12 January 2014
Land in the Sea
The tip of the pagoda seemed to uphold the big grey cloud hovering on top of the temple. The spot was known for its wonderful sunsets, rendering dramatic the silhouette of the temple on its oceanfront location. I was initially a bit upset when I saw that large cloud whisk towards the setting sun. But just like at the water palace, the ominous cumulonimbus (ha, those two words together have a nice ring to them) made for unique pictures and probably put more emphasis on that gold-coloured light. Whatever the conditions, there’s always at least one picture one can take, and perhaps it’s even still possible to take an original photo.
Earlier on, I wasn’t sure I would even be able to reach that temple. It had perhaps been the heat or the constant focus on the intense traffic or just that the helmet was holding my head too tight – or maybe was my brain growing?! Whatever it was, I had had to stop my scooter in a curve of the road to rest a bit, let that massive headache go away, sitting down in front of that empty shop or restaurant.
But I then carried on, glad to eventually enjoy the view of that simple but popular temple constructed on a large offshore rock on the western coast of Bali. In a way, it reminded me of Mont Saint Michel in France, that large monastery occupying a small rocky island. Just like in France, Tanah Lot – or Land in the Sea in Balinese – is only accessible at low tide. The Balinese temple dates back to the fifteenth century (the construction of the French monastery was started in the eighth century) and is one of the seven sea temples around the Balinese coast.
It is said that those seven temples were built within eyesight of one another… but being the data geek that I am, I had to verify that it was possible in theory since I didn’t think of checking while there in person. Assuming unobstructed vision and ideal conditions, which is a fairly big assumption considering pollution and clouds, our eyes can only distinguish human-scale objects up to a distance of 3 kilometres or, in other terms, an object must subtend an angle of at least one arcminute (that’s one sixtieth of a degree). Assuming (physicists love assumptions, haha) that each temple has a height of about fifteen metres, a simple trigonometry calculation shows that eyes would be able to resolve such structures more than fifty kilometres away… well, I guess things work out, especially knowing that those seven temples are supposed to form a chain on only a fraction of the Balinese coast which I estimate to be a bit more than 300 kilometres long.
While the temple itself can’t be visited by non-worshippers, the base of the island is also believed to be guarded by poisonous sea snakes, a giant one supposedly protecting the temple. Where was I supposed to stand?! Ah, was that why restaurants and souvenir shops had mushroomed on the cliff tops overlooking the temple?! I can’t really complain though, that’s where I took my sunset pictures from!