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in the footprints of those that came before

In my soft cocoon of sleep I heard a distant beeping, which I easily ignored and let myself play in the field of dreams until it slowly dissolved around me. The beeping was my alarm, it was 4.30 am and time to get up, get showered, get dressed and go and see one of the worlds most important, beautiful and protected historical sites. In fact, its so amazing its one of the seven wonders of the world – and what a wonder!

Built by the rulers of the Sailendra dynasty sometime between AD 750 and AD 850, there is little known about this temples early history… but it truly must’ve taken some incredible workforce to build it out in the middle of the jungle… 600,000 cubic meters of stone is carved and carefully designed to create this beautiful structure.

It was hidden in the jungle for thousands of years, only being rediscovered in 1815 under layers of volcanic ash. It has since been made into Indonesia’s most famous tourist attraction, but thankfully, unlike some of the other wonders of the world, it has maintained at least some of its integrity. No longer surrounded by jungle, this incredible structure stands alone surrounded by vast expanses of bright green rice fields and towering volcanoes, it really is a site to be seen by anyone who dares travel to this exciting part of the Indonesian archipelago.

We arrived early, as the sun was rising and although I had read that the hawkers were pretty bad at this particular temple, we seemed to miss them. There were a few, as there always are, trying to sell little stone replicas as ashtrays, book ends and keychains, but they were all too bleary eyed to really try the hard sell.

A perfect sunrise

The steep steps leading up to the top of the temple took their toll on our legs and we felt the burn as we climbed one after another to reach the top in time to see the sun poke its head out from behind the incredible mountain range dotted with Java’s most spectacular volcanoes.

I sat for a moment, with my back pressed against the cool hard stone of an ancient temple and watched the colours reveal themselves over the farming land below. Pinks and reds and brilliant greens. The air was still that cool crisp freshness but I could already feel the heat rolling in from the hills and into my lungs as the sun got brighter.

I always find myself very humbled when I visit a structure that has been there for such an incredible part of history as we know it. I had the same feelings when I visited the ancient forts and temples in India, as I did when I ran my fingers along the intricate stone carvings and pressed my skin against stone that had been touched, carved and loved by so many people who lived in a time I can only imagine.

intricate stone carvings, lasting thousands of years

We travelled in peak season, which was always going to cause problems. There is no way of avoiding the crowds in Indonesia in June/July, but we found ourselves with 15 minutes of peace and quiet with less than 30 people across the entire temple. But from this height we could see the crowds pouring across the grounds towards us, as if a damn had just given way. I was thankful or the time I had to sit and just exist… but now it was time to start weaving our way down so that we didn’t get caught in a mass of Indonesian tourists, all taking our photographs, asking for our autographs, email addresses, phone numbers and numerous questions.

We got trapped, nevertheless by about 25 Indonesian students wanting to practice their English. They ask questions like ‘what is your hobbies.’ And I always think, shit, I don’t know. I haven’t had to discuss my hobbies since I was about 10 years old, and they have (thankfully) changed quite significantly since then. I don’t think I have hobbies so much as lifestyle now. Maybe after all this time I am actually finally growing up… but I wouldn’t count on it.

The question ‘What is the culture in your country,’ made me laugh and made me think. What is the Australian Culture? And how do you explain it to someone who is only just learning your language. Western? Is that a culture? Fusion? Or is that just a scape goat answer? And then the question, ‘how do you say one, two, three in your language?’ I’m guessing that was for French, Italian or other western tourists who don’t speak English as their first language either. My answer, ONE, TWO, THREE… seemed to perplex them. I then gave my autograph, posed for many a photograph and quickly tried to slip away.

the spirit of Borobudur

There is something magical about a temple. It doesn’t matter if you follow, or even truly understand the religion in which the structure was built to honour. If you sit for a moment, and just be, you can feel it. The thousands of years of worship, the sacrifices, the moments of joy and sadness that have all happened right here on these stones… the people who came before us. Before technology and fashion and materialism… before when the world was simpler, when the world was still a mystery.

Barefoot on stone, stepping in the footprints of thousands who have gone before.

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