Travellers in Bali often seek its iridescent green rice terraces and beaches, but there is another way to explore the island: temple hopping. Bali is home to thousands of Hindu temples with charming courtyards and intricate designs. For the curious traveller, temple hopping can be a delightful eye-opener. After all, each temple or pura has its own architecture, inspiring views and backstory.
Below are seven temples around Bali, each offering distinctly different experiences due to its location, design and surroundings.
1. Pura Besakih
The largest and most important place of worship in Bali, this complex of more than 20 temples is often referred to as the “Mother Temple”. It is located almost 1,000m up the side of Mount Agung and said to have been founded in the 8th century by a Javanese sage. Today, it has hundreds of shrines for ancestral spirits, deified kings and nature gods.
2. Pura Taman Ayun
Vast and imposing, the name of this UNESCO World Heritage Site means “beautiful garden” and the description is apt. Surrounded by a wide, elegant moat, this temple symbolises the mythological home of the gods floating in the cosmic ocean.
The temple is thought to ensure the harmonious circulation of water from the mountains to the rice fields, the sea and back to the mountains. Inside the moat are many towers, some of which honour Bali’s holiest mountains – Batur, Agung and Batukaru.
The complex was also the former state temple of Mengwi, an ancient kingdom comprising parts of the present-day districts of Badung, Tabanan and Gianyar.
3. Pura Ulun Danu Batur
The second most important temple on Bali, it is located on Mount Batur, an active volcano which last erupted in 2000. It is dedicated to the goddess of Lake Batur, a crater lake in the caldera of the volcano, who is believed to control water for irrigation systems throughout Bali.
The complex of more than 100 shrines used to be nearer the lake, down in the caldera. But an eruption in 1926 prompted villagers to move it to its present site on the caldera’s highest rim. The upside is that the temple now boasts stunning views of the lake below.
4. Pura Tanah Lot
Located on a rocky islet off the south-west coast, this striking sea temple is easily the most visited and photographed in all of Bali.
At high tide, the beach connecting it to the mainland gets submerged and the temple is surrounded by crashing waves. But when evening comes and the tide is low, busloads of tourists arrive for that compulsory sunset selfie on the beach.
Though this place is rather commercialised, you do not have to worry about finding food and drink – there are restaurants and cafes everywhere and even an ATM. And the view at sunset is as lovely as the postcards make it out to be – simply breathtaking.
5. Pura Luhur Uluwatu
Located on a cliff about 70m above the sea, this temple on the south-western tip of the island has dramatic views of waves crashing onto the rocks below.
While only worshippers can access the small inner temple on the jutting tip, tourists can walk along the cliff and enjoy the sea breeze and sweeping view. At sunset, a traditional Balinese kecak or dance and music drama is performed daily, with actors enacting scenes from the Ramayana epic.
If you watch only one dance performance in Bali, this should be it. Actors playing fantastical roles such as a golden deer and monkey king are accompanied by a choir of singing and chanting men. Admission is 100,000 rupiah.
Pura Luhur Uluwatu
6. Pura Goa Lawah
This is Bali’s own Bat Cave. Located next to a cliff, this temple has a cave filled with the winged creatures. From some locations on the grounds, many bats can be seen flying around in the cave.
Devotees believe that a giant snake – the deity Naga Basuki – lives in the cave and feeds on the bats. And legend has it that the cave leads all the way to Pura Besakih, about 19km away. But you probably will not want to try this route.
Pura Goa Lawah
7. Pura Tirta Empul
Famous for its spring, which is also a river source, this temple is a favourite among locals and tourists. Many come for a dip in its bathing pools – or just to splash their faces – as visitors believe its waters have curative properties. There are also fishes in the pools.
Discovered in the 10th century, the spring is believed to have been created by the Hindu god Indra, who pierced the earth to release a spring of pure and sacred water. A temple was then built around the spring.
You are welcome to take a dip or simply dangle your feet by the edge of the pool. And although not many places of worship qualify as family attractions, this one does – children can be seen gleefully enjoying themselves as if they were at a water playground.
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.