Sunday 29 November 2020

Lempuyang temple trail

Perched at the top of Lempuyang hill, the Gates of Heaven look out towards the fabulous shape of Mount Agung. From its unique location, it undoubtedly presents a spectacular view and hence a prime Instagram location in Bali.

Gates of Heaven - Popular Instagram location in Lempuyang

Pura Lempuyang is a temple complex on the upper slopes of Mount Lempuyang, which sits at a height of 1,775 metres above sea level. The complex is considered among the six most holy places of Bali. The temples are also among the oldest Hindu temples in Bali.

A set of seven temples line the slopes of Lempuyang. The Gates of Heaven is located by the bottom most temple. A winding staircase of 1,700 steps starts from the second temple and follows the slopes of the hill to the topmost Luhur temple. All the temples fall in this path. A shorter second set of stair case goes straight up from the second temple to Luhur.   

Map of the Lempuyang temple trail

Most visitors leave after taking their Instagram shot at the gate, and never visit the temple trail.

I had requested a taxi pick up at 5:30am from my hotel. The early start was planned to avoid the strong Balinese sun. I was advised that the trail would take me 3 to 4 hours. 

It was close to 6:30am when I reached Lempuyang. There is no entrance fee to the temple, but a donation is welcome. Also all visitors must wear a sarong within the complex. It is possible to rent sarongs at the entrance too. I was carrying my own, hence could avoid the queue. I was surprised by the number of people even at that early hour.  As I entered the first temple, a girl waiting by the doorway sprinkled water on me as a way of purification. This is a common Hindu practice, hence did not surprise me. 

I entered a vast courtyard where over a hundred people were waiting for their iconic shot at the Gate of Heaven. A man directed me where I should enlist myself for the photo shoot. He was surprised when I said I did not want my photo taken. At the Gate, every person is allowed five poses, if I remember correctly. A local, sitting on a stool keeps clicking on his mobile phone in exchange for a payment. It was interesting to see the water effect they produce in the photos by using a mirror just under the camera lens. Innovative!

People start gathering for their photograph in the misty background

Temples in the mist

The hill was shrouded in mist. The top of the temple disappeared into the clouds. I took a look around and then headed up the hill. 

A 2km uphill walk on tarmac road took me to the second temple. Locals kept approaching me on motorbikes offering a pillion ride for a payment. I was happy to walk. I was walking in the clouds, getting drenched in the rain. While the feeling was surreal, there were no views either.

A motorbike approaches, the headlight shearing through the mist

The temple was quiet. There were a few shops around, which were just about opening up. A woman in one of the shops saw me struggling with my sarong, offered to help me. She tied it around my waist just as the locals do. She didn't speak any English, but has language been a barrier? 

Hoping for the clouds to clear, I waited for half an hour, but the clouds only got denser. In the mist, I was unable to see where the stairs started. 

A man sitting at one of the shops had been watching me for a while. As I stood by the stairs, confused, he stood up and approached me. He spoke basic English, and asked what I was looking for. When I told him about my plan, he asked me to follow him. He said he was going to Madyapura, the middle temple and I could accompany him. He called on to his son and both of them went on their way. I followed them in the mist. We passed the crossroads where the other set of stairs went to the top. Soon we reached the third temple, where I wanted to stop. I thanked him and we bid our goodbyes, but not before I clicked their photo.
My guide went ahead as I wandered into the quiet temple shrouded in mist.

At the crossroads

Through the mist, that was making me nervous

My guide leading the way

The photograph

A small temple before the third. The only sound was of the leaves, birds and the water droplets from the mist dripping

Lempuyang, as I said before, is considered as one of the most holy temples in Bali. I kept meeting locals heading to the temples, carrying their offerings in large baskets. At that early hour, I did not meet any visitors at all. People stopped to chat with me, mistaking me as Balinese. Some spoke enough English to quench their curiosity about the solo woman traveller who apparently looked Balinese, but wasn’t.

I took my time, and stopped at each temple for a look around. While I was free to move around the smaller temples, the main temples did not allow visitors. Still the walk up was worth it. The mist stopped the views, but created very atmospheric photos.  

The third temple en-route

An idol of Ganesh in the third temple

Devotees stop for taking the blessings of Ganesh before continuing 

The fourth temple, one of the main temples on the trail.

Locals setting up shop. They were very curious about where I was from.

Stopping at the very quiet fifth temple 
The sun made its first appearance at the sixth temple

A priest at work

After about an hour and half, I reached the Luhur temple at the top. This is supposedly the largest and the most grand of the temples. There were shops set outside the gates. Some of the locals sat their chatting, enjoying the warmth of the morning sun as the mist cleared. 

A prayer was in progress when I reached and I was denied entry, much to my disappointment. But I decided to make the best use of my time. I sat outside the gates of the temple watching the devotees climb up the slippery, broken stairs with heavy baskets. The saying goes that, only the pure of heart can reach the top.  

After a while, and starting to feel the first pangs of hunger, I started my decent.

People watching

Local shops selling prayer items

Devotees making their way to the temple

Beautiful handmade baskets

A very careful walk down the slippery stairs

On the way down, I was invited into a shop by a lady to try her bowl of Bakso Ayam (Chicken meatballs in noodle soup). I skipped the chillies, but let her take control in mixing the vast number of ingredients. It was a pleasant meal after the long walk. 

Steaming chicken meatballs
Bakso Ayam preparation in progress

From here I took the staircase that went straight down to the second temple. It was steep and short. The steps were broken at many places. I was back on the tarmac road in no time.

The cloud had cleared at the lower levels by now. The crowd at the Gates of Heaven had multiplied a hundred times since the morning. I stopped for some photos. The first picture in the post is one of the clicks.  

I continued down to the parking lot where my driver was waiting. I was staying in Amed for my scuba diving. My driver was the brother in law of the girl who owned the diving school. She had arranged for the transport, avoiding me the hassles of bargaining for a price.

The strong Balinese sun is out - at the second temple

Devotees preparing for the journey

I am back on the tarmac

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