The main purpose of this trip was to take photographs of the sunrise at Borobudur, so I had booked the pre-dawn entry to Borobudur through the Manohara Hotel which is inside the Borobudur complex. I couldn't get a room at the Manohara Hotel as it was full, but I managed to get a room at the Saraswati Hotel (a very nice boutique hotel – much nicer than the Manohara) which is less than five minutes drive away, just outside the main gate to Borobudur.
The pre-dawn entry ticket gets you into the complex at 4.30 am – an hour and a half before the official opening time of 6.00 am. The cost is 250,000 rupiahs – around US$20-25 depending on what the exchange rate is at the time (if staying at the Manohara the cost is only 115,000 rupiahs) – but it is worth every cent because the experience of seeing the volcanoes around Borobudur appear out of the darkness as the first light appears is just magical.
The ticket price includes a torch and a guide for the short walk from the hotel to the temple complex (you need a guide because it is pitch black at that time of the morning and you would get lost in the gardens of the hotel).
There were about 30-35 people taking advantage of the pre-dawn entry, and most were just sitting up on the top dome watching the sun rise, so I didn't have any problem getting photographs without any people in – something that later in the day is impossible to do. (They call the pre-dawn entry a 'sunrise tour' but it is not really a tour as such, because just sitting up on the top of the Borobudur complex, taking in the magnificent 360 degree views in the early morning light and the silence of the temple complex is all most people want to do – the guides all look very bored!).
The 'sunrise tour' is an experience that every visitor to Borobudur ought to do because once the gates open to the general public, the complex becomes over-run with tourists and the early morning ambiance quickly disappears.
By the middle of the day the tourists climbing over Borobudur are like ants swarming over a nest, and the peaceful atmosphere is completely gone – you only have to compare the three pictures above with the three pictures below to see what I mean.
The people in the picture above who are reaching into the bell shaped stupas are trying to touch a Buddha statue inside – there are 72 of them around the main dome on the top platform of Borobudur. I was told that if you are a woman, and you touch the Buddha's foot, any wish that you make will come true, and if you are a man, you have to touch the Buddha's arm (much harder to do as the feet are much closer to the holes on the outside of the stupa).
After several attempts through different holes, and much straining of my arm muscles, I managed to touch the arm of one of the Buddhas. I made a wish - but it hasn't come true yet.
Borobudur is a ninth century Mahayana Buddhist temple complex that was 'discovered' in the early 19th century over-run by jungle and partly buried in volcanic ash. It was reconstructed in 1973 with funding from UNESCO but was badly damaged by bombs planted by Muslim extremists in the mid-80s. Borobudur fortunately escaped damage from the 2006 earthquake that damaged Prambanan.
Today Borobudur is Indonesia's most visited tourist attraction – with over two million people passing through the gates every year – all the more reason why it is worth getting up at 4.00 am in the morning to see before the crowds arrive.