Aman offers a luxury train journey to Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple


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(CNN) – Sitting inside an elegant train carriage lined with traditional Javanese batik tapestries, paintings and books, passengers on Indonesia’s newest luxury train surely agree that the journey is as important as the destination.

Why else choose a seven-hour train journey instead of a plane to Yogyakarta, home to Indonesia’s famous UNESCO-listed Buddhist site of Borobudur.

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

With Indonesia lifting Covid-related travel restrictions for vaccinated tourists, Amanjiwo’s staff hope the special rail journeys will attract an international crowd and learn more about Javanese culture.

“Travel by train through Java was launched during the pandemic and received positive feedback from the domestic market,” Jann Hess, CEO of Amanjiwo, told CNN Travel. “The next step is to bring this experience to a wider audience around the world.”

Indonesia’s first luxury tourist train

Operated by KAI Wisata, a top-tier subsidiary of state-owned train operator PT Kereta Api Indonesia, the new train is said to be the one and only luxury rail experience of its kind in Indonesia.

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

Train guests are served Aman-style breakfast and lunch on board by staff dressed in hotel uniforms inspired by traditional Javanese clothing.

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

Newtraveldreams/Adobe Stock

In addition to the wonderful scenery, a major attraction is the presence of the resort’s resident anthropologist, who provides valuable information about the region during the trip.

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

“There are many stories, myths, legends and wisdom we can learn during the train journey from anthropologist Patrick Vanhoebrouck’s lecture sessions covering spirituality, architecture and the arts. This learning will spark curiosity and foster cultural respect and appreciation by the time our guests arrive at Amanjiwo. swap to continue with the discovery.”

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

Meet Amanjiwo’s resident anthropologist

Originally from Belgium, Vanhoebrouck first moved to Yogyakarta in 1997 to work in the furniture and antique export business.

“However, when I was here, I was immediately fascinated by the local Javanese culture, with its unique expressions of performing arts (wayang cycles), philosophical and traditional aspects of life,” says Vanhoebrouck.

He was so impressed 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 for good in 2010.

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

Since 2019, Vanhoebrouck has been working with Amanjiwo to conduct evening lectures and organize spiritual and cultural activities for guests. When not at the resort, she coordinates retreats focusing on Javanese wisdom and healing powers, while continuing her research into Javanese culture.

As the train travels through mountainous valleys, guests take in typical Javanese landscapes — rice paddies, tropical rainforests with rolling hills, volcanoes and important rivers in the background — while listening to Vanhoebrouck’s anecdotes.

Guide to Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world

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

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

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

VIII and IX. century, it was pyramid-shaped, with three main levels around a hill, five concentric square terraces, three circular platforms and a monumental stupa on top.

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

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

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About 500 Buddha statues and 72 stupas — each containing a Buddha statue — are scattered throughout the tiered temple. The walls and balustrades are covered with more than 1,600 panels of detailed relief.

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

“Never before had a Buddhist society attempted to express the entire collection of the Buddha’s teachings in a single standing mountain-like monument, and this is represented by a wonderful and detailed iconography carved using dark volcanic andesite stone.”

As the site was exposed to natural weathering for over 1,000 years, in the 1970s the international community came together to fund a major renovation by UNESCO.

In 1991, UNESCO inscribed it as a World Heritage Site.

The traditional pilgrimage route is a six-kilometer walk, with each level of the pyramidal temple slowly rising through its winding corridors. The tour lasts about half a day.

For those short on time, Vanhoebrouck suggests a “media solution” by getting to know the cultural background of Borobudur temple before visiting the most expressive relief panels on each level with the help of a local guide.

“Take a minute here and there in a meditative state to realize the effort, time and goals of the original builders and the dharma-oriented civilization… by facing one of their 500 Dhyani-Buddha (icons of Mahayana Buddhism) statues. alcoves,” advises Vanhoebrouck.

The upper galleries of the temple have been closed during the pandemic. Until the temple is fully reopened, Vanhoebrouck asks travelers to walk around the temple several times, also called a kora, a meditative pilgrimage that circles a sacred site repeatedly in a clockwise direction.

It’s popular to admire Borobudur from the top stupa as the sun rises “over the misty plains below and behind the two major volcanoes on the eastern horizon,” but Vanhoebrouck believes other times and weather conditions offer their own charms.

Borobudur is popular at sunrise, travelers can enjoy stunning views of the temple statues and surrounding volcanoes from the top of the temple.

Borobudur is popular at sunrise, travelers can enjoy stunning views of the temple statues and surrounding volcanoes from the top of the temple.

pigprox/Adobe Stock

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

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

“It’s a great time to participate with hundreds of Buddhists from all over Asia and the world, with various ritual approaches, chanting and contemplative processions to the temple, and through this, perhaps, to see what the designer or designers really wanted. The builders who created Borobudur at the beginning of the century,” says Vanhoebrouck. .

As for other favorite Central Java attractions to visit, the anthropologist mentions the Hindu-Buddhist temples of Mataram Kingdom –8. The sophisticated Javanese Hindu-Buddhist civilization flourished from the 10th century to the 10th century – and the Royal Palaces (kratons). from Yogyakarta and Surakarta.

“Many springs, hilltops, caves and natural coastlines are still revered by Javanese devotees,” says the Yogyakarta resident.

For those who want to experience rail travel, there are two more Amanjiwo packages 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.