CENTRAL JAVA, Indonesia — Borobudur blew me away.
Along with its younger companion, Prambanan, and a couple of smaller sites, the ancient Buddhist temples inhabiting the most populous of Indonesia’s 17,508 islands stand as some of the world’s finest — and largest — such structures.
Yunus, my guide, shepherded us up and down the ancient stone steps, stopping every now and then to interpret one of the countless stone relief carvings telling various stories of Buddha’s life.
The climb alone beats a Stairmaster, hands down.
The temple at Borobudur is shrouded in mystery, as records of its purpose or much about its architect have proved elusive. Walking around the site, which had spent a good deal of its time covered in volcanic ash and jungle growth, it was awe-inspiring to think of the hands that built such a beautiful structure. Here a quiet peace is easy to come by, even amid the oppressive heat and humidity.
Borobudur contains 504 statues of the Buddha, many of them seated in various representational states (depending on the position of its hands) within stupas, bell-shaped structures of stone crafted in a lattice style. Many of the statues are headless, the result of damage from earthquakes, vandalism, a 1985 terrorist bombing and eager Western collectors. As with many other details of the statue, the number of Buddhas adds up to nine, which holds special significance and represents the nine states of consciousness.
There was far too much history, characters in the multitude of legends and names to recount accurately without further research.
But it was an amazing day.