INDONESIA – THE TEMPLES: SO NEAR AND YET SO FAR

Beijing, 26 February 2014

A major reason why we came to this part of Indonesia was to visit Borobudur, Prambanan, and other smaller Buddhist and Hindu temples scattered around the Kedu plain, north of Yogyakarta. Well, Mt. Kelud’s eruption put paid to that plan! With equal indifference the volcano covered all temples, Buddhist and Hindu alike, with a layer of ash. Result: all the sites were closed to visitors while clean-up crews moved in to wash off the ash.

What to do, what to do? Well, hope springs eternal, as they say. We kept telling each other that surely they would reopen the temples quickly, within a few days, maximum! I mean, all those disappointed tourists milling around! All their money not being spent on entry tickets and ancillaries! So on the first day, we walked down to Borobudur to check out the situation. Not brilliant.  It would be a long time before the temple itself would be reopened, we were informed, although the grounds might be re-opened in a few days. The locals helpfully guided us to a spot on a side road from which one could see the temple quite well. They were right, with the foreground of tender green rice shoots being particularly appealing.
Borobodur across rice paddies 002
We then decided to go to a hotel abutting the temple grounds to have a late lunch, and discovered to our astonishment an excellent view of the temple from the back of the hotel.
Borobodur from Manohara 002
So, sitting on some steps I read out to my wife a description of all the things we were missing: the 2,760 bas-reliefs, “exquisite, considered to be the most elegant and graceful in the ancient Buddhist world”, as well as the 461 Buddha statues circling the middle and upper levels of the temple. Rather masochistic reading, I grant you, but I wasn’t having me carry that heavy guidebook all the way to Indonesia for nothing. And anyway, we kept telling each other, we might get closer still when they opened the park later in the week.

The next day, a local guide took us up to Dieng Plateau, which was a very pleasant drive up to 2,100m. After visiting a smoking solfatara (the plateau is an ancient volcanic caldera complex) and a volcanic lake, we visited a series of small Hindu temples, “the oldest known standing stone structures in Java”, so the guidebook informed us. Here, Mt. Kelud’s ash had not reached, so we could visit them no problem.

Dieng plateau temples 000
Dieng plateau temples 002

This was the closest we ever got to bas-reliefs

Dieng plateau temples 006

Intriguing. Each temple was rather small, with very dark interiors. It wasn’t clear to us why anyone would expend all that effort and stone for such a small inner space. We had to be missing something, and the heavy guidebook did not enlighten us.

The next day, hope as I say springing eternal, we again walked down to Borobdur, to check if the park was open (yes) and if we could get any closer to the temple (no). Giving up on Borobudur, we went to visit Yogyakarta for the day (where we had the delicious fried chicken I have previously mentioned).

We now put our faith in our local guide, who said that he might, just might, get us into Prambanan. He also said we should have no problem visiting the smaller temples in the surroundings; the guards there were more relaxed. So, with hope springing etc., we set out the next day to visit Prambanan and a series of smaller temples. Alas, our guide was too optimistic. At Prambanan, we could go into the grounds but couldn’t get close at all to the main temples, so we decided to forget it. And as for the other temples, the universal answer was no, we couldn’t enter, the boss might come and it wasn’t worth their while risking it (after hearing this for the fourth time, we started asking ourselves who was this boss who seemed omni-present and ever so fierce?). We contented ourselves with looking at the temples from the fences, except in the case of Prambanan where we sneaked through an open unguarded gate around the back and were rewarded with a great view of the temple ensemble.

So here are the photos we took:

Mendut
Mendut temple 003
Plaosan
Plaosan temple 004
Sewuu
Sewuu temple 001
Prambanan
Prambanan temple 002
Ijo

Ijo temple 001

high, high, on a hill
Ijo temple-view of surroundings
Sari
Sari temple 001
being cleaned by crazy cleaners – no safety harness, no ropes, nothing!

Sari temple 005

Kalasan
Kalasan temple 001
being cleaned by even crazier cleaners

Kalasan temple 009

and finally Sambisari
Sambisari temple 002
an odd temple, this one, seemingly sunken 5m below ground level but actually completely buried long ago during a volcanic eruption. This must have been a Pompeii-like event.

Actually, you know, this wasn’t such a bad way of seeing the temples, just an overview as it were. The drives between the temple alone were worth it – it’s really a lovely part of the world. And seeing all these temples with no other tourists around was definitely a plus. My only regret was not being able to see the bas-reliefs from closer up. But I take the Buddhist precept to heart that desire is the ultimate source of all unhappiness, and I will not let myself desire to see the bas-reliefs. Anyway, I’m sure their pictures are all on the internet …

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All pictures ours, except:

Dieng plateau temples overview: http://allindonesiatravel.com/images/arjuna-temples-dieng-plateau-java-indonesia.jpg [in http://allindonesiatravel.com/dieng-plateau-central-java/%5D

TEMPLES IN LAOS

Luang Prabang, 20 February 2013

I must confess to a certain weakness for the Buddhist temples in this part of the world. I first came across them nearly thirty years ago (Good Lord, is it really that long ago?) when my wife and I visited Japan. My photos of that trip are packed away with all the rest of our stuff in Vienna, so I’ve borrowed a few pictures from the web to refresh my memory, all from Kyoto, a wonderful place. This is Kiyomizu-ji.

kyoto-temple-1

But probably the most iconic temple of them all in Kyoto is Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion.

kyoto-temple-2

Look at that delicate architectural tracery embedded so naturally, so lightly, in the surrounding greenery.

Many years later, my wife and I saw another style of Buddhist temple in Bangkok during a brief stay there on our way to Angkor Wat. This is Wat Benchamabophit:

bangkok-temple-1

And this Wat Ratchanatdaram:

bangkok-temple-2

And then, once here in China, we saw yet another style, a heavier, more “imperial” style. The Temple of Heaven in Beijing is one of the nicer examples.

Temple-of-heaven-3

All quite different. But I think you will agree that there is a common thread: the raking of the roofs. I don’t know what it is, but this lift of a roof at its tip really gives a wonderful grace to a building, even a rather heavy, stodgy building like the Temple of Heaven.

So it was with pleasure that we saw this again in Laos, first in Vientiane:

laos 076

laos 103

Then in Luang Prabang:

laos 287

laos 319

I saw other things that warmed the cockles of my heart, like this for instance:

laos 412

laos 405

This is where I can refer the reader back to my previous post. What we’re seeing is the similar use of paintings to educate the faithful in two places that are nearly 9,000 kilometres apart. The Italians have an expression for this, tutto il mondo è paese, the whole world is but a village; in the end, we’re all the same wherever we live. In the previous post, it was my young daughter who was illiterate. In this case, it was me – and alas, I had no-one who could explain the story which the paintings were telling.

We also liked the way that the temples had different roofs piled one on the other.

laos 365

It quite reminded us of the stave churches in Norway, several of which we had visited some five years ago:

norwegian-stave-church

Tutto il mondo è paese.

We also liked a certain set of Buddha statues that we came across. These are in the “praying for rain” position:

laos 382

And these are in the “no war” position:

laos 390

Well, I suppose that’s what we all want, isn’t it? We want to eat our fill and live in peace.

Tutto il mondo è paese.

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Kyoto-temple-1: http://anime.aplus.by/uploads/posts/2011-01/1293979203_xigasiyama.jpg
Kyoto-temple-2: http://www.gadventures.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Kyoto_GoldenTemple.jpg
Bangkok-temple-1: http://misto-market.com.ua/turizm/images/interestplace/98/1.jpg
Bangkok-temple-2: http://travel-tips.s3-website-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/holidays-Bangkok-Thailand-hotel-package-deal-travel-tips-guide-Wat-Ratchanatdaram-Temple.jpg
Temple of heaven: http://templeofheavenbeijing.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Temple-of-Heaven.jpg
Norwegian stave church: http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_llqkm5GrsA1qzxqgco1_1280.jpg

the other pictures: mine