Day 6 – The Buddha & Me, 30 Years Later In Borobudur

Silver Shadow, Semarang, Java, Indonesia, Borobudur
Nearly 30 years later, me, once again at Borobudur. Still seeking enlightenment. © 2014 Judi Vincent

Today’s shore excursion to Borobudur featured two attractions: the UNESCO World Heritage Buddhist temple compounds known as Borobudur; and traveling to and from Silver Shadow.

The travel component took us about 60 miles in each direction between Silver Shadow and Borobudur. It’s journey that would take less than an hour on America’s interstate highway system but one that can take several hours on Central Java’s chaotic roads. Upon seeing a traffic jam during rush hour Saturday afternoon, one couple from Southern California remarked, “Los Angeles is nothing compared to this.”

Imagine a four-lane road with two lanes intended for travel in one direction and two intended for travel in the other. In most countries, this system works well. In Central Java, however, cars, trucks, busses and motorbikes often use all four lanes for travel in the direction that they are going. That solid white line running down the center of the road? In other countries, the line indicates that drivers should not cross over it and into the other lane. Here, the white line is merely a suggestion — and one that is often ignored.

So how does a cruise company navigate three motorcoaches through the maze of traffic? Meet the police escort.

Lights Flashing, Sirens Blasting

Silversea had arranged for a police escort to lead and accompany our three motorcoaches from the dock in Semarang to Borobudur and back. With their blue lights flashing and sirens singing, one police car led the way with our motorcoaches giving chase and another police car followed in pursuit.

Silver Shadow, Semarang, Java, Indonesia, Borobudur
Getting to and from Borobudur, two-to-three hours each way, required a police escort to weave through the heavy traffic. I managed to snap this shot in probably the only stretch of road where we did not encounter a jumble of vehicles. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

For two hours on the way to Borobudur, our busses wove in and out of traffic, across white lines, around cars and trucks — and often toward oncoming traffic, which pulled off the road to allow us to pass. “My husband normally naps on these long bus trips,” one woman told me at the end of the day. “He didn’t this time.”

Indeed, the journey was one not to be missed. Motorbikes came daringly close alongside and cut between our bus and other vehicles, with what appeared to be only inches to spare. Just in the nick of time, oncoming transport trucks obligingly pulled off the roads as we used their lanes to pass traffic.

Getting us to where we are going. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle
Getting us to where we are going. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

No anger, no road rage. Rather than resent us, many Javanese waved and smiled as we passed them. Nor did I get the sense that those on our busses feared for their safety. Quite the opposite. The experience was a bit like a thrill ride, a harrowing adventure along roads flanked by the busy life of Central Java and punctuated by beautiful rice terraces and tropical trees.

Even with the police escort, covering 60 miles took about two hours, with a 15-minute coffee, snack (included) and restroom break built in about halfway along the journey.

Silver Shadow, Semarang, Java, Indonesia, Borobudur
Borobudur, a UNESCO world heritage site that I visited 30 years ago as a backpacker through Java. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

Borobudur Or Bust

Eventually, the police escort brought us to an exclusive entrance at Borobudur where we could avoid the mobs of hawkers selling Javanese trinkets. We stepped off the busses and took sarongs that our hosts handed to us to wear around our waists, in reverence to the religious shrine we were visiting.

Silver Shadow, Semarang, Java, Indonesia, Borobudur
Built from volcanic rock in the 9th century, Borobudur is one of the world’s most significant religious monuments. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

Over breakfast in La Terrazza back on Silver Shadow this morning I learned that I would not be the only one returning to Borobudur today seeking enlightenment. I met another guest who had come here as a young man 50 years ago. My trip here was nearly 30 years ago, two decades later than my newfound friend’s. Decades had passed since our visits, and yet we both remembered the impression that the 9th-century temple left upon us.

Silver Shadow, Semarang, Java, Indonesia, Borobudur
Only a few letters removed from being Buddha, our guide Budi certainly seemed to share many qualities with the sage known as the “enlightened one.” © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

On the way here this morning, our guide Budi had presented us with the history and some facts about Borobudur, which I have related, in part, in the photos and captions in this post. As we approached Borobudur, he told us about the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha (Buddha Gautama) and the path to enlightenment.

Silver Shadow, Semarang, Java, Indonesia, Borobudur
Muslim girls in hijabs (the veils covering their heads and chests) photographing Buddha and our group of Westerners. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle
Silver Shadow, Semarang, Java, Indonesia, Borobudur
Relic hunters lopped off the heads of more than 300 Buddha statues at Borobudur. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

Budi mentioned Hermann Hesse’s book, also called Siddhartha. I had read it decades ago, the story of a spiritual journey of self-discovery and enlightenment. Here at Borobudur, we would get a chance to experience part of that journey for ourselves — and perhaps find enlightenment for ourselves.

Silver Shadow, Semarang, Java, Indonesia, Borobudur
Steep stairways on all four sides of the temple give access to the top. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

The story of Siddhartha’s journey is told in the more than 2,500 reliefs at Borobudur. As we walked along, Budi paused in front of some of the more significant reliefs to tell us Siddhartha’s story , from birth to Buddha. We ascended the steep stairs at Borobudur and ritualistically walked three times around the top part of the temple to honor Siddhartha.

Silver Shadow, Semarang, Java, Indonesia, Borobudur
Borobudur’s main dome is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues seated inside perforated stupas. Tradition dictates walking three times around to honor Buddha. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle
Silver Shadow, Semarang, Java, Indonesia, Borobudur
Budi explaining the Buddha’s journey to enlightenment. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

I can’t say enough good things about our guide Budi. His is a case where you can judge a book by its cover. Just take a look at his face in the photographs that accompany this post, and you can see that we had a gracious and knowledgeable guide, with a good sense of humor. His face was like the faces of many Indonesians I have seen on this trip — good humored and kind, warm and hospitable, patient and with a happiness that seemed to go deeper than ours in the Western world.

Silver Shadow, Semarang, Java, Indonesia, Borobudur
The reliefs depict many scenes of daily life in 8th-century ancient Java. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

I felt the same today about the Indonesians as I did nearly three decades ago, and that is that they seemed to have achieved a sort of Nirvana. On my second visit to Borobudur, I felt as though I had come a little closer to achieving it myself. Indeed, being once again at Borobudur was a spiritual experience not only for me but also for a few others I spoke with. One lady from Australia said she had booked this particular cruise only because it included the shore excursion to Borobudur.

Silver Shadow, Semarang, Java, Indonesia, Borobudur
Borobudur is decorated with more than 2,500 reliefs, the largest and most complete ensemble of Buddhist reliefs in the world. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

One other incident added to the enjoyment of today’s shore excursion, and that was groups of school kids who shyly approached us and asked for two things: if they could practice a few words of English with us and if they could take a photograph with us. They were exceptionally sweet and grateful, giggly when they succeeded in uttering a few good words of English. “Hello sir, my name is Iris,” said one girl, who stood with her friends. “How are you today?”

“Fine,” I replied. “And you?”

“I am doing very well, sir. Thank you for asking.”

I scored all who I encountered with the highest of marks, to the particular excitement of one girl who spoke exceptionally well. I had scribbled a plus mark beside the “A” I had inscribed on a card she was carrying.

“What do you think of Indonesia?” a boy asked. “It is beautiful,” I replied, “and the people are friendly.” He beamed a big smile.

Lunch, a shadow puppet show, and we were soon on our way back to Silver Shadow. The traffic was heavier this time, and even the police escort had trouble getting us through some gnarly stretches of congested highway. Three hours later, I saw the funnel stack of Silver Shadow in the distance. After a long but rewarding day, it was good to be back home.

Silver Shadow, Semarang, Java, Indonesia, Borobudur
More than 500 Buddha statues adorn the temple. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle
Silver Shadow, Semarang, Java, Indonesia, Borobudur
School kids visiting Borobudur practiced English with Western visitors and then asked us to grade their language skills. © 2014 Judi Vincent
Silver Shadow, Semarang, Java, Indonesia, Borobudur
Our day at Borobudur ended with lunch and traditional Javanese dance. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle
Silver Shadow, Semarang, Java, Indonesia, Borobudur
The faces, expressions and smiles of Indonesia are a few of the things that I will not forget from my voyage on Silver Shadow from Bali To Singapore. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle
Silver Shadow, Semarang, Java, Indonesia, Borobudur
Budi. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

Silver Shadow, Bali To Singapore

Day 1Boarding Silver Shadow In Bali
Day 2Riding Elephants In Bali
Day 3Lombok, Indonesia
Day 4Probollingo, Indonesia
Day 5Surabaya, Indonesia
Day 6Borobudur, Indonesia
Day 7Semarang, Indonesia
Day 8Jakarta, Indonesia
Day 9Sea Day
Day 10Singapore
Day 11Disembarking In Singapore
Top Ten Highlights Of My Cruise