25 March 2014
A major water temple up in central Bali
It’s not particularly impressive as such but it is on every postcard of Bali. This 17th-century temple named Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, literally the “temple at the beginning of lake Bratan”, however turns out to be a major temple: it’s one of the nine temples protecting the island from evil spirits, it’s even a water temple since it’s actually built on tiny islands. That’s at least one reason why the temple area is so crowded with pilgrims and tourists.
Another reason for the temple’s popularity is probably because it sits along one of the only three roads that traverse the centre of the island to reach the northern shore without having to go all around the island (which would probably be in the range of 400 kilometres). My nostrils consequently received their fair share of carbon monoxide coming from all the badly-maintained tourist buses and minivans that I couldn’t always overtake – imagine me on a scooter shrouded in a cloud of dark smoke, yuk.
An additional explanation for the temple’s reputation is undoubtedly the simplicity and the harmony of the eleven-thatched-tier pagoda (if one dismisses the kitsch frogs added around the temple for whatever obscure reason), as well as its setting on the lake surrounded by the often-cloud-covered mountain tops.
The crowds and the changing weather conditions didn’t really allow for any respite on my way across the island. And yet, as I was spending quite a bit of time trying to frame the pagoda along different angles and different light conditions, a ceremony hidden behind stone walls caught my attention – a ceremony in honour of the water goddess most likely, to ensure the supply of water for Balinese farmers, since the lake is a main irrigation source for the area. Notice once again how men wear their white headdress called udengs and how women carry baskets of offerings on their heads.
On the way back a day later, it was a cloud of heavy rain that I had to ride through, yay. For the crater lake of Bratan is located at an altitude of around 1,000 metres – my observations of Balinese weather up there led me to conclude that brief but heavy rain downpours are inevitable just about every day so one simply needs to time things appropriately... or be covered up, especially since it then gets quite chilly. Or is it because pilgrims pray at Puru Bratan every day and their prayers get answered by the water goddess?!