Aman offers luxurious railway journey to Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple

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(CNN) – Inside a carriage furnished with traditional Javanese batik tapestries, paintings and books, travelers on Indonesia’s newest luxury train certainly agree that the journey is as important as the destination.

Why not take a seven-hour train ride to Borobudur, Indonesia’s most famous Buddhist site, instead of flying to Yogyakarta?

This experience is open to travelers booked to stay at Amanjiwo, an Aman Resorts property in Central Java Province.

As Indonesia lifts Covid-related travel restrictions for vaccine tourists, Amanjivo staff hope the unique rail tour will entice international crowds to come and learn more about Javanese culture.

Jan Hess, Amanjivo’s general manager, told CNN Travel: “The journey through Java by train was launched during the pandemic and received positive reviews from the domestic market.” “Moving forward, our goal is to bring this experience to a wider audience around the world.”

Indonesia’s first luxury train

Said to be operated by KAI Wisata, a high-end subsidiary of Indonesia’s state-owned rail operator PT Kereta Api, the new train is Indonesia’s first and only luxury rail experience.

It starts from the capital Jakarta and ends in Yogyakarta, a city famous for Javanese art and culture. From there, it is an hour’s drive to reach Amanjivo.

Guests on the train are served an Aman-style breakfast and lunch by staff dressed in hotel uniforms inspired by traditional Javanese clothing.

Yogyakarta in Central Java is the gateway to the world famous Borobudur Temple.

Yogyakarta in Central Java is the gateway to the world famous Borobudur Temple.

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In addition to the beautiful scenery, the main attraction is the presence of the resort’s resident anthropologist, who offers valuable insight into the region during the tour.

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

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“There are many stories, legends, legends and wisdom that we can learn from the lectures of anthropologist Patrick Vanhobroek during the train journey, which includes spirituality, architecture and art. This study encourages a sense of cultural curiosity and respect. until Our guests come to Amanjivo to continue the discovery.”

A trip through Java by train can be booked together with a two-night package at Amanjiwo and can also be rented by guests staying at the hotel.

Meet the resident anthropologist of Amanjivo

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

“However, during my stay here, I quickly became fascinated by the local Javanese culture, its unique expressions through performing arts (wayang cycles), the philosophical and traditional aspects of its way of life.” says Vanhobroek.

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

“As an anthropologist specializing in Javanese spiritual culture and practice … I can confidently say that Central Java is a rich and vibrant area for spiritually minded people because the landscape is literally dotted with built and natural sacred places,” he says.

Since 2019, Vanhobroek has been working with Amanjiwo, who conducts evening lectures and organizes spiritual and cultural activities for visitors. When he is not at the resort, he coordinates retreats focused on Javanese wisdom and healing power while continuing his research into Javanese culture.

During the train ride through the mountain valleys, visitors will see typical Javanese landscapes — rice fields, tropical forests with rolling hills, volcanoes and important rivers in the background — while listening to Vanhobrook’s anecdotes.

Guide to Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world

Upon arrival in Amanjivo, visitors are fully equipped with the knowledge to better appreciate the historical attractions surrounding the area.

“Located in the Kedu region at the foot of five major volcanoes, Amanjivo is surrounded by ancient archaeological wonders,” notes Vanhobroek.

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

Dating back to the 8th and 9th centuries, it is built in the form of a pyramid with three main layers around the hill, including five square porches, three circular platforms and a monumental stupa on top.

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

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

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Around 500 Buddha statues and 72 stupas, each containing a Buddha image, are scattered around the stepped temple. The walls and balustrades are covered in over 1600 detailed relief panels.

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

“Never before has the Buddhist community attempted to express the entire body of the Buddha’s teachings in a single mountain sculpture, and this is expressed through a stunning and detailed iconography sculpted using dark volcanic andesite stone.”

Considering the site suffered from natural weathering for more than 1,000 years, the international community came together in the 1970s to finance major repairs, which were carried out by UNESCO.

In 1991, it was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The traditional pilgrimage route is a six-kilometer path that slowly ascends to each level of the pyramid temple through winding corridors. The trip usually takes about half a day.

For those short on time, Vanhobroek offers a “middle solution” by learning the cultural background of Borobudur Temple before visiting the relief panels on each level – with the help of a local guide.

“Take a moment here and there in a meditative state to understand the effort, time and purpose of the original builders and their dharma-centered civilization … face one of the 500 Dhyan-Buddha statues (symbols of Mahayana Buddhism) face alcoves,” advises Vanhobroek.

During the pandemic, the upper gallery of the temple is closed. Until the temple is fully reopened, Vanhobroek invites tourists to make several rounds around the temple, also known as kora – a meditative pilgrimage that involves repeating a clockwise circle around the sacred site.

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It’s common to view Borobudur from the top stupa at sunrise “through the misty plains below and behind the two main volcanoes on the eastern horizon,” but Vanhobroek thinks other times and weather conditions offer their beauty.

Borobudur is popular at sunrise, when tourists can enjoy stunning views of the temple sculptures and nearby volcanoes from the top of the temple.

Borobudur is popular at sunrise, when tourists can enjoy stunning views of the temple sculptures and nearby volcanoes from the top of the temple.

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“The statue takes on special significance and a certain aural splendor during the Vaisak ceremony, a three-day Buddhist celebration of the Buddha’s birthday, stages of enlightenment, and Buddha’s passing,” he said.

Vaisak Day or Vesak Day takes place on the full moon of the fourth month of the lunar calendar (usually in May or June).

“It is a wonderful moment to participate with hundreds of Buddhists from all over Asia and the world and observe the different approaches of ritual, chanting and meditation to the temple, and through this you may get an idea of ​​the designers or builders who designed Borobudur at the beginning of the century. 9 in the first place, – says Vanhobroek.

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

“Many natural springs, peaks, caves and beaches are still revered by Javanese believers,” says a resident of Yogyakarta.

For those who want to experience the rail journey, 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.

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