Gunung Kawi, Bali – A Step Back to the Ancient

Submitted by indohoyindohoy on 28 December 2010   •  Destination   •  Bali

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I might have the sign of water, but I’m no fish. I too need less fresh oxygen and doesn’t come in a steel tank. Beside the diving trip, I also did a little running around  the places I felt curious about. The second reason I went to Bali, I wanted to see Gunung Kawi temple. With additions to a few recommendations, I popped in the neighbourhood of the temple having to complete yet another great time in Bali.

Travel Indonesia: BaliSeptember 2010


Candi Gunung Kawi

I’ve had my share of temples in Bali, I wasn’t in to having more stock. So I don’t really go looking out for them. There is no doubt that they’re beautiful but I don’t see the reason to see them all especially since I know it’s a place of prayer, it has a basic design, thus making it similar on the surface. I gave up looking for temples until I stumbled upon Candi Gunung Kawi, Tampak Siring on the web. It doesn’t take much explaining to see why I wanted to go.

So I rented a car and drove out to Ubud for lunch and then to Tampak Siring with my friend, Amy. Amy is a sweetheart, she’s so nice, and enjoys taking pictures including me in them.

Getting to Gunung Kawi you must first enter the gate to pay Rp 10,000/person. A small price really, for what you are about to enjoy. You have to put on a scarf on your waist and something minimum to knee length, as any temple. You pay a donation to the lady lending you the fabric. Then you start walking back in time. To get to the temple, you stroll down a concrete path cutting through sawah or rice fields. Because it is located in a valley, you could see a breath taking fresh green hilly topography decorating your walk. At the time, rice fields were green as green can be, and the air was a bit chilly because it had just rained. The concrete path leads you down further in to the valley. Many have said that there are 315 stairs to get to the destination. But who can keep count after loosing your breath so many times.

Travel Indonesia: Bali

By the time you reach the temple, you will enter a stone gate. A small rectangular door shape will lead you to the holly place. It’s considered so holly, you have to bless yourself with the holly water provided at this gate. Out of respect, we splashed a little upon ourselves. We entered the valley and already you can see the carved in temples lined neatly not far away. But before coming to the place, we decided to follow the directions showing the way in.

Travel Indonesia: Bali

First thing you’ll see is a temple. I guess this temple is the functional one. It had fresh offerings and you can see it is the place to pray. We passed it and got to a small rocky gate. It was intriguing since there was a sign telling us to take off our shoes and to be quiet when entering. I don’t know about the quiet thing, but I’m a bare feet fan. So off with my sandals! And we stepped in the small areas that seem to be sleeping chambers.

We weren’t allowed to make noise in the area. So we strolled along the carved in rooms that had like a rocky table inside. I’m suspecting that this is the bed. There were more than 5 chambers and were all covered in moss. The falling water from one corner of the area gave a more connected feeling to nature.

Travel Indonesia: Bali

There are a lot of myths circling the function of Gunung Kawi. Was it a temple? Was it a grave? From what I have read, Gunung Kawi was part of a memorial for the King Udayana and his family. Each carved temple was dedicated to one person. The five was for his family of 5, but the 4 on the west was for his son’s family. I’ve heard of the 10th temple but failed to find. What was unique about this temple, especially to me was, the fact that they carved in the temple shape and not built it up. It was far from what the usual Pura shape and a step closer to Petra, the ancient palace of Yordania carved in to the cliff, sigh …. Dream to go there one day *day dream mode *.  

Travel Indonesia: Bali

 Back to our story, I’ve always wondered why they chose to carve it in. A lot of civilizations have chosen this technique which lead me to believe it was all about efficiency. Man, the economy is an old science. Walking amongst the 8 m sculpture built that sensation of how ancient this temple is. I can’t imagine how beautiful it was when there was no grand entrance at the gate and coming here was basically heading to the rocks amongst rice fields. What I’m curious about is why this spot? Sure it had the materials as big huge rock settings, but why here in particular?

Anyways, we also recognize how it is prohibited to touch the water. It’s considered holy once it’s in the temple area. Walking down to some of the fountains near the river, there were no longer any signs of prohibition. So I guess the water only stays holy within the temple vicinity. And once we saw that chance to touch the water, we did! It was cool and fresh.

Travel Indonesia: Bali

It was relatively a long stay, just admiring the grand feel to it and to fool around with our camera, making still memories. If I had a serious DSLR camera, I would definitely take more time. The details of the weathered rocks were interesting to document, especially since it’s a side of Bali less known. I don’t know why it has been off the radar all this time.


Yeh Pulu

I asked a taxi driver about his choice of an ‘off the beaten track’ option for travelers, he suggested this place. Apparently it’s a lot more on track than he thought but still less visited than places in Bali. To enter, you must pay IDR 15,000/person and wear the usual belt and conditional cloth on your waist. Yes, this is a sacred place.

It was a lovely walk just getting to the carved wall. Not reaching 500 m, this walk is between sawahs, passing a traditional bathing spot, and a slightly lush covered trail although concreted all the way.

Travel Indonesia: Bali

Travel Indonesia: Bali

Yeh Pulu is said to be a hermitageplace located at the Ubud area, not far from the Elephante cave. It’s basically a wall that was carved with pictures that is said to be between daily lives of the Balinese at the time, or a story of Khrisna. No one is certain.

Travel Indonesia: Bali

Travel Indonesia: Bali

The carving itself is only 25 m long. There is a small pond and temple here also, and that’s about it. It really is about the walk and the carving, I guess, to some extent. And it’s a nice feeling to be somewhere quiet in Bali. There is also a small traditional bathing place, kinda like a communal shower where the people bath from the water spring in the area. However, the bathing place is also decorated with some carvings. Of course it’s covered, what are you? A pervert? Hehehehehehe… There were a few older women bathing there when we passed giving the walk a nice, humble, back-to-the-past feeling.


Royal Pita-Maha Resort

This is no ad for this resort. Yes, it is too specific not to be one, but we truly did not receive any money for this. Of course, we didn’t stay at this luxurious den. Are you crazy? I didn’t even want to know the price of the rooms. But I came here because a guy I met said, you can see a view that makes song writers make Grammy award wining songs. Now how do you turn down a description like that? So… I went.

It was getting dark, and the Ubud area wasn’t getting any brighter. Amy and I drove in the Royal Pita-Maha Resort thinking this is one shindig worth a lot of money. It’s a long drive from the gate before actually arriving at the reception table. To be honest, we got lost and entered some convention center hall thinking it is was the front gate. We then asked where the restaurant was… and we walked to this Balinese style door before loosing our jaws.

Travel Indonesia: Gunung Kawi, Bali

We were apparently on the third floor of the restaurant facing a steep valley, showing us cliffs covered with trees and a river running just below it. The cliff edge was eye level, and everything else was underneath. It’s like sitting at the tribune of a stage but this is a valley. And the afternoon mist, ohh…. How soothing! There is no exact way to elaborate what we saw, it’s a matter of seeing it for yourself. It was a bit tainted by the snobby waitresses. The swimming pools and the cottages of the resort weren’t that natural also, however the well designed layout was still candy to the eye. And it made me crave for something sweet to accompany my bitter coffee.

Travel Indonesia: Gunung Kawi, Bali

The apple pie was our friend as Amy and I chattered about the great view. We didn’t have much time, however we really enjoyed it. I’m so glad Amy liked it because I kinda dragged her in to this curious quest of mine.

I know I started on a skeptical side of the story.  But honestly, now I don’t think anyone can have too much of Bali. Neither can I. Especially when you follow your instinct, the roads of Bali will take you on a spiritual journey. I’m sure that anyone that came to Bali knows that the spirituality is far from the Eat, Pray, Love book/movie, it’s a whole bigger picture than that.

By the way, I did watch Eat, Pray, Love. The comment about Durians tasting like bad feet which is actually true (spoken like a true Durian hater)! However, it’s a fruit either you love it and hate it. Ask most Indonesians, they would think you’re mental if you didn’t like it. Vira as a durian lover butting in: Yes, you’re mental for not liking it.

My take on the traveling to Bali part (excluding Italy and India): Bali is that beautiful and I think it’s even more that what was shown. I know Indohoy enforces you to see a whole lot more to Indonesia than just Bali, but pssttt… just between us, traveling Bali is a great sanctuary for any journey in Indonesia.

So do I need another reason to come back here? Of course, namely Menjangan island, Pemuteran, waterfalls, Padang Bai area …. *mumble, mumble, mumble…. Fade out.

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