Indonesia, a largely Muslim country, may be an unexpected place to find the biggest Buddhist temple in the world, but there it is: Borobudur, located a short distance from the Javanese town of Yogyakarta. The colossal stone pyramid rises above a lush plateau that is surrounded by hills and two still-active volcanoes.
Borobudur was originally built in the 9th century by the Buddhist Shailendra dynasty that ruled over a large part of south-east Asia at that time. The temple consists of nine platforms that grow progressively smaller as you ascend. Each terrace has walls covered with stone carvings, interspersed with life-sized statues of the Buddha.
The carvings are a wonderful album of scenes from everyday life in ancient Java. They also show stories from mythology and episodes from the life of the Buddha. Pilgrims visiting the temple can follow the Buddha’s quest for enlightenment, starting with his birth and scenes from his earliest days.
As you ascend to the higher levels of the temple the carvings depict later stages of the Buddha’s life, successive terraces representing ever higher stages of wisdom. The apex of the pyramid is occupied by an array of Buddha figures, each inside a latticed dome, symbolizing the achievement of nirvana.
Borobudur was abandoned in the 14th century as volcanic eruptions forced an evacuation of the surrounding area and the Javanese population increasingly converted to Islam. The temple stones collapsed and were buried under volcanic ash until the 19th century when Dutch colonial administrators began to have them unearthed. It was only in 1973 that a massive international effort led to the temple being restored close to its original state. Today Borobudur is Indonesia’s biggest tourist attraction, with millions of visitors each year.
Borobudur is a short, scenic drive from Yogyakarta and it is best to base yourself there. The drive is lovely and you will want to stop several times along the way to capture picture perfect rice terraces, gently flowing streams and the lush, mountain fringed countryside. Be sure to save some time to also explore the beautiful ancient temples of Prambanan just outside of Yogyakarta. Back in the bustling city of Yogyakarta, you will find plenty of opportunities to shop for local products or sample their famous street food.
Lamb satay skewers are a quintessentially Javanese dish and a popular street food in Yogyakarta. Grilled over a small charcoal stove atop push carts, they perfume the air with the heady aroma of spices. Just follow your nose to reach the nearest lamb satay stall around you or make my recipe at home till you can get to Indonesia!
This easy recipe comes together very quickly by throwing the marinade ingredients into a food processor or blender. After that, it is simply a matter of marinating the lamb overnight to produce the best flavours. Coconut cream is an essential part of this recipe, it keeps the lamb tender and saves it from drying out on the grill. Serve with Peanut Sauce and Nasi Goreng or Coconut Rice
Grilled Lamb Satay Skewers
1 lb (450g) boneless leg of lamb, cubed into bite sized pieces
4 cloves garlic
1 inch piece each: ginger, fresh turmeric or use 1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tbsp each: oil, coconut cream
1 tbsp each: tamarind paste or tamarind sauce or use lime juice, dark brown sugar
1 tsp each: ground coriander, red chilli sambal or hot sauce
Salt to taste
1 lime, halved
Place lamb in large mixing bowl.
Combine remaining ingredients (except lime) in the jar of a mini food processor or blender and process until well combined.
Scrape out the paste onto the lamb and mix well to coat.
Cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least 4 hours for flavours to develop.
Preheat barbecue to medium heat. Lift lamb out of marinade and thread pieces onto skewers. If you have any marinade left in the bowl, slather it over the lamb. Grill to desired done-ness, about 5 min per side for medium well done.
Serve with a squeeze of lemon over top.