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  • Alex Starr

IT SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT


There’s a moment in every traveller’s journey when you think, ‘wow, I’ve made it’.

That lightning bolt struck me in November 2016: Borobudur Temple, Java, Indonesia.


It had all begun in May 2016, when I quit my job (with a mortgage!). I’d been ambivalent with life and, suddenly, I found myself making memories that last forever.


The terrifying (yet exhilarating) journey had begun three hours earlier, at Semerang, a port city on the north coast. 4 of us had booked ourselves onto a paid coach trip, with police escort (‘obviously’ required due to traffic - the windscreen becoming the best TV screen I’ve ever seen) to see the world’s largest Buddhist temple. As the traffic wound around sharp bends, a little red car with sirens enabled us to storm ahead; at points, I thought we would shoot over the cliff and be swallowed up by the surrounding palm trees and rainforest.


Monsoon clouds filled the sky: the start of wet season. Finally, we arrived and our guide, Fatau, handed us stylish, blue plastic ponchos. The moment the door opened, so did the heavens.


The monsoon rain pelted down, rebounding off the dark, ancient, grey steps. Thunder filled my ears and echoed in the vast, dense forest that surrounded the 9th century UNESCO World Heritage Site. At ground level, I pondered whether we should even be climbing up the extraordinarily steep steps, but determinedly, Fatau persevered.


I paused, then followed; he wouldn’t risk his own life.


Every great step bore a new, great story. Each perfectly carved panel was steeped in history and as we rose from Kamadhatu (the world of desire) to Rupadhatu (the world of forms) to Arupadhatu (the world of formlessness), via 9 stacked platforms, tales streamed from Fatau: self-sacrificing creatures; karma and consequence; Sudhana, the son of a rich merchant who searched for truth.


Finally, and surrounded by large, perfectly crafted stupas, we entered Nirvana – no, not the famous American band, but the highest point of the temple. And, in this magical moment, the rain ceased. I’d love to say that the clouds parted and the sun shone, but no, we were still trapped beneath the dark, grey sky, so we laughed. Whilst others had refused to climb, for fear of slipping, including 1 of our party, 3 of us had reached the summit, drenched, but joyful. We celebrated and could, at last, retrieve our cameras from underneath the glamorous plastic sack that had vaguely protected us and snap our prized pictures of this beautiful religious site.


As I looked around, I realised that I’d not been this happy for many years. I’d broken free of my old life and found my own ultimate liberation from the chains of my old life. I’d reached Nirvana and fully recovered. My trainers never did though.





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