Temple architecture

Aman offers a luxury train trip to Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world

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(CNN) — Seated inside a lavish train carriage outfitted with traditional Javanese batik tapestries, paintings and books, travelers aboard Indonesia’s newest luxury train certainly agree the journey is as important as the destination.

Otherwise, why opt for a seven-hour train ride instead of a plane to Yogyakarta, home to Indonesia’s famous UNESCO-listed Buddhist site, Borobudur.

Called The Journey Through Java by Train, the experience is open to travelers who have booked a stay at Amanjiwo, an Aman Resorts property in Central Java Province.

With Indonesia having lifted its Covid-related travel restrictions for vaccinated tourists, Amanjiwo staff hope the unique train journey will entice international crowds to come and learn more about Javanese culture.

“Travel across Java by train was launched during the pandemic and received positive feedback from the domestic market,” Jann Hess, managing director of Amanjiwo, told CNN Travel. “Our mission going forward is to bring this experience to a wider audience around the world.”

Indonesia’s first luxury tourist train

Operated by KAI Wisata, a premium subsidiary of state-owned rail operator PT Kereta Api Indonesia, the new train would be the first and only luxury rail experience of its kind in Indonesia.

It starts in the capital Jakarta and ends in Yogyakarta, a city famous for Javanese arts and culture. From there, it takes an hour by car to reach Amanjiwo.

Train guests receive onboard Aman-style breakfasts and lunches served by staff who wear hotel uniforms inspired by traditional Javanese clothing.

Yogyakarta in Central Java is the gateway to the famous Borobudur temple.

Newtraveldreams/Adobe Stock

In addition to the stunning scenery, a major draw is the presence of the resort’s resident anthropologist, who offers valuable insight into the area during the trip.

“Java is known as a mystical land and its culture has influenced other parts of Indonesia like Bali,” says Hess.

“There are so many stories, myths, legends and wisdom that we can learn from anthropologist Patrick Vanhoebrouck’s lectures during the train journey, which encompasses spirituality, architecture and the arts. This learning will develop a sense of curiosity and will encourage cultural respect and exchange as our guests arrive at Amanjiwo to continue the discovery further.”

Travel across Java by train can be booked with a two-night package at Amanjiwo and can also be chartered by guests staying at the hotel.

Meet Amanjiwo’s Resident Anthropologist

Vanhoebrouck, originally from Belgium, first moved to Yogyakarta in 1997 to work in the export of furniture and antiques.

“Yet, during my stay here, I quickly became fascinated by the local Javanese culture, its particular expressions through the performing arts (wayang cycles), its philosophical and traditional aspects of how to lead life,” explains Vanhoebrouck. .

He was so intrigued that he earned a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree in anthropology in the United States and the Netherlands before returning permanently to Indonesia in 2010.

“As an anthropologist specializing in Javanese spiritual culture and practice…I can confidently answer that Central Java is a rich and vibrant playground for spiritual spirits, as the landscape is literally dotted with sacred sites built and natural,” he says.

Since 2019, Vanhoebrouck has been working with Amanjiwo to host evening talks and set up spiritual and cultural activities for guests. When not at the station, he coordinates retreats focusing on Javanese wisdom and healing powers while continuing his research on Javanese culture.

During the train ride through mountain valleys, guests admire typical Javanese landscapes – rice paddies, rainforests with hills, volcanoes and prominent rivers in the background – while listening to Vanhoebrouck’s anecdotes.

A guide to Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world

Upon arrival at Amanjiwo, guests are fully equipped to better appreciate the area’s many historic attractions.

“Amanjiwo, located in the Kedu Plain region at the foot of five major volcanoes, is surrounded by ancient archaeological wonders,” Vanhoebrouck notes.

The biggest sight of all is Borobudur, an eight-minute drive from the resort.

Dating from the 8th and 9th centuries, it was built in a pyramidal shape with three main levels around a hill comprising five concentric square terraces, three circular platforms and a monumental stupa at the top.

Located in the Kedu Plain in Central Java, Amanjiwo is surrounded by historical and cultural attractions.

Located in the Kedu Plain in Central Java, Amanjiwo is surrounded by historical and cultural attractions.

A man

Some 500 Buddha statues and 72 stupas – each containing a statue of the Buddha – are scattered around the temple in tiers. The walls and balustrades are covered with more than 1,600 detailed relief panels.

“One of the largest and most ornate monuments in the Buddhist world, Borobudur is unique in many ways,” says Vanhoebrouck.

“Never before has a Buddhist society attempted to express all of Buddha’s teachings on a single standing stone mountain monument, and this is expressed through breathtakingly exquisite and detailed carved iconography. , using dark andesite volcanic rock.”

With the site suffering from natural weathering for more than 1,000 years, the international community came together in the 1970s to fund a major renovation, which was carried out by UNESCO.

In 1991 it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The traditional pilgrimage route is a six kilometer walk, slowly ascending each level of the pyramidal temple through its spiraling corridors. The trek usually lasts about half a day.

For those who don’t have time, Vanhoebrouck suggests a “middle way” by learning about the cultural background of the Borobudur temple before visiting the most representative relief panels at each level – with the help of a guide. local.

“Take a minute here and there in meditative poise to capture the effort, time, and goals of the original builders and their dharma-oriented civilization…as you face one of over 500 Dhyani statues -Buddha (Mahayana Buddhist icons) in their alcoves,” recommends Vanhoebrouck.

The upper galleries of the temple have been closed during the pandemic. Until the temple is fully reopened, Vanhoebrouck urges travelers to take multiple walks around the temple, also known as a kora – a meditative pilgrimage that involves repeatedly circling around a sacred site in a clockwise direction. ‘a watch.

It is popular to admire Borobudur from the upper stupa at sunrise “over the misty plains below and behind the two main volcanoes on the eastern horizon”, but Vanhoebrouck thinks other times and weather patterns offer their own charms. .

Borobudur is popular at sunrise when travelers can take in the stunning views of the temple statues and nearby volcanoes from the top of the temple.

Borobudur is popular at sunrise when travelers can take in the stunning views of the temple statues and nearby volcanoes from the top of the temple.

Pig Prox/Adobe Stock

“The monument takes on special significance and auditory grandeur during the Waisak ceremony, a three-day Buddhist celebration of the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passing stages,” he says.

Waisak Day, or Vesak Day, occurs on the full moon of the fourth month of the lunar calendar (usually May or June).

“It is a great moment to participate with hundreds of Buddhists from across Asia and the world, observing a variety of ritual approaches, chanting and processions of contemplation to the temple, and through this perhaps get a glimpse of what was actually intended by the designers or builders who designed Borobudur in the early 9th century,” says Vanhoebrouck.

In terms of other favorite Central Java attractions to visit, the anthropologist points to the Hindu-Buddhist temples of the Mataram Kingdom – a sophisticated Javanese Hindu-Buddhist civilization that flourished from the 8th to 10th centuries – and the royal palaces (kraton) from Yogyakarta and Surakarta.

“Many natural springs, hilltops, caves and coasts are also still approached reverently by Javanese devotees,” the Yogyakarta resident explains.

For those who want to experience train travel, two more Amanjiwo packages are available in 2022: November 24-26 and December 24-26. In the first half of 2023, the train will run on January 20, February 17, March 17, April 7 and 21, May 5 and 19 and June 2 and 30.