Indonesian PhotoEssay: The Magic of Central Java and Tranquility of Villa Borobudur

It starts to rain almost as soon as I arrive. The thousands of motorbikes quickly clear out to hide under a nearby awning. These must not last very long or they would stick it out to get wherever they might be going. Within minutes the streets are flooding. I can see why they found shelter. The ones left have water up to their feet and higher. Almost as quickly, the storm passes and the drain channels and culverts have diverted the millions of gallons of water toward the sea.
The traffic resumes and escalates back to normal insanity. A stream of motorbikes ebb and flow, and sway from side to side as they flow in rhythm to the traffic lights and openings to shoot through. The white lines in the street are a mere suggestion rather than rule in this crazy dance of Jogya congestion.  I arrive at a hilltop villa overlooking one of the most sacred UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This is Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world. It now sits in one of the largest Muslim regions in the world. The people that come to Yogyakarta (yog sounds like ‘vogue’) come to see this place and many other temples in the area of Buddhist and Hindu origin. Lest you be confused, the daily prayers over the loudspeakers will remind you of the dominant religion today.

Villa Borobudur


Villa Borobudur overlooks the valley and lies within a few miles from the temple, and about 90min from the JOG airport. With seven villas near the top of Menoreh Hill, the views are breathtaking. There are only 7 villas here, each with their own private pool. Each villa has its own cooking staff and you eat on a beautiful teak deck overlooking the valley. The food is fresh, local, and wonderful. The staff is amazing and ready to bring you whatever your heart desires, for me, usually something cold to drink! One of the largest volcanoes in Java, Mount Sumbing lies directly in front, while one of the most active volcanoes in the world, Mount Merapi lies to the west. The last time Merapi blew its top, it covered Borobudur in several inches of ash and became a crisis management exercise as thousands of people worked to remove the ash and slurry from the delicate structure. For a glimpse at the volcanic presence in Indonesia go here.




If you stay at the Villas, or one of the other luxury hotels in the area, you will likely get the chance to visit this magical place at sunrise. After being awoken to morning prayer over the loudspeakers at 330a (who needs a wakeup call!), you will be taken in the back gate around 4a, and with a guide start to climb the steps to the top where truly stunning views await.

Prior to sunrise, enjoy walking around the 72 stupas (bells) at the top, most with a small buddha statue inside. Also enjoy having the place relatively to yourself. There were only about 20 people on top the day I went (a Friday, supposedly a slow day) but by 7 am it became difficult to take pictures due to the numbers of people that flooded when the gates opened at 6a. By 8 am, hundreds of schoolchildren add to the mayhem.



Jomblang Cave


As the crowds get thick at the top, enjoy a leisurely stroll across the levels (from nirvana, down to reality, and finally ” desire” at the bottom. Each level has hundreds of reliefs carved into them each with a different story. Many are still in superb condition and are completely original from 1200 years ago. The entire temple was abandoned for hundreds of years and covered in volcanic ash and jungle until UNESCO began to fund the removal and cleaning of over 1 million of the stones and rebuilding from the ground up. The carvings are original as UNESCO decreed that even with the generations of gifted stonecarvers in Madelang, there would not be any reproductions made. Blank stones and keylocks were allowed to ensure the temple remains structural secure, although earthquakes and volcanic activity continues to battle forces of man vs nature to maintain the beauty of this sacred place.


By 8a, I’m spent and running low on battery juice. My one stop on the way back to paradise is a local market, where a 6’3″ curly-haired Caucasian definitely stands out. The Javanese women almost never seem to crack the 5 foot mark but with their colorful headcovers (Hijab) they make up for their size in sheer graciousness and kindness as I stumble through the spices, produce, and protein sources that the locals use in their everyday cooking. My guide Herman is patient with me as I ask loads of questions about the different things in front of me, and the people in the market all greet me with ‘allo’ or ‘salama pagi’ which means good morning. The young girls giggle and the old women cackle as I talk them into letting me take their picture.

I haven’t had breakfast but I leave the market feeling full of the love and easygoing attitude of the Javanese people. I will see many stunning sites over the next three days, but that market on my first morning in central Java will surely be the best memory I carry away from my trip here. Except for Fiji, I found the people here to be one of the most friendly and kind in the whole world.


Across my four days, I will explore much but certainly not all of this area. The amazing team at Villa Borobudur sets me up with a fantastic driver and guide, and we all figure out ways to maximize my experience and interaction with this gentle culture. Prambanan at sunset, abseiling Jomblang Cave, the rice fields of Selogriyo, and the sulphuric mists of Dieng Plateu are but a few of the marvelous adventures. That said, my afternoon dip in my private pool overlooking the valley complemented by the authentic foods of the chefs at Villa Borobudur were a welcome escape from the bustle of this tiny corner of Java. My morning coffee in bed as I watched the mists envelope and release Borobudur in the distance were a tranquil meditation that made time stop for just a brief moment.
Categories: Asia Pacific, indonesiaTags: , , ,

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