Approaching the stone steps of Borobudur Temple in the pre-dawn hours, the sky slowly began to lighten, revealing a blanket of grey clouds.
Getting up at 4 AM was no longer about seeing a multi-colored sky, but experiencing one of Indonesia's greatest cultural landmarks with as few people as possible.
Borobudur Temple is the world's largest Buddhist monument, its construction dating back to the 8th and 9th centuries (300 years before Cambodia's Angkor Wat).
The stone structure, built atop a hill, measures 123 square meters, and features more than 2,600 carved reliefs and 500 Buddha statues.
The monument as a whole is dedicated to Buddha, while the reliefs are aimed at depicting his life and teachings.
The precision required to construct such a perfectly symmetrical building, 1,000 years before modern construction equipment was developed, boggles the mind.
In 1991, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has since become one of Indonesia's top tourist attractions, thanks in part to it's easy access from the nearby city of Yogyakarta in Central Java.
Entrance to the Borobudur monument before sunrise is gained through the nearby Manohara hotel. A sarong is required for both men and women, and available for free to visitors (as well as a flashlight if you don't have one).
The climb to the top of the monument is steep, but short, and can be done in as little as five minutes.
Upon reaching the top-level, visitors are offered a 360-degree view of the lush landscape covering the surrounding Kedu Valley.
In the mornings, light fog drifts through the valley, adding to the mystical nature of the sacred location, which remains first and foremost, a site of Buddhist pilgrimage.
To get the most out of a visit to Borobudur Temple, a guided tour is recommended. There's simply too much going on in terms of symbolism and Buddhist iconography for the layperson to decode on his or her own.
It wasn't until I began preparing for this trip to Indonesia that I became aware of Borobudur. Given my long-standing fascination with Buddhist culture, I found the monument to be an unexpected surprise in the world's biggest Muslim nation.
Borobudur Temple, along with the orangutans in Borneo, is another example of how much this country has to offer beyond Bali.
Note: My visit to Indonesia was in conjunction with a blog trip hosted by the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy.
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