I had accidentally discovered some years earlier from an earlier bout of pneumonia that deep continuous rest caused the disappearance of quite a number of lines on my face. Obviously one does not require such a painful experience to benefit from the self-regenerating effects of deep continuous rest. The idea therefore is to create a situation where one has no choice but to simply let go of all your cares.
Clearly there must be some criteria. We city types demand a lot as a matter of day-to-day comfort. Cool dry air-conditioning. Good coffee. A choice of perfectly cooked cuisine. Bug-free surroundings that display the same superb orderliness as a French hedge maze. Lush sheets and good bottled water. Things that happen instantly when ordered.
Then there are the usual holiday criteria. Somewhere interesting, preferably a first amongst friends and family for the brag factor. Perhaps somewhere undiscovered, lost, rediscovered, forgotten. Easy to get to, preferably in a single flight.
Borobudur then. For all these reasons, I went there. Reputable airline, check. No faffing around with immigration with fast-track service, check. 5-star service, check, but your only choice therefore is with Aman Resorts in Borobudur. And what a choice it is. The Amanjiwo as it is called means Peace and Soul, but first impressions from a distance reveal a splendid stone citadel arranged in perfect geometry, quite apart from the far more humble wood or brick village structures set some distance from it.
And perfect goes a long way too. Descending down the driveway to Amanjiwo, the driver stops midway and points through the windscreen. And there is your first sight of the great 9th Century monument of Borobudur. A giant jagged black edifice that you can see, precisely between the central pillars of Amanjiwo’s cul-de-sac, exactly through the centre of corridors, lobbies, pathways and the restaurant. Yes the entire resort is built around the view of the Borobudur monument.
Borobudur was highly fashionable amongst the jetset in the 80s and the 90s. And in those days, the jetset were truly the elite of the world – heiresses and actresses all carrying an effortless sparkle, a time when air hostesses were fabulous, leggy and blonde, and first class travel, dare you remember it, didn’t have sleeper beds but served the most exquisite malossol style Iranian oscietra.
All the graces of this old world alas are extinct. Gravity has caught up with the leggy blondes, first class now reclines flat with art deco leather and wood veneers, the jetset are now corporate travellers on free miles, and the supply of Iranian oscietra caviar has finally petered out as of 2009.
But the circumstances that originally created Amanjiwo in Borobudur has left us with a legacy of past glories. Amanjiwo itself now stands as a monument to those sepia-toned days of shoulder pads and big hair. It is a resort not built with removable veneers and modular systems for regular updates of a 21st century sensibility, but with giant blocks of precisely cut volcanic stone to last a lifetime. Nearly 200 staff attend to the needs of a maximum of 70 guests.
And this is reflected in the nature of the guests of Amanjiwo as well. To stay here is to be transported back to those elitist times. It is a hushed ambience here, no shrill voices of kids or women. Sober pastels, quiet confidences, knowing conversations regarding the geology and nature of the Kedu Plain upon which the Borobudur monument sits.
The Kedu Plain sits between two twin volcanoes whose regular eruptions have given the area its fertility for 400,000 years. But the Kedu Plain looked very different 1,200 years ago when the Borobudur monument was built. Unlike most large religious structures, Borobudur was built on an upthrust of bedrock, the gain in altitude positioned the monument perfectly above what was then a large lake 15 metres deep. This then highlights the architectural intent of Borobudur. At the time of its construction, it was a lotus-shaped mandala of carefully cut stone that appeared to float serenely on the lake.
Nothing now remains of the lake but the barest fossils of its existence. Lush forests surround the monument now and bring dense cool mists. A park now adorns the area at the foot of the monument, but today standing here, the mists and the darkness of dawn obscure all. There is no one here in the silence. It must have seemed exactly like this when Sir Thomas Raffles, founder of Singapore and the man responsible for Indonesia driving on the left in the British format, led an expedition here to rediscover and restore the monument which lay hidden under volcanic ash and jungle.
And it isn’t a temple either. A temple is a structure with an interior space, whereas the Borobudur structure is a multi-layered pyramid of stone with access steps and open terraces leading to the top. The Indonesian word Candi (pronounced nearly as it would be in Italian) is most appropriate here. It is a word used to describe historical structures of any kind.
It is thanks to the amiable relationship with the locals that guests of Amanjiwo gain sole early access to Candi Borobudur. The chattering crowds start to arrive as the sun burns away the mists so we depart. The visit gives us a new perspective of Amanjiwo. Hewn from the very same volcanic rock as Candi Borobudur and carved to the same architectural idiom, we seem to be living in a 5-star annex of the UNESCO monument. If emperors of that time had slaves bearing fans and chests of gold, then on that level of comparison this would have been heaven on earth with air-conditioning, a sparkling emerald private pool and marble floors. BorobudurThere is any amount of rural life to interact with in the Borobudur region, markets, local cuisine such as it is. And the natural features are also plentiful. Hills to scale, volcanoes to climb, cycling tracks with little traffic everywhere. I find no reminders of the busy jet-powered world here, cut off from civilisation only 2 hours from Singapore in a place that has retained the quiet forest magic that Bali had lost a long time ago. With an intentional lack of television and internet, the real world is the here and now, the way our ancient barely-evolved senses were meant to absorb.
And so you do what you and your companion should always have been doing. You engage each other in interested conversation, in part because there are no other distractions. You rest deeply because there are no other commitments. There is no sense of guilt in resting too much as there is all the time in the world. And there are no awkward silences because there is so much time to look forward to together with no fear of another pressing engagement taking your companion away from you. With any luck, those facial lines will start to fade away.