After visiting the Holy Spring Water Temple, the Coffee Plantation, and swinging by Lake Batur, we continued further East until we reached a parking area for the Mother Temple of Besakih, which is located on the slopes of Mount Agung (Gunung Agung—check out a map of Bali and you’ll see it nearly to the Eastern tip).

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We were entranced by the beautiful selection of sarong fabrics, but having already upped our stock of sarongs a week earlier, we did not need more.

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Ethan had his stash of cars in tow, and we were ready to explore! (and yes, that is a gigantic bruiser on Maiya’s forehead!)

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The Mother temple is located in the village of Besakih, and the local people there have admittedly given this temple a bit of a bad reputation. As we left the parking lot and started heading up the road to the temple, villagers stopped us at a “booth” to tell us that we needed to pay to enter the temple grounds. Now, here is where it gets interesting.

If you read online about the Mother Temple, some people will insist you shouldn’t have the pay an entrance fee at all, whereas others will say you do. If I remember correctly, they told us that entering was free, but we were required to hire a local guide.

Our guide/friend, Dewa, tried to assure them that he would be with us, so a guide wasn’t necessary. They insisted that it had to be one of the local guides, and Dewa and the potential guide battled it out in Balinese. Finally, Dewa said that the guide was asking for 50k rupiah (less than $3 USD at the time). We relented—no biggie. We knew it was bogus, but for that amount we didn’t care to argue it out.

When we were a safe distance behind the tour guide, Dewa told us that the guide had encouraged him in Balinese to get us to pay a higher price, offering to split the proceeds with Dewa (people on Trip Advisor repeatedly report getting asked to pay 200k-600k rupiah). Dewa felt that was dishonest, and refused to take him up on that offer.

Vendors dotted the grounds, but they weren’t aggressive, unlike the guys at the entrance.

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Okay…on to the temple.

The temple itself is built 3200 feet up the south slopes of mountain side, and it is a huge complex of many separate, but related, temples. It is built on six levels that are accessible via towering stairs, so you get a great workout while visiting here.

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According to Wikipedia (our hired guide wasn’t much help) the origins of the temple aren’t clear, but they are almost certain it dates back at least 2000 years. They say:

This Mother Temple is actually a complex made up of twenty-two temples that sit on parallel ridges. It has stepped terraces and flights of stairs which ascend to a number of courtyards and brick gateways that in turn lead up to the main spire or Meru structure, which is called Pura Penataran Agung. All this is aligned along a single axis and designed to lead the spiritual person upward and closer to the mountain which is considered sacred.

The main sanctuary of the complex is the Pura Penataran Agung. The symbolic center of the main sanctuary is the lotus throne or padmasana, which is therefore the ritual focus of the entire complex. It dates to around the seventeenth century.

A series of eruptions of Mount Agung in 1963, which killed approximately 1,700 people also threatened Pura Besakih. The lava flows missed the temple complex by mere meters. The saving of the temple is regarded by the Balinese people as miraculous, and a signal from the gods that they wished to demonstrate their power but not destroy the monument the Balinese faithful had erected.

 

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The entrance to each level is often quite striking!

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It was amazing to view the detail of the hand carved statues that flanked the stairs…each with their own personality!

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Don’t fall!

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Here are some gamelan instruments stored away in one of the buildings. I love hearing these instruments echo through the Balinese neighborhood neighborhood where we were staying, and I wish I had seen them played in person.

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The sound almost reminds me of steel drums…but not Caribbean style. It is soothing and a bit of a surreal sound.

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The camera made the wall below look purple—it wasn’t! It was made out of the same dark volcanic rock as everything else!

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Here is a local girl touting some postcards to Jared (our Balinese driver/friend Dewa is on the left). Jared surprised me when he bought a small stack of postcards from her for $1—he said she was too cute to resist. Dewa said it was a good experience for children to sell to tourists—because it helped them learn English. I had never though of it like that—but I can see his point!

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We worked our way up through a few levels, and were then escorted to an area where a man asked us to join him in a short prayer ceremony. Jared and Maiya kneeled down and followed his lead as he showed them what hand movements to make, had them drink water, and put rice on their foreheads, etc. Ella refused to come even close to the ceremony, and I sat unattached on the end-not really committing to doing it all-but still technically part of it. I admit, it felt weird to me to be participating in a religious ritual which I had no understanding of, and also no belief in. Perhaps this is what non-religious people feel when they enter a Christian church and the people around them bow their heads in prayer?  Except this was much more involved…with ritualistic movements, etc.

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After the prayer ceremony that lasted just a few minutes, the man asked for a donation from Jared “for the temple”. Not a small donation, mind you—but a hefty one. He requested 400k rupiah from Jared, and Jared offered him 200k which he willingly took. Dewa and I were a distance away when all of this went down, and when Dewa saw him requesting a donation from Jared he was up in arms, but the exchange was already done, and he couldn’t stop it. He was upset by the situation, and horrified by the amount that the man had suggested.

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With our donations paid (they got it out of us eventually, didn’t they?), we continued down the levels to reach the exit. Our guide hung around us closely at the very end, very blatantly hoping for an additional tip. We weren’t impressed—and didn’t oblige.

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The final path was bordered by the beautiful penjors that we had grown to love in Bali.

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Wikipedia warns people about visiting the Mother Temple of Besakih by stating: Visitors to this temple should exercise caution as there is a syndicate operating in and around the premise of this temple. They target tourists by offering a compulsory “tour guide” at exorbitant charges. They also perform “prayers” and request for tips at the end of the “tour”. Visitors who decline their “services” are dealt with rather aggressively.

I think the temple is absolutely worth seeing, as it is massive and quite captivating. But you must be prepared for touts and a little negotiating. Since this wasn’t our first rodeo, it didn’t bother us terribly—but other people’s posts online revealed their utter frustration at the circumstances.

After leaving the temple, Dewa dropped us off at a restaurant for some lunch. The view wasn’t too shabby, and the servers whisked Ethan away to keep him entertained while we relaxed in the sweltering heat!

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Next, we went to Kuta Beach to kill some time before I had a scheduled ultrasound appointment (I was 5 months pregnant) in Denpasar. We hadn’t planned on swimming, so we were there mostly for the view and we strolled down their walkway (what do you call this? In Mexico we would call it the malecón, so it’s the only word I can think of!).

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The traditional fishing boats of Bali are quite a spectacle!

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I loved the inner tube rentals available throughout the beach—their vendor’s wares were stacked on a pole that they stuck in the sand wherever they hoped to find business nearby.

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Ethan was happy to be back on a beach for the first time since living in Phuket, Thailand. However, this beach was definitely not the cleanest…

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It didn’t take long before Ethan had waded into the water a bit too far, which made his disposable diaper absolutely useless (and his clothes wet).

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He didn’t mind one bit.

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We headed back to the car (picking up some soft serve ice cream on the way) met the doctor just in time for my ultrasound, and then drove back to Ubud in the dark—utterly exhausted.

If you thought that sounded like a long day, it was!  It just goes to show that you can see and experience a lot in Bali, even when on a limited time frame!

My name is Alisa, and I love traveling the world with my adventurous husband and rambunctious 4 small children. I am passionate about gorgeous scenery, meeting new people, and eating vegetables. Most of all, I love making memories with my family, and I enjoy sharing our travels with others!

One Response to “Bali’s Mother Temple of Besakih”

  1. Nice post, and an experience I can certainly relate to!

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