The island of Java in Indonesia is the home of the famous Borobodur temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the world, and one of the greatest Buddhist monuments. Borobodur was built around the 9th century, a period when Buddhism and Hinduism were important religions in Indonesia. (This is not the case any longer as Islam has been the predominant religion in Indonesia since the 15th century).
I had seen a number of lovely images of the Borobodur temple but had never seen it myself so on a trip to Bali last July, I decided to stop there on my way. The temple was as impressive as I had expected. I visited it at sunset and sunrise and took the required shot of the sun rising over one of the 72 Buddha statues that are seated inside perforated stupas (there are 504 Buddha statues in total). Seeing the sun rising over this magnificent structure was quite an experience, and worth the early wake-up call.
The temple is located in Central Java about 40 kilometers from the city of Yogyakarta. After spending time at the temple, I spent a few more days in the area to explore some small villages. Going from one village to another is easy using an andong, a horse carriage that is popular both with tourists and also the locals as the roads are quite narrow. (The locals, of course, also use motorcycles.) In these villages, I met a number of delightful older residents who happened to be in their home while I wandered around.
My visit to central Java coincided with Ramadan, the Muslim holiday. Ramadan is the month during which Muslims ritually fast from sunrise to sunset. At sunset, people often join with other members of their communities to break the fast. One evening, I came across a group of women and children sitting outside listening to prayers. The children were mostly playing (as opposed to praying) so I interacted with them. Then suddenly it was time to eat, and the children ran with excitement to get food and drinks. From what I am told, children don’t have to fast but this did not seem to temper their enthusiasm for getting a treat. Some women kindly asked me to join them for “iftar” as they called the “breaking the fast” evening meal. On subsequent days, I visited the small mosque both at times of prayers and also in between prayers. There, women were often found taking a little nap as fasting, and getting up before dawn can make one quite tired.
The rest of my time was spent visiting local cottage industries, of which they are many in Java. One of my favorites was a terra-cotta factory that produces beautiful reproductions of a Garuda (a large bird that appears in Hinduism and Buddhism artwork and is also the national bird of Indonesia).
Finally, one could not miss the paddy fields that are familiar features of the Central Java landscape. Much of the region is devoted to agriculture and the predominant crop is rice. Every day, one could see workers, often women, doing the backbreaking work of tending the rice fields.
Selamat Tinggal, my new friends.