonesia: watching sunrise at Borobudur temple.
Borobudur in Central Java is the world’s largest Buddhist temple. This incredible monument, dating from the 8th and 9th centuries, consists of nine platforms all leading up to a monumental stupa, which perches on top. Surrounding the main stupa are 72 smaller perforated stupas, each containing a hidden statue of the Buddha.
The temple walls and balustrades are decorated with 2,672 relief panels and more than 400 further Buddha statues adorn the temple. The sheer scale and intricacy of the temple is staggering and I felt immensely privileged to be here.
Amazingly this enormous temple was abandoned and forgotten in the 14th Century, with the decline of the Hindu kingdoms in Java and the conversion of the Javanese to Islam. It was rediscovered by the outside world in 1814 by Sir Stamford Raffles, and has since undergone several restorations – most recently by the Indonesian government and UNESCO between 1975 and 1982, following which it became named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.
The most spectacular time to visit Borobudur is at sunrise, when you can watch the sky changing colour as the sun emerges between the distant volcanoes. You need to arrive at the temple by about 5am for the sunrise tour of Borobodur – it’s still pitch black at that time, but you will be given a torch to help find your way in the dark.
Don’t expect to have the temple complex to yourselves – there were hundreds of other people climbing those stairs by torchlight with us, but despite the crowds, this is a magical time of day, with a sense of calm and serenity, as you all sit and watch the stupas emerge from the darkness around you.
Despite the size of the temple, visiting Borobudur with kids is easily manageable. I was worried climbing up all those steps would be too much, but there are not actually as many as I thought and my 5 year old managed it easily.
I’m going to be honest here though – getting up at 4am to go and sit in a temple complex to watch sunrise did not go down well with my kids. My 3-year old had to be carried and luckily fell asleep on my husband’s shoulder for the duration. My 5-year old, however, whinged and moaned the whole time – which kind of ruined the magic of the moment.
If you are also planning to visit Borobodur with small kids, I would suggest arriving slightly later instead. We noticed a real lull in the crowds between 6.30 and 7am, when the early risers had headed down for breakfast, but before the coach tours arrived. At this time of day, you can still benefit from the magical morning light, but hopefully your kids will be in a better mood with an extra couple of hours’ sleep under their belts.
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