[Text and images. Dan Ashcroft]
It’s chilly and still dark as we amble across the dewy grass towards a wrought iron gate, which is manned by a couple of yawning guards. The taller one smiles, briefly checks our tickets, and waves us through to join a dozen or so other people ascending the steep stone stairway to Buddhist heaven. It’s coming up to 5am and the pitch black of night has given way to the inky-blue of dawn. The temple looms above, but it’s hard to make out any detail yet. We huff and puff our way up the steps as thousands, maybe millions, have done before us, and suddenly we’re there – on the uppermost stupas amongst the famous bells that house a myriad of seated Buddhas.
Minutes later, an audible gasp goes up as the first rays of sunlight break over Mount Merapi to the east – its apogee grazed by a whisp of cloud. As the sun continues to rise everything is bathed in a warm light that turns the bells a vibrant orange. The misty forest canopy stretches off in every direction and all we can hear is the chirp of birdsong. The effect is simply breathtaking – a sunrise like no other I have witnessed, and one I will never forget.
To check it out for yourself, get on over to Yogyakarta (barely an hour’s flight from Bali), where most hotels and local drivers there will have no trouble organizing an early ride out to the temple.