28. The Road to Borobudur

Jakarta Bound is a travelogue about life in one of the largest and most densely populated cities in South East Asia.

Boko river Jogja 2

It’s about 40 kilometers from Yogyakarta to the Borobudur temple, which translates to about an hour and a half. But this is quality time, because it’s a beautiful drive that takes you through some glorious scenery.

Glaring through my passenger window, I feasted my eyes on a vista of lush, green, mountainous landscape bathed in South East Asian sunshine. As the driver weaved along the road that passed through the verdant screen of trees and valleys, rice fields and farmland, passing the 3000 metre high Mount Merapi volcano to the east, crossing the Kali Krasak River and into Central Java, I felt intoxicated. This was the reason I had chosen Indonesia as my work destination. This was where I wanted to be every weekend. Even the saccharine sounds of popular ballads from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s couldn’t spoil it. If anything, listening to the likes of Cilla Black, Elvis Presley and the Bee Gees added a charming surreality to the epic, natural wonderment of the landscape – you just would never get this living the life more ordinary. As Claire, and others had told me about working in Jakarta, it’s all about the holidays.

The language barrier between the driver and I proved to be a somewhat of a blessing. I did attempt to make some idle chit-chat, mainly just to be courteous and inject a more friendly dynamic between driver and passenger: “Are you from Jogja?” “How long will it take to get to Borobudur?” “Have you got any other CD’s?” “Do you like 60’s music?” Anything Nana could reply to in English was returned with a broad smile. Anything that wasn’t understood was replied with a nod and a broader smile – “No understand sir.”

Regardless of the dearth of convivial chit-chat, both of us were quite content with our roles – tourist and driver – and the lack of conversational distractions allowed me to absorb the visual reel of natural beauty without interruption. As Buddah once said, “Don’t talk if you can’t improve on silence.” Obviously, the silence is more complete when Tom Jones isn’t singing ‘What’s up Pussycat’!

By the time we reached the town of Borobudur the love ballads of the 50’s and 60’s had given way to the sounds of the 70’s – a much better decade in my opinion. Unfortunately, Nana’s CD had seemed to bypass most of Motown and the silky, soulful sounds of legends like Marvin Gaye and Teddy Pendergrass in favour of the pop hits of that era. Nevertheless, the likes of Dionne Warwick, Al Green and Barry White were represented, and so it was that we entered the village of Borobudur to the deep bass and baritone of Mr. White on ‘Can’t Get Enough of Your Love’. ‘Lovely Day’ by Bill Withers might have been more apt, but we had already had that en route.

The Borobudur temple is probably the main tourist attraction for visitors coming to Jogja and its influence on the trade in the area is evident. After driving through the mountains for over an hour and seeing nothing but the occasional farmer, the odd ox or cow and a few cars and trucks passing by on the road, as you get closer to the town of Borobudur, there is much more activity. There are more cars, people and houses, as well as a host of restaurants, warungs, gift shops and small hotels.

As we came through the village of Mendut we passed a giant Banyan tree where children were playing and I saw what looked like another large ancient temple that was set off the road behind a fenced enclosure. I asked the driver what it was and he told me that it was Candi (the Indonesian word for ‘temple’) Mendut, one of two other smaller temples that are linked to the main temple of Borobudur. The smallest of the two is Candi Pawon, which is situated in between the Borobudur and Mendut temples. These three temples have some kind of symbolic connection and are set in a geographic line, with Borobudur west, Mendut east and the small Pawon temple being the axis of this triumvirate of Buddhist worship.

Borobodur Candi Pawon

The original name for Candi Pawon is not known for certain. In the Javanese language the word ‘pawon’ literally means ‘kitchen’ and is derived from the root word awu, meaning dust. The design of the Pawon temple includes six large holes at its base, which could have been vents. This has led some researchers and archeologists to conclude that the actual meaning of its name is ‘Per-awu-an’ – a place that contains dust – suggesting that the temple was built as a crematorium for a king.

The Mendut temple is the oldest of the three temples, which were all built between the 8th and 9th century during what was the Sailendra dynasty. According to JG de Casparis, one of the archaeologists who researched the temple, its original name was Vennuvana Mandira – The Palace in the Bamboo Forest – and it holds a special significance for Buddhists because of the three gigantic Buddha statues sitting inside the temple that are believed to radiate an aura of blessedness. It is also where Buddhists stage the annual ritual ceremony of Vesak during the full moon in May or June. The holy waters from the springs of Jumprit and the torch with the natural eternal flames at Mrapen are kept at Mendut before the monks and congregations conduct their procession from there to Borobudur.

Like many of the ancient monuments in Indonesia, not much is known about the Mendut or Powan temples. Nevertheless, they form a significant part of the ritual pilgrimage to Borobudur made by many Buddhists each year. For a Philistine tourist like me, Candi Mendut was merely an added visual snapshot en-route to the main showpiece of Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world.


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