Sights & Activities
PURA PENATARAN AGUNG
This is the central temple of the complex - in
significance, if not exactly in position. It is
built on six levels, terraced up the slope, with
the entrance approached from below, up a
flight of steps. This entrance is an imposing
candi bentar (split gateway) , and beyond it,
the even more impressive kori agung is the
gateway to the second courtyard.
Tourists are not permitted inside, so for
the best view, climb the steps to the left of the
main entrance and follow the path around the
western side. From here, you can just see over
the wall into the second courtyard (do not
climb up on the wall), where the padmasana
(temple shrine resembling a vacant chair) is.
In most modern temples this is a single throne
for the supreme god, but Besakih stresses
the Hindu trinity, and therefore it has a triple
throne called padmasana tiga ( padmasana tri-
sakti), with separate seats for Brahma, Vishnu
and Shiva. This point is the spiritual centre of
the temple and, indeed, of the whole Besakih
Continuing on the footpath around the tem-
ple, you can see quite a few imposing meru, the
multi-roofed towers through which gods can
descend to earth, but otherwise the temple is
unspectacular. The upper courtyards are usu-
ally empty, even during festivals. One of the
best views is from the path at the northeastern
end, where you can look down past the many
towers and over the temple to the sea.
(east) and Pura Ulun Kulkul (west). Each
district of Bali is associated with a specific
temple at Besakih, and the main temples of
Bali are also represented by specific shrines
here. Some temples are associated with fami-
lies descended from the original Gelgel dy-
nasty, and there are shrines and memorials
going back many generations. Various craft
guilds also have their own temples, notably
the metal-workers, whose Pura Ratu Pande is
built onto the side of the main temple.
AN UNHOLY EXPERIENCE
So intrusive are the scams and irritations faced by visitors to Besakih that many wish they had
skipped the complex altogether. What follows are some of the ploys you should be aware of
before a visit.
Near the main parking area is a building labelled Tourist Information Office. Guides here may
emphatically tell you that you need their services. You don't; you may always walk among the
temples. No 'guide' can get you into a closed temple.
Other 'guides' may foist their services on you throughout your visit. There have been reports
of people agreeing to a guide's services only to be hit with a huge fee at the end.
It will require an endless repetition of 'no thank you' and 'please leave' to get the 'guides' to
go away, but this is essential as there have been reports of people giving in and allowing the
guide to tag along without negotiating a price. Later they are intimidated into paying a fee of
200,000Rp or more.
Besakih is at its best when a festival is on, and
with so many temples and gods represented
here, there seems to be one every week or
so. Ask at a tourist office anywhere on Bali,
and try to identify which part of the Besakih
complex will be the focus of attention. The
founding of Besakih itself is celebrated at
Bhatara Turun Kabeh around the full moon
of the 10th lunar month (usually in March
and April), when all the gods descend at once.
The annual rites at Pura Dalem Puri, usually
in January, attract thousands who make offer-
ings for the dead. In addition, each individual
temple has its own odalan (Balinese temple
'birthday festival') , held annually according
to the 210-day wuku calendar.
Even more important are the great puri-
fication ceremonies of Panca Wali Krama,
theoretically held every 10 years, and the Eka
Dasa Rudra held every 100 years. In fact, the
exact dates of these festivals are determined
after long considerations by priests, and they
have not been exactly regular. An Eka Dasa
Rudra was held in 1963, but was disrupted
by the disastrous eruption of Gunung Agung,
and restaged successfully in 1979. The last
Panca Wali Krama was in 1999.
Touts on scooters may follow you on your walk up the hill from the main parking area
demanding that you pay 8000Rp for a ride. This is another good reason to use the north
parking area close to the complex.
Once inside the complex, you may receive offers to 'come pray with me'. Visitors who seize
on this chance to get into a forbidden temple can face demands of 50,000Rp or more.
It should be noted that guides or drivers who accompany you from other parts of Bali are
generally not allowed into the temples by the local 'guides'.
Bali's highest and most revered mountain,
Gunung Agung is an imposing peak seen
from most of South and East Bali, although
it's often obscured by cloud and mist. Many
references give its height as 3142m, but some
say it lost its top in the 1963 eruption and
opinion varies as to the real height. The sum-
mit is an oval crater, about 700m across, with
its highest point on the western edge above
food, waterproof clothing and a warm jumper
(sweater). The descent is especially hard on
your feet, so you'll appreciate strong shoes or
boots and manicured toes.
You should take a guide for either route.
Early in the climb the guide will stop at a
shrine to make an offering and say some
prayers. This is a holy mountain and you
should show respect.
It's best to climb during the dry season
(April to September), although July to Sep-
tember are the most reliable months. At other
times, the paths can be slippery and dangerous
and the views are clouded over. Climbing Gu-
nung Agung is not permitted when major re-
ligious events are being held at Pura Besakih,
which generally includes most of April. No
guide will take you up at these times.
None of the other temples are striking, except
when decorated for festivals, but each one
has a particular significance, sometimes in
conjunction with other temples. The trimurti
(Hindu trinity) is represented by the combi-
nation of Pura Penataran Agung as Shiva,
Pura Kiduling Kreteg as Brahma and Pura
Batu Madeg as Vishnu. Just as each village in
Bali has a pura puseh (temple of origin), pura
desa (village temple) and pura dalem (temple
of the dead), Pura Besakih has three temples
that fulfil these roles for Bali as a whole - Pura
Basukian, Pura Penataran Agung and Pura
Dalem Puri, respectively.
The Balinese concept of panca dewata,
Climbing Gunung Agung
It's possible to climb Agung from various
directions. The two shortest and most popular
routes are from Pura Besakih, on the south-
west side of the mountain, and from Pura
Pasar Agung, on the southern slopes. The
latter route goes to the lower edge of the crater
rim (2900m), but you can't make your way
from there around to the very highest point.
You'll have great views of the south and east,
but you won't be able to see central Bali.
To have the best chance of seeing the view
before the clouds form, get to the top before
Getting There & Away
Besakih is a major feature on many organised
tours of eastern and northern Bali.
The best way to visit is with your own trans-
portation, which allows you to explore the
many gorgeous drives in the area.
You can visit by bemo from Semarapura
(10,000Rp) but from other parts of Bali this
can make the outing an all-day affair. Be sure
to ask the driver to take you to the temple
Trips with guides on either of the following
routes up Gunung Agung generally include
breakfast and other meals and a place to stay,
but be sure to confirm all details in advance.
They can also arrange transportation.