Cleansed at Tirta Empul

One of the most memorable experiences in Bali was visiting two temples just outside of Ubud.  Kelsey and I started off negotiating with various drivers on the cost but ultimately we choose Made (pronounced Mah-day), who was knowledgeable but more importantly we felt comfortable leaving our backpacks alone in his car for the day.  When you first begin meeting Balinese people it strikes you that so many have the same name.  Finally I realized this was not a popular coincidence and confirmed via google Bali’s unique naming system.  Names are given based on birth order so the first child is always Wayan, Gede or Putu, second is Made or Kadek, third is Nyoman or Komang and forth is Ketut, past 4 children the name order repeats.  There are different pre-fixes for males (l) /females (Ni) but everyone in Bali adheres to this system.  I was baffled by this and inquired with a few different people: Does anyone ever name their child something else?  This question was met with a blank look – NO, no one ever names a child a different/new name.  Wild!!  It turns out that technically, Kelsey, James and I are all second born like our driver, which kicked off some spirited chanting of the name “Made” throughout our car ride.

As we drove out of Ubud Made came to learn that James hadn’t eaten anything yet and advised us to stop for lunch, as how could we enjoy sightseeing if we were hungry?  In the midst of pristine rice fields we stopped at Warung Padi Organic, an outdoor restaurant.  We ate in one of the tiny bamboo bungalows on cushions, feeling like we were eating in another century.  It was such a fresh, healthy and delicious lunch set in the most beautiful place.  And cheap!  Made was right, this was a much better way to start our journey. 

The first stop was the Gunung Kawi Temple, also called Valley of the Gods, from the 11th century.  You have to park up the road from the entrance to the temple and immediately people jump on you to purchase a sarong and sash that will be required to enter the temple in proper dress. 2-3 people accosted each of us, even though I was already wearing a sarong!  Word to the wise, ignore these folks; you can rent the sarong and sash for a few cents at the temple or purchase nicer quality sarongs at the entrance for much cheaper (we were offered 2 sarongs for $5 with stunning prints – Kelsey and I were each mentally decorating our future homes).  Around us Balinese women entering the temple were wearing gorgeous lace shirts and sarongs and carrying elaborate offerings for the gods on their heads.  The offerings are huge woven baskets piled high with fruit, cakes, flowers and handmade ornaments.   I was sweating buckets in my breeziest tank top and sarong, while they looked flawless in their finery and while balancing objects on their heads. 

Finally about that temple… To access the temple complex, you walk down an ancient carved stone stairwell with beautiful rice terraces along the hillside.  At the bottom of the stairs there are 10 shrines carved into the cliff wall (23 ft high) in honor of King Anak Wungsu and his favorite queens.  The carved cliff walls are on either side of a beautiful brook, with mossy rocks to sit on.  We explored the complex and entered “rooms” that are carved out of the rock (with no roof), intended for praying or holy rituals.  It was an extraordinary place, with natural beauty coursing through the center of the complex and the tall shrines casting a sacred spell over the valley.  

The Tirta Empul water temple was a 15-minute drive from Gunung Kawi.  I hadn’t read anything detailed about tourists visiting the water temple (just pictures), so we didn’t have any instructions outside of the dress code.   As we started to walk into the main courtyard of the temple there were a few white women who were hesitantly peering in but not stepping through the doorway.  Their hesitancy gave us some pause and they asked us if it was ok for non-Hindus to enter the temple.  We said we thought it was (our driver would have warned us right?) and we proceeded into the courtyard.  When we got to the sacred water pools we only saw Balinese people going up to the fountains.  We had always planned to get into the pools but not seeing any other tourists doing it and the weirdness entering the courtyard made us a bit nervous – the last thing we wanted was to offend anyone.  As Kelsey and I debated whether or not to get in, a Balinese man jumped into the pool in front of us.  Turned out he was from a different part of Indonesia, where he worked for an American hotel chain and spoke perfect English.  He overheard us and told us not to worry it was fine for us to “bathe” in the holy waters.  With his happy shouts of “Come in, come in.  It’s okay” Kelsey and I followed him into the pool.   He explained that we were to work our way down the fountains praying and bathing at each one, in preparation for the final fountain (which would clean us of our sins).   Almost at the end of the process his sister, on the sidelines, shouted at him; no one was to use the 2 fountains before the final one – those were only for ancestors.   I was so grateful for his instructions, as I would have certainly tried to use the ancestral fountains and would have been totally humiliated (and confused) if people started shouting for me to stop.  Bathing at Tirta Empul was incredible and bumbling through the process with Kelsey was the cherry on top.