Sacred Travel Destinations Around the World | GeoEx
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Prambanan in the Moonlight: A Celebration of Sacred Travel Destinations

By Don George | May 14, 2024

Candi Sewu, Prambanan temple complex, Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia

The search for sacred places threads through my travels. Wherever I go, I seek and celebrate them, stepping stones on the pilgrim’s path.

This year I have been lucky to commune with Pakal the Great at the transporting Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico, and to lose myself in the karesansui koan of rocks, pebbles, and moss at Ryoanji temple’s rock garden in Kyoto, Japan.

Next week I’ll spend a morning rooted among the redwoods of Muir Woods in northern California, and the week after I’ll surrender to the stone-and-stained-glass splendor of Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris. In July I’ll clamber up the rocky slopes of Mount Parnassus to consult the Oracle at Delphi in Greece, and in September I’ll worship wildly among lions, giraffes, and elephants in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve.

Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico
Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico | Photo by: Don George
Ryoanji temple in Kyoto, Japan
Ryoanji temple in Kyoto, Japan | Photo by: Don George
Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris
Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, France | Photo by: Don George
Muir Woods in California
Muir Woods in northern California | Photo by Don George

Diverse as they are in location, composition, and role, what all these sacred places have in common is that they bestow perspective and connection. They inspire us to slow down and pay attention, to open up our hearts and minds, and to absorb the very air that has been transfigured by centuries of wonder and awe.

And in this way, they lead us to look within as well as without, and to find the connections that abide. They inspire us to reappreciate our place on the planet, our relation to the intricate whole, and the inexpressible, unknowable harmony within and beyond us all.

I was ruminating on this and rambling through my old journals earlier this week when I came upon a particularly poignant passage describing the Hindu monument of Prambanan on the Indonesian island of Java, and a moment there that ripples still, like a pebble plopped in the pond of my heart-soul-mind.

As I contemplate the stepping stones ahead, I want to share that passage to celebrate the sacred places in our lives, and the life-expanding moments these places sanctify.


The Indonesian night was so hot and humid that when you walked, the air seemed to part around you, like a curtain of exquisite filaments.

There was more to the night’s dense weave, too—the liquid harmonies of an unseen gamelan wrapped around you, and the spicy scent of skewered chicken sizzling on a roadside grill, blue smoke curling toward a fat full moon.

The moon wove a gossamer scene: people in flowing batiks stopping at sidewalk stands, exchanging wadded bills for charred skewers; barefoot youngsters kicking up dust as they skittered through the streets; men and women ambling side by side, chattering in anticipation of the Ramayana performance at Prambanan.

Two days earlier you had visited Prambanan in the undiffused light of midday — the forests buzzing with insects, the heat bouncing off the hard-packed road and scythe-cut fields — and been staggered by the sight of its main temple soaring out of the fields like a stone thunderbolt carved by the gods.

An American teacher living in Yogyakarta had taken you there, and had told you that the monument was built between the 8th and 10th centuries, when a Hindu dynasty ruled the area.

He had guided you through the Shiva Mahadeva temple, most fully restored, tracing the temple’s intricate, encircling scenes from the Ramayana.

And when you had come upon Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, on a giant lotus petal straight out of Buddhism, you had thought about the Buddhist monument at Borobudur, less than 30 miles away, and about the intricate interlayerings of religious practice and belief you had found in Asia.

Later, in the cool of the afternoon, you had talked about the layers of Indonesian society, and other layers, too — in gamelan music, and ikat dyeing, where the threads are dyed before being woven, and the epics themselves, in which the heroes have vices and the villains unexpected integrity.

Prambanan in the moonlight was an entirely different place, but layered, too — the top layer a festive scene of shouting kids and laughing families and, somewhere behind that, a more solemn place of ghostly footfalls and consuming faith.

On the moonlit stage, seductions and battles, entreaties and flights unfolded in an exuberance of color and costume: the stylized movements fierce, precise, poetic; the music as sinuous and sensuous as the dance — the whole encircling your soul and transporting you.

You thought about the places you had been in Indonesia — the rice paddies and horn-shaped houses of Sumatra; the Makassar schooners in Jakarta’s old harbor, bound for the Straits of Malacca crammed with flour, cement, and timber — and about Bali still to come, all terraced fields and bright smiles in your mind.

Paddy fields in Sumatra, Indonesia
Paddy fields in Sumatra, Indonesia | Photo By: AWL Images / DanitaDelimont
Traditional Batak wooden houses in Sumatra, Indonesia
Traditional Batak wooden houses in Sumatra, Indonesia | Photo By: AWL Images / DanitaDelimont
Makassar schooners in port of Sunda Kelapa, Jakarta, Java, Indonesia
Makassar schooners in Jakarta, Indonesia | Photo By: AWL Images / DanitaDelimont
Indonesia, Bali, Ubud. Tegalalang village. Lush, terraced rice fields and coconut palm trees.
Lush terraced fields in Bali, Indonesia | Photo By: Julie Eggers / DanitaDelimont

And for a moment you did not know where you were, how you had gotten there or why — you were one deep gong in the gamelan of night, one tiny note in a harmony so profound and all-encompassing you could not possibly comprehend it. And for a moment it was enough simply to resonate in the Indonesian moonlight.

As you resonate in moonlit memory, even now.

* * * * * 

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