The word ‘Bali’ typically evokes images of the beach, of pristine blue and turquoise water along stunning tropical beaches, swaying coconut trees in the tropical sunshine.
But there’s more to Bali than the beach.
Unlike many other beach destinations, I think the best bits of Bali are actually inland, away from the beach and the crowds. Spend a little time probing and exploring and Bali offers you a glimpse of her treasures, countless shrines and ancient temples, bucolic rice paddies and terraces on the hills, a laid back rustic pace of life and seemingly unending culinary treats.
Whilst other tropical islands typically garner adjectives like ‘tropical paradise’, ‘sun-drenched’, ‘relaxing’, ‘luxury’, ‘laid back’, Bali has all that and adds ‘mysterious’, ‘spiritual’ and ‘magical’ to its list of superlatives. The ‘Land of a Thousand Temples’ is not completely accurate, there are actually tens of thousands of temples in Bali, more than houses in fact, a legacy of kingdoms past and human occupation since the Stone Age. Stepping into any of the temples is a journey back in time, moss covered stones and walls hint at the age of these structures, at once enigmatic and peaceful. One does not have to be a believer in the Balinese Hindu religion to appreciate the immense sense of calm these ancient structures offer. Where Angkor Wat in Cambodia impresses by its sheer scale, the temples or Puras in Bali does quite the opposite, they are often small, and tucked into every single corner of the volcanic island. Some of them almost feel like family shrines, intimate and cosy. Statues of hindu gods and goddesses adorn the walls, carved out of black volcanic rock.
View of Ubud river from Uma Ubud
One of the more spectacular temples in Bali is the Pura Tirta Empul or Temple of the Holy Water. Its sacred spring, said the have curative properties, has drawn devotees for over a thousand years. Legend has it that the sacred spring was created by the God Indra. His forces poisoned by Mayadanawa, a cruel king and dark sorcerer, Indra stabbed the ground with his flag pole, creating an eternal wellspring, the spring water curing his men of their illnesses.
Current day devotees still continue this tradition of bathing in the sacred spring, to wash away bad spirits and physical ailments. In a large rectangular stone pool, fed by 12 fountains from the water of the spring, worshippers first make an offering at the temple, then climb into the pool to bathe and pray.
Whether actual healing takes place or it is merely a placebo effect, everyone certainly leaves with a slight spring (pun unintended) in their step, their troubles abluted.
Devotees in the water at Pura Tirta Empul
Intricate temple door carvings
Offerings for the gods
Gunung Kawi Temple, an 11th century temple complex in Tampaksiring