What ever became of my youth?I wanted to stop a stranger and ask.“It went into hiding,” said an old womanWho’d read my mind.“Swimming with sharks,” a drunk concurred– Charles Simic, from The Stray
There wasn’t much time to prepare. I had a long overnight layover in Kuala Lumpur on my way to Yogyakarta — a three-day trip that required five days because of travel time.
As I was exhausted upon arrival, I figured I’d probably be able to wake up early on my first full day to watch the sunrise at Borobudur, the main reason I chose to visit Yogyakarta. What I didn’t realize was that Borobudur is located about an hour outside the city, meaning I had to leave my hotel almost two hours before sunrise.
This temple visit was different than others. This one was special, not because Borobudur holds great significance to me but because this was the first time I had taken such a trip on my birthday. It was a way to celebrate having a new job for a few months that offered vacation time that I had to use before the end of the year. I had never watched the sunrise (or sunset) on my birthday. This was reason enough for me to drag my butt out of bed at 3:30 in the morning to climb some ancient stairs for a view of the sun breaking through the clouds and mist.
Borobudur is a 9th century Buddhist temple with nine stacked platforms and huge central dome surrounded by 72 Buddha statues inside stupas — the platforms and central dome represent attaining nirvana. It is the single largest Buddhist temple in the world. For comparison, Angkor Wat dates back to the early 12th century. While the Angkor Wat complex is much larger than Borobudur, no single temple within the complex is as large.
The temple was supposedly abandoned around the 14th century as Islam swept across Indonesia. It wasn’t until British rule in the early 19th century that the temple was “rediscovered.” Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the governor of Java, was introduced to the temple by locals, and he shared the information with the world in his book The History of Java in 1817.
The Indonesian government has made efforts to restore Borobudur to its original glory with the help of UNESCO. Of course, this means that tourists must pay an admission fee, which is quite a bit more expensive for a sunrise visit that includes a very light breakfast on the way out.
By the time I reached the top of Borobudur, dawn had broken through the clouds — I wondered why ticket office handed me a flashlight when it was light enough at that hour to see my way (I needed more signs pointing in the right direction for the entrance as I was still rather bleary-eyed).
The sun was already high before 5:30 — the mountains surrounding the temple were illuminated as I watched the mist hang over the trees and smoke from morning cooking fires rising before the day’s heat settled in. The stones of Borobudur shone brighter as the sun escaped from behind the clouds — the cool morning air with the sun shining through made this sunrise a wonderful birthday gift to myself.
I sat by a stupa and reflected on turning another year older and considering my theory that birthdays abroad don’t count and, therefore, I’m still only 27 (despite repeatedly celebrating my 25th birthday because it was the last one I celebrated before becoming an expat for the first time).
After wandering through the temple in the daylight to take a closer look at the intricate stone carvings that surround this enormous temple, I walked back down to the entrance to have my “free” breakfast (it was part of the inflated admission fee) and a cup of coffee before meeting my driver and heading to a few smaller temples on the way to Prambanan on the other side of Yogyakarta.