After a week full of fairy tale translations, we decided to clear our heads and go for a trip. We randomly pointed with a finger into our bucket list of places to see in Bali and headed to one of the oldest and the most interesting temple in Indonesia – Gunung Kawi. Gunung Kawi is located only 40 minutes north-east of Ubud so there is no need to pack much. Just a sarong, camera, some water and go.
Our first stop at water temple Tirta Empul
Only a few minutes from Gunung Kawi is another beautiful temple Tirta Empul. We couldn’t resist. If you are not like me, you can visit the temple within half an hour. However, if you like to enjoy the mood, take photos and observe surroundings like me, count with two hours.
We arrived at Gunung Kawi around 5 pm. Which meant, we had an hour till the sunset. Sunsets in Bali are around 6 pm the whole year. First, we paid 2.000 IDR ($0.15) for parking and then 15.000 IDR ($1) for the entrance.
To visit temples in Bali you must be dressed properly. That means you should cover your shoulders and your legs. Women and men must wear a big scarf called sarong around their waist. If you don’t have one, don’t worry as many temples lend you one for free. That’s why you should ignore hawkers in front of the temples trying to sell you sarongs and saying you cannot go inside without it.
A really long staircase leads to Gunung Kawi. 315 stairs. Which is 11 stairs more than the longest escalator in Prague underground has. And what’s worse? This one is not moving. On the other side, you have a beautiful view of rice paddies and you can buy some refreshment or souvenirs at local hawkers. If you are thirsty, you should buy a fresh coconut. It costs only 10.000 IDR ($0.70). Same for the souvenirs. Even though this place is a tourist location, the prices are not bad. Just don’t forget to barter.
It took us probably 10 minutes to get down to the bottom of a lush green river valley with one of Bali’s oldest and largest ancient monuments. At the end of the stairs, we went through an embankment of solid rock and entered an amazing temple complex cut into the sheer cliff face with a picturesque bridge over Pakerisan river.
Excited we crossed the bridge and followed the path leading to the shrines. Suddenly, 8-metre-tall shrines appeared from behind the trees. At that moment, you will understand why everyone talks about this place. My jaw dropped, and I went all goose-pimply. Being so close to something so epic was just awe inspiring. There is a legend connected to this pace. It says that all the shrines were built by a mystical giant Kebo Iwa who engraved them into the rock with his nails.
Visiting historic sites in the late afternoon has one advantage. Except us and other 5 tourists, who were leaving anyway, there was no one. The temple was only ours! I sat down on the stairs and was enjoying the atmosphere. Rice paddies, palms, the sound of the river, sounds of birds, sun setting and a thousand-year-old temple. Can you imagine that? Thousand years? It was just magnificent.
What was not so magnificent was the climb back up to the parking lot. The shops were already closed, we had no water left and my strength waned as it usually does whenever I have to climb up the stairs. It was already dark. However, I was sweating like it was midday. I don’t want to even imagine how it would look like if we had to climb those 315 stairs in the midday heat.
A few days later we watched our favourite movie The Fall again. But it was just that day that I noticed something surprising. One of the movie scenes, where natives dance a traditional Balinese dance Kecak, was filmed at Gunung Kawi! Two weeks later we visited this temple again and imagined, how the natives dance there. What a pity, they don’t do this performance there anymore. A similar scene is also in a documentary Baraka. Check out the videos below to see what I’m talking about.
History of Gunung Kawi
History time! This temple was built in 11th century during the reign of Anak Wungsu from Udayana dynasty. They were engraved into two rocks divided by a holy river Pakerisan. Shrines on the eastern bank belong to the king, his wife and to his three sons. Shrines on the western side belong to his chief concubines.
Pura Gunung Kawi is not as famous as touristy beloved temples Tanah Lot and Bedulung. However, if you are in Bali, this place is a must to visit. It’s so different from the other temples in Bali.
If you are not visiting Bali any time soon, I hope that my story and photos remotely took you on a small tour around Gunung Kawi temple.