Borobudur through one more lens

A Buddha statue overlooks crowds of visitors to Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple.

There’s not much I can say about Borobudur that hasn’t already been said or written, so I’ll keep it short: Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Constructed in the 9th century, the temple’s nine stories represent the three realms of Buddhist cosmology (world of desires, world of forms, and formless world) and tell the tales off Buddhism through more than a thousand reliefs carved into its stones. In walking its corridors, the temple becomes storyteller to all pilgrims and visitors, narrating the teachings of Buddha and his enlightenment.

The carved bas-reliefs in Borobudur’s corridors illustrate Buddhist stories and principles. A walk through all of the reliefs is a formidable 3 km (1.86 mi).


One of the thousand bas-reliefs on Borobudur’s walls.

There’s not much I can show you through our photographs that hasn’t already been seen. Borobudur is one of those picture-perfect places, with each snapshot of the place becoming art in itself and tons of visitors have that awe-inspiring, Instagram-exploding photos of Borobudur at sunrise. We don’t have sunrise photos. But how about this: ever seen an ancient Buddha get a bath?

P.S.: If you visit, here’s a money-saving tip! You can buy a ticket for both Borobudur and Prambanan at the ticketing office that saves you several dollars. The only catch is you’ll have to visit Prambanan the next day, but it’s only a taxi/bus ride away.

Groups of schoolchildren climb to Borobudur Temple in the morning, as a man walks around on the dome of its main stupa.


A rented bike left by a tree. People sometimes rent bikes in Borobudur to get around the compound.


A bas-relief, depicting a man seeking wisdom (possibly from Buddha).


A troupe of four musicians in a bas-relief.


Fitting it together: markings in the stones likely helped builders figure out how to put them together. I don’t know whether these markings came from the initial construction or the reconstruction when the temple was rediscovered.


An archer in the bas-reliefs takes aim as onlookers watch in curiosity and fear.


Dew-spun spider webs on the stones at Borobudur.


A headless Buddha statue sits in its foyer. Several buddha statues are missing heads and limbs because of both legal and illegal looting of the temple prior to restoration. Buddha heads in museums around the world originally came from Borobudur.


The steep ascent up to the highest level of Borobudur.


Three visitors rest and admire the scenery on the highest, stupa-studded level of Borobudur.


A partially-disassembled stupa reveals the Buddha statue within, posing his hands to represent ‘dharmachakra’ (spinning the wheel of dharma or karmic law).


A buddha stupa gets a bath with a pressure washer as part of temple maintenance.


The enigmatic smile of a hidden Buddha statue.


A Buddhist monk descends the steep stairs to the lower levels, where workers are assessing the stability of Borobudur’s foundation.


After visiting the temple, Stoytcho and I climb to the top of the hill in the temple grounds to get a better view.


Perfect arrangement: the needles of a pine tree assorted into crevices between the cobblestones.


A view of one of Java’s volcanic cones from Borobudur, possibly Mt. Merapi.


A view of Borobudur Temple from afar, rising from the jungle.

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