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Full Circle

Day 119: Yogyakarta to Borobudur

Borobudur, Indonesia 
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Borobudur. Carvings of the Buddha's journey.
Michael Palin - Full CircleThe great black basalt mass looks dour and unpromising as Eko and I mount the first steep steps. But rich rewards for perseverance are to be found along the way. In the soft, friable rock beautiful panels have been carved. Although there are other abstract designs, it is the scenes of everyday life which are most affecting. Human figures and facial expressions are caught with an intimacy and immediacy that is almost shockingly modern. At various points on our way intriguing notices read 'No Scratching!'. A jovial, hard-hatted UNESCO official who is checking moss deposits sees me puzzling over them. 'It does not mean no scratching of the body sir!... No scratching of the stones.' Six hundred builders and stonemasons, he says, were required to replace two million stones during the recent nine year restoration period so they're understandably touchy about them.

On the top of Borobudur, a single solid stupa - the pointed bell-like dome common to Buddhist temples - is surrounded by concentric rings of smaller stupas. Eko surveys the view.

'We are in heaven now,' he says.

'The centre of the universe?'

'Of the galaxy.'

As he explains, the location of a monument like this would not be arbitrary. Enormous importance would have been attached to its exact positioning. Looking around me, I can, for the first time, appreciate why this great man-mountain is where it is. It is almost precisely equidistant from five volcanoes, three of them over ten thousand feet high, not only putting it at the symbolic centre of a universe but acknowledging the symbiotic relationship between man and the volcanoes from which this land was created. Eko says that now only one thing remains to be done. 'You are ready for climbing now, Michael?' Tomorrow, he promises, we shall look into the mouth of a volcano.
Borobudur, Indonesia 
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Borobudur. 'The centre of the galaxy'. Stupas and surrounding volcanoes at the top of Borobudur temple.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 119
  • Country/sea: Indonesia
  • Place: Borobudur
  • Book page no: 173

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