Tag Archives: temple

Yogyakarta – Asia’s Hidden Gem

20th August 2015

banner When we were planning our Indonesian route Lee stumbled on a little city in Java that peaked his interest. As a History buff Lee saw the words ‘largest Hindu temple in Southeast Asia’ and his eyes lit up.

yogya09 yogya13 The most important thing to know about Yogyakarta is how to pronounce the darn place. I was calling it yogi-o-karta until I arrived at the airport. Indonesians  pronounce it ‘Jog-ja-karta’ but the locals call it ‘Jog-ja’. This is what everyone calls it and it’s much easier to get by once you know that.

We were only in the town for 3 days and we spoiled ourselves with a nice place. There was a roof top pool and large comfy beds. Unfortunately the hotel is also where local school kids stay over night on school trips. Our room was surrounded all night by loud teenagers running up and down the halls. Its safe to say, as two ex-middle school teachers ……we weren’t impressed.

yogya06 yogya08 The kids weren’t the only down side of our first day on the trip. I also received some horrible news from home and spent my night curled up with Lee feeling horrible and very very far from home. Luckily I didn’t have time to think about everything too much since we had already planned a trip that started at 4am. I didn’t have time to think. I just had time to try and close my eyes before the alarm went off and we were on our way to Yogyakarta’s famous temples – Prambanan and Borobudur.

yogya02 yogya03 yogya07 yogya10 We took a tour to Prambanan organised by our hotel. We had a lovely driver and arrived at the temple complex just as the sun was rising. When you arrive at the temples you are given some water, a snack and a stylish sarong to wear. We leisurely wandered around the temple. Taking in the intricate carvings depicting Buddha’s pilgrimage and lifeline, beautiful surroundings and miles of jungle all around us.

The only thing to disturb the peaceful surroundings was the hundreds of kids that are taken there on trips. Schools take kids there to practice their English. We found it quite endearing because they were so cute and lovely shouting ‘mister , Mrs picture, picture’. We must have posed for at least 12 photos and managed to grab a few of our own.  It did take away from the beautiful sights a little especially since the concentration of kids was on the iconic roof of Borobudur where we wanted to take the most photos but couldn’t. But it was another welcome distraction on a sad day.

My favourite part of the day was when Lee and I went off the beaten track and climbed the hill over looking the Borobudur complex. We sat and watched the mist roll over the mountains in the distance and literally had time to smell the roses…and frangipans (at least that’s what I’m told they are called). Being so far up above the clouds was beautiful and I just wanted to stay there forever with Lee.

yogya04 yogya05 Since it was a tour , we didn’t have time to stop for too long. Our next stop was Prambanan. It was built in the 9th century and has a number of temples, each dedicated to different gods, The Creator (Brahma), the Preserver (Vishnu) and the Destroyer (Shiva). There was also a temple for Ganesha which is one of my favourite of the gods since it is half Elephant and half god. He is the god known for removing obstacles. He is seen as a patron of the arts and Hindus ask him for help during writing sessions almost like a godly muse. I’m not Hindu but I love the idea of a god that inspires imagination. It seems very fitting for a blogger to like him I suppose. He is also the god of beginnings. I had just discovered I had lost someone extremely important to me and it was nice to think of it as a beginning rather than a sad end. I am lucky to have known my aunty well enough to feel she was with me at every step of our journey.

yogya01 yogya12 yogya15 yogya16 Lots of things end but sometimes its nicer to think of them as changing. Maybe not always for the better but change opens us all up for new experiences and we also carry with us the things we learnt in the past. These temples were hidden from the world for so long and now they are there for everyone to see, even before that , in another life time they were strong central pillars to a community and a civilisation . People came to these stones for hope. It’s a wonder to be able to travel and see these sights that have been viewed by so many others.

A lot of people hate the idea of tourists or other people discovering something before them but I like it. I find it kind of satisfying to share these sights and incredible places with people I would never meet or even live in the same century as. It’s a privilege that I hope I never take for granted.

I am sorry for this reflective and slightly sad post but I don’t mean it to be . It was an uplifting trip and one I think we will both hold dear. Lee actually says he prefers these temples to Angkor Wat. I love them both equally but I also think it’s such a huge shame that Prambanan and Yogykarta itself is so over looked.

I’m really glad we stopped off in this nice little city as our first port of call in Indonesia. It was cheap  and a little grimy but the temples alone were worth the visit.

Our first impressions of Indonesia are high. I can’t wait to see what else we find.

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Nara – oh Deer oh Deer

17th March 2015

banner Oh Nara, you beautiful little place you. I’m not going to lie to you all, we went to Nara for one reason and one reason only….Deer. We love animals and any excuse to be close to them – when they are treated fairly – is a good with us. 19
Nara is a small city on the outskirts of both Kyoto and Osaka. Many hundreds of years ago it was the old capital of Japan. Deer are a sacred and lucky animal so this area of Japan has never hurt or hunted them, subsequently the deer roam free around this beautiful small place. 9 18
We hopped on a train and after only a few minutes we had our first deer sighting.
At first we thought it was a statue since it was so still but we soon realised that this creature just inches from us was real. Our eyes adjusted to see all the deer littering the path ahead. People were selling food at 150yen per 5 rice cakes and we bought quite a few. The deer were friendly but not above giving you a little ‘butt’ for attention. 1 2 3
The most impressive thing about the deer was their bowing skills. Yes, they bow! They have learnt that bobbin their head gets you to feed them. It’s stupidly impressive and we were suckers for it. 12 13 16 50
We didn’t just see deer in Nara. We also saw the largest sitting bronze Buddha in the world which was incredible . It was a little pricey to get in but well worth it (I think it was 600 yen) . The most bizarre part of the day (yes, more bizarre than frolicking with deer) was queuing up to crawl through a hole. In one of the pillars of the shrine is a small hole that can barely fit a human. It is said that crawling through this pillar will being you luck and love for life. Since I am the small one in this team I decided it was my job to have a go. I was sure I wouldn’t fit but I huffed and puffed my way and within seconds I was through. It was a weird way to spend an afternoon but a fun one. 5 6 8 15
We strolled the parks of Nara and the alleys full of shops and headed back to Osaka.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the trip but I really enjoyed the place and would recommend this day trip to anyone. It was a quiet area so I’m not sure we could have found things to do for more than a day but if you want some peace and quiet this is the place to go. 14 11 signature

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Living the Monk life – A Korean Temple Stay

7th January 2015

rsz_dsc_0988 As the end of my time here in Korea quickly approaches I am making a big effort to check off lots of things on my Korean Bucket List. A huge thing I wanted to check off that has been on my list since before I stepped foot in Asia has been to do a temple stay.

What is a temple stay you ask? Well, a temple stay is exactly what it sounds like. You book a weekend in a temple and for two days and one night you live life as a Buddhist monk.

I am not a practicing Buddhist but the belief system of Buddhism has always appealed to me. I like that it is mostly about being good to others and about strengthening your mind. I wanted to experience the real ways in which monks live and maybe detox my poor liver a little in the process. So this weekend I headed into the mountains with my good friend Nini who was the perfect partner in crime.

There are many temples in Korea that do these experiences but we chose the beautiful Dongwasa 동와사 at Palgonsan 팔곤산 (mountain) in Daegu, since it was close to home and it is a beautiful place.

We took the hour long bus with our ears popping as we climbed higher and higher into the Daegu skies. When we finally arrived we realized we’d been a bit too enthusiastic and that we were over an hour early…opphs. So we did what any good westerner would do, we drank wine. Yes I realise this is an awful thing to do before a peaceful, clean living temple stay but in our defense coffee was more expensive than wine… I mean, it would be rude not too.

rsz_dsc_0979 After we drank the dregs of our vino we headed further up into the mountains. The temple stay was centered on Dongwasa’s main temple but the space you sleep and do some activities in is housed about a 5 minute walk away in brand new buildings. Don’t worry too much about the ‘brand new’ label since time and care have been spent to make these new buildings look as authentic as possible with good, thick wood carved all around the place. I’d be surprised if they didn’t last for 100 years.

rsz_dsc_0987 rsz_dsc_0999 Our room was basic, which is what we’d come to expect in Korea. We had a private bathroom and lots of bedding for our massive floor beds. It was a shame that the under floor heating was as hot as the sun but then again it is January and every steam, pond and water droplet was frozen solid all around us so I suppose we should have been thankful for the joy that is Ondol heating (Korean under floor heating)

First up were our monk’s clothes. Imagine getting dressed into giant pink marshmallows and you will easily be able to imagine what we were wearing. They were stupidly comfy. So we set off to our first experience, layered like trifles under our marshmallow suits.

rsz_rsz_dsc_1019 We were the only two westerners which wasn’t a problem at all since the lady in charge spoke fantastic English (even if she didn’t think she could). We had chosen to do the structured stay which means we had activities to do instead of just sleeping in the temple, and boy did they have activities for us.

rsz_dsc_1101 In the first day we had tea with a monk, watched a great stop motion orientation video (which they played twice, once in Korean and once more in English just for us two…eppp), we ate a delicious dinner made of fresh vegetables, rice, soup and noodles and had time to wander the forest. This was all in just a few hours. Next up was the 5pm drumming. Every day at 5pm the monks play the drum to sooth all the injured and suffering animals. It was incredible to watch and the sound echoed through the mountains. I’ve seen the drum in many temples but I didn’t know it was for the animals. It touched me to think that’s why they play it. There was also a bell that was rung 39 times for the deceased and wandering spirits, a wooden fish that was played to sooth the aquatic creatures and a metal plate what was rung to thank the birds for their existence. It was a beautiful ceremony and exactly the kind of thing I was hoping to learn about on this trip.

rsz_dsc_1056 Humbled and happy we headed back to learn how to bow. The bowing was the part of the temple stay I had feared and looked forward to all at the same time. In Buddhist culture you do many things in 108ths . The number 108 symbolizes the 108 struggles we face in our life such as anxiety, stress, anger and so on. The bows are quite intense. You stand and half bow, then lower yourself to the floor, place your head on the floor with your hands by your ears, you turn over your palms and raise them up as if someone was standing on them and you were lifting them to the sky, then you raise up onto all fours , sit up straight on your knees and without bending your back you stand up. This may sound easy to read but monks must have thighs of steal because these bows aren’t slow ‘think about your life’ kinds of bows. They are fast moving, thigh burning punches to the gluteus maximus that make it impossible for you to think of anything else but the task at hand….which I gather is the exact point. When we did our bows we had the added bonus of making a beaded necklace at the same time, so every time we lowered ourselves to the floor we’d thread a bead. I can’t thread a bead when I’m sat still for about ten minutes, let alone in-between bowing like a mad man and looking like I’m ‘Hulking up’. By the time we finished Nini and I resembled extras from the burning man. Our hair was all over the place and our skin was a delicious shade of puce. I can safely say that this beaded necklace is now one of my greatest possessions since I worked so hard to make the bloody thing. Those monks are heroes to do that every day….jeez

After all that exhausting activity we were invited to join the nightly meditation. It lasts from 8pm to 3am but since we had an early start (and by early start I mean earlier than any human has ever needed to start) we were only allowed to do half hour.

Meditation has always intrigued me. As a teenager I tried it once or twice. I loved the idea of centering my mind and relaxing but I had never had a guide and felt kind of silly sat in my dark room with my Care Bears bed sheets.

We were taught how to sit before entering and then we sat, quite simply we just sat, for a long time and you know what, all my worries about going insane over the half hour, all the aches and pains from the bows and all my thoughts just slipped away. I spent the time trying to thank each person in my life but I couldn’t tell you if that’s what I actually thought about since it felt like seconds later we were being woken up to leave….that was HALF HOUR? My brain was in shock. It felt great.

rsz_dsc_1081 By this time it was 9pm and we were shattered. For someone who is use to a bed time of 1am this was an achievement for me. We tried our best to get some sleep but the hot floor fought against us. What felt (yet again) like seconds later, we were being woken up…once in Korean over the sound system and then a few seconds later in English…a personal message just for Nini and I to wake up. Not embarrassing at all. Oh I seem to have forgotten to tell you what time it was that we woke up…yes that’s right…3AM!!!! Now I’m not a scientist but 3am does not feel like the time anyone should be waking up. We begrudgingly put our marshmallow suits back on and followed our monk to the morning ceremony. Was it worth it? Definitely!

The walk in the dark, cold night was horrid but because we were a small group we were allowed to slip into the temple and experience the real ceremony with the other monks. We entered the massive impressive temple, did our three bows (which my still aching leg’s did not appreciate) and followed along. The monks sung, chanted and rang gongs to welcome the day. We bowed a lot more but it was so peaceful and humbling that I didn’t even care it was 3am.

When the ceremony was finished, Nini and I looked at it each other (still too tired to talk) and smiled a knowing smile that we had just experienced something really special…..so now could we go back to bed please! Our wishes were granted and we had half hour rest before breakfast.

rsz_dsc_1206 rsz_dsc_1210 I should mention at this point that this food was incredible. It was healthy, vegetarian, colorful and tasty. Not too spicy and full of flavor. Whatever you put on your plate you have to eat so it made me over cautious and probably made me eat the right amount instead of giving myself huge portions like I would at home. Before eating you bow to the food since it is an offering from the monks and you eat in silence. It might have been the tiredness but the silence was great to gather your thoughts. We cleaned our own dishes and then headed back to meditate again. After the night before I was excited to try meditation again, unfortunately I was far too cocky. What had been an easy task the night before seemed impossible today. I couldn’t stop moving. My knees hurt. The clock was too loud. The room was too quiet. Is that an itch on my nose? A million thoughts were in my brain and none were helpful. This may have been because we were meant to meditate for an hour instead of half hour like the night before or that I was over tired but for whatever reason all I wanted to do was open my eyes. Sitting for so long was going to be impossible and then suddenly we were getting called to finish. It is a strange experience being made to sit still and quite for so long without knowing how much time has passed. I think it’s something I’d like to do more but that morning I wanted to pull my hair out. I need a lot more practice. Once that was done it was to the room for another 2 hours sleep….ahhh bliss.

rsz_dsc_1106 rsz_dsc_1165 When we woke the night had turned to dawn and we were off on a hike. We climbed the surrounding mountains just in time to arrive at a shrine as the sun rose. It is the first part of the mountain to see the sun. We could see Daegu surrounded by mountains below us and we meditated at the top of the mountain for a few minutes. This was much easier but probably had something to do with the lovely surrounds and the fact I may have been more asleep than meditating.

rsz_dsc_1133 rsz_rsz_dsc_1127 The rest of the day was spent learning how to serve Korean tea in the traditional manner. The ceremony is beautiful to watch and very intensive. People train for years to do it properly. Nini and I were commended on our tea making ability (which we still aren’t sure how we achieved since we did the same as everyone else) but it was really interesting and another thing to take off the bucket list.

rsz_rsz_dsc_1171 rsz_dsc_1191 rsz_dsc_1195 rsz_dsc_1198 We toured the temple , ate lunch and painted on wood. It was a relaxing and restful day. Once we changed out of our marshmallow suits we brought our bags up to the main temple and were ready to say our goodbyes. We thought that we had escaped a weekend in Korea without the weirdness but oh no….then there was a slide show. Throughout the weekend the leader had been taking lots of photos. This was then edited together with Korean songs and played for all of us to see. If it’s possible I looked worse doing my 108 bows than I thought. Seeing yourself awake at 3am is also not something anyone should experience but it was funny and made us all laugh.

rsz_dsc_1235 rsz_dsc_1239 rsz_dsc_1248 rsz_dsc_1257 rsz_dsc_1264 The experience was everything I hoped it would be. It was in the perfect setting as it wasn’t too commercial or tacky (apart from the slide show) as I was afraid it would be. Everyone was friendly and happy that you wanted to learn.

rsz_dsc_1274 rsz_dsc_1280 If you are in Korea, or coming to visit I would definitely recommend a stay, even if it’s just to get the lovely gifts at the end of the trip. We received beads (that I didn’t sweat over to make), a note book and some perfume that left us feeling happy. They were very kind mementos that I’ll cherish…. Just don’t tell the monks I said that about material possessions …ok?

Have you ever stayed in a temple? What did you think? If you haven’t experienced it is it something you think you’d like to try? Tell us your stories. We would love to hear your thoughts on the concept.

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