Places to explore and see in East Bali

Candidasa

For many visitors, Candidasa is the perfect blend, everything one would want in a seaside resort -reasonable accommodation, varied dining, interesting sea sports, warm-water bathing, balmy breezes and tranquil nights. It is a slow and friendly place, where you can pass the hours with locals on the streets and beaches, or find someone to take you fishing, snorkeling or diving.

According to legend, the name Candidasa is either derived from word meaning 'Ten Temples' or from 'Cilidasa' meaning 'Ten Children.' A shrine in the eastern part of the village, on a hillside under a cliff, looking out over a spring-fed lotus lagoon emptying into the sea, was founded in the 11th century. At street level is a statue of the giantess Hariti, a fertility goddess, surrounded by her many children. Childless couples often come to the temple seeking help from this goddess. A long flight of steps leads to the upper level of the temple, which contains an old 'linga'. Its 10-tiered gateway is one of the few instances of an even-number employed in religious architecture.

 

Tenganan

Tenganan (only three kilometers from Lotus Bungalows) is an original pre-Hindu Balinese settlement, long a stronghold of native traditions.

Like Trunyan on Lake Batur to the northwest, this small village is inhabited by the Bali Aga, aboriginal Balinese who settled the island long before the influx of immigrants from the decaying 16th-century Majapahit Empire. It might appear to be a stage-managed tourist site but is actually a living, breathing village - the home of farmers, artists, and craftspeople.

The lowland people of Tenganan have preserved their culture and way of life through the conviction they're descended from gods. They practice a religion based on tenets dating from the kingdom of Bedulu, established before the Hindus arrived.

Tenganan origins can be traced back to the holy text Usana Bali, which states they must tend their consecrated land to honor the royal descendants of their creator, Batara Indra. Though Tenganan is today Hindu, it is also unmistakably Polynesian.

Tenganan is a living museum in which people live and work, frozen in a 17th-century lifestyle, practicing their own architecture, kinship system, religion, dance, and music. Signs of the 20th century are a public telephone just inside the entrance, TV antennas on bamboo poles piercing the thatch rooftops, the motorcycles parked outside the compounds, and the occasional tinny sound of a cassette recorder or radio.

Inhabited by a sort of 'royalty' of proud villagers, Tenganan is one of the most conservative Bali Aga villages on the island, and perhaps the only one with a completely communal society. All village property and large tracts of the surrounding land belong to the whole community in a sort of 'village republic.'

Most of these rich rice lands (over 1,000 hectares) are leased to and worked by sharecroppers from other villages, who receive half the harvest. This leaves Tenganan free for such artistic pursuits as weaving, dancing, music and ritual fighting. Tenganan villagers are among the wealthiest on Bali. If you are lucky enough to be there on one of their major holy days, you can see each family's treasure trove of rare woven fabric and gold jewelry being worn by both the men and women of the village.

About 106 families with a total of 49 children live in Tenganan - a significant drop from the estimated 700 at the turn of the century. A council of married people decides the legal, economic, and ritual affairs of the village. The village customary law prohibits divorce or polygamy, and until recently only those who married within the village were allowed to remain within its walls, others were banished to a section east of the village called Banjar Pande.

By the 1980s, this custom resulted in Tenganan achieving less than zero population growth, a result of inbreeding. Mandates from the gods were recently reinterpreted, allowing villagers who marry outside the clan to stay, provided the spouse undergoes a mock cremation ritual from which he or she is brought back as a Tenganan descendant.

 

Iseh

Amid bamboo, coffee, and clove trees sits Iseh, a serene mountain village. Located on a beautiful quiet back road, it's a perfect place to view lush panoramas of cascading terraces of 'sawah', or rice fields, and hilltop temples.

In 1963, when Gunung Agung last erupted, a writer called Anna Mathews lived in Iseh. From her house she was perfectly situated to watch the unfolding drama of the eruption of Bali's mother mountain., Later she vividly captured the terrifying experience in her powerful novel The Night of the Purnama.

Walter Spies, the famous painter, seeking release from his life of notoriety in Campuan, also lived in an Iseh in 1932. In this land of deep ravines, tier after tier of luminous rice fields, and incomparable views, Spies created some of his most haunting paintings: Sawahlandschaft mit G. Agung ('View across the Sawah to G. Agung,' 1937) and Iseh im Morgenlicht ('Iseh in Morning Light,' 1938).After Spies died in 1942, the Swiss painter Theo Meier later lived in the same house.

 

Tirtagangga

One of the prettiest places in Bali, Tirtagangga ("Water of the Ganges") is a well-maintained water garden and pool complex built by the last raja (king) of Karangasem, Raja Anak Agung Anglurah Ketut, in 1947 on the site of a sacred spring emerging from under a banyan tree. The site of a small water temple, these formal, almost Italian-style water gardens were one of the old raja's weekend retreats.

With its shallow pools and channels, pleasant cool weather (500 meters above sea level), few mosquitoes, great beauty, quiet star-filled nights, and birds chirping over the constant sound of splashing water, Tirtagangga is perfect for relaxation. Sitting on the slopes of Gunung Agung, the open-air palace's fabled water basins, fountains, bizarre statues, and figures have been repeatedly damaged by earthquakes. Locals and the government are involved in a seemingly ceaseless restoration project.

It's a sublime experience to swim laps in big flower-strewn pools filled from freshwater mountain streams. Pools are drained on Monday mornings, but are completely filled again by afternoon. You can come and go all day to use 45-meter-long pool and the lower pool. The water is spine-tingling cold, so wait until noon to plunge in.

This area has fantastic scenery. It's a pleasant walk to follow the water source of the pools. Take a dip in the pool when you return to cool down. Climb the hill behind the water palace for about 1.5-km to the village, where locals host the occasional secret cockfight. Come back via the winding road through the valley and see coconut palms, brilliant rice fields, the distant sea, with Bali's biggest and most sacred mountain towering above.

 

Mount Agung

This sacred mountain is to the Balinese what Olympus was to the ancient Greeks-the Cosmic Mountain. The Balinese, who consider this volcano 'the Navel of the World', always sleep with their heads toward Agung. The mystical Balinese believe the mountain was raised by the gods as advantage point to view the unceasing pageant of life below.

To them, it is a central, heavenly point of reference, the geographical and religious center of the world. With an elevation of 3,014 meters, the foot of the mountain stretches northeast right to the sea. To the southeast its slope is blocked by a line of small extinct volcanoes. To the northwest Agung is separated from Gunung Batur by a narrow valley.

The gods rest above the mountain summit, and when they come down to visit the island they reside in Bali's holiest temple complex, Besakih, six kilometers below the crater. When the gods are displeased, Agung showers the land with stone and ruin. Its feathery cloud covered heights are the source of life-giving rivers and volcanic ash, which irrigate and enrich the island's rice fields. The lower portions of the mountain are heavily forested, and farmed up to about 1,000 meters.

 

Besakih Temple

Bali's oldest, largest, most impressive and austere temple complex sits one-third the way up the slopes of Gunung Agung. Besakih actually consists of three temple compounds. It is the Mother Temple of Bali and the most important of the island's Sad Kahyangan religious shrines. It's Bali's supreme holy place, the essence of all Bali's 20,000 temples, a symbol of religious unity, and the only temple that serves all Balinese. It's spectacular!

Besakih was built on a terraced site where prehistoric rites, ceremonies, and feasts once took place. Perhaps it was here where the spirit of the great, angry mountain, which loomed menacingly above the island, received pagan sacrifices. Certain timeworn megaliths in some of the bale are reminiscent of old Indo-Polynesian structures.

Hindu theologians claim the temple was founded by the 8th century missionary Danghyang Markandeya, a priest credited with introducing the tradition of daily offerings (bebali) and the concept of a single god. His son, Empu Sang Kulputih, was the temple's first high priest.

Besakih is a very complex architectural structure venerating the holy Hindu trinity. Via a series of long stairways, the group of temple pavilions ascends parallel ridges toward Gunung Agung, the honored birthplace of Bali's deities, tantamount to heaven. The temple is continually enlarged as municipalities, regencies, and wealthy honored Brahman families add more shrines. In fact, each caste and kin group, as well as various sects, artisan guilds, and aristocratic families, maintains its own temple inside the complex.

About 22 separate sanctuaries contain a bewildering array of over 60 temples and 200 distinct structures (a map is posted at the top of the road leading from the parking lot). Given the Balinese passion for covering surfaces with carving or paint, it's remarkable most of Besakih's sanctuaries are constructed simply of wood.

 

Amlapura (Karangasem)

Some 10 km from Lotus Bungalows is Amlapura, the capital of Karangasem. Of particular interest in this town are the traditional palaces of the royal family and in particular, Puri Agung. A visit will give you a vivid impression of how local royals used to live. The last king of Karangasem also built a number of opulent pleasure palaces - at Ujung, Tirtagangga and Jungutan - for his frequent excursions to the countryside.

The former kingdom was founded during the weakening of the Gelgel dynasty late in the 17th century, and became in the late 18th and early 19th centuries the most powerful state in Bali. Puri Agung Karangasem long served as the residence of these kings, who extended their domain across the eastern straits to the island of Lombok. The puri's austere, three-tiered gate, penetrating the thick walls of red brick, is a notable introduction to Karangasem architecture.

During the Dutch conflict at the turn of the century, the raja of Karangasem cooperated with the European army and was allowed to retain his title and autocratic powers. Puri Kanginan, the palace where the last raja was born, is a 20th century eclectic creation of designs from Europe, China and Bali. The main building with a large veranda is called "Bale London" because the furniture bears the central motif of the Royal Crest of England. The wooden paneling appears to be Chinese work, while Ramayana reliefs, on the adjacent tooth filing pavilion, retain a Balinese flavor. The photograph over the entrance to Bale London portrays the late king, Anak Agung Anglurah Ketut, as a young man studying with his religious teacher.

It was his pleasure to make fantastic moats and pools. Five kilometers south, on the beach at Ujung, he helped design a water palace, consisting of pavilions"floating" in lily ponds, which was completed in 1921. In about 1947, he built Tirta Gangga (6 kilometers north on the road to Culik) as a rest place, where he laid out a series of pools decorated with unusual statuary. It suffered damage during the 1963 eruption, and also at the hands of political agitators during that period, as well as from another earthquake in 1979. The coast road continues through spectacular scenery to the main northern capital of Singaraja.

 

Padang Bai

A tiny, charmingly scruffy port of transit for the neighboring island of Lombok and beyond, Padang Bai nestles in a beautiful bay to the west of Candidasa. The area offers varied and exciting hiking and there are hidden coves a short distance down the coast. The hills behind the bay present gorgeous views of Nusa Penida across the Bali Strait.

Climb the paved road at the bay's northeast corner above the port to visit the headland on which perches Pura Silayukti, once a hermitage of the 11th-century Javanese priest Empu Kuturan, Erlangga's contemporary who purportedly introduced the caste system to Bali. Pura Telagamas is nearby and Pura Tanjungsari is about 100 meters farther along the headland. Watch the fishing boats chug out at night and return with their catch in the morning.

 

The Bat Cave (Goa Lawah)

17 km south west of Lotus Bungalows is the famous Goa Lawah bat cave temple.

The combination of squeaking bats, crowds of kneeling devotees with colorful offerings, burning incense and priests' prayers and bells, make a visit to Goa Lawah during a ceremony a fascinating experience.