Gunung Kawi lies on the road from Ubud to Mount Batur and we reached it after our visit to the Tirta Empul temple. This group of temples cut from rock cliffs is like the Ellora of Bali in its beauty and elegance. It is a worthwhile stopover with some nice views and a must visit if you are in the vicinity.
Located in Tampak Siring (Valley of Kings), Gunung Kawi consists of 10 rock-cut temples carved into straight cliff faces. This 11th century complex was originally known as Katyangan Amarawati, overlooking the Pekerisan river, a stream, which flows through it. A group of 5 temples lies on the eastern side of the river, another 5 are built on the opposite side to the west with a small stone bridge connecting the two sides. The true purpose for which the temples were constructed remains shrouded in mystery, however they are not tombs as is usually misunderstood. They were apparently made for spiritual pursuits and do not house human relics.
When we reached there, the sun was already high in the sky and it was getting quite hot. Initially we were worried after seeing the number of steps we had to descend, because we would have to climb the same numbers while coming back. However, reaching Gunung Kawi is half the fun, one needs to go down hundreds of steps, navigate through a maze of bazaars with the hawkers fortunately taking a nap during the afternoon and descending into another era where vibrant green terraced paddy fields enveloped the landscape and ancient monuments showed up.
The monuments are massive, dwarfing the humans who once made them. There as some caves dug into the rocks which must have served as the resting and meditating place of the priests. The area is very picturesque, and becomes even more beautiful with the greenery and the soft sound of the water of the Pekerisan river gently flowing through the rocks. We crossed the pretty bridge and went to the other side where the megaliths are even bigger. There is a water channel system which carries the water through the temples, thereby symbolically purifying it. The water comes out from mossy fountains shaped like gargoyles and we promptly sprinkled some on us.
There is a small Buddhist temple, distinctly modern which lies on one side of the Gunung Kawi complex and we went inside. There were only a handful of people there and it was wonderfully calm and serene for a hot afternoon. The temple descends to lush green terraced fields where we could see farmers relaxing in the shades after lunch.
The primary reason why we left Gunung Kawi was the pangs of hunger we started getting. It had been more than 12 hours since I had my last dose of Nasi Goreng and was already feeling the withdrawal symptoms. Slowly and painfully we came up all those steps and went to grab some food.
Check out more photographs from Gunung Kawi here