I think most travelers have their own personal "wish list" or "bucket list" of places they want to see sooner or later. My own list has some familiar places on it, like the pyramids of Egypt, as well as some more obscure sights like Petra in Jordan. On the lesser-known side of the list was the ancient Buddhist temple of Borobodur in central Java. I first read about this man-made mountain in the 1970s, but only recently had the opportunity to fulfill my dream.

The nearest city with an airport to the present-day village of Borobodur is Yogyakarta, known as "Yogya" for short. Yogya is the main tourist destination for central Java, with many other sites near-by in addition to Borobodur. From Yogya, it takes about one hour to reach the main temple of Borobodur.

One of the terraces with the frieze on one side. One of the terraces with the frieze on one side.

This pyramid-like structure is built on and around a natural hill. Construction was started sometime around the beginning of the eighth century. In plan, it resembles a tantric mandala with six square terraces supporting three circular ones. Its been called a three dimensional rendering of the Buddhist conception of the cosmos. The square terraces are covered with carved relief's that can be read as an "instruction manual" for attaining enlightenment.

The lowest terrace depicted scenes of the distractions of everyday life. These supposedly carnal scenes were later covered by stone, although some believe this was just a move to shore up the structure when it started to subside. Higher platforms depict scenes from the Buddha's life in rich detail. These are definitely worth taking the time to see. The entire "pilgrim's walk" around all the galleries totals almost three miles, so wear comfortable shoes!

View of the latticework stupas against the distant mountains. View of the latticework stupas against the distant mountains.

The upper round terraces support 72 stone latticework stupas housing Buddha images. The heads of most are sadly missing. From the top, you have a view of the nearby mountains as well as mount Merapi in the distance. Borobodur is a truly unique monument. It doesn't match the scale of the temples of Angkor, but if you take the time to look closely at the details, and understand the story they tell, you will be impressed.

Admission to the temple costs 125,000 Rupiah (7.50 USD). Note that the fee is tied to the US Dollar, so the actually fee will vary occassionally with the exchange rate. A guide will cost you another 75,000 Rupiah (4.50 USD).

Borobodur is the largest of three temples which form a direct line called "the temple corridor". The other two, much smaller, temples are Candi Pawon and Mendut. All can easily be visited in a single day.

You can find additional information and book a guide at the official Borobodur Park web site.