Candi Gunung Kawi: A Shrouded Grandeur

46 comments
Asia, Indonesia
The Rice Terraces in Tampaksiring

The Rice Terraces in Tampaksiring

The hot and humid air greets us as we get off the car and leave the comfort of air conditioner behind. We are in Tampaksiring, the same area that I visited in 2011 to see Pura Tirta Empul – the temple of replenishment. But this time we head to an even more ancient place, through more than 300 steps down the valley. A moment before we go down, the scenic view of Balinese rice terraces catches our attention. Alexander and I grab our cameras and stand right at the edge of a cliff to capture the beauty of the ripening rice paddies below.

Before we even go further down the steps, a rock-cut gateway welcomes us to the verdant valley, a reminiscence of the ingenuity of mankind to outsmart the nature. On the bottom of the steps, Pakerisan River flows calmly through the lush valley that inspired the ancient Balinese to build a wonderful temple in this beautiful setting. The river divides the two main sections of Candi Gunung Kawi, a temple compound at the heart of the island of gods. We walk through a small concrete bridge, connecting both sides of the river, to get to a small pura (Hindu temple) on the slope of a limestone hill. The pura is devoid of any activity or prayer, only an old priest wearing a white robe sits inside the outer courtyard, watching visitors walking in and out of the temple.

Trying to be as courteous as I can, I silently take some pictures of the small pavilions in the pura which are adorned with intricate and colorful carvings and statues. Walking further north towards the main temples, I notice a few holes in the limestone cliff which seems to be man-made. I come closer to peek inside, only to find nothing.

Passing through another gate, I am greeted by two spirit houses on my right side, overlooking the inner courtyard and guarding another rock-cut passageway to a seemingly more secluded part of the compound. After taking off my slippers which is mandatory according to the local custom, I wander inside the small labyrinth where rock-cut structures and hollowed cliff sides emanate a rather eerie yet tranquil feeling. Probably the tranquility was indeed the main reason to carve such massive limestone into chambers of meditation. Barefoot, I walk cautiously on the cold slippery stone floor covered in moss, thanks to the lush tropical rain forest above and the constantly trickling water.

However the true wonder that draws visitors to this valley is one of the main sections which consists of five carefully carved temples, facing the smaller four-temple section compound right across the river. The gigantic rock-cut temples might lack of decorative elements as most ancient temples in Java have, but it is compensated by the wonderful setting of the Pakerisan River valley which undoubtedly exudes a sense of peace and contemplation. The once inundated court in front of the five temples is now covered in moss where sporadic water spouts make the place even more damp and slippery. Not only tourists-alike, this majestic setting has also attracted film producers to make their movies here. Baraka – a 1992 widely acclaimed non-narrative documentary film – and The Fall – a 2006 adventure fantasy film – contain some scenes filmed at this place, showing a group of barechested men performing the electrifying kecak dance.

As the temples were built against a dramatic backdrop of central Bali, many might inadvertently ignore the history behind the temple compound. Built in the 11th century by the Warmadewa dynasty – ruler of the biggest kingdom ever existed in Bali – Candi Gunung Kawi not only served as a religious monument, but also a royal tomb where the ashes of King Udayana – the greatest king of the dynasty – and his son were purportedly buried. Today, the king’s name is immortalized as the name of Bali’s largest university and Candi Gunung Kawi is a stunning legacy of the finesse and craftsmanship of the greatest kingdom in the history of the island.

The Rock Entrance

The Rock-Cut Gateway

The Temples on the Eastern Riverbank

The Temples on the Eastern Riverbank

Entering the Courtyard of the Temple

Entering the Courtyard of the Temple

Colors of the Temple

Colors of the Temple

Smiling Faces in the Valley...

Smiling Faces in the Valley…

...to Balance the Less Friendly Ones

…to Balance the Less Friendly Ones

When Art and Elegance Collide

Elegance Abound

Hollowed Hillside

Hollowed Limestone

The Entrance to the Meditation Chambers

The Entrance to the Meditation Chambers

Entering the Meditation Area

Entering the Meditation Area

The Meditation Chambers

The Meditation Chambers

Canang Sari, the Offerings for the Gods and the Spirits

Canang Sari, the Offerings for the Gods and the Spirits

The Eastern Compound of the Main Temples

The Eastern Compound of the Main Temples

The Eastern Compound Close Up

The Eastern Compound Close Up

The Quieter Western Compound

The Quieter Western Compound

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

46 thoughts on “Candi Gunung Kawi: A Shrouded Grandeur”

  1. This is just exquisite, Bama! I love the sense of balance that seems to be a common theme in all your photos – the hardness of the stone, contrasted against the soft moss, alang-alang roofs and painted timber, then you have the delicate floral offerings and sturdy trees beside the riverbank. A real visual treat. 🙂

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    • Thanks James! After our previous trips, I guess now you have a better clue of what kind of pictures that I usually take. But no more naga, at least for now. 🙂

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    • It is! I wish I spent more time there to truly absorb the mystical ambiance of Gunung Kawi.

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      • Hari Qhuang says:

        I have heard a little about the mountain. I never thought that it would look this mysterious, even in a clear daylight! Thank you for sharing the wonderful photos! 😀

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  2. Oh my, the verdant glory of Bali coupled with artistic perfection! Such a special post Bama! That compound with those beautifully carved shrines in the niches must be mindblowing! Is it illuminated at night I wonder? Would make for some very atmospheric photographs 🙂

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    • PS: Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!. Which one was it? I have been rather behind with my reading of late.and seem to have missed seeing it.

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      • Oh it was one of my old posts Madhu. The post on Ta Prohm in Cambodia, back to my early years of blogging. 🙂 But thanks anyway! I’ve also been really busy lately but I’m trying to always keep up with my favorite blogs, including yours.

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    • This place was really special Madhu. Imagine walking through rice terraces where you can see the other terraces down below the deep valley. Then you walk down the stairs to get to the small bridge over the calm river. Suddenly to your right five massive carved shrines emerge from behind the trees and vines, and the other four to your left. It was really a mindblowing place! I do think it’s illuminated at night but only enough for the priests and local residents to walk around in dimmed light, and certainly not for visitors.

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  3. alexander sriewijono says:

    I wish we could spend some more time there, especially enjoying the serenity around Pakerisan river or trying to go further and finding that small waterfall.
    Candi Gunung Kawi definitely is one of my favourite temple in Bali and as always, I love the way you wrote about it. Nice pictures too mase. 🙂
    One more thing, we burnt some calories there, so we could enjoy all the food that we had after that. 😉

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    • I can imagine sitting there while listening to the trickling river. It must be really soothing. Thanks Mase! And yes we did burn a lot of calories there – enough to get rid of my guilt for eating so much food in Bali. 🙂

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  4. Hi Bama, what an amazing temple! Those rock-cut structures in the eastern and western compounds are so exquisite; I couldn’t take my eyes off them. I also like the other details of the temple you depicted in your photos – the rock-cut gateway, the moss, etc. Beautiful post, Bama.

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    • Thanks Marisol! I remember your posts on Petra and I felt exactly the same. I couldn’t get my eyes off your/Keith’s pictures on the Jordanian jewel. I believe you’ll also find Candi Gunung Kawi interesting and photogenic.

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    • Thanks Jill! I would love to go back to Gunung Kawi one day to explore the river. Btw sorry for the delayed response, I just returned from a very strenuous climb to Rinjani.

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    • Thank you! Rinjani is a wonderful place and it should be on the list of every mountain lover.

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  5. treiter89 says:

    What a beautiful place you captured there. So fascinating and inspiring for some reason. Love it.

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    • This is one of the places in Bali that I would love to revisit because the last time I went there I didn’t explore the area as much as I was supposed to.

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    • Thanks Will! And so do people from the East, we need to learn more about Western cultures. That way we can learn from each other and make the world more united than divided.

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  6. Pingback: Revisiting Bali’s Spiritual Monuments | What an Amazing World!

  7. Rozy Aldilasa says:

    Never had i ever been this comfort to read a travelblog just like what you’ve done mister. Very well thought-out, organized, and fun to follow through.

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