Short on time and with no public transport infrastructure and no desire to attempt to load to both of us and 2 rucksacks onto a scooter, we organised a car and driver through our hostel.
First stop was Besakih Temple. Often referred to as Bali’s Mother Temple it is the most important, largest and holiest temple in Bali. It is also the only temple open to devotees from any caste, due to its role in ceremonial activities. Each year over 70 festivals are held there.
Sitting 1,000m up on the slopes of Mount Agung it is said that its high location gives it an almost mythical quality. It’s stairs lead up the mountain to its complex of 23 separate but related temples, that cover a range of types, status, and functions.
The largest temple, Pura Penataran Agung (the Great Temple of State), is built on 6 terraces. It includes areas representing the 7 layers of the universe (each with their own shrine) and temples reflecting the 4 deities governing the 4 directions. The complex also includes what is deemed to be the most precious kulkul on Bali (a kulkul is a Balinese wooden slit gong which is used as a signalling device to summon or convey special messages).
While it looked only a short distance on the map it was a convoluted route to get there and took us over an hour, but we still arrived well ahead of the influx of day trippers and it was beautifully quiet. Used to handling large number of visitors it is geared for it and after paying the entry fee you get put on a scooter to take to you to the road end up the hill (you walk back down) and you get handed over to a guide (also included in the price). It was misty which gave it atmosphere.
Our next destination was Ubud, known as the cultural hub of Bali. It was a long slow journey to get there, marred further by our driver getting caught in a police checkpoint for not having a permit for transporting tourists which was clearly going to lead to a large fine in a couple of weeks. Traffic got slower the closer we got as it marked our entry into Bali’s tourist trail properly. It was heaving with foreign tourists and all the tourist tatt and traffic that goes with it. The flipside was after visiting the two key sights within Ubud itself; Saraswati Temple (most known for its scenic lotus pond and ornate details) and the Royal Palace, we were there for lunch and we had a plethora of options. We still chose Indonesian though!
Our final stop for the day was Ulun Danu Beratan Temple. Now firmly on the tourist circuit it was a long slow drive.
A major Hindu water temple Ulun Danu Beratan is an iconic Balinese image due to being located on the shores of Lake Bratan in the mountains. Built in 1633, it is dedicated to Shiva and a Buddha’s statue is also enshrined inside. Water temples serve the entire region and downstream are numerous smaller water temples specific to each subak; a collective of farmers who share the same water source. Subaks have existed for centuries and there are about 1200 across Bali. Within each subak farmers work together to distribute water fairly so nobody is disadvantaged, even those furthest down the stream.
Subaks also collectively organise religious ceremonies and rituals as religion is an integral part of rice farming in Bali. It is believed that the success (or otherwise) of crops is dependent on the gods. Land is considered to be owned by deities and they need to ask permission to use it. To not do this properly brings retribution in the form of pests, diseases, bad weather and natural disasters. While its meaning and relevance is important the temple itself didn’t excite us as much as we’d expected.
We’d splashed out on somewhere nicer to stay for our last night and had booked somewhere in the countryside overlooking rice terraces and volcanoes about 40 minutes back down the road. We had a room in one of the lower cabin, but the main courtyard was like a temple in itself and it had multiple buildings and layered platforms, Buddhas and Hindu deities and incense in the air. It had a real sense of atmosphere and there were people in all corners cleaning and tidying and making garlands, and laughing and music was blaring. It transpired they were hosting a wedding in a couple of days time.
Located down a footpath between the rice paddies it felt great to leave the car behind. Marie hates travelling in air conditioned cars, it’s like travelling in a bubble, we much prefer to use all the senses, and smell, taste and touch. The plan for our final day was to hop back down the island to Denpasar. We didn’t need to be there until the evening so that gave us all day. But before we headed back we had one more temple further west that we really wanted to visit.
We got massages and took a short walk up the road to a nice restaurant that did great food. Meanwhile the owner of our accommodation had got us 2 scooter drivers lined up for the next morning. We had breakfast on one of the top terraces and enjoyed the view. Our scooter guys were on time. 2 brothers, one spoke good English and both were pretty upbeat and smiley.
Our destination was Luhur Batukaru Temple, to get there we had to go through the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces. Comprising over 600 hectares of rice terraces it is lovely view, we stopped there and did one of the walking routes while our drivers got themselves a second breakfast. Then it was onto the temple. We’d absolutely loved the ride there, on quiet narrow country roads in the morning sun and through un-touristy villages. It was a good hour ride from our accommodation.
Located on the southern slope of Mount Batukaru (Bali’s second-highest volcano), Luhur Batukaru Temple is one of nine directional temples that protect Bali from evil spirits. Built in the 11th century, it was destroyed in 1604, and rebuilt in 1959 it remains an extremely sacred site. It experiences the highest rainfall on Bali which has made the temple mossey and surrounding jungle encroaches in bright green. Really quite different to the other temples we’d seen. It was easy to explore without a guide.
We did a deal with our scooter guys to take us on the first leg of our journey down to Denpasar. So back at our accommodation we packed up and checked out. Our big rucksacks far from full we managed to ram our daysacks into them so we could just put everything on our backs. We’d asked to be dropped at Taman Ayun temple so the journey was a straight line south down the main road. It was quite a different experience, but no less fun. We had a stop on the way at the local chocolate factory.
The Lonely Planet says Taman Ayun temple is one of the top temples on Bali. A large complex it is a royal water palace. Built in 1634 it’s inner courtyard contained a number of meru (multilayered shrines) is enveloped in a moat. It is a very calm and peaceful place and despite being not far out from the tourist areas was surprisingly very quiet.
We had lunch at a street stall nearby. We next wanted to head to the coastal temples of Batu Bolong and Tanah Lot. There are restrictions on ride sharing apps around some of the major tourist sites but it turned out we could order a grab car. It was further than we’d realised, as the driver dropped us off he warned us we’d need to walk down the road away from the entrance to get a Grab.
After paying the entrance fee we headed first to cliff top Batu Bolong Temple, a small temple sat atop a sea carved archway from the land. The area between it and the more famous Tanah Lot (temple on an island rock that can be walked to at low tide) is a park so we enjoyed some relax time on the grass.
Our next intended hop was to down to Kuta beach in Denpasar for sunset, in touching distance of the airport. It was only as we walked out of the temple complex that we realised that we were still a way out of town, it was rather quiet and rural. We walked past the first few taxi touts but as we started to get further away from the temple and the road was getting quieter we decided that might be a good idea after all. It took maybe half an hour to hit the edge of Denpasar’s infamous traffic. We sat in it not moving at all. However it also meant there was life and our Gojek app was showing plenty of scooters. Our driver agreed with us that it was a good idea we part company and continue on scooters.
We hit ‘order’ on the app together picking the Hard Rock cafe as the destination. Emma’s scooter turned up just before Marie’s left so as usual we got the drivers to confirm with each other that they were both going to the same place. It was a long way, a good hour even on a scooter. Marie got a young guy who was very confident in both knowing the best routes to take – she went down the footpath through many a rice paddy through Canggu, down the pavements in Seminayak, every small gap to pass was taken. It was an exhilarating ride. She was convinced she’d be waiting at least 15 minutes for Emma so when she got off and was paying the guy she was gobsmacked when Emma strolled up and said she’d been there for 15 minutes! How that is even possible is beyond belief and Emma had been almost to the airport before looping back! Adrenalin was pumping though, she was shaking.
We crossed through the traffic and just caught the sunset. With Emma still shaking/buzzing we decided to explore the nearby streets as we still had a little time. We found a coffee/cocktail cart. That suited both of us perfectly and the young guy that owned it was really friendly. It was the perfect note to finish on. Emma needed a drink to calm down after the ride. All that was left was to walk a little way from the choked streets and order scooters one last time to the airport. Now it had gone dark it was a real assault on the senses and a gave a final taste of Asia for a while.
Our day of hopping down from the center of the island (mostly on the back of scooter), was absolutely the best way to end an awesome mini-adventure.
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