71. The Holy

from “The Big O Soundtrack”, Toshihiki Sahashi, 2001.

The remainder of the sights we saw during our big tour around Bali were temples, which is something we certainly do visit an awful lot on our travels. And no complaints from us either as we’ve been privileged enough to see some wonderful edifices and sites in our current journey (as recounted in this International Vagabonds blog) as well as previous holidays during our working years.

The vast majority of Balinese identify as Hindu and Balinese Hinduism also incorporates elements of animism, ancestor worship, and Buddhism.

We were able to take in three Hindu temples across the island and the first of these was Batuan, in the village of the same name. This was a rather quiet temple with only a handful of visitors. On arrival you were gently encouraged to give a donation as you donned a sarong that the villagers lent you as proper attire, and at 10,000 IDR each (which is less than £1) this hardly seemed unreasonable.

Though a relatively small site, Batuan was rather lovely and made more so by the fact that we had the place nearly to ourselves. It was very pleasant to casually stroll around unimpeded by restrictions or crowds and enjoy the temple at our own pace.

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Tirta Empul is a Balinese Hind water temple that has a bathing pool famous for its holy spring water where worshippers go for purification. This temple was clearly much more popular than Batuan when we arrived and there was both an entry fee as well as a ‘donation’ for use of a sarong while you were in the temple precincts.

The temple’s holy waters come from a pond which has a freshwater spring, and when we arrived there were already plenty of people – both devotees and tourists – being purified in the bathing pool. The bathing was being undertaken at various levels of solemnity but even excitable tourists managed to maintain a level of decorum and resist having a good old splash around!

The holy pool itself was actually very quiet and you had to wonder whether in fact most visitors even knew of it or discovered its presence given the evident popularity of the purification bathing pool in comparison.

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Tirta Empul – the bathing pond where supplicants move from left to right as they wash themselves in each of the water spouts in turn. No bubble bath required.
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Tirta Empul – the holy pool which is fed by the fresh water spring; you can see the waters gently churn the silt in the bottom of the pool.

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Finally, Besakih is a temple on the slopes of Mount Agung  on the eastern side of Bali and is the largest and most holy of the Balinese Hindu temples. The site of the temple dates from ancient times and the temple itself has been rebuilt and expanded over the centuries due to earthquakes and volcanic activity. We learned that in 1963 an eruption that sent lava flowing down the sides of Mount Agung passed by Besakih without harming it, which was taken as a miraculous sign from the gods who had wanted to demonstrate their power yet not harm the temple their worshippers had built for them.

While Besakih was a temple that we wanted to see, we were aware that there would be the potential for ‘problems’ based on the background research we always do when planning our visits. Basically this boils down to the villagers living near the temple being very greedy and trying to con visitors out of their money. We knew we would need a ‘guide’ who basically would do little other than just lead us around. We already knew – and Wind confidentially told us as well – we should also bargain hard on the guide’s fee. The temple ‘authorities’ greet you on arrival and their first question is “where are you from?” Essentially this was just to determine your wealth level, as they then proceeded to suggest a level of ‘voluntary recompense’ in your own currency that would be appropriate for your guide’s time. It was late in the day and we had seen plenty on our tour so we played the tiring tourists who weren’t really that bothered as it was time to go back to the hotel, and so we got our suggested fee down from 250,000 IDR each (£30) to 150,000 IDR (£10) for both of us.

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It is a shame that the locals seek to exploit their temple; while it is understandable they wish to generate income from tourism, the way they do it isn’t ideal we thought. Better to have a fixed admission price like Tirta Empul rather than trying to fleece visitors for all they’re worth; it’s not good publicity. There were also a lot of places inside the temple grounds where locals sought to sell food, drink, and souvenirs. To us it all seemed to smack of disrespect for their holy place and their gods in the pursuit of worldly wealth. Hey ho.

The three Balinese temples we visited certainly exuded their own cultural style and feeling making them – like most others we’ve visited on our travels – unique to their locations. In particular we liked the guardian/welcome gates, which were always flat and vertical on their inner edge and highly decorated and ornamental on the outer side. It was a pleasing feature to note and one that has helped to impress Balinese temples firmly into our memories.

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