Leaving behind Yogyakarta we headed towards nearby Borobudur, the largest Buddhist monument on the world. It's the kind of place like Angkor Wat or Bagan, when you first see photos of it, it seems like it's the set for some movie about a lost world. It's a vast stone mandala-like structure built around the hill in a jungle over a thousand years ago.
By now though it's firmly established on the tourist trail and thousands of Indonesians travel from all over the country to visit it. I wanted to photograph it at sunrise, which I knew would mean a very early morning and difficulties in getting a clean shot as I expected the place to be very busy for first light in the way that Shwedagon Pagoda in Bagan was. Indeed both of these things were firmly on my mind as we arrived at Borobudur as I knew that it marked the beginning of four mornings where we would get up at 4am or earlier in both Borobudur and then Mount Bromo, and that both places would be incredibly busy with tourists making photography with a tripod sometimes a little challenging. When we'd planned the trip I'd tried to ensure that we visited Bromo away from the weekend hoping that would mean slightly smaller crowds, but also because we also wanted our time in Ubud, Bali, to coincide with a full moon festival. However, we hadn't realised that this would mean this part of the trip taking place in a week that began with a bank holiday to celebrate Indonesia's independence. The traffic as we left Yogyakarta to get to the temple was incredible and I started to realize how busy Borobudur was actually going to be.
We had booked to stay at the Manohara hotel, which is actually in the grounds of the temple. This gave us unlimited access to the temple during regular opening hours and also a discount for the sunrise entry at 4h30. After arriving we dropped off our bags and headed straight for the temple next door. I wanted to have a chance to check it out in the daylight so I'd have an idea of where I wanted to set up for sunrise. The receptionist at the hotel had also said that while the temple closed at 17h, people were allowed to stay there till 18h15, which meant I'd be able get a shot of sunset from there as well.
The temple was so packed with holiday sightseers that it was almost impossible to get up the stairs. The vast majority were Indonesians who travelled from all over Java to see one of the jewels of their island. Many had apparently never seen westerners before as we were very quickly approached by people asking if they could have their photos taken with us and before we'd reached the top of the temple we'd been stopped three times to pose for pictures. Later, as I was setting up to shoot the sunset, I even saw one guy snapping pictures of me with his friend standing in front, and another guy stood behind me and kept photographing the image on the LCD of my camera...it was a new experience for me!
After we'd explored the temple for a bit I set up for the sunset, finding a spot where I could capture one of the stone stupas with the setting sun and the haze covered hills in the background. The only problem was the huge volume of people in the temple posing for photos of each other against the setting sun made it impossible to get a clean shot of the foreground. However, I knew it would only take a moment, so I decided to wait and sure enough just before the sun finally went behind the hills, I noticed lots of people were starting to leave. Then I realized that they were being cleared out by the security and moments before the foreground was clear, a security guard told us that we would have to leave if we didn't have a sunset ticket. I was surprised, because in the guides I'd read I'd seen there was a sunrise ticket to get in early, but never come across a sunset ticket to stay late. The receptionist at the hotel had told us that we could stay up at the temple till after closing time at 17h, which was when I assumed they stopped letting people in, but they hadn't told us we needed a special ticket to stay until 18h20. Fortunately the security guard was incredibly polite and when he found out we were staying at the Manohara hotel, through which all the sunrise and sunset tickets are coordinated, he kindly allowed us to be the last of the regular customers to leave. Because of the huge volume of people visiting for the holiday queuing up to go back down the stairs this gave me the time I needed to get a clean shot of the temple in the foreground as the sunset just before we left.
We went to bed early that night, getting up at 4 the next day to get our tickets for sunrise at the temple. Although we were one of the first, it filled up pretty quickly and there were a lot of photographers there. The top of the temple has 3 circular levels and I expected most people would head to the highest one for the sunrise. I knew that setting up here would mean there'd be very little space and it would also be impossible to get a clean shot with the second level stupas in the foreground when people inevitably started to go to that level. So I set up on the second level and composed with the stupas on the lowest level in the foreground, hoping that people wouldn't go to that level as it was difficult to see the sunrise from there. I was tempted to set up with one of the two uncovered stupas (where the stone Buddhas that are inside each of them are revealed) in the foreground, but had a feeling that they would prove very popular making it harder to get a clean composition. As it turned out, this proved correct and the stone Buddhas were surrounded by people pretty soon after I arrived.
Before the sun came up I took some night shots, using my torch for light painting on the stone stupas, and then as it got lighter I photographed the stupas of the temple against the lightening sky.
There was lots of cloud on the horizon so there wasn't really much direct light, which meant I could head around to the other side of the temple to do some shots there. The view to the west is actually more interesting than the view to the rising sun in the east as it has volcanos and tree filled hills surrounded by mist, so I took some more shots here before joining in with the crowd of people photographing one of the open stupas just as the sun rose.
hen we headed back to the hotel for a fantastic breakfast before taking it easy for the rest of the day. Later on in the afternoon, we took a horse and cart to visit a few of the nearby temples and a local Buddhist monastery. Horse and carts here are often used here and it's a great way to travel around, as like the rickshaws in Yogyakarta, you feel much more a part of the scene around you and people on scooters waved at us as they passed. We spent some time wandering around the temples and photographing some of the statues in the monastery before heading back to the hotel, having dinner and then another early night before another early start.