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Gunung Kawi : Ancient Balinese in Tampaksiring

One of the oldest religious places in Bali is Gunung Kawi near Tampaksiring, which contains ‘candi‘ (pronounced chandi) or tombs built to honor an 11th Century king.

Gunung Kawi is located just 1 km north of Tampaksiring off the road to the right. The location is sign posted as you get close. When you follow the local street down to the parking area there will be the usual collection of drink and souvenir stalls.

The entire site sits in a small river valley (the Pakrisan river) and requires you to hike down a set of steps past a few more local vendors. The scenery is pretty with rice fields in view and local women washing their clothing in the small stream as you pass.

Admission to Gunung Kawi is 4,100rp for adults, 2,100rp for kids, sarongs and sashes are available. Gunung Kawi is open daily during daylight hours.

On the way down the 300 or so steps, you reach a stone archway that has been carved out of the rock. You will be instructed to stop, bless yourself with holy water from the pot and continue.

There are 4 Queen’s Tombs which maybe for King Anak Wungsu’s attendants. These are complimented by 5 Royal Tombs across the narrow river, which are thought to be for the king himself and his 4 favourite wives.

Archeologists have never found any evidence that anyone was actually buried at Gunung Kawi, the candi which were all complete with false doors possibly just an indicator that proper observance had been undertaken. Gunung Kawi is not just a temple but is a fascinating early Balinese religious site.

When you first reach the bottom of the steps leading down to the river, look to your left for the 4 Queen’s tombs. A small Balinese temple shrine is set up next to them. Crossing the river on the small bridge brings you to the more impressive Royal Tombs. All the candi are chiseled out of the rock face, now devoid of their original plaster carvings. One wonders about the origin name Gunung Kawi, ‘gunung‘ meaning ‘mountain’ and ‘kawi‘ the name of old Javenese, the language of Balinese high priests. The design of the candi structures at Gunung Kawi resembles that of 3-sectional structures in Java that were built with a stone capped grave to represent hell earth and heaven.

Across the river is the most interesting part of the complex, the Gunung Kawi temple complex. This area is carved out of the rock and really looks like a pre-historic site rather than a place off worship. Tiny rooms or cells have been created and there is a tiny inner sanctum with a flower offering at its entrance. This area was for the holy men in charge of Gunung Kawi. There is a Tenth Tomb that you can visit on your way out, which is believed to be an important figure in the royal court who passed away after king Anak Wungsu.

Gunung Kawi is around 15km from Ubud and can make an interesting trip. You can see the whole place in an hour.