Goa Gajah temple is a Hindu temple complex located on the outskirts of Ubud in the small village of Bedulu, which is rapidly becoming a suburb of the city. The name means ‘Elephant Cave’ in Indonesian and probably comes from the Petenu River, which was once called Elephant River. This is a fitting name as the site of the temple is at a place where two rivers meet, which has religious significance in Balinese culture.
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More recently people have associated Goa Gajah temple with the small cave that’s at the center of the complex. This is the highlight of the temple for most tourists, but it’s also a site of religious importance for Balinese Hindus. The main temple dates back to the 11th Century, but Buddhist relics have been found at the site dating back to the 8th Century.
Goa Gajah Temple
Goa Gajah Temple is located just off the road out of Ubud. The temple is clearly signposted and there’s a large car park. To get to the entrance of Goa Gajah you need to pass two rows of shops. The shopkeepers try to sell you sarongs and other small goods, but you don’t need to buy any as you are given a sarong at the entrance to the temple.
The temple is open from 8:00am in the morning and closes at 4:00pm in the afternoon. The temple is open every day of the week. I imagine it’s going to be better visiting during the weekdays as the weekends are going to get pretty busy. It costs Rp 15,000 for an adult and Rp 7,500 for a child to enter the temple. Once you’ve paid your entrance fee and put on your Sarong you walk down the hill towards the temple grounds.
Goa Gajah temple complex is split into four main sections. Immediately as you arrive in the temple you’ll find two large bathing ponds. The ponds are sunken into the ground and there are three waterspouts in each pool carved into the shape of Hindu Angels.
The Main Cave
Immediately in front of the bathing pools is the main Goa Gajah. The entrance to the cave is chiseled out of solid stone. The entrance is carved into the shape of a face with the gaping mouth as the entrance. You can see images of forest and animals carved into the face of the rock.
It’s not clear what the face carved into the cave is supposed to represent. Some people say that the entrance to the cave represents the Hindu Earth God Bhoma. Others say that the face is supposed to depict the head of an elephant or the mouth of Rangda, a child-eating witch from Balinese mythology.
Goa Gajah cave starts as a thin tunnel, before opening up into a wider chamber. There are two shrines at either end of the cave. One of the shrines is dedicated to the elephant headed Hindu God Lord Ganesh. There is a stone statue of the god with the elephant head in the cave.
The cave is actually still used in rituals by Balinese Hindus and you’ll see people making offerings at the cave and burning incense when you visit. You can see smoke and soot on the roof and walls of the temple from hundreds of years of such offering.
To the right of the cave is a small stonewall. Behind the wall are several stone shrines. There are a mixture of stone and wooden shrines in a row leading towards a series of small houses. The shrines are all brightly painted in bright colors like red and yellow.
If you follow the path round to the right you will see a small series of rice fields. The path cuts through the rice fields and loops back round to some stairs that lead down to the last section of the temple. Along the side of the path you’ll pass several stalls selling wooden statues.
Entering the Ravine
To get to the final section of the temple you need to walk down another set of steps. The steps lead down to a small ravine, which is close to where the rivers meet. As you go down into the ravine you pass a small shrine where you might see people praying.
Once you get to the bottom of the stairs you have to cross a small bridge that goes over a stream. There’s a big bolder close to where the spring comes to the surface. If you want to you can go down to the spring and behind the bolder, alternatively you can carry on following the path.
If you follow the path you pass a large holy tree that is wrapped in cloth, before arriving at a small fishpond filled with lilies. It’s a pretty area to relax in. Everything is green and lush and there’s almost no sound from the road.
Goa Gajah is one of the most famous Hindu temples around Ubud. Although it was not packed when I visited it does get quite busy with tourists. The best time to arrive at the temple is early in the morning, before the big buses arrive. If you want more ideas for things to do in Bali check out 91 Fun and Incredible Things to do in Bali.
What do you think? Have you visited Goa Gajah before? Let me know what you thought about the temple in the comments below.
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