As I mentioned in my previous blog, Bali is predominately Hindu and there is a temple of some sort on nearly every street. But I visited only the four most famous and beautiful. Uluwatu Temple sitting far above the sea on a high bluff, Tanah Lot Temple perched on a high Rock about 50 yards off shore and can only be reached on foot during low tide, the Ulun Danu Temple located on Lake Beratan in central Bali, and the Besakih Temple also known as Bali’s Mother Temple, over 1,000 years old and sits 1,000 meters up the shoulder of Mount Agung. The biggest and holiest of Bali’s temples, Besakih offers breathtaking vistas of rice paddies, rolling hills, and meandering streams.
Uluwatu Temple was the first on my schedule. I scheduled my visit toward late afternoon/early evening to both capture the sunset and attend a cultural dance performance that is held on the temple grounds at sunset every night. As you will see in the accompanying photos Uluwatu sits way up high on the point of a cliff overlooking the sea crashing the coast from two different directions.
The temple complex is also the home of a large kleptomaniac monkey troop. There are signs posted everywhere warning visitors to protect their jewelry, eye glasses and wallets/purses. And despite the many signs, I watched as monkeys swiped sunglasses off unsuspecting tourists’ heads then ran off never to be seen again. The monkeys are quite used to people and have no fear of us. They will pester visitors for food and water and when the visitor drops his/her guard they snatch whatever is not secured.
But the highlight of the visit to Uluwatu was the Kecak Ramayana & Fire Dance. This performance of ancient ritual, dance, drama, a sunset and cliff backdrop that combine to make this a spectacular dance performance. The most unusual aspect of this show is that there are no accompanying musical instruments. A choir of 35 bare chested men chanting, grunting and singing provide the beat and rhythm to accompany the dancers.
A quick word about the storyline for this performance and it would seem every cultural performance in Southeast Asia. It is basically the Asian story of Dudley Do Right of the Mounties and Nell. Except Dudley is replaced by a mythical prince and Nell by his princess girlfriend. As they walk in the woods they hear a cry for help so prince Rama leaves his princess protected by a magic circle while he runs off to save the day. While he is away an evil rival for the Princess’ affections tries to kidnap her but can’t break thru the magic circle. This ancient version of Snidely Whip Lash returns dressed as an old man in need of help and lures the princess out of the circle and kidnaps her.
The prince then enlists the aide of the Red Monkey King to win her back and with the help of the Red Monkey King and the White Monkey King they prevail. And I’m pretty sure the evil suiter says something like “Curses Foiled Again” in the appropriate Asian tongue.
Just goes to show that there are no new stories just more reruns and remakes of time tested themes.
My next temple visit was to Tanah Lot Temple in the mid-morning. Though I would like to report my visit was well timed by careful research and attention to detail – I can not. I arrived at the perfect time entirely by blind luck. The temple is on a huge rock about 50 yards from shore. I arrived at the perfect low tide so that I could wade across in just 3-inch water. The second part of my well executed plan was to accidentally arrive on an important Hindu holiday.
Tanah Lot Temple
So, I had the good fortune to observe the Hindu Holy Men preparing the Temple for the ceremony and then watch as the faithful entered the open air shrine to be blessed. One of the Holy Men noticed me and motioned for me to join them at the sacred spring and offered to bless me.
So as they say, When in Rome…, I followed the procedure I had watched the faithful enact and washed my face from the cool water of the fresh water spring. The Holy Man then used a hollow stick to shake some incense and a liquid on my head and shoulders, dipped his thumb into a bowl of uncooked wet rice and placed his rice covered thumb to the center of my forehead and said some magic Hindu words like “Another Jack Ass Bulu corrupting our sacred sites forgive him Lord Shiva”. Then his assistant placed a flower over my ear and asked for a donation. And I felt blessed!
And while all this was occurring the tide was coming back in and the 3-inch crossing had turned into a knee-deep crossing on the return trip. I’ve included a lot of photos from this Temple because the setting and the people’s dress were so beautiful and interesting.
Next on my schedule was the Ulun Danu Temple on the shore of the picturesque Lake Batetan in the Bali Highlands. I should probably mention that when I refer to a Temple this isn’t exactly correct. These are all huge Temple complexes with multiple temples and shrines.
What makes Ulun Danu so interesting is the combination of the temple’s (built on the water’s edge) reflection on the clear calm lake surface that gives the Temple an almost floating appearance. And the scenic backdrop of the surrounding mountains.
BTW I had my first taste of Duck Betutu in the Temple Restaurant. Simply incredible edibles!!!
Besakih Temple Complex
My final Bali Temple visit was to the Besakih Temple Complex high up on the Shoulder of Mount Agung. As I mentioned before, Besakih is considered the Mother Temple. The temple complex has 23 separate but related temples but the largest and most important is Pura Penataran Agung. This temple is built on six levels up the terraced slope and overlooks miles upon miles of rice terraces, rolling hills and fast flowing streams.
If you look closely at the temple photos you will notice that in at least one temple I am decked out in a sarong and official Balinese Hat. Visitors to Hindu temples are required to wear long pants and shirts that cover the shoulders. And I had worn shorts that day so I bought a sarong to cover up.
I visited two Palaces and have included photos from the Water Palace up near the Besakih Temple. The Taman Tirtagangga Water Palace must have been quite the engineering and construction marvel of its day. And all for the private enjoyment of one man. Beautiful ponds were strategically constructed to offer fantastic views of the rolling hills and valleys below while offering plenty of eye candy within the water palace. Intricately designed fountains, lush gardens, statues, and most interesting – stones placed in wandering patterns throughout the pond allowing the king to stroll over the water and ponder the problems of the day or maybe decide which of his many wives and concubines he would later invite to join him for his evening’s entertainment.
I’ve already talked about the first cultural dance I watched at the Uluwatu Temple. I attended a second dance performance in Puri Saren Royal Palace courtyard in Ubud. Exact same storyline (Dudley Do Right (Prince Rami saves the day) but this time the dance is to actual musical instruments. No piano or guitars though – all drums, metal kettle looking things played with little golden hammers, flutes, and strange stringed instruments.
This dance seemed to be a little smoother and appealing to the eye. The first performance accompanied by chanting men seemed choppy and less fluid. Most of the movement seemed to be with the fingers and eyes. In this performance accompanied by musical instruments allowed the dancers to use their entire bodies and looked much more interesting. (photos attached)
Finally, a word about street markets. These uniquely Asian markets are a riot of colors, sounds, smells and tastes. Amongst the hundreds of stalls, you can find everything imaginable from toilet seats to authentic hand-made Bali souvenirs made in a factory somewhere in China. Most interesting are the food stalls. You can walk from stall to stall grazing on all sorts of meats cooked over small charcoal grills on spits, fresh fruits of all sorts to be eaten or pressed into a juice or a smoothie, veggies both raw and cooked, and of course rice and noodles galore.
I think to get the most out of the experience you need to throw caution to the wind and try things you would never try at home. Fried grasshopper – sure why not? Chicken guts – taste like chicken and a bit like chicken sh_t!, deep fried scorpion – breakfast of champions. But as I tried all this crap I couldn’t help remembering what a Chinese guide told me in 2017. He said, “Yuk we don’t eat that crap – we just sell it to the western tourists”.
That is all from Beautiful and Exotic Bali – Next stop Java! See you there.