One of the most spectacular places in the world is Borobudur. Never heard of it? Me neither, until I discovered a picture on the cover of the book “Great Escapes Asia” and nearly at the same time my husband developed a certain liking for Aman Resorts. As I browsed through the book I found pictures of a unique hotel, so beautiful, so extraordinary that I was wondering if it could be real. We then traveled to a place that exceeded all our expectations.
Borobudur, situated on Java, Indonesia, about 42 km distant from Yogyarkarta, is the largest Buddhist temple complex in the world, which was erected around the 9th century and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. The temple is surrounded by four volcanoes, including the famous Merapi. Amanjiwo, which was inspired by Borobudur in a very special way, is situated in close proximity.
It is difficult to express what makes Borobudur and Amanjiwo so special. There is the first encounter: Rolling along the driveway to Amanjiwo the driver stops for a moment and draws our attention to the first extraordinary detail. The hotel lobby was built like a stupa standing on columns and reveals the view of Borobudur in the middle of the background. Just like a picture in a picture. However, the architecture of Amanjiwo with all its exceptional details can be comprehended in full only after having visited Borobudur.
Amanjiwo offers its guests a great variety of activities. One of them is to see Borobudur when the sun rises before the park is open to the public. Depending on the season you wake up at 4 a.m. with a little breakfast before driving to the temple area in 15 minutes. Having arrived in Borobudur you can take the direct way up using steep stairways. Or you take some more time and walk along the six galleries and the upper terraces with 2672 reliefs and 504 Buddha statues in clockwise direction with a battery torch at the break of dawn. The way illustrates Buddha’s slow rise to spiritual satori (enlightenment) in countless scenes. None of the galleries reveals the view to the surrounding, the next level or the top to make sure the visitor’s attention is not distracted by anything. Having arrived at the central stupa, which symbolises Nirvana, you can sit down and wait for the sun to rise.
The place has a fascinating sense of peace and harmony. From far away you hear a muezzin while the first sunlight appears on the horizon and the morning mist slowly dissolves over the trees. The rising sun sheds a soft light on the structure and its surrounding where the volcanoes gradually appear. Merapi sends out a thin column of smoke. Minute after minute the new day is dawning, nature is revived, and yet the place is still full of magic – ideal for some morning meditation, as also our guide Muji from Amanjiwo notices.
Back in the hotel, while having breakfast looking at the volcanoes, I suddenly begin to understand the wonderful way in which Ed Tuttle implemented his work. The building is also arranged in planes, the villas are connected by passages and stairways which do not allow a look to the top or down. The central axis of the hotel is directed at Borobudur where the sanctuary can always be seen in the background. The roofs of the main hall and of the villas are designed in the form of the central stupa. This theme is reflected even in the smallest detail from the stupa-like form of the sun shields to the wooden room key tags. And yet this synthesis of the arts does not make you feel like living in a copy. The architecture is functional, clear and timeless.
Java, just like the rest of the country except Bali, has got more of a Muslim character. Borobudur is omnipresent while the muezzins of the surrounding villages lead the call to the prayers after sunrise. The cacophony of different voices from the loudspeakers adds to the fascination of place and gives it a special charm that can only be described as magical. Some of the suites of Amanjiwo offers a direct view of Borobudur. Standing on the yoga mat, looking at the temple in front are moments the memories of which will last forever.
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