East Bali is dominated by Gunung Agung volcano and has some pleasant villages and temples. The main road east passe through Gianyat, a town known for textiles and ikat weaving, and Semrapura, the capital of an ancient kingdom and site of the tragic puputan uprising in 1908.
The 1908 intervention was triggered by a Balinese revolt against a Dutch attempt to impose an opium monopoly in their favour. The Raja of Karangasem opposed the monopoly, leading to Balinese riots in the capital of Klungkung. Riots also erupted in Gelgel, when the Balinese killed a Javanese opium dealer. The Dutch sent troops to quell the riots. In Gelgel, they killed 100 Balinese, forcing the Raja to flee to Klungkung. The Dutch then bombarded the city of Klungkung. [Source: Wikipedia]
In a final confrontation on 18 April 1908, Dewa Agung Jambe, the Raja of Klungung, accompanied by 200 followers, made a desperate sortie out of his Palace, clad in white and armed with a legendary kris supposed to wreak havoc on the enemy according to a prophecy. The kris failed to fulfill the desired outcome, and the Raja was instead shot by a Dutch bullet. Immediately, the six wives of the king resorted to puputan, killing themselves with their own kris, soon followed by the other Balinese in the procession.
Places in East Bali
Padangbai (35 kilometers northeast of Denpasar) is a sleepy fishing village and port where the ferries for Lombok leave from. It is a pleasant place with some nice beaches and diving opportunities. Some travelers take a break here. Nearby there is cave on cliff face from which a multitude of bats fly out at night and fishing villages with colorful fishing outriggers. There are numerous cheap homestays and guest houses and delicious seafood offered at road side restaurants.
Tenganan (15 kilometers northeast of Padangbai) is the home of a people who have kept alive the customs of the Balinese who ruled the island before the Majapahit era. It has been protected for centuries from the outside world by surrounding walls behind which strange ritual offering dances and gladiator-like battles between youths take place.
Candidasa (15 kilometers northeast of Padangbai) is tourist village that devolved remarkable quickly from being a quiet fishing village to an overdeveloped mess. Candidasa was home to a beautiful beach. The beach and the reef were ruined when developed decided to harvest coral to supply lime for construction cement.. The harvesting of coral stopped in 1991 but erosion of the beach continued. To protect the remaining beach, sea walls were built and concrete piers were placed the water to promote sand collection.
Tamna Ujung (near Amalpura) in home of a ruined ancient water palace. At Taman Tirta Ganagga is another ruined water palace, this one a bit smaller. Around Tirta Gangaa are some of the most beautiful rice terraces in Bali. There are some nice walks in this area.
Bangli (about an hour from Ubud, two hours from the airport or Denpasar by car) is located in the mountainous region of Kintamani overlooking spectacular Lake Batur.. Once an important center in the kingdom of Bangli, the town today is quiet except when it comes alive on busy market days and for temple ceremonies, when people from surrounding areas converge on the town’s market place and temples.
Bangli is an old place believed to have been built as early as A.D. 1204 based from a stele found in Pura Kehen temple, which is believed to have been built even before construction of the town, and now lies at the outskirts of the city. The town itself is dominated by the royal houses spread around its main square.
Bangli is also known for its Arts Center, or the Sasana Budaya, where regular kecak or wayang performances are held. Typical to Bangli is the Baris dance, or the dance of the warriors. Although also known in other regions, Bangli has developed its special Baris choreography, known as the Baris Jojor (8 men carrying spears), the Baris Presi or Tamiang (8 men in a circle carrying leather shields) and Baris Dadap, all of which are performed especially during odalan.
As Bangli-Kintamani is reachable within a day tour, you do not need to seek special accommodation from the one you are already staying in. Bangli is within a few hours distance from the beach resorts or from Ubud. People generally visit Bangli as part of a day-tour loop to Kintamani from Kuta, Sanuror Nusa Dua. Most travel agents offer this day tour, although not all offer Bangli on the itinerary. So if you are particularly interested to visit Bangli, please make sure that the tour bus passes Bangli. Or else rent your own car so that you will be freer to determine your own program.
Pura Kehen Temple
Pura Kehen Temple (outskirts of Bangli) is Bali's second largest temple. Three terraced courtyards are connected by steps and their balustrades are decorated with carvings and statues. A large Banyan tree with a tower shades the lowest courtyard, while shrines for gods and ancestors can be found in the highest courtyard. The main shrine has 11 thatched roofs.
Situated above a steep slope, Pura Kehen is one of the most beautiful temples on Bali and is the royal ancestral temple of the Raja of Bangli, one of the eight most important royal houses on Bali. Literally meaning the Temple of the Hearth or the Household, this refers to Hyang Api or the God of Fire, symbol of the Hindu god Brahma. Here worshippers burn offerings on a small hearth.
To reach the entrance gate one must climb a stone staircase with 38 steps guarded by stone statues on either side, all the way up to the gate. Unlike other Balinese temples where the entrance is a split gate, not so at Pura Kehen, which has a large triangular shaped gate similar to that of a mountain, where on Java, such shape is called gunungan (‘gunung’ meaning mountain). Passing the gate, a large, old banyan tree with wide protecting foliage and hanging roots dominates the outer courtyard. A kulkul or bamboo drum hangs from its branches and among its roots is a stone altar for offerings.
Like Pura Besakih, Pura Kehen is built on several levels. Here are eight stepped terraces, where the top level is the most sacred sanctuary. There are no less than 43 altars on the various levels of Kehen with the most prominent covered with a tower that has 11 thatched roofs or meru, dedicated to Sang Hyang Api. While at the northeastern corner there is a huge three-compartment stone throne, carved with intricate reliefs. During the temple’s anniversary, called odalan, devotees from around Bali come to pray in this temple.
Mt. Agung (northeast Bali) is a 3,142-meter-high active volcano that dominates Bali and is the highest mountain on the island. Known to Balinese as the "naval of the world," it erupted violently in 1963, killing about 500 people. Offerings of rice, hard boiled eggs and some flowers blossoms are periodically left on the volcano to keep it quiet. The oval crater is about 500 meters across. The 3,142 meter height figure dates back to before the 1963 eruption, when the volcano had its top blown off. It is now thought to be 3,014 meters high.
Southeast of Mt Batur volcano, Gunung Agung is an active stratovolcano, with a large and deep crater that occasionally emits smoke and ash. It dominates the surrounding area, influencing the climate, especially rainfall patterns. From a distance, the mountain appears to be perfectly conical. From the peak of the mountain, it is possible to see the peak of Mt Rinjani on the nearby island of Lombok, to the east, although both mountains are frequently covered in clouds.
There are hiking routes to the summit, with the shortest ones taking only about three hours. The two most popular climbing routes are from the temple Pura Besakih and from Pura Pasat Agung. The are treks that begin at 2:00am and reach the summit for sunrise. Before you make the climb you should make an offering and on the way up the mountain should be treated with respect. That means no swearing or eating any food with beef in it. It advisable to take a guide and make the hike during the dry season. See the Lonely Planet books for details.
Mt. Agung 1963 Eruption
On March 16th, 1963 Bali’s Gunung Agung erupted for the first time in 120 years, with a follow up eruption in May, destroying much of northeastern Bali and killing 1,100 people and leaving 100,000 other homeless. Entire villages were destroyed by layers of ash and flows of hot mud that made it all the way to the sea. Hard rains after the eruption exacerbated the problems, creating landslides and lahars. Roads were closed off, villages were swept away and more people suffered, this time from lack of food. [Source: Windsor Booth, National Geographic, September 1963]
During the eruption a gate built to honor president Sukarno was destroyed. This was seen as a symbol of corruption in the government, which was soon ousted. Many Balinese believed that Sukarno caused the eruption by forcing religious leaders in Bali to “stage” an important ritual at a tourism conference.
Some 200 people died when a pyroclastic flow (an incandescent cloud of volcanic debris) raced down the mountain through the in the town of Subagan. Nearly all the inhabitants of the village of Lebih were burnt to death or suffocated by clouds of hot gas. Boiling mud and ash obliterated other towns, where children made strange wailing sounds as they choked to death. Some areas strewn with dog eaten bodies were still too hot to enter weeks after the eruption. Days became night as far away as Java when clouds of cinder and ash blew over and drinking water was in short in supply as rivers and streams became a silty grey mess.
Besakih, Bali's most sacred shrine is located right beneath the volcano. Even though there were dangers of new eruptions and the Governor of Bali forbade people from visiting the temple, thousands went anyway to celebrate an April full moon ceremony. Offerings to the gods included plaited palm fonds, bowls of rice, fried cakes, barbecued fowl, squat bananas and spiny durians. Some ceremonies are climaxed with women picking up burning coals in their bare hands.
After the eruption many Balinese moved to other parts of Indonesia. Two leaders and hundreds were killed during the anti-Communist purge after the 1965 failed coup. Many Balinese were involved in the killing as Communism was viewed as a threat to the traditional Balinese way of life.
Besalik Temple (on the western slope of Mt Agung) is the holiest of all Balinese temples. Known as the "Mother Temple of Bali" it embraces 22 separate temples spread out over three kilometers on a 1000-meter-high slope of Gunung Agung. The site is most alive when it hosts one of the relatively frequent festivals. Otherwise many tourist are disappointed because the architecture is not particularly impressive, the views are often obscured by mist, the hawkers can be irritating and visitors are generally not allowed into the temples.
From a distance Besakih looks like a collection of pyramid-like trees with the volcano Gunung Agung providing a dramatic backdrop. The main shrine, Pura Penataran Agung, is built on seven terraces and is best viewed from a path that winds around the perimeter wall. Thousand-year-old steps ascend through split gates to the main courtyard where the Hindu Trinity shrines are wrapped in cloth and decorated with flower offerings. Around the three main temples dedicated to Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu (the Hindu Trinity) are 19 separate sanctuaries belonging to different regencies and caste groups.
Facing Mt. Agung’s highest peak, believed to be the abode of the gods, and located at an elevation of 900 meters, Pura Besakih is built in the village of Besakih. The name Besakih comes from the word “Basuki”, derived from the word “Wasuki” which means “Salvation” in the classical Sanskrit language. In Samudramanthana mythology, the same name “Besuki” refers to the Dragon-God “Naga Besukian”, who inhabited Gunung Agung.
This grand temple complex has been revered as a holy place since ancient times. The first recorded mention of its existence comes from an inscription dating back to A.D. 1007 AD. Since the 15th century Besakih has been regarded as the central temple of Hinduism in Bali. The temple complex expresses the essential belief of the Balinese known as Tri Hita Kirana, meaning that life on earth must be lived and kept in balance and harmony between man and God, man and society and his fellow human beings, and man and his natural environment. During a full moon, Balinese pilgrims throng to the temple. During the festival of Odalan, celebrated on every 210th day, the temple is elaborately decorated.
Worship at Besalik Temple
Besalik Temple is decorated with Bali-style ornaments, doorstep temples, sacred stone idols, and stone carvings. Pura Besakih means the revered Mother Temple of Bali. Before exploring the temple complex, you have to rent and wear a sarong and sash at the main entrance of the temple to respect the Balinese tradition, as Besakih Temple is a holy place of worship. The sarong and sash are special clothes Balinese wear when praying at temples.
According to the concept Balinese Rwa Bhineda (The Balance of two opposites), Pura Ulun Danu Batur (a temple on Lake Batur) is regarded as Pradana (feminine) while Pura Besakih is purusha (masculine), thus the two temples complete the universal Balance. Whereas at Pura Besakih, God is worshipped to strengthen the soul of the people to achieve spiritual happiness, at Pura Batur, prayers are conducted to strengthen economic prosperity.
When you reach the complex, you will see the first group of temples on your left. This is sacred temple dedicated to royal ancestors is known as Pura Dalem Puri. Balinese store the ashes of the dead after the cremation known as the Ngaben ceremony. From here, walk up the flight of stairs that wPura Besakih: the revered Mother Temple of Baliill lead you to Pura Penataran Agung. The locals believe that Pura Penataran Agung is the center of devotion to the Gods. Next to the main temple are two other important temples. These are Pura Kiduling Kreteg on its right and Pura Batu Madeg on its left.
The colors of the banners denote which God the temple is dedicated to, the three representing the Hindu Trinity. The white banner is dedicated to the temple of Shiva (Pura Penataran Agung), the red banner is for the temple of Brahma (Pura Kiduling Kreteg), while the black banner is for the temple of Vishnu (Pura Batu Mandeg). When there are no festivals or events taking place here, visitors may be allowed inside to look around the temples. This is the best spot to take pictures.
Visiting Besalik Temple
Besakih Temple is open to visitors all year round during the official opening hours between 8:00am up to 5pm. The entrance fee is 10,000 IDR; parking fee 1,000 IDR; camera use submission 1,000 IDR, and video use 2,500 IDR. If you who have not been to Besakih Temple before you may want to engage a guide, who will help show you around the temple. The guide fee is about US$ 25. Still, if you do not find it necessary to hire a guide, you can walk around on your own. It is recommended to invite a Balinese friend to accompany you or hire a driver to visit Besakih temple in the daytime.
To reach the temple complex, you have to stroll up a footpath for about 200 meters. There are many roadside stalls called warungs along the footpath before you reach the gate of the temple complex. You need not worry about getting ripped off, as prices are reasonable here. If you wish to explore the more remote part of the temple, head to Pura Pengubengan, which is situated some 2 kilometers at the northern end of the complex.
This temple is very easy to find, as most people know it as one of the best tourist destinations in Bali. There are several starting points that you may choose to take: From Kuta, it takes about 2 hours to get here. Simply head east towards Sanur, then follow the fast coastal route, which is connected to the Kusamba Bypass at Tohpati. Then go north until you find the road sign to Besakih, and after a few kilometers from this point turn north.
If you are staying around Klungkung, then Besakih is about 20 kilometers north of the town center. Take the Bemo — the small public buses — that will take you to Besakih from Klungkung. Bemos are most frequent in the morning, and it is recommended to change bemos at Rendang, halfway between Klungkung and Besakih.
If you come from the north of Denpasar, it is about 25 kilometers to reach Besakih by car. However, if you stay in the eastern part of Bali such as at Tirta Gangga, Candidasa, or Amed, you can reach Besakih by taking a smaller inland road from Karangasem. This will lead you to the crossroad between Besakih and Klungkung at Rendang, and then turn right to reach Besakih Temple. During your hour-long drive, you will enjoy beautiful views traveling through forests, villages, and rice fields. If you are willing to make a short stop in one of the villages, you will see how the locals live, and learn a bit about their unique houses.
Amed Beach (northeast from Amlapura) is a good place for learning how to scuba dive and doing beginner and training dives. It has a flat bottom lagoon for instruction and a coral reef only five minutes swim away. The currents are relatively weak.
By boat, Amed has a nice wall dive just a few minutes away. It is a fun, easy dive for everyone. Snorkeling and diving off the black-sand beaches here is exceptional, the variety and numbers of fish on display are among the best on Bali and the water temperature is a constant 28 degrees. Schools of cardinal fish, triggerfish, black snappers, pyramid butterflies, banner fish, and damselfish can be seen on the sand slopes, while table corals, big fan gorgonians, and magnificent stag horn Acropora and Dendronephthya trees, dense growths of sponges, crinoids, and sea fans are commonly found within 20 meters of shore.
Cemuluk, on a protected bay, is an ideal place to begin snorkeling. Four kilometers further south along the coast is Banyuning, where there's a small wreck and some of the most beautiful coral gardens to be seen anywhere in the Lesser Sundas. The water is a little deeper here and sometimes there is a slight swell, so this area suits people with experience.
Amed is actually the name of just one village and not the place to base yourself; the villages to the south are more attractive. There are dozens of places to stay along this coast, from homestays to modest but comfy hotels. You can find food stalls (warung) whose sell snacks and "nasi campur". The best restaurant in the area is the Baliku, approximately one kilometer south of the Blue Moon. And restaurants in the Lipah area serve good Indonesian food. You can visit the fish market early in the morning when the tuna come in, And you can also enjoy the views surrounding Amed village.
Most hotel staff can also arrange sailing or fishing trips so you can catch your own dinner. Your hotel will most probably have snorkeling gears for hire. If you're on the Amed coast and want to dive, steer clear of the dive operators and check the prices at the other operators. Just make sure you take a look at the dive operator's equipment to make sure it's up to snuff before you decide to dive with them.
The area around Amed Beach is easy to explore on foot. You should reach the beach from elsewhere in Bali within 30 minutes by car. If you want to use a public transportion, take a bus (medium-sized) from Denpasar, Batubulan Terminal to Amlapura, for two hours. Then change to a bemo (a three-wheeled motoped) to Amed, for 30min. The bemo will usually stop at the village, but you need to state it clearly otherwise the driver may take you directly to Jemeluk Beach.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Indonesia Tourism website ( indonesia.travel ), Indonesia government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020