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Apr
30

Cheap Flight to Jakarta-Feel Nirvana

A lot of people will tell you there aren’t many reasons to fly to Jakarta other than family or work.

A heavenly gate

A heavenly gate

But I have one, one very large one.

Borobudur. One of the most significant and holy places you’ll ever see. It’s the only reason worthy enough to wake a vacationer up at 3 a.m. To see the sun rising over the Kedu Plain in central Java with 504 figures of Buddha, is a sight that will stay with you forever and more than worth the cheap flight to Jakarta. I went with my mother, who is a Buddhist, and it is a memory that will last forever.

borobudur temple

borobudur temple

But it, of course, is not easy to get to. First you have to get a flight to Jakarta and then once you’re there you have to get a smaller flight to Yogyakarta. Book a room there- ours, one of the better hotels, had lots of unusual animals cohabitating with us. Here in this city they are used to foreigners here, everyone comes to see Borobudur.

The temple is one of three great religious sites in Southeast Asia, but it’s older and than Bagan in Myanmar and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. It was begun in the 8th century by the Sailendras, a dynasty of Buddhist kings who ruled central Java for almost 200 years until their power waned and the temple was abandoned.

enlightenment

enlightenment

The stepped pyramid rises in nine levels to a single bell-shaped stupa surrounded by galleries. The pilgrims walk around them, meditating on stone reliefs that tell the life story of Siddhartha Gautama, an Indian prince who transcended life’s pain and became the Lord Buddha.

borobudur indonesia

borobudur indonesia

You can circle the monument with them or climb to the top, but only by looking at a diagram can you tell that the temple is shaped like a mandala, a mystical scheme of the Buddhist cosmos. The three levels denote states of consciousness, from human suffering to enlightenment.

borobudur

borobudur

And the price is right. Borobudur Tour & Travel, offers a three-day itinerary in central Java, including a van, a driver and hotels, for $375, no deposit required.

Yogyakarta is about 35 miles southeast of Borobudur. The name of the town’s airport, Adisucipto.

You’ll see immediately that the streets are clogged with traffic, there are so many people here and not enough infrastructure. Along the way you’ll see the cottage industries making wood furniture and replicas of temple statues; children bathing in an engorged, brown river, and women in colorful head scarves doing the wash. Oh and you’ll see rice paddies everywhere.

prambanan temple

prambanan temple

Stop at Prambanan first as a sort of warm-up to the main, the great event. A temple complex close to Yogyakarta built shortly after Borobudur, but architecturally more like Angkor Wat with a central artichoke-shaped stupa surrounded by four smaller ones. The compound, seriously damaged in 2006 by a 6.3-magnitude earthquake and partly covered by shaky bamboo scaffolding, looks as though it could collapse if you weigh in at more than a hundred pounds.

prambanan

prambanan

Climb the main stupa and you’ll see a 10-foot-tall statue of the Hindu god Shiva. Why Hindu? Well the two were very closely related and practiced up until Islam, brought by Arab traders, took root around 1400.

sultan Hamengkubuwono's palace

sultan Hamengkubuwono's palace

The Yogyakarta region, with a population of about 3 million, is the only Indonesian province still ruled by a sultan. The city is now home to several major Indonesian universities, which gives it a smart, young air. But at its center remains the  Sultan Hamengkubuwono’s palace (or kraton), a walled, whitewashed compound with open-air pavilions. A 175-piece gamelan orchestra, an ensemble of wind, string and percussion, performs here. It has its own bank, a 2,500-man military garrison, a museum of gifts given to sultans, 20 vehicles in the royal garage and 75 bird cages. it looks a little like Tom Brady and Gisele’s LA mansion.

Sultans

Sultans

The present sultan has just one wife and five daughters, and unlike his father, another Hamengkubuwono, who had 21 children with four concubines. The sultan’s sad lack of a male heir, the rumor is, comes from the sexual aggressiveness of the queen consort, a condition that produces girl children only.

Oh well, I guess women will soon take over the world.

malioboro

malioboro

For some of the best shopping, and totally worth a flight to Jakarta, head to Malioboro Road. Lined by tightly packed rows of buildings with Dutch stepped gables, New Orleans-style balconies, galleries full of food and souvenir vendors, this is a great place to shop. Great cottons for nothing, fragrant flowers and cheap batik scarves. Sometimes you’ll see a bucket of black, shiny scorpions.

There are loads of places to stay, but you might feel like a college backpacker, a drifter or a spiritual seeker. Most popular are the hotels on Sosrowijayan Street just off Malioboro. Here you’ll also find tour agencies, cheap guesthouses and cafes with strangely bad coffee.

But no matter, this is all just a gear up for one of the most beautiful sites you’ll ever see and the sole reason why you have booked that cheap flight to Jakarta.

Borobudur, a few hours by van from Yogyakarta, is one of the least touristy UNESCO World Heritage Sites you’ll ever see. There’s one hotel inside the temple gates, the Manohara guest house, originally built for researchers and architectural historians that completed a major renovation of the temple in 1983. Now open to travelers, it provides a welcome drink of Coca-Cola with tamarind, modest rooms, good food in an open-air dining room, a video introduction to Borobudur and easy access to the temple, especially for people who want to see it at sunrise.

sunrise at borobudur

sunrise at borobudur

The temple is hidden by trees until the very threshold and then Borobudur makes its appearance, like a great layer cake of gray stone supporting a mountain of needle-pinnacled stupas.

The arched staircases from level to level are treacherously steep, overlooked by gaping-mouthed gargoyle water spouts, nymphs, dancing arms akimbo, and niches enshrining Buddha figures, each with hands in different symbolic poses. His life story unfolds on the middle level, starting at the left side of the eastern entrance with stone panels of great vividness. Starting with a carving of Queen Maya in a carriage headed for Lumbini Park, where she gave birth to the Buddha.

sunrise over borobudur

sunrise over borobudur

Experts say that Borobudur’s more abstract upper precincts, especially its empty central stupa, reflect nirvana, a state of being beyond human consciousness. All I know is when you’re there you feel something you’ve never felt before and it lasts way longer than a weekend in Paris or a fine meal in New York. It changes you somehow. And its for the better.

You must not miss this one.

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