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The Legend of Bandung Bondowoso and the Slender Virgin of Prambanan

Princess Loro Jonggrang didn’t want to marry the magician who killed her father. So she came up with a clever plan to deceive his demon helpers.

An Indonesia stamp commemorates the legend of Roro (aka Loro) Jonggrang and the magician Bandung Bondowoso, who summoned demons to perform a seemingly impossible task

An Indonesia stamp commemorates the legend of Roro (aka Loro) Jonggrang and the magician Bandung Bondowoso, who summoned demons to perform a seemingly impossible task

The massive towers and reliefs of the Hindu temple complex of Prambanan in Java, Indonesia flourished in the late 9th century. A marvel of ancient engineering, the dark volcanic stone structures took decades to complete — though local lore holds that the complex was built in single night by nocturnal spirits.

The temples of Prambanan on Java in Indonesia are the setting of a legend involving demons and a princess trapped in stone

The temples of Prambanan on Java in Indonesia are the setting of a legend involving demons and a princess trapped in stone

According to a stone tablet found while excavating the ruins of Prambanan, the temple was built to honor Lord Shiva, one of the most important gods in the Hindu pantheon. The compound’s original name was Shivgarh, the House of Shiva, when it was constructed around 850 CE by Rakai Pikatan, a king of the Sanjaya dynasty. It later took the name Prambanan, after the village where it’s located.

The princess’ deceit angered the magician, and he cursed her.

She was turned into a statue of the goddess Durga and remains enshrined in the central spire of Prambanan.

Although the temples were abandoned and reclaimed by the jungle, they were never completely forgotten. The origin myth popular among the Javanese tells of the story of the Slender Virgin, Roro or Loro Jonggrang, which is set in Prambanan. Like most stories told in the oral tradition, many variations exist, but its conclusion is generally the same.

Bandung Bondowoso and Loro Jonggrang

Long ago, in feudal Java, there were two neighboring kingdoms, Pengging and Prambanan. The kingdom of Pengging was prosperous and wisely ruled by Prabu Damar Maya. The other, Prambanan, fell under the reign of a wrathful and wicked half-demon king named Prabu Ratu Boko. Although he lived in a massive stone palace, he grew envious and devised a plan to take the kingdom of Pengging by force.  

Loro Jonggrang was so beautiful, the man who killed her father wanted to marry her

Loro Jonggrang was so beautiful, the man who killed her father wanted to marry her

The troops of Damar Maya put up a good fight, but were no match for the supernatural armies of Ratu Boko. Fearing he would lose his kingdom, Damar Maya consulted his chief brahmin priest, whose nephew, Bandung Bondowoso, was skilled in dark magic and was able to summon demons. Bondowoso created a supernatural arrow and climbed to the highest vantage point in Pengging to assess the enemy. When he saw Ratu Boko, he drew his bow back and shot the arrow straight through the demon king’s heart, killing him instantly.

Ratu Boko’s army retreated to Prambanan and delivered the news of the king’s death to his daughter, Princess Loro Jonggrang, whose name translates as “Slender Virgin.” Her beauty was known throughout the land, and like her father, she was willful and arrogant. The princess asked who had slain Ratu Boko and was told that it was a man named Bandung Bondowoso.

Loro Jonggrang arranged an elaborate ceremony to cremate the remains of her father on the palace grounds and extended an invitation to Bondowoso. Not only was she slender and beautiful, but she was also a graceful dancer. At the ceremony, accompanied by her court dancers, Loro Jonggrang glided out into the audience hall to perform a dance in homage to her father. Grief made her even more striking, and Bondowoso fell under her spell, determined to marry her.

Demons are said to have built 1,000 temples in a single night

Demons are said to have built 1,000 temples in a single night

Some days after, he sent a small delegation to request her hand in marriage. The princess reluctantly agreed, but set a seemingly impossible challenge: She would only marry Bondowoso if he were able to build 1,000 temples in a single night. The magician accepted her unusual request, and as the sun set, summoned an army of nocturnal spirits and demons. They worked tirelessly and quickly.

As punishment for her deceit, the princess became the statue of Durga in the Shiva Temple at Prambanan

As punishment for her deceit, the princess became the statue of Durga in the Shiva Temple at Prambanan

Not wanting to marry the man who had killed her father, Loro Jonggrang conceived of a plan to trick the supernatural beings. She enlisted the help of her servants and ordered the women of the village to fill their stone mortars with dried rice stalks and pound the grains from their stems, a task performed daily at dawn. The princess then sent her servants out to the east to burn the dried paddies. The combination of noise and firelight prompted the confused roosters to crow. Alarmed, the spirits fled back to the underworld, thinking the sun was rising and leaving the final temple incomplete.

The badass Durga, riding her tiger mount, defeats an evil buffalo demon

The badass Durga, riding her tiger mount, defeats an evil buffalo demon

Loro Jonggrang’s deceit angered Bondowoso, and he cursed her, uttering the words, “There’s only one temple left — let you be the one to complete it!” The princess was turned into a statue of the goddess Durga the Inaccessible, now known as the Slender Virgin. The statue remains enshrined in the north chamber of the central spire of Prambanan, presumably the 1,000th temple. –Duke

Prambanan: A Towering Tribute to the Hindu Trinity

If you’re in Indonesia, add Java to your itinerary and see this stunning temple complex that plays second fiddle to Borobudur.

Borobudur gets all the fame, but Prambanan is a must-visit complex on Java as well

Borobudur gets all the fame, but Prambanan is a must-visit complex on Java as well

Our main reason for visiting the island of Java, Indonesia was to see the spectacular ancient temple complexes of Borobudur and Prambanan. Given the importance of religion in ancient Java, it’s not surprising that both of these attractions are imposing in scale and have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Plus, the opportunity to stay in a private villa that came with an infinity plunge pool at the Plataran Borobudur Resort & Spa and a view of Borobudur in the distance was one Wally and I simply couldn’t pass up.

The complex contains temples to the Hindu trinity and the creatures they rode

The complex contains temples to the Hindu trinity and the creatures they rode

The Prambanan Temple Compounds were located about a hour and a half northwest from where we were staying, and having a private driver provided by the resort made the journey getting there stress-free.

Wally and Duke sit atop unrenovated remains outside the complex

Wally and Duke sit atop unrenovated remains outside the complex

Whooo dat? We were surprised to pass some owls en route to the main temples

Whooo dat? We were surprised to pass some owls en route to the main temples

Many Priests and Ladies-in-Waiting

Shortly after we arrived at the temple complex, we were introduced to our guide, Dwi, who wore a shirt embroidered with the Wonderful Indonesia logo. As Dwi led us past the main entrance, he explained that the three concentric courtyards are laid out in the geometric form of a mandala and follow the concept of vastu shastra, an ancient Indian method of architecture and construction to enhance prosperity.

The small structures out front are called pewara, or “ladies-in-waiting”

The small structures out front are called pewara, or “ladies-in-waiting”

Some of the ruins are intricately carved

Some of the ruins are intricately carved

The fragments of the temples fit together like puzzle pieces

The fragments of the temples fit together like puzzle pieces

Dwi added that the name Prambanan means “Many Priests,” quite possibly in reference to the outermost courtyard, which was once encircled by a wall. The original function is unknown but it may have served as a monastic community and included lodging for hundreds of brahmin priests and their disciples. As these buildings were most likely built of wood and brick, nothing remains of them.

The peaks of the temples rise into the sky — a bit higher than Borobudur

The peaks of the temples rise into the sky — a bit higher than Borobudur

Directly in front of us was another large courtyard with hundreds of small shrines called pewara, or “ladies-in-waiting,” organized in concentric squares four rows deep. Almost all of these temples had been reduced to rubble. We asked Dwi if there are plans to reconstruct them, and he explained that this was not likely, as much of the original stonework has been destroyed by erosion, earthquakes or looting. Like Borobudur, at least 70% of the original material must be used in restoration to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The ornate black stone temples create an imposing silhouette

The ornate black stone temples create an imposing silhouette

Duke and Wally take a break on the steps leading up to one of the temples

Duke and Wally take a break on the steps leading up to one of the temples

The Main Temples

At the heart of the complex stand the most sacred and well-preserved temples, the scale and detail of which can only be appreciated when you are standing in front of them. Three of the main shrines are dedicated to the Trimurti, the Hindu trinity of Brahma the Creator, Shiva the Destroyer (to whom the largest central temple is dedicated) and Vishnu the Preserver. The smaller vahana shrines are for the deity’s respective animal mounts: Hamsa the Swan, Nandi the Bull and Garuda the Eagle. There are also two small temples between the rows of Trimurti and vahana shrines, although the function of these remains unclear.

Duke poses with a group of local boys, with Prambanan behind them, looking like a fake backdrop

Duke poses with a group of local boys, with Prambanan behind them, looking like a fake backdrop

The initial construction of Prambanan began around the middle of the 9th century during the reign of Rakai Pikatan and served as the royal temple of the kingdom of Mataram. Additional structures were added by the successive Kings Rakai Kayuwangi and Balitung Maha Sambu.

Peeking through at a smaller vahana temple for the gods’ mounts

Peeking through at a smaller vahana temple for the gods’ mounts

The staircases are carved in the shape of mekara, creatures with other beings coming out of their mouths

The staircases are carved in the shape of mekara, creatures with other beings coming out of their mouths

Pretty in pink: An Indonesian woman enjoys her visit

Pretty in pink: An Indonesian woman enjoys her visit

Dwi suggested that Prambanan was built as a political and religious response to mark the return of the Hindu Sanjaya dynasty after decades of Buddhist-led Sailendra rule.

The Shiva Temple is the largest of the bunch

The Shiva Temple is the largest of the bunch

The Shiva Temple

Not to be outdone by Borobudur, the central Shiva temple is the tallest. At 154 feet, it’s 41 feet higher than the triple-tiered stone umbrella chatra that once served as the pinnacle of its rival complex. The temple is embellished with a series of elegant carvings along the inner wall, depicting scenes from the ancient Indian epic the Ramayana.

Those not pure of heart will be crushed as they try to walk under Kala’s mouth — or so the legend goes

Those not pure of heart will be crushed as they try to walk under Kala’s mouth — or so the legend goes

Wally loves nothing better than to explore an ancient temple

Wally loves nothing better than to explore an ancient temple

A lion sits within a small niche flanked by half-woman and half-bird kinnara

A lion sits within a small niche flanked by half-woman and half-bird kinnara

Wally and I followed our guide and made the ascent up the steep stone steps before reaching the eastern sanctuary chamber of Shiva. We passed through a portico with the monstrous gaping half-mouth of Kala leering at us from its lintel. Wally asked Dwi what this creature was. He replied by saying that if you’re a bad person, the mouth will close down upon you!

The statue of Shiva the Destroyer

The statue of Shiva the Destroyer

Shiva stands upon a lotus, which symbolizes enlightenment — an odd depiction of the god

Shiva stands upon a lotus, which symbolizes enlightenment — an odd depiction of the god

The east chamber contains a four-armed 10-foot-tall statue of Shiva, standing erect atop a blooming lotus flower, the Buddhist symbol of enlightenment. Some historians believe this rare depiction may be due to the union between Hindu Prince Rakai Pikatan and Buddhist Princess Pramodhawardhani. However, it is also thought that the statue was made in the likeness of King Mataram Balitung, who considered himself the divine manifestation of Shiva.

The elephant-headed Ganesha grants wishes

The elephant-headed Ganesha grants wishes

A nearby chamber contains a statue of his portly son Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. Dwi regaled us with an interesting tale of how Ganesha broke off a tusk and used it as a pen to transcribe the ancient Indian epic the Mahabharata. The tip of his trunk dips into a bowl of sweets, of which he is very fond.

Fierce Durga holds weapons in six of her eight hands

Fierce Durga holds weapons in six of her eight hands

This dwarf isn’t happy that Durga is touching his head

This dwarf isn’t happy that Durga is touching his head

In the northern chamber is a statue of Shiva’s consort Durga, also referred to by locals as Loro Jonggrang, the Slender Virgin. The protective mother goddess of the Hindu universe is depicted standing in a relaxed pose, her right leg slightly bent and her hip jutting out to the left. Six of her eight arms hold weapons. She stands on the back of the asura Mahisa, a demon in the form of a buffalo. Durga holds his tail in one hand, while another touches the top of a dwarf’s head — a taboo gesture in Hinduism, as the head is considered the highest and most sacred part of the body.

A statue of the dwarf hermit Agastya with his trident

A statue of the dwarf hermit Agastya with his trident

The south-facing chamber has a statue of the hermit Agastya, one of the most venerated sages in Hinduism, portrayed as a dwarf with a long beard. He has a fan on his left shoulder and a trident on his right.

The bas-relief panels of the Shiva Temple depict the epic love story of Rama and Sita:

The statue of Brahma the Creator

The statue of Brahma the Creator

You can’t sneak up on this guy!

You can’t sneak up on this guy!

The Brahma Temple

A single chamber inside the temple contains a statue of Brahma, depicted with his four faces and four arms. The four faces symbolize the four cardinal directions as well as the four Vedas, the most sacred Hindu scriptures: The Rig Veda, Yajur, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda.

The Temple of Vishnu, like the others, is carved out of volcanic stones pieced together

The Temple of Vishnu, like the others, is carved out of volcanic stones pieced together

The Vishnu Temple

Like the temple dedicated to Brahma, a single interior chamber holds a statue of the deity. Vishnu wears a tall crown upon his head. He has four limbs, two of which are raised up and the other two down. His upper right hand holds a discus and the left holds a conch shell.

Vishnu the Protector holds a discus and conch shell

Vishnu the Protector holds a discus and conch shell

Are they breastfeeding? Some of the carvings on Hindu temples can be quite bizarre

Are they breastfeeding? Some of the carvings on Hindu temples can be quite bizarre

The Temple of Vishnu is decorated with carvings retelling the epic battles of Krishna

The Temple of Vishnu is decorated with carvings retelling the epic battles of Krishna

Blue-skinned Krishna is an avatar of Vishnu but is also worshipped as a god

Blue-skinned Krishna is an avatar of Vishnu but is also worshipped as a god

The bulbous lingam-yoni ornaments encircling the temples represent male and female reproductive parts

The bulbous lingam-yoni ornaments encircling the temples represent male and female reproductive parts

The Nandi Temple

All gods need transport, and at Prambanan, they have their own smaller temples. Nandi is the only statue of the vahanas that has survived.

Nandi the Bull carried around the god Shiva

Nandi the Bull carried around the god Shiva

We’re drawn to various characters in mythology — and Duke has always loved Nandi

We’re drawn to various characters in mythology — and Duke has always loved Nandi

The temple for Nandi the Bull sits in front of the Shiva Temple. In the inner chamber of this shrine, the humped reclining statue of Nandi rests on a raised platform facing the entrance door so it may perpetually gaze on Shiva. Sadly, its left horn has broken off and is missing. To the left is a statue of Surya, the Hindu god of the sun, standing atop seven horses.

Surya, the god of the sun, stands on a chariot drawn by seven horses

Surya, the god of the sun, stands on a chariot drawn by seven horses

The Paparazzi Descends Upon Us

After our guide Dwi bade us adieu, we continued to explore the complex. Local students who were also visiting Prambanan excitedly approached, asking if if it would be OK to take a picture with us. At first it was fun and we were flattered, but after 10 or so photos, we had to politely say no with a smile and fled the complex.

The minute our guide left us, the locals swarmed, asking to take photos with us

The minute our guide left us, the locals swarmed, asking to take photos with us

Get to Prambanan as early as possible — busloads of schoolkids take field trips to the temple complex

Get to Prambanan as early as possible — busloads of schoolkids take field trips to the temple complex

At first we were amused by all the attention

At first we were amused by all the attention

The girls wore jeans, sneakers and brightly colored headscarves. “You’re so tall!” they exclaimed

The girls wore jeans, sneakers and brightly colored headscarves. “You’re so tall!” they exclaimed

After about 10 photos, posing with strangers got a bit old

After about 10 photos, posing with strangers got a bit old

Around back, there were scaffolds, work in progress — and no tourists — so we were able to make our escape from all the attention

Around back, there were scaffolds, work in progress — and no tourists — so we were able to make our escape from all the attention

We recommend visiting Borobudur and Prambanan on different days. Each complex is completely different, and I honestly feel that we wouldn’t have been able to appreciate the grandeur and complexity of each site if we crammed them into a single day. –Duke

Prambanan Temple

Prambanan Temple

Prambanan
Kranggan
Bokoharjo
Prambanan
Sleman Regency
Special Region of Yogyakarta
Indonesia

Candi Mendut: A Peaceful Borobudur Side Trip

Explore this ancient Buddhist temple and go for a swing on the massive banyan out back.

mendut.JPG

It may be small, but it’s an exquisite ancient temple. Located a short distance from Borobudur, the largest Buddhist shrine in the world, Candi Mendut was the third and final stop on our day’s itinerary. The clear blue sky was a stunning backdrop for the structure, composed of gray andesite volcanic rock.

We also visited the small (and rather unimpressive) Candi Pawon, where Wally and I bought a replica of the bell-shaped stupas that line Borobudur, carved of the same stone as the temple.

The southern façade of Mendut has a bas-relief of Hariti, patroness of motherhood, who was once a child-eating ogress.

The Dutch discovered this sacred structure by chance in 1836, while cutting through thick foliage to clear the plot for a coffee plantation. After careful inspection, overseen by colonial engineering officer Theodore Van Erp, the ruins were eventually uncovered. Conservation efforts began in 1897 but weren’t completed until 1925.

Candi is the word for a Hindu or Buddhist temple or shrine in Bahasa, the Indonesian language. The lone structure stands atop a stone plinth and shares a peaceful green clearing with an enormous sacred banyan tree. A remnant of the Sailendra dynasty, the temple is believed to have been built sometime around 824 CE, during the reign of King Indra.

Its roof is a succession of staggered tiers, decreasing in size, with the first and second encircled by votive stupika, small dome-shaped shrines. At the summit, the central stupa is absent, most likely due to the passage of time or, perhaps damage caused by earthquakes.

Parts of the temple have been excavated but not rebuilt, as they’re missing pieces

Parts of the temple have been excavated but not rebuilt, as they’re missing pieces

Off to the side of Mendut, a field of sculptures and fragments are laid out in the order they would fit had the missing pieces been found.

Candi Mendut is one of three temples connected along a nearly direct line, leading historians to speculate that it was part of a grand design and most likely an important pilgrimage stop en route to Borobudur. Of the three, Mendut is the oldest, having been built about 10 years before Borobudur.

On the west side, a staircase leads up to a broad terrace, designed for circumambulating or ritualistically walking clockwise around the temple. Wally and I climbed the worn stone steps, flanked by a pair of makara, mythological Buddhist sea creatures, each with lion standing within its gaping mouth. Narrative scenes from the Jataka tales, which tell of the Buddha’s previous incarnations as both humans and animals, are carved into the balustrade.

I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it’s very unusual that the Buddha’s feet are both touching the ground

I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it’s very unusual that the Buddha’s feet are both touching the ground

After we passed through the structure’s single entrance into the inner sanctuary chamber, we were greeted by three remarkably well-preserved figures. The formidable central figure is the Buddha Vairocana, depicted in a seated position, atypical for having both feet touching the ground. His hands are in Dharmachakra mudra, a gesture used by Buddha during his first sermon after enlightenment, representing the continuous flow of energy.

Inside the small temple is a statue of Buddha and two bohisattvas, including Vajrapani, a protector and guide

Inside the small temple is a statue of Buddha and two bohisattvas, including Vajrapani, a protector and guide

On either side sit two bodhisattvas, compassionate individuals who postpone nirvana to teach others enlightenment. To the left is Avalokitesvara, the One Who Hears the Cries of the World, who represents compassion and liberates devotees from the destructive power of speech. To the right is Vajrapani, the protector and guide of the Buddha, symbolizing the energy of the enlightened mind, his right leg folded and right hand raised.

Standing in the chamber among the ancient sentinels, I could almost feel the presence of the invisible dead. Make sure to look closely at the feet, which are black from being touched by devotees.

You’ll pass Mendut Monastery en route to the temple

You’ll pass Mendut Monastery en route to the temple

Apparently, the monastery is open to visitors, though the gates were closed when we passed by

Apparently, the monastery is open to visitors, though the gates were closed when we passed by

Looking out at the temple grounds from Mendut’s raised platform

Looking out at the temple grounds from Mendut’s raised platform

The Legend of Hariti: From Ogress to Protectress

The southern façade of Mendut has a bas-relief of Hariti, who, according to myth, was once a child-eating ogress. To feed herself and her 500 children, she took to cannibalism, snatching kids from the village of Rajagriha. This led to great fear among locals, who came to the Buddha and pleaded with him to save their children.

In one variation of the tale, the Buddha waited for Hariti to leave her dwelling and kidnapped her youngest and most beloved son, hiding him beneath his begging bowl. Upon her return home, Hariti found her son missing and searched for him in vain. Grief-stricken, the ogress in turn sought the Buddha’s aid in finding him.

The Buddha agreed to help, providing she give up her wicked ways. He explained how she was causing great suffering to the villagers. Hariti agreed to abstain from cannibalism and promised to consume only pomegranates from then on. The Buddha returned her son and ordained her the protector of children.

This statue is of particular importance to childless Javanese couples, who pray to Hariti as a symbol of fertility and patroness of motherhood.

You can see the banyan behind the temple, though its immense size is still hard to grasp

You can see the banyan behind the temple, though its immense size is still hard to grasp

The Sacred Banyan Tree

Like the witch Rangda’s mane of unkempt hair, multiple root streamers descend from the banyan behind the temple. After some minor coaxing from our driver, Wally was swinging from one. Our photos can't begin to relay the enormity of the banyan. It was the second-largest tree I’ve ever seen, the first being the ancient banyan at Pura Kehen on Bali.

Banyan roots grow down from branches and become as solid as trunks, forming a cave of sorts

Banyan roots grow down from branches and become as solid as trunks, forming a cave of sorts

The staff at our resort later told us that our driver had been sharing this photo of Wally swinging on the sacred banyan roots

The staff at our resort later told us that our driver had been sharing this photo of Wally swinging on the sacred banyan roots

Mendut may be less well-known and unassuming than Borobudur, but it has some beautiful bas-reliefs and stone carvings. If you are planning on visiting Borobudur, you should definitely add Candi Mendut to your visit. It’s worth walking around the complex to take in its peaceful atmosphere — and have a swing on the banyan out back. –Duke

Pair Candi Mendut with a trip to Borobudur

Pair Candi Mendut with a trip to Borobudur

Mendut Temple
Jalan Magelang Sumberrejo
Mendut
Mungkid
Magelang
Jawa Tengah 56501
Indonesia

Beyond Prambanan: The Love Temples of Plaosan

Explore the twin temples of Candi Plaosan, built by a Hindu prince for his Buddhist bride in Central Java.

Plaosan is an often-overlooked addition to a day trip to Prambanan

Plaosan is an often-overlooked addition to a day trip to Prambanan

Our Borobudur guide, Wishnu, was showing us a few pictures that other tourists and guides had shared with him, when he paused to play us footage taken from a drone, soaring above a couple of stunning temples.

“What’s that?” I asked, and then, “Can we visit it?”

Wishnu replied that locals call these the Love Temples, and of course we could visit them — we just needed to let our driver for the Prambanan trip know that we’d like to add it to our itinerary.

The great love story began with an interfaith union between a Buddhist princess and a Hindu prince.
The northern complex is the one worth exploring

The northern complex is the one worth exploring

In the Name of Love

The site is officially called Candi Plaosan, a complex of Buddhist temples located in Klaten, Yogyakarta, a short distance north of the Hindu temples of Prambanan. What makes it truly unique is that both complexes were built by the same Javanese king.

Plaosan is a testament to the love that brought a Hindu prince and Buddhist princess together

Plaosan is a testament to the love that brought a Hindu prince and Buddhist princess together

Wally climbs over the stones at Plaosan

Wally climbs over the stones at Plaosan

Duke on the temple complex

Duke on the temple complex

Looking toward the female viharn (monastery) from the one for males

Looking toward the female viharn (monastery) from the one for males

There are piles of rubble all over Plaosan, testifying that there’s still a lot of restoration work to be done

There are piles of rubble all over Plaosan, testifying that there’s still a lot of restoration work to be done

There were once many more of these smaller shrines

There were once many more of these smaller shrines

The great love story behind Plaosan began with an interfaith union between the two ruling dynasties of Central Java during the 9th century. Pramodhawardhani, a Buddhist princess and daughter of Samaratungga, the last known king of the Sailendra Dynasty, married Prince Rakai Pikatan, from the Hindu Sanjaya family. When Pikatan ascended to the throne, Pramodhawardhani became his queen and was given the name Sri Kuhulunan. Religious differences didn’t separate the couple, and together they played a significant role in building some of the finest Hindu and Buddhist temples of Central Java.

Plaosan is a 9th century complex built at the height of the Mataram Kingdom. Once part of a single site, Plaosan Lor, the northern main temples and the smaller Plaosan Kidul to the south are now separated by a public road.

Because Plaosan isn’t too well known, you could have the temple grounds virtually to yourself

Because Plaosan isn’t too well known, you could have the temple grounds virtually to yourself

A Temple for Men, A Temple for Women

One of the first things Wally and I noticed as we entered the temple grounds of Plaosan Lor were four imposing stone ogres. Known as dwarapala, the stocky and squat semi-kneeling guardians grip a short thick club in their right hand, while the other rests upon a bent left knee.

Creatures known as dwarapala guard the entrance to the temple

Creatures known as dwarapala guard the entrance to the temple

This giant will fight to protect Plaosan

This giant will fight to protect Plaosan

Like Prambanan, the sanctuary follows a square grid system with groups of smaller ancillary shrines laid out in orderly rows. The buildings were constructed without mortar, their stones quarried and precisely cut. A small number have been reconstructed, standing amongst piles of gray andesite blocks yet to undergo restoration.

The temples are quite similar —but we’re pretty sure this is the one for men

The temples are quite similar —but we’re pretty sure this is the one for men

And this is the temple for women (actually living quarters for female monks)

And this is the temple for women (actually living quarters for female monks)

At the center of Plaosan Lor, the two nearly identical structures were viharas, meaning they were designed as Buddhist monasteries.

Above the arched gate portal leading to the temple is a Kala head whose gaping mouth symbolically swallows our mortal impediments and permits passage into the sacred inner courtyard.

Some entryways in the inner temple are shaped as the mouth of the deity Kala

Some entryways in the inner temple are shaped as the mouth of the deity Kala

Legend has it that Kala’s mouth crushes those impure of heart. Poor Duke!

Legend has it that Kala’s mouth crushes those impure of heart. Poor Duke!

Towering stalagmite-like spires crown the multistory vihara, rising like the jagged peaks of Mount Meru, the holy mountain abode of the gods, and a pair of mythical serpentine makara form the railings of the staircase leading to the monastery — a small Kewpie-doll like dwarf figure stands within the creature’s gaping jaws.

The monument sits on a high rectangular stone podium with an apron that extends several feet outward, forming a porch where visitors can circumambulate the structure. Its exterior walls feature false windows, an architectural element meant to maintain symmetry on the façade. These are embellished with distinctive Kala-makara ornamentation, but unlike the ones above the gateways, these depictions of include a lower jaw with a wide mischievous grin similar to the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Kala is a giant who was born from Shiva’s sperm

Kala is a giant who was born from Shiva’s sperm

Enshrined within the central hall are a pair of headless seated Bodhisattva statues, one that is more or less a torso, presumably plundered and decapitated by relic thieves. An empty pedestal between the pair possibility held an enthroned bronze Buddha.

There’s not a whole lot to see inside the temples — mostly seated statues of Bodhisattva, those who have reached enlightenment but remain behind to instruct others

There’s not a whole lot to see inside the temples — mostly seated statues of Bodhisattva, those who have reached enlightenment but remain behind to instruct others

Some of the statues inside the temples are now decapitated

Some of the statues inside the temples are now decapitated

Intricately detailed reliefs of various demigods and deities adorn the exterior walls. According to a theory presented by Nicholas Johannes Krom, head of the early 20th century Dutch Archeological Society, the two vihara were sponsored by influential patrons and built for male and female monastics — not as a tribute to love, as locals prefer to believe.

Bas-reliefs line the exterior of Plaosan

Bas-reliefs line the exterior of Plaosan

The south-facing vihara depicts male figures, while the north depicts female figures. The south temple was probably a monastery for Bhikkhu monks, while the north housed Bhikkhuni nuns.

You can see the construction style in action: squares of interlocking stone

You can see the construction style in action: squares of interlocking stone

Deities and demigods adorn the outer walls, which you can circumambulate on a platform

Deities and demigods adorn the outer walls, which you can circumambulate on a platform

In the distance, behind the vihara, a celebration complete with multicolored garlands made of balloons was taking place. We passed through a side gate in the low wall separating the two temples and explored the second vihara.

Whether or not Plaosan was constructed as a symbol of Pikatan’s devotion to Sri Kuhulunan or as a display of political reconciliation to placate the Buddhist Sailendra Dynasty, it certainly makes for an interesting story. –Duke

plaosan5.JPG

Candi Plaosan

Jalan Candi Plaosan
Plaosan Lor
Bugisan
Kecamatan Prambanan
Kabupaten Klaten
Jawa Tengah 57454
Indonesia

The Buddhist Bas-Reliefs of Borobudur

A walk-through of the Borobudur temple carvings that depict the lives of the Buddha as told in the Jataka tales and Avadana.

The carvings on some of the levels of Borobudur tell the story of the Buddha as well as his past reincarnations

The carvings on some of the levels of Borobudur tell the story of the Buddha as well as his past reincarnations

The incomparable 9th century Mahayana Buddhist sanctuary of Borobudur in Java, Indonesia contains the largest collection of decorative panels recounting the life of the Buddha. The structure rests upon an oversized base, and the body of the monument is composed of six raised platforms, including five terraced galleries. They’re square in form and diminish in scale with height. The uppermost trio of circular terraces are plain in comparison, but are augmented by 72 magnificent stone lattice-work stupas rising to the stupa on the summit. Because Borobudur has no inner chambers, it is considered a pilgrimage site.

The builders of Borobudur recognized the need for a drainage system because of heavy rains that cause erosion

The builders of Borobudur recognized the need for a drainage system because of heavy rains that cause erosion

Pilgrims would have entered via the eastern stairs to ritually circumambulate (a fancy word for walking around) the sacred manmade mountain of chiseled gray andesite in quiet contemplation. It's here that the stories told in the narrative relief panels begin, with the birth of the future Buddha, Prince Siddhartha Gautama. According to legend, the infant stood and took seven steps. With each step, a lotus flower appeared, to prevent his tiny feet from touching the ground.

The corridors are filled with detailed murals depicting celestial beings, guardian demons, conch shells, jewel trees, durian fruit and a menagerie of animals, including elephants, deer and tree-dwelling monkeys, to name a few.

Animals are depicted in the carvings — including many that tell of the past lives of the Buddha

Animals are depicted in the carvings — including many that tell of the past lives of the Buddha

Open to the sky, the bas-reliefs adorning the 13-foot-wide passages create a broad platform and are read from left to right, moving in a clockwise direction around the monument, twisting in right angles from one terrace to another. The galleries represent the planes of existence that must be experienced before reaching the uppermost level of spiritual perfection.

Story Time: Jataka and Avadana

The first- and second-level stone reliefs depict tales from Buddhist lore, including the Jataka and Avadana. Wally and I had first seen these stories depicted in the frescoes of the Ajanta Caves in India.

The Jataka tales are about the Buddha before he was born as Prince Siddhartha. Thematically, they illustrate lessons in morality, karma and merit that distinguished the bodhisattva from all other creatures. As a bodhisattva, the Buddha was born and reborn numerous times, alternating from human to animal form, before he finally attained enlightenment.

Avadana are similar to Jataka, but the main figure is not the Buddha himself — the saintly deeds are attributed to other legendary people.

We didn’t experience the reliefs in chronological order, as our guide, Pras, led us down from the upper terraces, after we watched the sunrise.


borobudurtemple.JPG

We paused on the stairway to admire one of the ornate archways depicting the fearsome face and open mouth of Kala.

According to folklore, Kala was created by the god Shiva to eradicate demons, though he’s sometimes identified himself as a demon named Rahu, who is said to have swallowed the universe, only to release it after being decapitated by the gods.

Be careful when crossing through arches formed by the mouth of Kala — his jaw is said to snap shut on those who have evil in their hearts

Be careful when crossing through arches formed by the mouth of Kala — his jaw is said to snap shut on those who have evil in their hearts

Locals like to joke that the stone at the top depicts the golden arches of McDonald’s

Locals like to joke that the stone at the top depicts the golden arches of McDonald’s

Why Many Buddhists Are Vegetarian

Pras pointed out a notable tale depicted in one of the panels known as The Hare’s Sacrifice. The bodhisattva was born as a hare. His closest friends were an otter, a jackal and a monkey. He continuously urged his friends to strive for right conduct and to be generous in their daily life. Wanting to put the hare to the test, the god Sakra appeared in the forest in the shape of a brahman who had lost his way and was starving. The otter brought seven fish, the jackal a lizard, and the monkey ripe fruits. The hare, however, couldn’t offer anything. The brahman lit a fire for an offering — and immediately the hare jumped in, offering himself as a meal. The king of the gods admired the saintly deed, and while resuming his own shape, he praised the hare for his self-sacrifice.

Pras explained that this was why many Buddhists are vegetarian, as they would not like to think that they are eating someone who may have been reborn as an animal. –Duke

Be sure to check out the carvings as you explore the multi-story Borobudur Temple in Java, Indonesia

Be sure to check out the carvings as you explore the multi-story Borobudur Temple in Java, Indonesia

Borobudur Temple
Jl. Badrawati
Kw. Candi Borobudur
Borobudur, Magelang
Jawa Tengah
Indonesia

Borobudur: A Stunning Sunrise at a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The largest Buddhist monument in the world, with its iconic bell-shaped stupas, is a must-visit on Java, Indonesia.

Book a sunrise tour at Borobudur to see the silhouettes of the stupas materialize from the morning mist

Book a sunrise tour at Borobudur to see the silhouettes of the stupas materialize from the morning mist

When Wally mentioned that we should visit Bali, I suggested we spend a few days on the nearby island of Java, exploring the largest Buddhist monument in the world, Borobudur. I had seen images of the magical 9th century monument rising from the jungle mist, with its countless perforated bell-shaped stone stupas and seated Buddha statues.

You have to carefully position yourself — and get there early — to frame your photos without any of the throngs of tourists

You have to carefully position yourself — and get there early — to frame your photos without any of the throngs of tourists

I purchased our tickets for the sunrise visit through the Plataran Borobudur Resort, where we were staying, for 870,000 rupiah each (about $60). On our second day, the concierge rang our villa at 4 a.m. As a precautionary measure, I also set my iPhone alarm — Wally and I never travel without earplugs, and I didn’t want to risk us sleeping through the call. We quickly got dressed and had coffee in the lobby before meeting our driver and heading out in the darkness to Borobudur.


Courtesy of www.AirPano.ru
I wasn’t expecting us to be alone, but I also wasn’t expecting to share this experience with hundreds of others.
Volcanos can be seen in the distance — in fact, violent eruptions in the past covered the entire temple in ash for 800 years

Volcanos can be seen in the distance — in fact, violent eruptions in the past covered the entire temple in ash for 800 years

Our driver’s name was Wishnu. Without missing a beat, Wally asked if he was named after the Hindu deity Vishnu. He chuckled and said, “No, it’s just a very common name.” To which Wally replied, “So you don’t ride Garuda?” Wishnu took a moment to think about this, saying, “No, I ride Yamaha,” referring to his scooter.

We passed some parked buses, where local students awaited transport to Borobudur. When I asked Wishnu about them, he explained that the temple is a popular school trip but doesn’t open to the public until 6 a.m.

Stay after the sunrise to wander the various levels of Borobudur

Stay after the sunrise to wander the various levels of Borobudur

Shortly thereafter we arrived at the Manohara Hotel, which is located on the grounds of the historic site, and where sunrise tours depart from every morning. There clearly were a lot of people waiting to gain 4:30 a.m. access. I wasn’t expecting us to be alone, but I also wasn’t expecting to share this experience with hundreds of others so early in the morning.

As we queued up to enter, we were given a small flashlight and introduced to our guide, Pras. He told us that the site draws in an average of 300 visitors for sunrise and up to 56,000 per day during the high season.

This is the real Borobudur you don’t ever see in pictures — the hundreds of tourists all vying for a prime spot to photograph sunrise

This is the real Borobudur you don’t ever see in pictures — the hundreds of tourists all vying for a prime spot to photograph sunrise

Wally and I followed Pras up a central staircase, the beams from our flashlights bobbing as we made our way up to the circular seventh terrace. We squeezed ourselves behind a group of tourists who already had their cameras set up to capture the perfect shot of the first rays of sunlight.

Even though UNESCO insists upon a 15-kilometer non-commercial zone, there are still tall lights you can see during sunrise

Even though UNESCO insists upon a 15-kilometer non-commercial zone, there are still tall lights you can see during sunrise

Sunrise Over Borodudur

As we waited, the sun slowly rose, turning the sky a blaze of ever-changing scarlets, pinks, oranges and yellows, bathing the gray stone in a hazy golden light. In the distance, Mount Merapi and its twin Mount Merabu rose from the horizon in the morning mist — two of the four volcanoes that surround Borobudur.

After sunrise, Pras invited us to wander around the upper temple. As the crowds dissipated, we were able to get some great shots.

This Buddha went too far with a nose job

This Buddha went too far with a nose job

Wally was happy he could spend his birthday at Borobudur

Wally was happy he could spend his birthday at Borobudur

Duke added an excursion to Java onto our trip to Bali

Duke added an excursion to Java onto our trip to Bali

Pras explained the origin of the temple’s name, Bara-Budhara: Bara meaning temple and Budhara hill. Since a’s are pronounced as o’s in Javanese, it morphed into Borobudur.  

Before leaving the summit, Pras stopped in front of one of the bell-shaped sculptures. “This is the lucky stupa,” he told us. He explained that it was auspicious to circumambulate the central stupa clockwise an odd number of times. Wally wanted to walk around the structure five times because it was May 5 (the fifth day of the fifth month) and also his birthday. Pras kept count, holding up fingers each time we passed him. Upon completion, you touch the stone with your right hand — and you’ll have good luck.

Wally and Duke love a good temple — and Borobudur is like no other

Wally and Duke love a good temple — and Borobudur is like no other

Knowing that Mount Agung had recently wreaked havoc on Bali, I asked Pras how regularly Merapi erupts. He told us that it’s the most active volcano in Indonesia and, far below, it sits upon a series of fault lines and grinding tectonic plates dramatically known as the Ring of Fire. He added that it blew its top most recently in 2014, blanketing Borobudur in a layer of ash that took laborers five months to remove by hand. (Incidentally, we were surprised to learn that Merapi had a minor eruption less than a week after we visited!)

Workers clean moss off the temple twice a month.

Workers clean moss off the temple twice a month.

The 9th century Buddhist temple has been impressively restored

The 9th century Buddhist temple has been impressively restored

Borobudur’s Magical Origins

According to traditional lore, the complex was designed and built in a single night by a divine giant named Gunadharma. After his task was complete, he laid down and fell asleep. Over time trees covered him, and his reclined profile is said to be visible in the peaks of the Menoreh Hills. He’s now called the Sleeping Buddha by locals.

Mythology aside, Borobudur was built by the Sailendra dynasty during the 8th and 9th centuries. It took three generations roughly 60 years to complete, and according to archeologists, was revised four times.

Seeing Borobudur from a distance doesn’t do justice to its grandeur. It’s an entirely different temple up close

Seeing Borobudur from a distance doesn’t do justice to its grandeur. It’s an entirely different temple up close

Borobudur is essentially a stepped pyramid comprised of nine concentric terraces crowned by a bell-shaped stupa dome. The monument was constructed from over a million blocks of andesite stone quarried from the banks of the Progo River and originally stood 137 feet tall. At some point, the triple-tiered stone umbrella chatra, which served as the pinnacle, was struck by lighting, shattering the central stupa and reducing the monument’s height to 113 feet. The chatra currently resides in the Karmawibhangga Museum in the Borobudur complex until it can be properly renovated and restored to its position atop the temple.

Was Wally the once-sleeping giant who created Borobudur in a single night?

Was Wally the once-sleeping giant who created Borobudur in a single night?

The terraces and the central stupa symbolize the 10 stages of development a bodhisattva must pass in order to become enlightened.

Only two of the 72 Buddha statues are uncovered on the temple’s upper terrace

Only two of the 72 Buddha statues are uncovered on the temple’s upper terrace

UNESCO World Heritage Site

The structure collapsed in 1970. Extensive restoration work initiated by the Indonesian government began three years later, in partnership with UNESCO and international contributions funded by private organizations. For nearly a decade, most of the monument was closed to the public as it was dismantled block by block, meticulously recorded and reassembled layer by layer. A complex drainage system and lead sheets were added to prevent water from trickling downward, as erosion from rainwater is the number one detriment to the site.

The sky turned numerous shades of orange and yellow during sunrise, before giving way to a gorgeous blue

The sky turned numerous shades of orange and yellow during sunrise, before giving way to a gorgeous blue

What a lucky way to spend Wally’s birthday!

What a lucky way to spend Wally’s birthday!

Borobudur makes Duke happy

Borobudur makes Duke happy

Each of the 72 perforated stupas, which locals referred to as “cages,” have a seated life-sized Buddha enthroned within. On the eighth level of Borobudur, two of these stupa are open. They weren’t able to be renovated, as 70% of the original material must be used in restoration to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site — a designation Borobudur was honored with in 1991. It’s actually pretty cool that a couple of the Buddhas aren’t covered by stupas and visitors get a chance to see what lies within. One of the Buddhas can also be found in the local museum.

Underneath each stupa hides a seated Buddha statue

Underneath each stupa hides a seated Buddha statue

There were 504 Buddha statues under the bell-shaped stupas because that’s how many times Buddha was reincarnated

There were 504 Buddha statues under the bell-shaped stupas because that’s how many times Buddha was reincarnated

UNESCO requires that all restoration work use at least 70% of the original materials

UNESCO requires that all restoration work use at least 70% of the original materials

Another requirement of the UNESCO site is that nothing commercial can be built within a 15-kilometer radius. Locals aren’t too pleased with this regulation, Pras told us, but we couldn’t help but think the site would certainly not be improved with a 7-Eleven at its base.

Borobudur, with its nine levels, was carved from the top down. In fact, parts of the base were never completed

Borobudur, with its nine levels, was carved from the top down. In fact, parts of the base were never completed

When Pras had completed the tour, he brought Wally and me to an open-air seating area near the main entrance where we returned our flashlights and enjoyed a traditional snack and coffee. As a memento, we each received a souvenir scarf.

Borobudur was a magnificent sight to behold, especially at sunrise. Its rings of galleries, terraces and sculptures were the perfect place for quiet reflection — even if it was with 200 or so strangers. –Duke

The Buddhas on each level sport different hand gestures

The Buddhas on each level sport different hand gestures

Wally and Duke admire the view

Wally and Duke admire the view

Borobudur Temple
Jl. Badrawati
Kw. Candi Borobudur
Borobudur, Magelang, Jawa Tengah
Indonesia

Spa Day Heaven: Padma Spa at Plataran Borobudur

If you’re in Java, relax with a massage and scrub — though it’s all about the volcanic stone tub and epic view.

Our treatment room overlooked the jungle-covered mountain

Our treatment room overlooked the jungle-covered mountain

Indonesian hospitality is in full effect at Padma Spa at Plataran Borobudur Resort. The exotic teakwood villa that houses the space sits perched like a Javanese treehouse on a hillside overlooking a dense forest of teak, casuarina and rasamala trees.

The facility offers a wide range of options and features six treatment rooms equipped with bathtubs carved from volcanic stone taken from nearby Mount Merapi as well as a relaxation lounge, nail salon and gym. They also have a small but well-curated assortment of items for sale in the reception area.

Among the elements incorporated into the spa’s design are intricately hand-carved teak fretwork window panels reflecting the region’s cultural heritage.

The first thing we noticed was the volcanic stone tub, big enough for both of us.

The room offered floor-to-ceiling views across the jungle valley to the temple of Borobudur.
The spa is on the grounds of Plataran Borobudur

The spa is on the grounds of Plataran Borobudur

Java Nadi Massage

Our visit began with cool towels and cups of ginger tea. Wally and I opted for the 60-minute Java Nadi massage. The spa director suggested we add a body scrub from the treatment menu. We agreed to add the 45-minute Lakshmi scrub — and were glad we did.

When we entered our treatment room, the first thing we noticed was the freestanding Merapi stone soaking tub, big enough for both of us. Flooded with natural light, the room offered floor-to-ceiling views across the jungle valley to the ancient Buddhist temple of Borobudur in the distance.

After we had changed into our robes, our feet were placed in basins of warm water to soak. Each therapist added bath salts, kaffir lime wheels, lemongrass, dried pomelo slices and peppermint essential oil, which gave off a delightfully revitalizing aroma.

Various natural ingredients are used in the spa’s treatments

Various natural ingredients are used in the spa’s treatments

We were asked to lie face-down under the top sheet on our massage tables. The tone from a single-note energy chime resonated as it was tapped three times before beginning.

The word “nadi” refers to the pathways or channels of energy that run throughout the human body. Java Nadi is a healing technique rooted in centuries-old traditions. Its aim is to restore balance and energy to the body.

A unique combination of slow, fluid movements, incorporating deep kneading and thumb pressure, this hands-on holistic treatment eases muscle and joint pain while increasing circulation.

When our massage had concluded, we experienced the hammam-like Lakshmi scrub: an aromatic combination of sandalwood, ground rice, lemongrass, candlenut and grapefruit that left our skin silky smooth.

Wally didn’t want to ever get out of the volcanic stone bathtub

Wally didn’t want to ever get out of the volcanic stone bathtub

Duke relaxes in the milk bath after the massage and body scrub

Duke relaxes in the milk bath after the massage and body scrub

We finished by relaxing (OK, there was some goofing off as well) in the dramatic bathtub, which was filled with a lemongrass milk soak. As we gazed out the window, it felt like we were hovering over the landscape. Eventually, I was able to convince Wally to leave the tub.

I wanted to take home the earthenware teapot, batik robes and energy chime — but I didn’t want the bad karma. We loved every minute of our experience, and it put us in a deep state of relaxation. –Duke

Plataran Borobudur Resort & Spa
Dusun Tanjungan
Borobudur, Magelang
Jawa Tengah 56553
Indonesia

The Chicken Church of Java, Indonesia

Bukhit Rhema is such a bird-brained idea that it’s a kitchcy — and dare we say egg-cellent — side trip to the temples of Prambanan and Borobudur.

Known as the Chicken Church, it’s actually neither a chicken nor a church

Known as the Chicken Church, it’s actually neither a chicken nor a church

The Lord moves in mysterious ways.

And sometimes that means a church that’s built to look like a dove actually comes out looking more like an ignoble chicken.

To add insult to injury, the building known as the Chicken Church wasn’t ever supposed to actually be a church.

It’s the type of rundown place you’d imagine some doomsday cult taking over.

In fact, it’s rumored to be haunted by vampiric female ghosts.

I know the man behind this unusual structure had a different vision in mind, but the end result is really quite comical. The “dove” has liberty spikes atop its head, crosses on its eyes and what appears to be a studded collar, giving it the look of a blotto punk rocker.

This is what it looks like when doves cry: The now-run-down structure was the vision of a man who was called to build a house of prayer

This is what it looks like when doves cry: The now-run-down structure was the vision of a man who was called to build a house of prayer

This unusual structure has taken roost in the middle of the jungle in Magelang, Indonesia on the island of Java, near the Hindu temple complex of Prambanan and the Buddhist temple of Borobudur.

Cars must park down the hill in a lot. A bit up the hill, you’ll see a ticket booth (the admission price is 10,000 rupiah, less than a buck). Then it’s a five-minute walk up a steep hill to get to the chicken. Think of it as a mini-pilgrimage.

Duke had seen images of an abandoned interior, covered in dust and graffiti, and to be honest, that’s what he was hoping to find. But the building has been renovated — though don’t expect too much.

The building would make a lovely setting for cult meetings

The building would make a lovely setting for cult meetings

The cavernous interior is still quite bare-bones, featuring a cluster of seats in rows but no altar or anything else, in fact, that recalls a place of worship. It looks like a depressing concrete community center. The tilework on the floor is the most impressive part. It’s the type of rundown place you’d imagine some doomsday cult taking over.

It wasn’t ever fully furnished because its builder ran out of money.

It’s rumored to be haunted, home to kuntilanak, vampiric female ghosts from Indonesian folklore.

Heavenly rays of light illuminate the decaying interior

Heavenly rays of light illuminate the decaying interior

Whose birdbrained scheme was this, anyway? The idea came to Daniel Alamsjah in what he describes as a “vision from God.” One night after praying, he saw a dove with snow-white wings resting at the top of a hill. A voice asked him to build a house of prayer for all nations.  

The end result went a bit fowl (#sorrynotsorry), and locals started calling the structure Gereja Ayam, the Chicken Church.

The angels out front are a nod to the builder’s Christian beliefs

The angels out front are a nod to the builder’s Christian beliefs

“Perhaps because of my Christian faith, people thought I was building a church,” Alamsjah told the Jakarta Globe. “I was building a prayer house, not a church, but a place for people who believe in God.”

In the 1990s, he was able to purchase the land, which was said to be offered at Rp. 2 million (a mere $170 at the time).

Looking back at the tail feathers from the lookout on the bird’s head

Looking back at the tail feathers from the lookout on the bird’s head

Bird’s-Eye View

Duke and I wanted to do the head first, so, upon entering the building, we turned to the right and began climbing up the back staircase. On the first landing, we were delighted to find a series of brightly painted cautionary tales, much like those tiny free comic booklets missionaries hand out on street corners (apparently they’re called Chick tracts). Inevitably, they’d have a scene where some poor sap suffered the flames of Hell, coming to the realization — too late — that he didn’t accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior.

The mezzanine is covered with brightly painted murals that display bad behaviors

The mezzanine is covered with brightly painted murals that display bad behaviors

From there, we continued our climb to the inside of the chicken’s skull. To access the lookout, you have to head up a tottering spiral staircase and step out onto a small platform atop the bird’s head. Thin metal guardrails encircle the lookout. My vertigo sent my head swimming, so I stayed as close to the center as I could (except, of course, to pose for a picture with a volcano in the background).

Duke and Wally atop the chicken’s, err, dove’s head

Duke and Wally atop the chicken’s, err, dove’s head

Two girls were also on the platform and asked if they could take our picture. We found that the kids on Java were fascinated by us — at the tourist sites, we couldn’t go 5 feet without being begged to pose for a photograph.

Looking out one of the windows on the ground floor

Looking out one of the windows on the ground floor

After practically tumbling down the spiral staircase, Duke and I headed to the first floor to check out the chicken’s butt. Toward the back of the building, there’s a strange area with dirt and an exposed wall. Photos of people touching the wall, ecstatic glows upon their faces, revealed that they believe there to be magic lying within.

Perhaps they’re scenes from the Chicken Church’s past: A dozen unfinished chambers lie underneath it, which were once used for rehabilitation.

“The rehabilitation that happened at this prayer house was for therapy for disabled children, drug addicts, crazy people and disturbed youth who wanted to fight,” Alamsjah says.

The “dove” has liberty spikes atop its head and crosses on its eyes, giving it the look of a blotto punk rocker.
This truck will take you up the hill if you don’t want to walk

This truck will take you up the hill if you don’t want to walk

We climbed up the back stairs, gave a girl our ticket for a free local treat that came with our price of admission. The snack turned out to be bahn cay, fried cassava root, the Javanese version of home fries.

We munched our carbs, gazing out at the lush green hills beyond, glad we made time for this quirky stopover.

Don’t be chicken: If you’re hitting Prambanan or Borobudur, make a chicken run (can’t stop making puns!) and include a visit to this unintentionally goofy site. –Wally

The Bukit Rhema was supposed to actually resemble a dove, the symbol of peace

The Bukit Rhema was supposed to actually resemble a dove, the symbol of peace

“Take me to my leader”

“Take me to my leader”

Bukhit Rhema
Gereja Ayam, the Chicken Church

Dusun Gombong
Kembanglimus, Kurahan, Karangrejo
Borobudur, Magelang
Jawa Tengah 56553
Indonesia

Plataran Borobudur: A Luxury Resort in a Dream Setting

Looking for a Borobudur hotel on Java? Pamper yourself at a private villa with your own pool in the hills above the scenic Buddhist temple.

Our villa at Plataran Borobudur

Our villa at Plataran Borobudur

The Plataran Borobudur Resort & Spa ticked all the right boxes for Wally and me. From its proximity to the iconic 9th century Buddhist monument Borobudur, which could be seen in the distance from our private villa’s very own infinity pool, the decision was easy.

The private infinity pool had a view of Borobudur in the distance

The private infinity pool had a view of Borobudur in the distance

Owned and developed by Indonesian entrepreneur Yozua Makes, the secluded Plataran Borobudur Resort, part of the Plataran hospitality group, is a one-of-a-kind luxury retreat nestled in the hills in Tanjungan Village in Central Java.

When Wally saw this tub, he knew he’d be taking a bath in it before the trip was over

When Wally saw this tub, he knew he’d be taking a bath in it before the trip was over

Even though it was late at night when Wally and I arrived, weary from our delayed flight, after a 90-minute drive from the Yogyakarta International Airport, we were greeted with a smile and offered cool towels and welcome drinks at reception. While completing the check-in process, I heard a melodious chirping and asked if it was a nocturnal bird. I was informed that it wasn’t birds at all — it was geckos!

Wally mimics the Buddha in front of a bell that evokes the stupas of Borobudur

Wally mimics the Buddha in front of a bell that evokes the stupas of Borobudur

Wally and Duke chat with the charming and helpful Mia, the resort’s manager

Wally and Duke chat with the charming and helpful Mia, the resort’s manager

The concierge assisted us with our luggage and escorted us to our Executive Pool Villa, which would be our oasis for the next few days.

The villas have these doorways in the middle of the jungle with steps that lead down to the room

The villas have these doorways in the middle of the jungle with steps that lead down to the room

Set back from the path leading to the villa were a pair of weathered wood doors, with stone steps beyond that led down to our private courtyard. The spacious, airy interior featured minimalist décor, a king-size bed and a bathroom with a dramatic tub and rain shower. The bottled water wrapped in natural cotton fabric sleeves atop the dual washbasins was a nice touch.

Wally peeks from wooden doors that lead to our villa complex

Wally peeks from wooden doors that lead to our villa complex

A pair of sliding wood shutter doors leading into the villa regulates the amount of sunlight when closed and allows daylight in when open while still maintaining privacy.

Wally basks in the sun

Wally basks in the sun

Duke also enjoyed having a private infinity pool

Duke also enjoyed having a private infinity pool

On our first day, we decided to keep our itinerary open and barely left our villa. When we awoke that morning, it was the view that struck us first. Mist hung heavy over the lush greenery surrounding our villa. The sun’s rays bathed Borobudur temple in golden light, and one of the local volcanoes, Mount Merapi, made a brief appearance before coyly disappearing behind the clouds.

Birds splashed in the water at the edge of our private pool while butterflies fluttered by and dragonflies whizzed through the air. We didn’t waste much time before changing into our swimsuits and jumping in.

This planter once served as a signpost

This planter once served as a signpost

Even the ceiling of this open-air pavilion was impressive 

Even the ceiling of this open-air pavilion was impressive 

The name Plataran means “God’s favorite courtyard,” and it’s easy to see why. Hidden amongst the palms and towering teak trees, each of the 21 standalone villas blends in with the stunning local landscape, and are modeled after the traditional Javanese joglo house. Their steeply pitched pedestal clay tile rooftops are built to resemble stylized mountain peaks.

We opted to spend the afternoon exploring the grounds and stopped off at the reception lobby to confirm the details for our sunrise visit to Borobudur. A gamelan musician with a serene smile was playing a xylophone-like instrument.

A gamelan musician played soothing tunes in the lobby

A gamelan musician played soothing tunes in the lobby

This structure offers Muslim staff members a place to worship during the call the prayer — which seemed to happen quite often

This structure offers Muslim staff members a place to worship during the call the prayer — which seemed to happen quite often

Each location offers a variety of pre-arranged tours including a driver and guides. Wally and I threw in 60-minute spa treatments. If you’re going to relax, you might as well to go all in, right?

While wandering the grounds, we stumbled upon a menagerie of animals at the foot of a hill, including a flock of adorable spotted deer, a bashful peacock, a strutting male turkey that Wally named the Colonel and more than a few wild grouse roaming freely.

If you’re interested in horseback riding, a stable and riding compound is available. It’s visible from the reception area.

The horse run and stables off to the side of the reception building

The horse run and stables off to the side of the reception building

We’re not sure if this is the horse that tried to bite Wally or not

We’re not sure if this is the horse that tried to bite Wally or not

We did of course leave our room every morning for the impressive breakfast buffet served at the Patio Joglo, an open-air pavilion with a telescope smartly positioned for viewing Borobudur. This amazing spread included assorted pastries, fresh tropical fruit and juices. One of my faves was the jamu kunyit, a blend of galangal, tamarind and turmeric. A main course of traditional Indonesian or Western fare is included.

The scruptious breafast buffet

The scruptious breafast buffet

The adorably tiny eggs benedict Wally ordered one orning

The adorably tiny eggs benedict Wally ordered one orning

Breakfast was served with coffee, and Wally’s request for an iced latte was happily accommodated. On our first morning, we met the lovely Ni Komang Darmiati, the resort manager, who goes by Mia. While deciding what to get, she suggested an off-the-menu item, the delicious nasi goreng magelangan, a local riff on the country’s national dish. The aromatic meal included a mix of rice and glass noodles topped with a banana leaf hat. Small but potent green peppers were distributed into the dish and packed a pleasantly surprising amount of heat.

Nasi goreng magelangan combines rice and noodles

Nasi goreng magelangan combines rice and noodles

The resort’s signature dining restaurant, Patio Colonial, overlooks the resort’s pool and was constructed as a Dutch Colonial plantation house with a wraparound porch. Filled with historic memorabilia, it serves a tasty mix of Indonesian and international cuisine.

The main restaurant at Plataran Borobudur is modeled after a Dutch Colonian plantation house

The main restaurant at Plataran Borobudur is modeled after a Dutch Colonian plantation house

The dining room

The dining room

The bar

The bar

Complimentary afternoon tea is served with a variety of Indonesian snacks on the open-air rooftop deck atop the three-story reception building, offering compelling views of the Menorah Hills and Borobudur.

Tea is served every day on the rooftop terrace

Tea is served every day on the rooftop terrace

In addition to tea and coffee, snacks are provided, incluidng chips, hors d’oeuvres, fruit and sweets

In addition to tea and coffee, snacks are provided, incluidng chips, hors d’oeuvres, fruit and sweets

Wally and I were well taken care of by the friendly and courteous Haris, one of the servers we spoke with on more than one occasion during our stay. Like all the staff at the resort, he consistently and courteously replied, with an ever-present smile, “My pleasure” after every request.

Duke and Wally snuck into the Kastil, a private event space

Duke and Wally snuck into the Kastil, a private event space

The Kastil proved quite photogenic

The Kastil proved quite photogenic

Our four days at the Plataran Borobudur was the relaxing break that we both needed before heading back to reality. The wonderfully helpful Fuad and Merry made us feel as though we were guests at a friend’s luxurious estate for the duration of our stay.

A fruit bowl at our villa

A fruit bowl at our villa

Stepped pathways wind through the hills in the jungle throughout the grounds of the resort

Stepped pathways wind through the hills in the jungle throughout the grounds of the resort

You could stay at the hotel adjacent to Borobudur, or you could pamper yourself at a first-class resort with your own private pool. Really, the choice couldn’t be more simple. –Duke