Borobudur: Light and Dark

Jogjakarta, Day 1

He held a flashlight up his face, like how little kids share ghost stories at night. Pockets of light danced around our feet as the rest of the curious travellers tried to light up the path to the infamous Buddhist temple. It was 4am and darkness enveloped us – yet, probably a product of my eyes finally adjusting to the dark and my hyper-excited imagination, a larger than life shadow started to take form in the darkness. This was Borobudur Temple and I was a few minutes away from seeing it in its full and well-lit glory. A silent spark ran through my body.

He held my hand in the dark as we carefully ascended to the topmost platform – which promised not only the best view of the sunrise – but is also the section called Arupadhatu which describes the nirwana and sunyata worlds, the platform surrounded with mini-stone domes that each housed a Buddha statue. We sat there in silence, waiting with the others as dawn slowly broke through the mist, a distant volcano coming into view. What tourists stand to see – nicely reinforced stairs, clean relief panels, garbage bins at every level, roving guards to ensure order, and placed inside a vast compound with well-kept lawns, offices, and restaurants – is quite the contrast to its rich history.

It was a challenge trying to picture this same building in a different setting, much less than in its state during the 19th century when it was buried deep in the jungle and 200 laborers spent 45 days just to unearth the temple. I could only imagine how that must be like – a structure that only gets more magnificent as more clutter is removed to reveal the awe inspiring relief panels and the more than 500 Buddha statues!

We walked around in circles, following the unique structure of this temple, and taking in the reliefs that were so beautifully carved into the stones, trying to imagine how this experience must have felt at the height of this temple’s glory. The sun rose higher above us, I looked back at this enormous structure standing behind us, casting no shadows on our path, just bathing in nice, glorious sunlight. And in that quiet spot we found for ourselves, I smiled big for the camera, knowing that he is just beside me, and in that moment, everything was right.


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Hi, I'm Timmy. I believe in writing as a therapy, global warming and true love.

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