Balancing tourism, development,
business and conservation at heritage sites is not an easy task.
Indonesia -- Borobudur temple rises in an immense dark stone
pyramid from a fertile volcanic plain, a spiritual monument at the
centre of a battle over tourism and commerce.
have waned since the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s and the
world's largest Buddhist monument with its tourist pulling power is a
cash honey pot in tough times.
But hawker numbers at
the UNESCO World Heritage site have exploded and tourists find
themselves besieged by sometimes aggressive sellers of everything from
postcards to toys.
authorities want to clean up the area with new shopping projects that
critics say are an even greater threat to the integrity of the site in
the heart of Java, Indonesia's main island.
shopping tourism within the preservation precinct of Borobudur is
simply not acceptable," said Richard Engelhardt, UNESCO Regional
Adviser for Culture in Asia and the Pacific.
"The site is supposed
to be a site of solitude and meditation where you can bring yourself
to a point where you and nature become one, and you can't do this if
you are ringed by a shopping mall."
Volcanic ash and
Borobudur, not far
from Java's ancient royal capital Yogyakarta, dates back to around 800
AD, long before Islam became the dominant religion in the world's most
populous Muslim nation.
The monument was
neglected and abandoned for almost a thousand years before it was
rediscovered under volcanic ash and jungle in the 1800s, when a survey
team investigated talk of a great ruin in central Java.
For many Indonesians,
the religious nature of the site is of little importance to them and
this partly explains the planned commercialisation, say some experts.
a Buddhist view of the universe, comprising a series of square and
circular terraces that allow visitors to move upward from the everyday
world to a large bell-shaped stupa representing nirvana.
The square terraces
lie within stone walls carved in intricate detail which provide
lessons to pilgrims through scenes illustrating Buddhist thought and
the life of Buddha.
Steep stairways rise
to the wide-open circular terraces, where stone-lattice stupas contain
Buddha statues overlooking the tropical green plain and its distant
It's a landscape that
evokes a sense of calm, enhanced by the the monument's peaceful, if
mysterious, atmosphere. The detail of the stone reliefs and serene
expressions of the statues add to the effect.
But serenity is
missing in the car park where calls of "Look madame, batik postcard",
"Hello...water?", "Like pen?", "This book", "Maybe later?" is the
typical chorus following tourists.
Dutch tourists Rob
and Angela Joosten from Amsterdam said the temple held a mystique, but
the hawkers were irritating.
"They are quite
aggressive and pushy...Some I can understand, but there are too many,"
said Rob Joosten.
Borobudur is not the
only monument of global significance where tourists run a gauntlet of
But Ken Scott of
Pacific Asia Travel Association said it was toward the bad end of the
"If people travel
around the world to see this acclaimed Buddhist structure you want to
make sure that they enjoy the experience and are not hassled to buy
irrelevant goods or to have the experience downgraded by commercial
elements," he said.
Last year Borobudur
attracted more than two million tourists, mostly Indonesians, as
foreign numbers fell after the 2002 Bali bombings and a wider
international travel downturn.
But the enduring
drawing power of the site and the existing problems have sparked
retail plans that have horrified UNESCO, the cultural arm of the
These include the
Jagad Jawa, or "Spirit World of Java" retail shopping complex and
light rail system proposal suggested last year by the Central Java
authorities and later put on hold after a widespread outcry.
various concepts were still circling.
"The issue of the
shopping mall keeps coming up in many different forms and guises," he
UNESCO and the
International Council on Monuments and Sites, which advises on world
heritage listings, favour some retailing, but prefer a lower-key local
arts and crafts bazaar that would assist and involve the nearby
Current items sold
are mostly viewed as low quality, generic goods that benefit traders
from outside the region.
The issues are to be
considered at a UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in China from
June 28 to July 9.
UNESCO also wants
more emphasis at Borobudur on the historic, cultural and spiritual
values that are often lost on visitors scrambling to the top for the
view and a photo.
director of Tourism Research and Development at the Yogyakarta-based
research group Stuppa Indonesia, said there was great pride and
appreciation of Borobudur within Indonesia.
But she said the
issues at the site partly reflected a disconnect between a
predominantly Muslim community and a site seen as a relic from a
"There is no direct
religious link between the temple and the (Muslim) community," she
said. "If this monument lived in the middle of a Buddhist society I
think it would be different."