Indonesia: Motoring from Jakarta to Borobudur

  • The ML350 idling in front of Amanjiwo’s main rotunda, which perfectly frames Borobudur through its central sight line.

    The ML350 idling in front of Amanjiwo’s main rotunda, which perfectly frames Borobudur through its central sight line.

  • Bandung’s Padma Hotel is set in a serene ravine.

    Bandung’s Padma Hotel is set in a serene ravine.

  • In the hills above the Garut Valley, with a view to Mount Cikuray.

    In the hills above the Garut Valley, with a view to Mount Cikuray.

  • On the road to Kampung Sampireun.

    On the road to Kampung Sampireun.

  • Canoes at Kampung Sampireun.

    Canoes at Kampung Sampireun.

  • The terrace of one of Amanjiwo’s pool villas.

    The terrace of one of Amanjiwo’s pool villas.

  • The top terraces of Borobudur at dawn.

    The top terraces of Borobudur at dawn.

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Of the long haul to my penultimate destination, Borobudur, there’s little to recount. Not wanting to backtrack along the road to Banjar, I instead took a turnoff outside Pangandaran that followed a secondary route through the countryside. I’m glad I did: I was soon surrounded by emerald-green rice paddies. (If there’s one thing to recommend about wet-season driving in Java, it’s that the scenery is incredibly verdant.) Beyond the scrappy market town of Sidareja, the road degraded into a rutted, sun-buckled ribbon of pavement. But the Mercedes’ suspension was up for the challenge, and we were soon back on the main highway, 60-odd kilometers east of Banjar. Somewhere along the way, I’d also crossed the border into Central Java.

I was now making good time; the skies were clear, and the road was pretty much a straight shot. Even so, it took another four hours to cover the remaining distance—four hours of more paddy land, more overgrown villages, and the occasional township like Kebumen, where I stopped for a hasty roadside lunch of fried chicken. Finally, beyond the small city of Purworejo, the highway began climbing once more into the hills, growing ever steeper as it pressed toward a fertile highland basin and the brooding mass of Borobudur.

The largest Buddhist monument in the world, Borobudur dates back to the ninth century, and is surely Java’s most enduring spiritual landmark. The sheer scale of it is staggering. Built of more than a million blocks of dark volcanic stone, the stepped, processional pyramid contains 504 Buddha images and four galleries lined with 2,500?square meters of bas-reliefs recounting the story of the Buddha’s life.

It’s an arresting sight, even from a distance of two kilometers, which was where I was now perched at Amanjiwo, one of the most compelling resorts I’ve ever visited. Echoing Borobudur’s design in its circular contours and stupa-shaped rooftops, Amanjiwo looks across a vast, misty plain to where the monument is cradled by the volcanic peaks of Sumbing, Merbabu, and Merapi.

Tomorrow, I’d climb Borobudur ahead of dawn to watch the sun rise between the mountains. And I’d squeeze in a visit to the keraton palace in Yogyakarta, an hour’s drive away, before dropping the car off at the airport for the flight home. But for now, the road was behind me, and I was content to linger on the terrace of my pool villa as the twilight enveloped Borobudur, like something disappearing into a dream.

THE DETAILS:

Where to Stay

  • Padma Hotel Bandung
    Jl. Ranca Bentang 56–58, Ciumbuleuit, Bandung, West Java; 62-22/203-0333; padmahotelbandung.com
    Doubles from US$175
  • Kampung Sampireun
    Jl. Raya Samarang, Garut, West Java; 62-262/542-393;kampungsampireun.com
    Doubles from US$208
  • Java Cove Beach Hotel
    Batu Karas, West Java; 62-265/708-2020; javacovebeachhotel.com
    Doubles from US$64
  • Amanjiwo
    Borobudur, Magelang, Central Java; 62-293/788-333; amanresorts.com
    Doubles from US$700

The Car

An SUV that is equally at home in the city or the countryside, the Mercedes-Benz ML350 proved ideal for tackling Java’s roads. The five-seat cabin is supremely comfortable and roomy, with leather trim, an electronic sunroof, a six-stack CD player, and plenty of luggage space. Its powerful V6 engine is mated to an excellent seven-speed automatic gearbox, and independent suspension front and rear ensures a smooth ride.

Originally appeared in the April/May 2010 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Borobudur Bound”)

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