With so many temples to visit in Ubud, it is best to book onto a tour with one of the many tour operators. Many are local Balinese people with their own small business, and offer excursions of up to six people, costing around IDR400,000 (£23) per trip, for a full day. Tourists are taken out in the locals car to various temples, while being guided through the lands local history. This is an easy and affordable way to explore, however if you are feeling more adventurous, motorbikes can be rented from as little as £4 per day, just ensure you have a route planned before heading out. Here are three wonderful, sacred temples that are not to be missed.
‘Goa Gajah’ Elephant Cave Temple
The elephant cave temple is a popular addition to many of the tours as it is just 6km southeast of central Ubud. The entrance cost is a minor IDR15,000 (80p) and you can take as much time to wander as you like. The tour guide usually gives 30-60 minutes depending on the size of the temple, which is plenty of time to explore at leisure. A sarong is essential but this is one temple that hands them out upon entering. Simply wrap the sarong around your own clothes and return it when you leave.
The entrance to the cave has remarkable carvings of menacing creatures with an eye-catching elephant above the door, hence the name ’Elephant Cave’. The historic name is ‘Goa Gajah’, ‘Goa’ meaning cave and ‘Gajah’ meaning elephant. As you enter into the darkness, the small cave abruptly ends with a Ganesh statue to the left and a small worship area to the right containing stone Lingam and Yoni in honour of Shiva. Surrounding the cave are glorious, tranquil gardens, ponds and water features to roam around freely with admiration under the warm sun.
Among the grounds is a bathing spot with three wonderful stone carved water fountain features. A soak in the water here is said to ward off evil spirits, however it is not accessible for tourists unlike the Tirta Empul Temple. The traditional, exquisitely decorated temples with the nipa hut roof are dotted around the grounds and are a beautiful, unique site to see, adding vibrancy to the setting.
The temple itself takes minutes to explore yet the real attraction here is the beautiful surroundings of lush green rice paddies, grape vines and gardens, and a long flight of steps leading to a small waterfall. The sign leading ‘to the temple’ will guide you to the remains of a crumbled Buddhist temple. Elephant Cave is definitely worth a visit on any sightseeing tour.
Tirta Empul Temple
Better known as the Holy Spring Water Temple located in Tampak Siring Village, around 39km east of Denpasar town, the beautiful temple has unsurprisingly fast become a popular destination in Bali attracting many locals and tourists daily for both worship and admiration of the glorious grounds.
The temple consists of fine architectural detail and colouring throughout with many shrines dotted around the grounds under the traditional nipa hut roof, some shut off from tourists for private ceremonies. The striking holy water fountains are at the entrance where locals can be seen spreading the traditional holy bamboo trays, also known as ‘kumarang’, while preparing for ceremony. Take advantage of cleansing in the cooling water but ensure you bring a change of clothes as you must soak dressed but cannot enter the temple wet. The belief from the locals is that the holy water is purifying to the mind, body and soul. A shower in the fresh water sourced from the springs of the temple is said to eliminate all diseases and sins while giving new holy spirits ahead of their daily ritual prayers within the temples. Towards the west, the Presidential Palace – Istana Tampkasiring, can be seen stretched across the hill. The magnificent house was built during the years of Sukarno, the first president of Indonesia.
During our visit, we were lucky enough to catch a large ceremony from beginning to end. Such strong belief and commitment to worship of the locals here is both admirable and awe inspiring. From the beautiful dress, the scent of fresh flowers and burning incense infusing the air, to the soft music and chants from the Balinese people. The experience was truly heart-warming and simply wonderful.
Gunung Kawi Temple
A wonderful, historic temple, with a glorious setting of mountains and greenery, Gunung Kawi Temple can be found in Pakerisan River, near Tampaksiring village in Gianyar Regency, Bali. The temple is a great addition to a cultural day tour within Ubud where you can wander freely amongst the grounds that can be covered within the hour. Entrance cost is IDR15000 and as with most temples in Bali, it is essential for visitors, both male and female, to wear a long sarong upon entering.
The grounds are surrounded by lush greenery and rice paddies with many breath taking view points along the way. Take a moment here to admire the peaceful serenity then continue to be charmed by the local people making a living selling beautifully hand crafted items as you make your way down the 300 count stairway.
One of Bali’s oldest and largest ancient monuments will be quick to welcome you as you reach the bottom. Dating back to 11th century the 10 ‘candi’ shrines among the grounds are impressively hand carved from the cliff face and measure at a staggering 8m in height. The ‘candi’ shrines are believed to have been built for King Udayana, his Javanese Queen Gunapriya and their sons, Airlangga, Wungsu and Marakata, whom where previous rulers of East Java (Airlangga) and Bali (Wungsu). The four monuments on the western side are said to be dedicated to Wungu’s chief concubines. A small rocky river, hand carved fountains, and nipa hut roofed shrines grace the grounds, beautifully crafted and coloured, and the hard work and attention to detail outstanding. A blissful wander through the monuments, temples and rice fields will likely leave you feeling a sense of tranquillity and inner peace.