Monday, November 30, 2009

Cultural Bali: Terraced Rice Fields and Temples

After we toured the beautiful Ulun Danu Batar lake temple we decided to hire a driver and see other temples in the area later that week. We were excited by the idea of walking through the famous Balinese terraced rice fields to reach some of the temples, but what we didn't expect was how overwhelmingly beautiful the rice fields were.
First we visited the famous elephant cave at Goa Gajah.
The temple grounds date back to the 11th century and was originally built for Hindu priests.The big attraction at Goa Gojah is the elephant cave, an ominous cave carved out of a hillside by Hindu priest with a crazy stone entrance.The cave was built as a place for priest to contemplate death. It was dark inside the cave with fertility relics and a statue of Ganesha.Worshipers come to visit the cave and take holy water from the temple spring.Goa Gojah was a nice temple, but I guess we were distracted by our irritation after being harassed into buying sarongs to cover our legs by our driver and sarong merchants at the top of the temple. Telling us that it is necessary, shows we are respectful, and that we won't be allowed into the temple in our shorts. And what do we see when we get to the temple grounds? Tourist in shorts. Not us...Next we drove up the road to the Gunung Kawi Rock Temple. A temple we had to walk down through the rice fields to visit.We walked down stone steps pass small merchants, most of which weren't open yet and out onto a hillside cliff out towards the terraced rice fields, lush green rice fields.We continued along the stone path towards the temple entrance with our mouths wide open by the shear beauty of this place!We wandered around the rice fields soaking in the serene surroundings.We captured some amazing images of dragon flies. The dragon flies in Vietnam were green. The dragon flies in Thailand were blue, and the dragon flies in Bali were red.
We quickly made our way down into the temple.
The temple grounds were spread out along the bottom of the terraced fields along a quiet creek, with endless nooks and crannies to explore which were mysterious, eerie and solemn, especially since we were the only people there.We soon came upon a set of the rock-cut shrines carved right into the cliff. The carved monuments are said to be dedicated to an ancient king and his queens. We assume these petite ones are his queensAnd these larger ones must be the ancient king's We then wandered down to the stream and along some more rice fieldsWith other temples waiting for our exploration we walked back over the bridge and up through the rice fields. The next temple was the Tampak Siring Holy Spring Temple.Tampak Siring Holy Spring Temple was vastly different to the Gunung Kawi Rock Temple. The atmosphere at the Holy Spring Temple was lively and festive.Tampak Siring is a colorful temple centered around a bubbling holy hot spring and cleansing pool where locals come to take in the holy water and pray.Next we were headed to Mt. Agung, the famous volcano in the middle of the island for amazing views of Bali, but after all the temple hopping we needed a snack.Just a short drive up towards the volcano and the weather changed dramatically from sunny and warm to cold, stormy and rain, but the view of the lake and area below was beautiful.And of course for one last view of those amazing rice fields!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Lake Temple: Ulun Danu Batur

Temples are everywhere in Bali. A part of every day life and the temples in Bali are uniquely Bali. As we made our way towards the center of Bali, we decided to visit one of the larger temples set along the edge of Lake Batur - Ulun Danu Batur.The beautiful lake side temple was serene and breath taking.As we drove from the coastal edge of Bali inland, the weather changed and by the time we reached the volcanic mountain where the temple lies it began to rain heavily. We simply did what everyone does in Asia during rain storms we found shelter under a massive rain platform and waited it out.Soon the rain stopped and the sun came out, but we could see the clouds slowly moving in ready for another downpour, so we quickly, yet slowly explored the temple grounds. Many temples in Bali do not allow foreigners or non-Balinese due to impolite behavior during funeral processions and services. But Ulun Danu Batur was open to foreigners with a few rules
We walked around the temple grounds towards a temple just outside the main temple gates which housed deities wrapped in colorful cloth.
We wandered around the lush temple groundsadmired the stone architectureand enjoyed the festive atmosphere
One of the attractions foreigners can take part in are burial ceremonies and funeral processions. We're not sure of the significance and how often these occur, but tours were offered everywhere. We however were lucky enough to witness the procession while visiting the Ulun Danu Batar temple.The Ulun Danu Batar Lake Temple was fascinating, beautiful, and a cultural experience we will not forget.