Once upon a time, before the corona virus had officially reached the local population of Bali, there was a window of opportunity to explore spots usually overrun by tourists. That’s why in mid March we went on a road trip to capture the highlights of East Bali. It’s all about pictures, impressions and some memories.
Road trip of East Bali
Yoeri had helped out Evgynii, a Russian instructor working in Ocean Tree in Jemeluk Bay, with video material for a costumer. In return we got some sponsored dives around Tulamben and an experienced tour guide to explore East Bali. Evgynii rented the little Daihatsu for us, one of the two available rental cars in Amed. A small, but nice enough car with the slight disadvantage of a having an even smaller engine.
We couldn’t really care less, it beats a motorbike ride in the sun with photo and video equipment any day. But Evgynii struggled on steep inclines and when overtaking. So we started giving some positive reinforcement to the little engine every time it was pushed to the max. Verbal encouragement seemed to help as we never actually had to get out of the car – other than on our planned stops, of course.
First stop: Pura Lempuyang
Pura Lempuyang is one of the six national temples of Bali. It is best to arrive early in the morning as later in the day Mount Agung is often covered in clouds. The temple doesn’t take a fixed entry price, but asks for donations and you can rent sarongs and scarfs. Unlike in other places, like temple complexes in Thailand, covered legs and shoulders are not enough, it has to be a sarong.
It wasn’t busy inside. Pleased with our well-timed beginning of the road trip I was wandering around to take the atmosphere in. What I like about temples in Bali is the way they are integrated into nature. When I was walking up to the so called “Heaven’s Gate”, somebody started shouting at me, most disturbingly through a loud speaker. Slightly puzzled I stepped to the side and inspected the small gathering in the middle of the court closer (see pictures below). It was the official set-up for photographing people posing in the open gate facing Mount Agung.
Capture the highlights
Only then, I noticed they were shouting out numbers that were printed on small tickets all visitors got on the short walk up. Everybody had to wait their turn to position themselves in between the pillars and then followed the orders given through the loudspeaker: Look into camera, at each other, turn backs, jump and final pose – next. It was quite bizarre to have such a set-up in a holy place. Clearly beyond selfie! Or maybe from the time before selfies?
In any case, for us it took away the atmosphere. Yoeri didn’t even bother to unpack any equipment. He wasn’t allowed to fly the drone anyway and just waited in the shade while I climbed up the stairs to get an alternative view of the temple. Afterwards I used our slot to take some pictures of Mount Agung, the highest peak and most holy volcano on Bali, through the gate without anybody posing. Nevertheless, I felt incredible rushed. Next!
Later Evgynii told us that often people are waiting for hours to get their photo taken. Not the spot we recommend to visit in high season. However, I read afterwards that one can also walk higher up the mountain to different parts of the temple complex. Sounds like the perfect alternative to the picture madness. Unfortunately, our guide failed to mention this option and I haven’t seen any pictures or selfies from those alternatives spots yet.
Second stop: Tirta Gangga
The last Raja of Amlapura built this water palace in 1947 (Tirta Gangga: Water of the Gangges). Walking up from the parking spot street vendors are waving with bags of fish food. Apparently, it’s good luck to feed the kois. Business wasn’t going well for these any of these vendors, neither for the ones walking up and down with a bunde of sunglasses in their hands, pointing out snack and beverages in their display or holding a python up to be ut around shoulders for alternative pictures. All these informal jobs are depending on tourism and I doubt that they are counted into the thousands that officially lost their jobs due to the partial lockdown thanks to the corona virus. Since the beginning of April, all these sites are closed (Warum auf Bali das Toilettenpapier nicht knapp wird).
There are various water basis, some with the lucky kois, some for swimming, some with lotus flowers (see photos below). Little bridges, old Bayan trees as well as palms, statues and fountains complement the ornamented pools. Towards the far end there is a temple up in the forest. The whole area is the perfect setup for a leisurely stroll with picture taking and day dreaming – at least that’s what we did.
This time, I was paying more attention to the overall photo activities from the beginning. On the one end there was a Balinese wedding shooting going on and and I made sure not to photobomb the lovely couple. Luckily everybody else focused on the centre area with stepping stones through one water basin in front of the fountain and didn’t walk any further. Why do people cluster so much for their selfies?
Third stop: Ujung Water Palace
This water palace was already built in 1919. The last Raja (King), Aglurah Ketut, and part of his family lived here as well as in their palace in Amlapura. It is told that the Raja had 35 wives. At least some of their children had plenty of space to play in these extensive gardens. Back then Amlapura was know as Karangasem. After the devastating volcanic eruption in 1963 the name got changed in order to bring luck to the city and area in the future.
Unfortunately most of the buildings got destroyed through various earthquakes. The area of Ujung is bigger than Tirta Gangga. Even though it’s trimmed and styled and offers different views, it somehow lacks a certain something. There are little pedal boats looking like swans on the bigger ponds and from the upper part one can see the sea. At that time, there were only a hand full of others visitors, but the selfie spot seemed to be on the bridge leading to the main house on the water (see picture below).
Fourth stop: Pura Bukit Tengah Tutuan and Pura Bukit Buluh
As a fourth stop our tour guide offered to drive up into the mountains to Pura Besakih or Sekumpul waterfalls. We thought that two hours drive one way was too much and explained that we wanted to go towards that area to explore Lake Batur anyway. Back in those days we were still optimistic that corona wouldn’t lead to such massive restrictions on Bali.
Therefore we opted for a temple in a similar style of Pura Besakih with little pagodas which we had seen already multiple times on our way from Sanur to Padang Bai. Goa Lawah, the bat cave and beautiful temple complex built around it, would have been another option. However, we had visited it already in 2015 and have good memories of watching part of a ceremony from the back of the temple.
Turned out that the spot we had in mind was a little further away from Amlapura than we remembered, but our Daihatsu struggled only on the last stretch uphill. Pura Bukit Tengah Tutuan overlooks the Central Eastern part of Bali. Nice view especially if it isn’t in the harsh midday sun like on my picture (see below). Unfortunately the site itself is under construction, but also here there was another temple further up the hill.
On Bali all hills seem to have multiple temples or multiple sections of a temple that can be stretched out over a wider area. Pura Bukit Buluh a little bit further uphill turned out to be quite cute. Yoeri liked this stop the most of the entire tour because we had it all to ourselves. For us, peace and quiet definitely created a special feeling and even added to the view. Our guide did not share our sentiment and was probably already wondering why we weren’t taking selfies anywhere on this road trip of East Bali.
Road trip: The long way back
As a true gentleman he kept quiet and was simply happy that we were happy and that it was time to head back to Amed earlier than expected (to see another side of Bali: Underwater carnival in Amed). I was sitting in the back of the car and enjoyed the fact that I could turn around and put my arms on the trunk cover to rest my head on. In this position I watched the world falling away from me. Strangely enough it created a warm and fuzzy feeling. Why do I enjoy driving like that? Slowly a faint memory was rising. My brother and I used to sit like that and stare through the rear window together. We were no fans of road trips, but together we had fun, playing games and making up stories about the people in cars behind us. Once the memory formed I did not only feel it, but saw a clear picture in front of me, almost like a photograph, just in my mind.