Sunday, January 25, 2015

Elephant Caves, Holy Water and Rain

Saturday, January 3rd

I sit on our outdoor patio drinking coffee and writing until breakfast is delivered to us at 8:30 A.M.  Fresh fruit, scrambled eggs and toast is today’s menu. Promptly at 9:30 our driver, Dedi enters our gated garden compound and we briefly discuss our plans for the day. John has temples on his agenda and I inquire about visiting a batik village, kris making village and wood carving village along the way? Dedi carries a picture “menu” card in  his black Toyota minivan and John points to a variety of places that he would like to visit.  John’s and my mode of sightseeing, packing as much into a day as possible  is not Art’s style and he is in a sullen mood.  After changing money in Ubud we drive along one of the main “highways” connecting Ubud with Denpasar. I find the passing scenery fascinating and notice familiar landmarks that we passed several days earlier on our drive between Denpasar and Ubud. The road is lined with craft shops and workshops interspersed by family compounds. Steps rise to the ornate gated doorways of each compound and the ornate thatched and gilded cupolas of the family temples peek out above the walls. The traffic is heavy and scooters, often with three or four family members weave between the cars. The adults wear helmets but the children, sandwiched between are usually without. It is the rainy season and there are sudden bursts of heavy rain followed by shimmers of sunshine.  

Batik Factory Demonstration
Our first stop at a Batik factory is 45 minutes outside of Ubud. I was imagining a village with a number of small batik workshops and I am disappointed when we pull into the large parking lot of a mega store with tourists milling and keeping dry under a large covered outdoor reception area. There is a raised staging area where a dozen  of the workers demonstrate batik techniques. The store itself is cavernous with aisles of batik shirts, dresses, bags and reams of folded cloth. There is cloth of all quality and from printed cotton, batik cotton and fine silk batik.  Although much of the batik is lovely, the venue is overwhelming and unsatisfying and we stay only a few minutes.

Batuan Temple, Bali

Batuan Temple, Bali

We visit the Hindu, Batuan Temple, along the main road. After paying a modest entrance fee we are handed sarongs and belts so that we may enter the temple grounds respectfully dressed.

Our next stop is a Kris (Balinese knives and sword) workshop and showroom.  Dedi drives down a narrow side street to a family compound. The rain is torrential as we enter and I take off my shoes and “wade” barefoot up to the steps of the showroom. The wet tile and marble floor is slippery and I take care not to slip and fall.  A hundred or more Kris are for sale and John carefully examines them all but they are either not very pretty or extremely expensive and after 30 minutes we leave, wading back out to the car past two tethered birds, a Balinese Falcon and an Owl. They cock their heads and peer down from their perches.

Balinese Falcon

Tethered Owl at Kris Sword Shop

We stop at a wood carving factory, another cavernous showroom where we are shadowed by a polite but insistent young sales man, anxious to make a sale. Although some of the work is striking, there is no soul here and nothing interests us.  Seven years ago, we went to a Garuda wood carving village where a dozen separate workshops lined the street with rice paddies just beyond. We were inspired watching the men work and ultimately purchased one antique carved lion that we laboriously carried back home with us. We try to describe this village street to Dedi, but there has been so much growth in the last seven years that he does not know where this village is or if it still exists. We have lunch at a restaurant adjoining another wood carving shop.  The food is simple and we sit with Dedi on the covered marble terrace, eat and watch the torrential rain fall. 

Waiting for Lunch at a Woodcarving Shop

We arrive at Goa Gajah, the Elephant Cave and Dedi waits while Art, John and I pay the $1.50 entrance fee each, sarong included and walk down the pathway to the ruins below. 
Goa Gajah, the Elephant Cave
Water Temple Goddesses

Goa Gajah Water Temple

Goa Gajah was built in the 9th century as a sanctuary and the primary figure above the cave entrance is thought to be an elephant, thus the name. The bathing pools were not excavated until the 1950’s. There are a few visitors bathing in the pools, anointing themselves with the spring water spouting forth from the goddess’ urns. Down below the cave is the river and we hike down the stone stairs to where earthquakes have tumbled mammoth sized boulders into the river. The boulders are felted with green moss and roots of venerable banyan trees weave intricate patterns and vine tendrils hang low. It is a strikingly magical Utaki. (According to Okinwan folklore, an Utaki is a sacred and magical place.) 

Goa Gajah Grotto
Banyan Tree Roots

On the way back to the car we pass a group of craft stalls and stop to watch one man painting wooden eggs.  We buy three and he smiles graciously for a photo. 

Egg Painter, Goa Gajah

It’s mid afternoon when we arrive at the Gunung Kawi, an 11th century shrine.  Dedi cautions me that it is a long walk down and I cheerfully tell him that we will hurry. My legs are wobbly by the time I reach the bottom of the seemingly endless  path and stairway. The site is impressive with ten shrines, each 7 meters high,  carved into the cliff walls, five on either side of the river gorge. The shrines on one side of the river are thought to be dedicated to Anak Wungsu, his queens and concubines and the shrines on the other side of the river are believed to be dedicated to King Udayana and his queens and concubines. John climbs down into the river gorge but because of the long steep climb back to the parking area, I start my slow ascent. When we reconnect at the top, John excitedly tells us that he went on to explore other ruins and shrines along the river that were restricted to men only.

Gunung Kawi Shrine

Gunung Kawi Shrine

River below Gunung Kawi
It is late afternoon when we arrive at the Tirta Empul Water Temple. Dedicated to the Hindu God, Vishnu and built between the 10th and 14th century, the baths are famous for their holy water. The pools are crowded with devotees and John quickly finds a place to change into a sarong and is soon waist deep in the water, making the progression from one spout to the next, anointing his head with the holy spring water.  Art and I watch him with pride and delight, our son who embraces just about everything with wonder and an open mind.  

John Bathing at the Tirta Empul Water Temple
Tirta Empul Water Temple

Tirta Empul

It is 7:00 P.M. before we arrive back at our Topok House and the rain is torrential. We slosh through the mud and grass to our bungalow, clean up quickly and wait  on our front porch for Tabra, hoping that the rain will subside some so she can come to meet us as planned. She arrives graceful and unbothered by the rain, sheltered under an immense umbrella and we walk down the pathway in the direction of the stairs holding flashlights and umbrellas until we reach Laili Restaurant. The simple open air restaurant is lovely and I enjoy watching the rain fall from our sheltered seats. Since New Year’s John has stayed on a vegetarian regime and I am doing my best to follow suit, but this limits our options and stir fry rice and vegetables are becoming monotonous. 

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