It was bright and early the next day when we took to the roads toward our next agenda located in Klung Kung. We were blessed with some lovely weather after the sky spilled quite a daunting amount of rain hours before the sun rose. It even kind of woke me up in the middle of my sleep. Anyway, with high spirits we set out after a quick breakfast of canned coffee and some bread from a nearby bakeshop.
The thing about our self-made itinerary is that we had very little idea exactly how far apart from each other the locations were. It’s a little hard to tell from a map, but to our surprise every place we visited required at least an hour’s drive from Denpasar, where we lived. We literally drove one to two hours from one temple to another, with roads that bumped and curved rather dangerously, but which our driver handled with much ease.
The Kertha Gosa Pavilion was empty when we arrived. We spotted only the groundskeeper, but other than that we were the only ones there. I kept expecting it to feel eerie in the way that most ancient historic places are, but it was a pleasant sort of quiet that greeted us. It offers the kind of feeling you get walking in a garden during a pleasant spring day. There are pavilions within the compound and a small museum housing artifacts and old paintings that tell a bit about the history of Klung Kung.
Looking at it, I find it hard to believe this was built in the 18th Century. It was built to serve as a place where the king could meet his ministers to discuss matters of justice and the law, like an olden day Supreme Court. They even set up a long table with chairs just to help the imagination going along. Now that I think about it, it’s a bit ironic that this place feels rather relaxing considering many life and death decisions must have been made here in the past.
The highlight of this location are the paintings on the ceilings of the pavilions. They tell the story of Bhima Swarga from the Hindu epic Mahabharata. Briefly, that story is all about Bhima and his journey through the home of the gods, both Heaven and Hell, to retrieve the souls of his parents. Bhima’s siblings come along with him for the mission, and the paintings chronicle the things they see as well as their story. Just like most historical structures and arcs here in Bali, these are exquisitely detailed. And this isn’t even the main pavilion yet. I really admire the restoration efforts the Balinese have put into their historical sites. (I wish I could say the same for the Philippines.)
I know that statue above is a little terrifying, so thankfully Gilbert tried but failed to copy its look.
We walked a bit further into the compound and finally came upon the statue-lined bridge leading to the main Kertha Gosa Pavilion.
Gilbert was probably the most excited of us three upon waking up in the morning. He saw this whole as a chance to dress up in his Balinese costumes! He is, as you can probably tell, a huge fan of Asian culture and so he has a whole wardrobe of Asian ethnic wear at home. Gilbert was “in character” the whole time we were here. He was even stopped by some locals for several photo ops haha!. Frankly his knowledge in conversational Bahasa helped us score a bunch of discounts while we were here. The locals love it when you say thank you to them in Balinese– matur suksama!— which Gilbert had the foresight to teach us. He also gave us a little sample of Balinese dancing in the empty pavilion.
Compared to the peace we experienced in Kertha Gosa, the next locations in our itinerary were the complete opposite, especially this next one. And whew what an experience it was battling our way into Pura Besakih on a Sunday AND on a festival Sunday at that. It feels a little like half the population of Bali was here with us, and I had absolutely no right to complain about all the jostling that occurred since they were here to worship as opposed to simply touring the place.
Right from the get-go, our driver Karyu had warned us about being careful not to be conned here. There will be locals both young and old who will volunteer to be your tour guide at the Pura Besakih, telling you things like how you can’t get inside without a guide or how you can’t go in without a fee. They will call you stupid and make rude comments. These people will keep pestering you to the point of harassment, but IGNORE THEM. Simply keep moving with the wave of people going into the temple. Being tourists, we are not obligated to give donations for temple improvements and the like even if they “demand” money from us. I admit I did begin to doubt the wisdom of continuing our visit because of these shady characters, but it’s a good thing that Gilbert dealt with them quickly and encouraged us to push on since it wasn’t easy to get here in the first place.
After all that, I was very happy we came here because inside was such a sight! Being someone who has stuck with travel agency-prepared itineraries through the years, I don’t get many chances to witness sights like these which are raw and simply stunning in its realness. I can imagine that if I had visited Bali through a travel agency, they probably would not take us to a place like this where it’s easy to get lost in a crowd. I wouldn’t have been able to see any of this. This is a great place for people-watching, if anything else. Each person has a different way of retreating into a space in their minds and hearts when they prepare themselves for worship. Even when it began to drizzle, people were still bent down in solemn prayer.
We marched over to the top part of the compound to get a better look at the temple’s winding pathways. There were a bunch of tour guide wannabes even within the temple walls, so what we did was pretend to be a part of this group of Japanese tourists who already had a guide so they would leave us alone haha! We detached ourselves before we could get to the very top of the compound, fearing that we might have a hard time finding our way back. Standing by an outcrop we were able to get a good overview of the many pagodas (and people) in the temple.
We took another route down as we made our way back to the entrance just for the heck of it, even getting a little disoriented in the process because we ran into a large group of people making their way to the inner temple. We accidentally went into a place that was off limits to everyone, but we managed to snap a few pictures before we were asked to exit the area. Oops and yay?
The pagodas are really quite a sight. Just look at how tall and imposing they all are!
All in all I have zero regrets about visiting this temple. It gave me such an experience to write about! I would most certainly recommend paying a visit here if you’re curious about how the Hindus worship. Just make sure to wear a sarong and do be silent and respectful while here. Of course, also pay attention to your belongings and the people around you. Try to walk as fast as you can as you make yourself into the temple gates so that the men who insist to be your guides can leave you alone sooner rather than later.
And by the way, I loved seeing the colours of the clothes the Balinese wore that matched with their equally colourful woven baskets atop their heads.
So the experience at Pura Besakih did leave us a little tired and very hungry, since it was way past lunch when we met with our driver and rode off. He recommended that we stop by this newly opened inn which was along the way to our next destination. It was nice to get to relax in the air-conditioned car for a while after all the contact with the warm post-rain air and even warmer bodies inside the Pura Besakih.
We were the only ones at the Tirta Ening Agung since it was late for the lunch-hour rush. I can’t say that I was fully pleased with the food, perhaps because we decided to just eat at the buffet and most of the dishes there are reheated leftovers from lunchtime. However we did get to eat as much as we wanted to recharge us (just ask Gilbert with the endless stomach!), and the inn itself was quite charming, with a good view of Mount Agung at the second floor dining area to boot.
After lunch we were off once again to our next faraway location. The drive was characterized by sleepiness brought about by a full tummy, and before we knew it we were bumping heads as we squeezed in a nap in our rented car. Arriving with painful stiff necks, we got out to stretch and found ourselves at the Pura Tirta Empul already. It’s more popularly known as the Temple of the Holy Spring, where people flock for the Holy Water.
The compound is bustling with people, most of whom are either done swimming in the Purifying Pool or getting ready to go in. We followed the general flow of people and soon enough were able to see the famous Holy Water in all its glory. I could understand bathing in it but I was surprised to see some people drinking the flowing water too. If memory serves me right the water comes from a spring not too far away. There were even non-Balinese in the pool as well, doing the ritual of bathing from one end of the pool to the other.
After a slow time at the Temple of Holy Water, we were not expecting to get a cardio workout at the Pura Gunung Kawi but that is exactly what we were in for when we got there. Before arriving at the temple itself, you have to go through a series of stairs that seem to keep winding endlessly down in the same way that the rice fields surrounding it do.
We passed by several souvenir merchants selling many pretty things. The ugly part was overhearing a group of tourists pleading for their money back because they accidentally paid the wrong bill to the seller. The seller kept denying the fact even as they got the police involved. Our driver even tried to help out by translating for both parties but it was no use.
I guess it’s worth mentioning at this point that when you’re paying with Indonesian currency, always take a good look at the number of zeroes on your money so as to avoid this same situation. I do think it’s a little difficult to grasp when you’re not used to currency where a note reaches thousands and even millions, but what can you do? You cannot count on all the sellers to be upfront so it’s best not to make such mistakes in the first place.
Recognize the mask below? Looks an awfully lot like a character from the previous day’s Kecak Dance right? It looks even more sinister against the brightly coloured sarongs behind it.
When we finally reached the main temple complex, I found it clever that the ginormous Gunung Kawi shrines are given that sense of suspense by the mountain rocks that block it from view as you’re standing at the bottom of the stairs.
Walking further ahead I finally see the looming shrines carved into the rock. The best part about it is how the sun shines on top of the rocks like generous slants of golden light. These are actually funeral monuments of a previous Balinese king, along with his queen and children, so it’s nice to see that at least they are getting some lovely sunshine.
Since this temple is located on either side of a river, on the opposite side is another shrine that is similar to this one, only it has a fountain. Lined as well with funeral monuments, these ones are those of another king and his own family and court.
We walked around the compound for a little bit and I saw this funny guy posing for the camera when he saw me facing his general direction with my camera raised. I was actually snapping photos of the river but since he was prepared and all I indulged him haha! He did not move from that position until I was done!
Making our way back up the stone steps, it was already getting late when we left. Our last stop for the day was for a bit of shopping. We did not yet have any loot to take home to our families so we decided to go to the Krisna Oleh-Oleh Khas Bali to get it over with. The place is called Krisna and oleh-oleh actually refers to the huge assortment of things they sell. I love that they have a place like this for tourists to do their one-time-big-time take home shopping.
There are a bunch of souvenir stores in Bali but we chose Krisna because of the good feedback from other tourists online. They have a branch near the airport but this branch was on the way back to Denpasar. It’s a place with a gazillion things inside: trinkets, souvenir shirts, mugs, pens, magnets, whatever! I bought some pretty unique Bali shirts but mostly I stocked up on the local delicacies. (Sorry for the lack of photos, we were in a hurry because time was running out!)
I had no idea what I was buying because most of the goods don’t have English translations, but I randomly asked other buyers and picked out the same things that other people were putting in huge quantities into their own baskets. I bought A LOT of things because I was worried there wouldn’t be enough to give away to family (it’s a habit) and surprisingly it didn’t cost so much. Mostly I bought flavoured nuts and some mini flavoured tarts. All of them ended up being yummy!
We managed to somehow squeeze in a little late dinner at the nearly-closed food court right beside the souvenir store. We had whatever was available, and that meant fried chicken for Marga and Gilbert, and some awesome Sour Veggie Soup for me. It reminded me of the Assam Laksa I so love from Malaysia, only it was not spicy at all. I really love sour and spicy food so this was a good way to end the day for me.
I think when we got back to the inn that night was the best we slept during the whole trip haha!
Here’s a little travel video I made of all the places we visited in Bali!
To see the other places we visited in the video, check out the other posts in this travel series: