Bali is home to many temples, most seem to be perched on the edges of cliffs or nestled deep in the jungles. Whilst Bali may be overshadowed by neighbouring Java and the world class Borobudur and may fall low in the Temple league table of SE Asia the temples are nonetheless on most tourists agenda. The daddy of Bali’s temples is Basakih, no longer the huge tourist draw it was some years back (as I will explain later) it is still the biggest and supposedly best temple in Bali.
Naturally we decided that we would head up there to see whether the harsh criticism it attracts from many travellers was justified or whether it was a misunderstood jaw dropping marvel of architecture and history.
Since every taxi driver/tour operator is about as honest as Del Boy we decided to hire our own car. A bit of negotiation later and we had a passion wagon sorted and I was trying my best not to kill ourselves or any of the million or so motorcyclists all trying to play chicken with me. The car cost 180,000IDR per day which is about 12 quid a day fully insured. Tourists need an international licence which I don’t have, but the police are corrupt and so if you get caught I’m told 50,000IDR works wonders in making miracles happen. Obviously don’t just flash the cash and make it an obvious bribe, if you get busted just get out your wallet and say “sorry officer, what’s my fine” and from what I’m told you’ll be 50k lighter and on your way in no time.
Besakih is about 3hrs from Kuta and having no map I used the compass on my phone to get a general direction and stopped regularly for directions. The journey took us up huge mountains on roads barely wide enough for a bike let alone a car and the drops of hundreds of feet are sobering to say the least. We kept stopping to take in the views which are something else. Rice fields drape the mountain sides all stepping down looking seriously that good they don’t look real. The scenery can only be described as phenomenal, simply amazing.
We got well and truly lost but eventually whilst near the top of a mountain and surrounded by mist and rain we hit a checkpoint and got robbed for our entry, keep going up the road and eventually you’ll hit a dead end where the temple entrance is, look down the road and be gutted as you head down to the car park realising you will have to walk back up the 500m to the entrance. We parked up and were mobbed instantly by kids selling umbrellas, when we finally got rid we set off. We got called into a checkpoint and told I needed to wear a Sarong, I had a whinge and explained that my ¾’s were the same length as a sarong, they were having none of it and told me I would be refused entry if I didn’t rent one. So I was scammed another 10k which I had to negotiate, it started at about 50k or something. As we walked up the hill there I was looking a right knob, it was pissing down with rain, proper misty and there was me in my Berghaus Gore-Tex Jacket with bright red sarong. We battled through loads of ‘tour guides’ who told us we couldn’t get entry without them and eventually got to the entrance, which basically is some steps. In we went and I saw in the distance what looked like a cross between star gate and an Inca temple. It looked good, in fact it looked great. I barely had time to take it in when suddenly we were mobbed again by people trying to tell us there was a ceremony on and we needed this and that. I ignored them and we walked up the steps to the top of the temple. Instantly we were greeted by about 8 guys all telling us I needed a guide to enter the temple, when I told them I didn’t they said I needed to buy something to worship. I squeezed past them and they held the gate shut and refused me entry saying that I was disrespecting their religion and making trouble for myself. I knew they were trying to scam me and so squeezed through the gate, they blocked the kids and said I was disrespectful and were basically threatening me. I told them what scum they were and we headed back down the stairs. At the bottom some woman told me to enter the grounds I had to buy some fruit or whatever it was to worship. I asked how much and was told 10k, I refused and the price dropped to 5k, I knew this was some huge scam and so we set off walking round the outside, as we did some guy stopped me and told me I needed a guide to go that way. So we went the opposite way and sneaked past a wall where people were all stood. Up a few stairs and we were in the temple from the opposite side. No need for a guide, no worshipping nothing, the guys saw me and were just laughing. We walked around the temple which is more like a collection of smaller temples all built around a big one. Some of the views, particularly shrouded in mist were really impressive. That said we didn’t spend longer than an hour there and within no time, piss wet through and pissed off we headed back to Kuta.
It is clear why most independent travellers side swipe Besakih and I personally can’t recommend it, on the grand scale of things there are far better temples in SE Asia and for the hassle of getting there and being there it’s simply not worth it. Unless of course you get a guide, then perhaps you will avoid all the problems we had, but getting a guide in itself is a minefield fraught with problems, and to be honest it is easily navigated and a guide would really be a waste of money and would be feeding the scamsters who have turned what could be a great day out into a waste of a day and yet another example of how the Balinese are out for one thing and one thing only – Money. On the drive home it occurred to me that whilst they accused me of disrespecting their religion they were openly and dishonestly exploiting it, sadly this is what we have come to expect in Bali.