Sunday, November 8, 2015

Bali, Indonesia - Part II: A Morning Trek & Sights on the Outskirts of Ubud

(Continuing from Part I In the morning we grabbed a quick breakfast before heading to the lobby to meet with our guide for our two-hour trek amid the rice terraces on the outskirts of Ubud. His name was Ngakan, and in conversation we would later learn that in addition to providing guide and driver services, he is also the chief of his village located in the vicinity of Ubud. At the top of Monkey Forest Road we took a left to follow Jalan Raya Campuan Road, which took us northwest of Ubud's center and along a shaded downhill stretch of road flanked by steep embankments and stepwise sections of adjoined gray brick retaining walls dusted with a thin layer of moss. At the bottom of the hill the road entered a long shallow curve that took us south across the Sungai Wos River and then back north towards the village of Campuan, whose name means 'Where Two Rivers Meet' in reference to the nearby confluence of the Sungai Wos and the Sungai Cerik River. We continued up the road briefly and then pulled into an open lot on the left side of the road to park the car. We walk back across the road and began our trek, the first portion of which was along a concrete path paved with flat river stones that skirted the stepped rice paddies as it descended the hillside.

Scenery on the Start of Our Morning Trek Near Ubud
Encountering Local Villagers on the Trail
The Bendung Kedewatan Dam on the Sungai Cerik River
A Footbridge Over the Sungai Cerik River

Women Collection Sand from the Sungai Cerik River
We followed the trail down to the Sungai Cerik, arriving in the vicinity of the small dam on the river, and then hiked for some distance along a section of trail that followed the river's course and led to a suspension footbridge that spanned it, at which point we diverted to a smaller side trail that took us down to the waters' edge. Ngakan explained that much of the sand and gravel that is used for construction in the area is taken from the local rivers, and that he was going to show us how it is collected, mentioning that the work is generally done by the village women instead of the men. As we rounded a bend in the trail we came across two women standing amid a large mound of dark volcanic sand that had been collected from the riverbed, and were in the process of transferring shovelfuls of the wet sand into a metal basket that was suspended via pulleys from a pair of cables that ran from the riverbank up into the tree canopy of an overlooking hillside. We walked a bit further downstream, where we saw two woman wading in the hip-deep waters of the river with large baskets laden with heaping mounds of dripping-wet sand balanced atop their heads with the aid of a cap fashioned from rolled cloth. With their backs kept straight and their heads held level, the women would slowly squat until they were were submerged up to their shoulders, then would scoop sand up from the riverbed with a plastic bucket and empty it into their basket. Once the baskets were sufficiently filled, the women would carefully wade back to the shore using their hands to steady their precariously-balanced burden, and walk it back to the collection point to be added to the sand pile and ultimately winched uphill. It looked like grueling work, and Ngakan commented, perhaps rhetorically, that it must seem cruel to a Westerner that women should have to do this type of manual labor.

Hiking Amid the Rice Terraces on the Outskirts of Ubud
A Paddy shrine to honor Dewi Sri, the Goddess of Rice
Irrigation Canal Along the Ridge Providing Water to the Rice Terraces

A Village Temple
Scenic Views Along the Trail

The Trail Head for Our Morning Trek 
Crossing the footbridge, we wound our way back up the hillside and were treated to some nice views of the sinuously-stepped rice terraces interspersed with small plots of other crops bathed in the soft rays of the morning sun, which both brought out the richness of the natural colors and cast shadows that added a sense of depth to the scene. Though some would argue that the famous rice terraces of Banaue in the northern Philippines' Ifugao province or those of Sapa in northwestern Vietnam's Lao Cai province (which I would later visit) are much grander in scale, any visitor to the island would doubtlessly consider rice terraces to be synonymous with Bali, as it is a dominant feature of it's scenery. The island's topography of steep mountains and deep gorges necessitated the development an intricate system of terraced paddies in order to support the wet farming of rice on a scale sufficient to feed the population, as rice is the central dietary staple. The system of terraced rice fields is governed by a subak, or water sharing community, which is in charge of the layout of the terraces and the irrigation channels that source them to assure that each of the tiered rice paddies, from the top to the bottom of the terrace (or sawah), receives an equal amount of water. The Balinese believe the Dewi Sri, the Goddess of rice, dwells in each and every stalk of rice, and as such each sawah contains its own shrine to honor Dewi Sri. For the Balinese, rice means life, and has a cultural significance beyond merely being something to eat. The Balinese have three 3 names for rice to denote which condition or stage of its cycle it is in; when still in the sawah it's called padi, in the sack it's called beras, on the plate it's call nasi. We continued along the ridge line, walking amid stands of coconut palms and banana trees on a trail that flanked one of the irrigation canals that feeds the rice terraces, and passing an occasional villager tending to a small crop field. When then followed a narrow dirt trail that snaked its way through some tree trunks up an embankment and took us to the top of a hill that overlooked the river gorge and some gradually-stepped rice terraces in the distance. We strolled past the bales of a Hindu temple and then down the single graveled pedestrian boulevard that went through the center of a small Balinese village, which was composed of two rows of walled family compounds which Ngakan said was pretty similar in appearance to his own village. As we approached the entrance to the nearest household compound, a medium-sized black dog suddenly appeared and aggressively ran up to within about five feet of us, barking a warning that we had just uninvitedly entered his territory. My first thought was that this was a stray, and potentially rabid, dog on the verge of lunging and taking a bite out of one of our legs, and that by this point the dog was no doubt sensing our fear of said impending bite, and the subsequent series of inter-muscular rabies shots to the stomach that would certainly follow for one or more of us. Ngakan calmly told us to just keep walking forward at our same leisurely pace and not look back at it, as it was simply the family dog's way of letting the occupant of the compound know that somebody was out front, and after we were just a bit farther away the dog would lose interest in us and head back home; we would latter have a few similar encounters over the remainder of our stay in Bali, and learn to take it in stride. After leaving the village, we walked through a stretch of grassy field that took in a view of some nearby hillsides that surprisingly weren't striped with ribbons of paddy fields, and then picked up another trail that took us back to where the car was parked. Though I hadn't noticed it before, there was a sign near the start of the trail that we started out on earlier in the morning that read 'BENDUNG KEDEWATAN 1000 M', in reference to the dam we had passed, so I took a photo of it to document the starting point of our trek for future reference if we ever wanted to do at least the first portion of the trek on our own at some later time.

As we drove back into town, we thanked Ngakan for leading the trek and passing on his insights into the local culture, and asked about his availability because we were really impressed with him and would like to hire him for some additional touring. As luck would have it, he said that he would be available later in the afternoon, and also the following day if we wanted to see the sights a bit further a field. I had mentioned that I was interested in visiting the village of Tenganan in east Bali. The village is home to the Bali Aga people, who were the original inhabitants of the island before the arrival of the Majapahit empire in the 13th century; it is also known for its kamben gringsing, or magic cloth, which is made using the 'double ikat' weaving technique and is believed to protect the person wearing it from black magic. One drawback to visiting Tenganan is the rather steep USD $70 fee charged by the JED (Village Ecotourism Network) for a tour of the village. Ngakan mentioned that the village is heavily touristed and also fairly dirty, and that he could recommend a traditional village which lies on the outskirts of the town of Bangli that would be closer to Ubud and far less costly to tour, not to mention much more peaceful given that sees only a fraction of the tourist traffic that Tenganan does. I also mentioned that I wanted to visit the Pura Besakih temple, which is situated on the side of Gunung Agung (Mount Agung) and said to be the most important temple in all of Bali, despite that fact that visitors are normally barred from entering the temples within the extensive complex (some of which date back over 2,000 years) and the temple is infamous for its scams that the locals run on the visiting tourists. Ngakan advised against visiting Besakih, as it was sure to be an unpleasant experience, and instead suggested a visit to the Pura Ulun Danu Batur temple, which is the second most important temple after Besakih and can be entered by non-Hindu visitors. Ngakan then formulated an itinerary for the following day that would start in the morning with a drive to the town of Bangli to tour the temple of Pura Kehen, followed by a visit to the nearby village of Bangli Putrura, and then continuing on to the town of Kintamani, where we would tour Pura Ulun Danu Batur temple after first stopping for lunch at a restaurant located on the western edge of a large caldera that overlooks the scenic Gunung Batur (Mount Batur) and Lake Batur.

Go Gajah's Bathing Pools

Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave), Near the Town of Bedulu

We arrived back at Komaneka Resort and established a time when we would meet up again with Ngakan after our son-in-law would be arriving in from Singapore to do some afternoon touring in the vicinity of Ubud; the itinerary would include visits to the carved cliff face of Yeh Pulu, the ancient memorial shrines of Gunung Kawi, and the holy spring water bathing pools of Tirta Empul temple. Back at our paddy-side room, we packed our things and moved to the upper level of a two-story bungalow which gave us more room to accommodate our soon-to-be party of three. As it was still mid-morning, we decided to track down the driver whose business card we had gotten the prior morning in front of our hotel to check out Goa Gajah temple while waiting for our son-in-law to get in. Sure enough, Wayan was standing near the driveway chatting with a couple of his fellow transporters. As he saw us approach, he smiled in recognition and asked us if we needed transport. We told him that we need his services for about an hour to visit Goa Gajah and, after negotiating the price, he walked down the street and shortly returned in an aged white sedan and open the doors for us to get in. We drove up Monkey Forest Road and circled around onto Jalan Hanoman to head south of town, and then east towards the town of Bedulu until the driver came to a stop a short distance after crossing over the Sungai Petanu River near the entrance to Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave). We told him that we would be back in about 30 minutes and walked over to pay our Rp. 6,000 entrance fee, then made our way down the path that led to the compound's bathing pools, the elephant cave itself and the adjacent Pura Taman temple; prior to entering the compound, our daughter produced a colorful print wrap around sarong for me to put on as dictated by temple etiquette. 

As Bali has never supported any elephant populations, it is thought that the cave's name, Goa Gajah, is associated with the nearby Sungai Petanu, which in the past was known as the Elephant River. The cave is believed to date back the 11th century, and was rediscovered in 1923 by Dutch archeologists, with the bathing pools subsequently unearthed in 1954. The cave is carved into the rock face of an embankment, with the cave entered through the mouth of some sort of creature or demon whose hands look to be held at ear level and pushing out against the surround ornately carved rock wall; the styling of the creature's carved face reminds me of the cover to the band King Crimson’s album 'In the Court of the Crimson King'. The interior of the cave is laid out in a T-shape, and contains statue remains of a lingam (the phallic symbol of the Hindu god Shiva), a yoni (the female equivalent), and the elephant-headed god Ganesha (Shiva's son).

Harvested Paddy Field Near Goa Gajah
The Trail Leading to Ruins Below Goa Gajah
Ruins from Stone Buddhist Stupas Carved into the Cliff Face

An Interesting Tree Near the Bathing Pools

Goa Gajah's bathing Pools

Exiting the cave, we followed a trail that started behind the bathing pools and led past some rice terraces that had already been harvested, leaving behind rows of clumped brown stubble protruding up from the dry paddy beds, and onto a paved stairway that took us down to the Sungai Petanu River, where by the water's edge we could see the pieces of what had once been Buddhist stupas that had been carved into the cliff face. As our 30 minutes was just about up, we walked back up to the car, stopping very briefly to get a closer look at the bathing pools along the way, so that we could head back to the hotel.

On the Trail to Yeh Pulu
The Cliff Face Rock Carvings at Yeh Pulu
Looking Back Towards Yeh Pulu's Split Gate

Detail View of the Yeh Pulu Cliff Face Rock Carvings

Our son-in-law had already arrived in Ubud and settled into the room by the time we had returned to the Komaneka. After a quick bite to eat we were joined by Ngakan in the lobby and soon on our way back out to the town of Bedulu for the first stop on the afternoon's itinerary, the carved cliff face of Yeh Pulu; located southeast of Goa Gajah, the two sights are connected by a roughly 1.3 km walking trail that runs parallel to the Sungai Petanu River. As we opted to drive directly to Yeh Pulu from Ubud, we still had a 300m hike from the sight's main entrance and parking area to the actual cliff face itself, though it was a pleasant in that the trail wound down through verdant stepped rice paddies dotted with rows of recently-transplanted seedling stalks. The mood of the place was peaceful as we did not encounter anyone on the trail while hiking in, and there were only two other sitting near the split gate when we arrived at the cliff. At last we past through the split gates and stepped down onto the flagstone paving that flanked the 25m length of the carved cliff face; several large carved rocks dotted with flower offerings were positioned in front the cliff face, and extended out into the flagstone paving. The cliff face carvings date back to the 14th century and are thought to have been a hermitage. Save for an image of a seated Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Shiva, the carving reflect a secular motif that appear to show scenes of daily life back in that period: a man shouldering a pole supporting two jugs standing near a bejeweled woman of apparent wealth and status; a man standing with an axe held over his shoulder; a seated man with a turban that may be Hindu priest; a figure peering out from behind a partially-opened door with a weapon or some load over their shoulder; a seated man with a spear; a man on horseback adjacent to a hunter raising a spear to throw at a wild boar that has the arm of another hunter in its mouth, while a third hunter grabs the boar's tail and raises his own spear; two men supporting a pole with their shoulders, from which appears to hang two boar carcasses; a man sitting on horseback with a woman behind him seeming to pull the horse's tail taut. At the far end of the carved cliff face, the rock has been bored out to create a narrow stone veranda or niche, with the length divided in half by a carved stone column. We slowly walked the length of the carved wall while Ngakan provided an explanation of what the carvings were thought to mean. After shooting some photos, we walked back to the car and drove northward a bit farther a field from Ubud to check out the next two stops on our itinerary.

The Trail Head for the Hike Down to the Gunung Kawi Burial Monuments
The Irrigation Canal for the Rice Terraces Surrounding Gunung Kawi
One of Two Woolly Mammoth Statues on the Trail
Statue of an Elephant in Royal Ceremonial Garb

Ducks in the Paddy Fields Above Gunug Kawi
We walked back to the car and drove north along Jalan Raya Tampaksiring Road to the small town of Tampaksiring, which is located about 18 km northeast of Ubud. On the outskirts of the town lie the stone monuments of Gunung Kawi, which are perhaps the most impressive of Bali's ancient monuments and well-worth both the 600-meter hike down into a valley formed by the Sungai Pekerisan River along the steep, stone-paved stairway to view them, and the subsequent effort and stamina required for the trip back up afterwards. We parked the car at the end of Gunung Kawi's access road in the vicinity of some souvenir vendor shops stalls and grabbed some water bottles to see us through the somewhat strenuous trek to come. After crossing over an irrigation canal that sourced the extensive system of paddies below, whose channel partitioning wall was topped with its own shrine dedicated to the rice goddess Devi, we began what would turn out to be a rather scenic descent through picturesque rice terraces flanked by palm trees and dense tropical foliage; the path was periodically dotted with vendor stalls, some of which fronted the workshops of the artisans that were producing the traditional handicrafts, and near the top of the ridge some impressive elephant statues (two of which depicting ancient woolly mammoths, and one depicting a modern-day Asiatic pachyderm with short tusks that was draped in regal or ceremonial garb, with its trunk raised and mouth open as if trumpeting). Along the edges of the paddies, numerous ducks that were likely destined to end up on the dinner plates of the farmers and their families wandered about and probed the shallow waters and exposed mud at the edges of the paddies with their bills in search of snails or anything else edible.

The Lush and Scenic Environs of Gunung Kawi
Rustic Hillside Homes and Shop Houses on the Trail

Rice Terrace View En Route to Gunung Kawi

The Entrance to Gunung Kawi
As the trail steepened and wound its way down along the contours of valley, the overviews of the terraces were sporadically bordered by a patchwork of peaked corrugated tin and wood shingled roofs of the structures that we would pass later down the trail. One of those structures was a shop house built into the hillside that was situated at a bend in the trail that overlooked a rather picturesque stretch of rice terraces. The apparent owner/proprietor of the establishment was a middle-aged male artisan who was sitting cross-legged on a woven straw mat placed atop the concrete floor of the shop house’s open patio and carving the surface of a coconut shell with a small stylus or hand chisel as we came upon him; sitting to the side of him on her own woven mat was a somewhat younger woman that I took to be the artisan's wife who had what looked to be an old book opened in her hands and singing a cappella what sounded to be a very melancholy Balinese song. From the walls and wooden posts of the patio, whose slightly angled concrete foundation was nearly adjacent to the edge of the inclined footpath and formed a wedge-shaped platform that varied in height above the path from six inches to about three feet along its length, the fruits of his labor were on display and up for sale to the visiting tourist: painted wooden masks of animals, spirits and demons, some with hair fashioned from husks or plant fibers; wall carvings depicting scenes of daily rural life, stylish renderings of legong dancers, mythical characters and creatures, floral motifs and assorted whimsical caricatures of animals. Smaller offerings of carved wood and ivory were laid out together with an assortment of handmade jewelry on shelves and small wooden display cases placed along the edge of the patio for easy browsing by the passing tourists, with a few larger wood carvings leaning against the patio's foundation to afford closer inspection by the prospective buyers. I walked over to the singing Balinese woman to both be able to better hear her over the ambient sounds of a light breeze rustling through the palm fronds, the trickle of water down the rice terraces, and the hollow scratching of the artisan's stylus against the coconut shell, and also to glance at the book that she was holding. She sensed my approach and looked up from her book while continuing to finish singing the present verse by heart, then gave me a warm smile as I complimented her on her singing voice. I asked her what she was singing, and as she tilted the book up towards me and thumbed through a few pages at random to reveal lines of Balinese script and black and white illustrations rendered in a decidedly Balinese artist style, her husband set down his tool and coconut shell and stepped over to explain that his wife was practicing singing an old Balinese Hindu devotional song. We did not stop long to look as we had a schedule to keep and one more stop to make after visiting Gunung Kawi, but I was so intrigued by the Balinese woman's haunting vocal style and melody that I decided that I would start the hike back up to the car a bit sooner than the others so as to have enough time to capture her voice on video together with a slow camera pan of the photogenic surroundings. We continued down the paved steps, which soon took us through a deep V-shape pass that had been cut through solid rock, at the base of which was a vertical rock wall with a rectangular arched passageway flanked by protective statues by umbrellas that marked the entrance to the Gunung Kawi temple and monuments.

The Candi (Buddhist-Hindu Memorial Shrines) of Gunung Kawi
The Four Minor Candis West of the Pekerisan River

A Glimpse of the Five Major Candis Across the Pekerisan River
The Bridge Across the Pekerisan River
A View of the Carved Cloister Chambers Near the Major Candi Group

The Five Major Candis East of the Pekerisan River

Gunung Kawi's Main Temple

Gunung Kawi is a temple complex that dates to the 11th century and is famous for its 10 candi, or Buddhist-Hindu shrines, that have been cut into solid rock cliff faces; the term candi takes its origin from the abode of Candika, Goddess of Death and consort of Lord Siva, and the rock-hewn candi are something that is unique to Bali. The candi are each contained within 7m high sheltered niches, which having been carved by hand would have required a monumental effort, though legend has it that they were all carved out of the rock face in one night by the mighty fingernails of fabled giant Kebo Iwa.  The shape the candis resemble small buildings surmounted by massive three-tiered roofs bearing nine stylized lingam/yoni (male/female) fertility symbols. Though looking somewhat like a doorway carved in relief, the candis have no interior save for a small chamber underneath it where symbolic offerings are placed. Gunung Kawi's five major candis are located on the east side of the Pekerisan River, with four minor candis grouped together on the west side of the river and the tenth candi located about 1km south of the minor group. The candis are believed to to have been constructed as a memorial to 11th century Balinese royalty, with the major group thought to be dedicated to King Udayana, Queen Mahendradatta, their son Airlangga, and his brothers Anak Wungsu and Marakata; it is theorized that the minor group of four candis is dedicated to Anak Wungsu's chief concubines, with the lone 10th candi dedicated to a royal minister. Adjacent to the main group of candis are a number of cloisters or room-like chambers that have been carved into the cliff face which may have been used as living accommodations for the temple's care takers, or perhaps as secluded spaces for meditation and spiritual reflection. Entering the Gunung Kawi compound, we followed the path to the left which leads to the four minor candis and a pavilion that stands before them. After taking some photos, we continued on past some food and souvenir vendors and across the Sungai Pekerisan River to view the major group of candis, in addition to the rock-hewn cloister chambers and the main Hindu temple. Given our schedule and the amount of time that we had allowed ourselves for viewing the Gunung Kawi monuments, we did not have time to hike down to the 10th candi.

As I had wanted to be able to take some video of the picturesque rice terraces with the carver's wife singing in the background on the hike back to the car, I started the return hike a bit before the others. When I returned to the carver's shop house, he was still sitting on his woven mat and intently inscribing into the surface of the coconut shell as his wife continued her singing practice. I greeted them and begged their pardon for the interruption, and then politely asked for permission to record some of the wife's singing on video together with some views of the surrounding rice terraces, which they both granted with warm and gracious smiles. I positioned myself just beyond the uphill corner of the shop house's porch where the woman's singing could still be heard at a moderate volume and the section of the path leading down to the monuments would afford nearly 200 degrees worth of video panning. As the Balinese woman practiced the verses of the song, I shot my first segment of video which panned from right to left (uphill to downhill), and then did a quick review of it. Though I managed to captured the desired footage (albeit at a fair lower resolution that I would have liked), the light breeze that had nicely taken the edge off of the heat and humidity that prevailed during much of the day created a low rumble that competed with the woman's voice. I decided to get closer to the woman and shoot another segment of video, this time being sure to first capture some footage of the woman on video, then beginning a slow pan from left to right. I was much happier with the results of the second video segment, as it not only captured the woman's hauntingly captivating voice and her facial features in profile, but also the sounds of her husband's chisel as it scrapped across the surface of the coconut shell and a very brief partial glimpse of him early in the video pan across the rice terraces. 

Satisfied with the footage, I walked over to the husband and wife and played both video clips for them, which they watched with smiles and apparent glee as they periodically nodded and chucked to one another, and excitedly commented between themselves in Balinese. After they finished viewing the clips, I thanked the women and compensated her with a 20,000 Rupiah note for her time and kindness in allowing me to capture her image and singing on video, which she received with a warm smile. With a slow wave of his hand, her artisan husband invited me to browse among his carvings in the hopes that I might find something to my liking, and then reach down onto one of the low wooden display shelves to retrieve an intricately carved piece of what looked to be bone or ivory, which he then held out before me to examined. Though I was impressed with the craftsmanship and appreciated the time and effort he must have put into the piece, I graciously thanked him for showing me it and commented on the obvious quality of the piece, but declined to purchase it. (I tend not to buy a lot of souvenirs beyond perhaps an printed destination-themed T-shirt when I travel, as I prefer to use my photos, video clips, and the memories of my interactions and misadventures with the locals conveyed to the keyboard as the mementos of where I've been.) By that time our daughter, son-in-law and Ngakan had emerged from the narrow carved rock pass and were making their way up the path towards the shop house, so I again thanked the artisan and his wife for their kindness and bid them farewell. As I started to walk away, the wife stopped me and reached down into a partitioned wooden display box that held a variety of handcrafted jewelry pieces, and picked out a ring that appeared to have been crafted out of dark mahogany which she handed to me, conveying via a combination of tentative, heavily-accented English and body language that it was a gift for me; I thanked her for her generosity and turned to join the others for the hike back up to the car. Months after we had returned home from that trip to SE Asia and I would begin to edit together my video clips of our time in Bali (the link to which is provided below), I found myself wishing that I had taken some additional video clip of the singing woman and her artisan husband on the trail to Gunung Kawi to better capture the experience if that afternoon. I regretted that I did not get any close-in footage of the man engrossed in his carving as his wife sang, or perhaps some frames showing in detail the illustrated pages of the old book that the woman sang from; I similarly regretted that I did not take any still photos of the couple and the front of their shop house.

A Statue Near the Entrance to Tirta Empul Temple
The Gateway Leading to the Main Courtyard at Tirta Empul
A Woman Making Offerings at Tirta Empul Temple
The Main Bathing Pool at Tirta Empul

Local Kids Enjoying the Bathing Pool
From the Gunung Kawi trailhead, it was roughly a 1km drive due northwest to the next stop on the itinerary, the holy spring at Tirta Empul. The artesian spring is located next to Pura Tirta Empul, which is considered one of the most important temples in Bali, and is the main source for the Sungai Pekerisan River. According to legend, sacred spring was created by Bhatara Indra, the Hindu god of war and weather. Indra had been sent to do battle with Mayadanawa, who was the first king of Bali and said to have possessed mystical powers. Considering himself to be a god because of his supernatural abilities and out of his resulting arrogance, he forbade his subjects from making normal offerings to the gods so that they could worship him alone; the ceasing of offerings caused anger among the gods and thus leading to natural disasters, disease, loss of crops and misery among the people. Seeing this, the gods sent Indra and his forces down to do battle with Mayadanawa, but the evil king used his power to create a poisoned pool which Indra's forces drank from, causing death and illness among them. In response to this, Indra is said to have pierced the ground with his staff, bringing forth a spring of immortality whose waters revived the dead and healed the sick, thereby saving his warriors; the battle between them continued on until at last Mayadanawa was killed by one of Indra's arrows. The Pura Tirta Empul temple was founded in 962 AD at the site of the large spring. The water from the spring wells up into a large rectangular pool that is visually rich with aquatic plant live beneath its clear surface. The water is considered sacred and believed to have curative and purifying properties, and for over a thousand years Balinese have been coming to Tirta Empul to bathe in its waters for both reasons of health and also to spiritually gain merit. Water from the primary spring pool is diverted into a long rectangular public bathing pool carved of stone in the main courtyard, which also contains koi, via twelve fountains. Worshipers who come to use the bathing pool will first make offerings at the temple before entering the water for their bathing ritual; after bathing, many of the worshipers will take home some of the holy water in bottle that they have brought with them. There are inner courtyards that are only allowed for Hindus, with each contain their own pools with fountains providing holy water for cremations or ceremonies for the dead, symbolic cleaning ceremonies, and the like. In addition to the bathing pools, the Pura Tirta Empul temple also includes the traditional Balinese split gates and shrines to Shiva, Vishnu, Braham, Mt. Batur, and Indra.

From the parking lot we walked past some vendor stalls and through an open garden area that featured a large statue that I took to be the likeness of Bhatara Indra atop a pedestal. Passing through the first split gate we entered the main courtyard and made our way over to the public bathing pool with the twelve fountains which non-Hindu are allowed to enter, passing a large rectangular pond containing a large number of koi that flanged a structure accessed by an angkul-angkul gate In the vicinity of the bathing pool we began seeing a profusion of spirit offerings laid out upon alters, available ledges and the floor of the courtyard itself. Arriving at the bathing pool, we slowly walked its length as we watched the local Balinese perform their bathing rituals; there appeared to be perhaps a few adventurous tourist entering the pool so as to experience Tirta Empul like a local, as others in full street clothes carefully maneuvered along the damp and likely slick edges of the bathing pool with their high-dollar SLR cameras held before them and gingerly leaned forward to get just the right angle for that perfect shot without ending up in the holy water. During the course of their bathing, the Balinese could be seen walking up to the fountain spigots and repeatedly dipping their heads forward beneath the flow of water in a rhythmic fashion, suggesting that tradition required that head be dunked a specific number of times, or perhaps in time to the cadence that a particular chant’s lines were recited. The rippling surface of the bathing pool was dotted with individual multicolored flower petals, though I didn't know if it was tradition to scatter flower petals on the water as part of the offering process, or if flower-laden offering baskets that had been placed on the ground had been accidentally bumped over the edge.

Tirta Empul's Primary Spring Pool

Colorful Temple Offerings at Tirta Empul

One of the Ornate Pavilions in the Temple's Main Courtyard
A Split Gate Leading into the Temple's Inner Courtyard
After taking some photos around the bathing pool, we strolled around to explore the other portions of Tirta Empul temple compound that were open to the general non-Hindu public, stopping first at the rectangular pool that contains the holy spring itself and then moving on to check out the other design elements of a traditional Balinese Hindu temple. Unfortunately, some of the elements are contained within the inner courtyard, and as such could only be glimpsed and photographed by peering through the kori agung gateway leading into the inner courtyard (provided one was lucky enough to find the doorway left open, which is normally done during festivals) and beyond the edges of the aling aling barrier (which is the low wall behind the entrance to the inner courtyard meant to keep evil spirits at bay, as they are believed to find it difficult to make right-angle turns); otherwise, one had to be content with simply viewing and photographing what could be seen over the top of the inner courtyard wall, which is usually confined to the peaked, dark palm fiber roofs of the various gedongs shrines and bale pavilions. Some of the bale that we were able to see up close were quite impressive; one of them, with its beams and detailed molding reliefs painted in bright red, dark mahogany, black and shiny gold, and with its intricately-carved and whitewashed flanking statues, was particularly so. As it was nearing time to leave Tirta Empul, I broke away from the others so that I could take a few more statue photos in the vicinity of the candi bentar (split gate) entrance of what was perhaps the temple's jaba tengah (middle courtyard) or jeroan (inner courtyard), whose wrought iron gate meant to prevent general visitors from passing through the split gate and into the courtyard happened to be opened. 

A Guardian Lion Statue in Front of the Split Gate
A Balinese Girl with Offerings Standing in Front of the Inner Courtyard
As I walked over to find a position from which to take a dramatic upward-looking photo of one of the two club-wielding guardian Barong lions that sat before the split gate, I noticed a Balinese family that was gathered just inside the courtyard's gate and taking photos of a daughter, or female relative, who was attired in what looked to be a type of fancy costume with a woven basket atop her head. My first thought was that she must have just performed, or was about to perform, some type of religious or cultural ceremony; my second thought was that perhaps the family would allow me to take a photo of her. I first took my desired Barong shot, then walked up to the next-to-the-top step of the split gate where I waited patiently, with a pleasant smile and camera in hand, for them to notice me and hopefully invite me to take a photo without the situation getting awkward. The family continued to take photos of the girl as they all smiled and chatted happily among themselves, at one point one of the family saying something presumably jokingly to the girl, which evoked a hardly round of chuckling from the assembled group and seemed to be a bit of embarrassed laughter from the girl, who was the first to notice me and very shortly thereafter cause all the heads to turn in my direction. I smiled as warmly, politely and unobtrusively as I could and affected deferential body language by giving an ever so slight bow as if to excuse myself so as to minimize the chance that my presence would be seen as an annoyance. To my relief, my gaze was met with warm and inviting smiles by both the girl and her family. "Selamat siang (Good day)...", I said hopefully using one of the handful of Bahasa Indonesia phrases that I had committed to memory prior to departing for Bali; I would later realize that, as my encounter with the girl at the temple occurred late in the afternoon, I should have used the 'Selamat sore' version of 'Good day', which is used between 3PM and 6PM, as 'Selamat siang' should be used only between noon and 2PM. Everyone smiled and warmly returned the salutation. I then motioned to the girl and said the she was looked very pretty in slow, well-enunciated English, to which they replied in unison and with a few barely contained chuckles in English that, yes, she was indeed pretty. I then asked if I could take her picture, to which permission was graciously granted. As I move in a bit closer to take the photo, I noticed that the basket atop the girl's head contained temple offerings, and that she had some grains of rice, which had no doubt been blessed and applied by a Hindu priest, stuck to her forehead and on the base of her neck, which confirmed that she had performed some religious ceremony. Right as I began to snap the photo she turned her head and eyes slightly to the left, which made the photo look a bit candid, but I did not want to abuse the privilege of being granted permission to take a picture, and did not request a retake. Shortly thereafter we returned to the car for the drive back to Ubud.

Back at the Komaneka, we decided to hang out in our hotel room and get some rest before heading out to grab dinner (between the morning trek and the day's foot-borne touring, which included time spent on the Gunung Kawi StairMaster, we had pretty much had our fill of exercise for the day), which our daughter said was going to be at one of their favorite local restaurants called Bebek Bengil, which is famous for its signature Bebek Bengil crispy fried duck. Sufficiently rested and hungry, by 8PM we were back out on Monkey Forest Road and mindfully making our way south along the often uneven and rocking sidewalk slaps beneath the pools of illumination cast by street lamps and the fluorescent bulbs of open shop fronts. As we approached the Monkey Forest sanctuary at the bottom of the hill, the road became increasing quiet and much less traveled, both vehicle and foot traffic wise, and the street lighting became sparser. As we rounded the corner near the entrance to the sanctuary (I wondered if the macaques were all bedded down for the night, or if the three of us were about to become easy isolated targets for some aggressive monkey pan-handling?), the normal sounds of tourist activity gave way to the gritty slap of our sandals on the paving, the calls of insects and paddy frogs, and the particularly loud two-tone, rising/falling croak of what appeared to be a large gecko in the trees off to our left. We continued along the south leg of Monkey Forest and then left onto Jalan Hanoman Road, where the restaurant sits adjacent to a patchwork of rice paddies.

Bebek Bengil literally translates as 'dirty duck', thus the restaurant is also known the Dirty Duck Diner, and as I would learn the restaurant's quirky name has a bit of a humorous back-story. The husband and wife founders of the restaurant had originally work in the tourism industry, having opened an art gallery in 1983. As the gallery business flourished, the couple decided that they wanted to further develop and diversify their family business by opening a hotel and restaurant. The restaurant had its rather humble beginning back in 1990, with a small menu that initially did not include any duck dishes. Prior to the public opening, there was a fairly large rain storm that caused the ducks in the surrounding rice paddies to seek shelter from the downpour. Unfortunately, the nearest available and readily accessible shelter from the storm was the couple's as yet to be furnished restaurant. When the couple returned to the restaurant the next day, they found to their surprise that the recently-finished dinning room floor was now covered with countless muddy webbed footprints. Hence the new restaurant was named Bebek Bengil to commemorate the dirty duck incident, with the crispy fried duck dish added to the menu as a very popular signature dish. In addition to the original restaurant in Ubud, which offers both seating that affords of view of the paddy fields and garden dinning via a number of bale-styled patios, there is now another Bali location in the town of Nusa Dua, as well as a location in Jakarta. For our visit, we ate in a section of the main dinning area that had Japanese tatami-styled seating from low tables set along a section of raised wooden platform inlaid with straw matting which overlooks the garden; as they did not provide the 'cheater channel' beneath the table to provide bench-style seating for the patrons not accustomed to sitting on the floor while giving the appearance of 'authentic' tatami dinning (as is done in most Japanese restaurants in America), my legs got stiff and cramped during the meal despite my numerous attempts to re-position them. The crispy fried duck (IDR 63,000 per order), which was served with rice and some vegetable garnish and paired with some cold Bintang beer (IDR 23,000 per large bottle), was in deed very good, and more than made up for the bit of leg discomfort experienced during the meal.

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