Altered Reality: Witchcraft, Lucid Dreaming and Mystery Spots

Supernatural Season 3, Episodes 9-11 cover the Malleus Maleficarum, African dream root, tricksters and hex bags.

 Don’t sabbaths look fun?!  Hexen , or  Witches , by Hans Baldrung, 1508

Don’t sabbaths look fun?! Hexen, or Witches, by Hans Baldrung, 1508

S3E9: “Malleus Maleficarum”

Monster: Witch

Where it’s from: All over the world, including the Middle East, Europe and America

Description: While they sometimes are depicted as being hideous, with long, warty noses and greenish skin, witches are just ordinary people. In fact, many, if not most, of those accused of witchcraft during the medieval Inquisition in Europe were simply natural healers, who fell victim to the patriarchy’s refusal to allow women in influential roles.

 Be careful what you wish for:  The Witch of Endor  by Martynov

Be careful what you wish for: The Witch of Endor by Martynov

One of the first mentions of a witch is the Witch of Endor, in 1 Samuel in the Bible, believed to have been written between 931 and 721 BCE, according to History. King Saul convinces the witch to call up the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel to help him defeat the Philistine army. She’s reluctant to help, as practicing witchcraft at the time was punishable by death. But Saul assures her she’s safe, so she performs her dark arts, and Samuel’s ghost appears.

Things don’t work out too well for Saul, though. Samuel is all doom and gloom, and sure enough, the next day Saul’s sons perish in the battle. Saul, in despair, commits suicide.

 The trouble with predicting the future is that sometimes it sucks:  Saul and the Witch of Endor  by Edward Henry Corbould, 1860

The trouble with predicting the future is that sometimes it sucks: Saul and the Witch of Endor by Edward Henry Corbould, 1860

Even though the Witch of Endor isn’t depicted as a villain — in fact, you could argue that she performs God’s work — there’s another Old Testament verse, Exodus 22:18, which decrees, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”  

The name of this episode of Supernatural refers to a medieval treatise, the Malleus Maleficarum (Latin for The Hammer of Witches) by Catholic clergyman Heinrich Kramer (and possibly Jacob Sprenger). Published in Germany in 1487, it instructed magistrates how to identify, interrogate and convict witches. The writers endorsed executing witches.

 This book, which tells you how to identify and exterminate witches, was all the rage in medieval times

This book, which tells you how to identify and exterminate witches, was all the rage in medieval times

The book was a hit — it was the second-bestselling book, behind the Bible, for almost 200 years.

What it does: “I hate witches,” Dean whines. “They’re always spewing their bodily fluids everywhere.”

On Supernatural, a coven is masquerading as a book club. They cast some Arabic-sounding spells, cut their hand, drip blood onto a victim’s toothbrush — and her teeth fall out and she dies.

 Witches cast spells to get their way and curse their enemies

Witches cast spells to get their way and curse their enemies



Hex bags are used to curse people. On the show, they’re relics of Old World black magic, containing bird bones, rabbit teeth and something the victim owned. Here are a couple of other versions:

How to Make a Hex Bag

Gather four symbolic items to include in the hex bag.

1. Intent: One ingredient that represents the purpose of the hex bag.

After the bag is created, you can “feed” more of these items to it to strengthen its power.

2. Spirit: Something that belongs to the possessor of the hex bag — and has never belonged to someone else.

3. Life: A plant, herb, seed or natural oil associated with the intended purpose of the bag. You can also use once-living items, like bone, hair, fur, antlers, claws or snake skin.

4. Sacrifice: One item that shows what you’re willing to offer to have the bag do its work.

Source: Sorcery and Shamanism

 

Black Magic Hex Bag

You’ll need:

  • Small black fabric bag
  • Pieces of dragon blood resin
  • Dried rue, basil, wormwood and nettle
  • A pentacle made of metal or wood

Focus on your target as you put the items into the bag.

Ideally, bury the hex bag outside their home, but if this isn’t possible, put it in their locker, desk or somewhere close to them.

Source: Spells of Magic

How to defeat it: Burning the hex bag negates its power.

 This shaman might be dreamwalking, but he’s certainly tripping his balls off

This shaman might be dreamwalking, but he’s certainly tripping his balls off

S3E10: “Dream a Little Dream of Me”

Monster: Dreamwalker

Where it’s from: South Africa

Description: Xhosa shamans of the river valleys on the eastern cape of South Africa are said to possess the power to enter other people’s dreams.

 Some shamans can take over your dreams

Some shamans can take over your dreams

What it does: The Winchester Brothers’ buddy Bobby is trapped in a dream. Someone’s entering people’s dreams (dreamwalking) and killing them. As the saying goes, if you die in your dream, you die in your sleep. It’s all very A Nightmare on Elm Street.

 The horror icon Freddy Krueger killed people in their dreams, and they died in real life

The horror icon Freddy Krueger killed people in their dreams, and they died in real life

How does one dreamwalk? It can be surprisingly easy.

A white flower called undlela zimhlophe, which translates to “white paths,” grows in South Africa. Its blooms only open at night, emitting a mesmerizing aroma. The plant, more commonly known as African dream root (Silene capensis), induces psychedelic, prophetic dreams.

 African dream room, which helps you lucid dream, is available for sale. Wally knows what he’s asking for Christmas!

African dream room, which helps you lucid dream, is available for sale. Wally knows what he’s asking for Christmas!

For the Xhosa, dreams are seen as gifts from the ancestors, characterized as drifting white winds or ghosts, in which they impart healing guidance or other knowledge to their descendants, according to World of Lucid Dreaming.

“This dream root is some serious mojo,” Sam says. “You take enough of it, with practice, you can become a regular Freddy Krueger.”

So how do they find this homicidal Sandman? Dean wants to know.

To control someone’s dream, you need to drink part of their body. The boys put in some of Bobby’s hair. Eww.

Bobby’s being tormented by a woman in a white nightgown with holes in her chest — who turns out to be his wife. He had to kill her — she was possessed, rabid. This horrific experience is what got him into hunting.

The villain turns out to be Jeremy, one of the subjects of a medical experiment — he’s basically a god in the dream world.

How to defeat it: Enter the dream and confront the dreamwalker. Remember, he’s dreaming, too. Use his subconscious fears against him.

 Mystery spots defy the laws of nature

Mystery spots defy the laws of nature

S3E11: “Mystery Spot”

Monster: Trickster

Where it’s from: Various parts of the world, though the Greek god Hermes and the Norse deity Loki are two of the best known

Description: There’ve been some strange goings-on at the Broward County Mystery Spot.

What it does: These mystery spots are popular roadside attractions in the U.S. They’re said to defy the laws of physics, where gravity doesn’t work, and perspective is skewed.

 Next time you’re at the Oregon Vortex, try the popular  Titanic  pose

Next time you’re at the Oregon Vortex, try the popular Titanic pose

Dean’s not having any of it: “Sam, joints like this are only tourist traps, right? I mean, you know, balls rolling uphill, furniture nailed to the ceiling — they’re only dangerous to your wallet.”

But Sam thinks locations that bend space and time are a distinct possibility: “There are spots in the world where holes open up and swallow people.” He mentions the Bermuda Triangle, part of the Atlantic Ocean between Miami, Bermuda and Puerto Rico, where dozens of ships and airplanes have disappeared, as well as the Oregon Vortex, one of the most famous mystery spots.

 Numerous vessels have been lost forever in the Bermuda Triangle

Numerous vessels have been lost forever in the Bermuda Triangle

What it does: Sam’s living his own personal Groundhog Day. Could you imagine a more frightening way to repeatedly start each day than your alarm going off to Asia’s “Heat of the Moment”?

Poor Dean keeps dying: He gets shot by the owner of the Mystery Spot; he’s run down at a crosswalk; then he’s smashed by a falling piano. And that’s just the start. This cycle goes on for over 100 days.

It turns out to be the work of a trickster. A man who recently disappeared didn’t believe in wormholes — so the naughty god thought it’d be fitting to throw him in one.

 Mischievous Mercury (the Roman equivalent of Hermes) lulls a watchman to sleep so he can steal a cow:  Mercury and Argos  by Abraham Hondius, late 1600s

Mischievous Mercury (the Roman equivalent of Hermes) lulls a watchman to sleep so he can steal a cow: Mercury and Argos by Abraham Hondius, late 1600s

Bobby says they’ll have to perform a summoning ritual. They’ll just need a gallon of human blood. Sam coldly agrees to kill someone for it — but then stakes Bobby. He knows his hunter buddy would never suggest such a bloodthirsty plan. And sure enough, the trickster god reveals himself.

How to defeat it: Beg. The trickster, in his sick and twisted way, is actually trying to get Sam to accept life without Dean. But Sam doesn’t want to imagine that (awww!), so the trickster lets Sam leave his virtual hell. –Wally

The Picture-Perfect Tegallalang Rice Terrace of Bali

Your photos of these gorgeous rice terraces will make your friends green with envy.

 If you’re in the Ubud area, make a stop at the Tegallalang Rice Terrance

If you’re in the Ubud area, make a stop at the Tegallalang Rice Terrance

Chances are if you’ve ever done an Instagram or Pinterest search and entered the keyword “Bali,” you’ve seen more than a few images of the terraced rice paddies of Tegallalang and tourists posing beneath the multicolored Love Bali sign.

This highly photogenic and popular tourist destination is located about 30 minutes north of Ubud.

We gazed out, awestruck by the sea of emerald green terraces whose sinuous lines follow the contours of the hillside.
 Get there as early as possible to avoid the crowds and the heat of the day

Get there as early as possible to avoid the crowds and the heat of the day

Wally and I hired a driver and left from our hotel early enough in the morning to (hopefully) avoid the throngs of tourists. When we arrived at the large parking lot, we were not entirely surprised that it was already beginning to fill up. I was confused at first if we were in the right place, as there are large printed banners for Ceking Rice Field. I later learned that this is the name of the village where Tegallalang is situated.

 Duke enjoying the beautiful setting

Duke enjoying the beautiful setting

 Wally’s excited for the adventure to begin!

Wally’s excited for the adventure to begin!

 Even though you can’t see them, there are paths to follow through the rice paddies

Even though you can’t see them, there are paths to follow through the rice paddies

 It’s amazing to think that this rice is gathered by hand

It’s amazing to think that this rice is gathered by hand

Rice Rice Baby

Rice is a staple food for the Balinese, reflected in the endless regional variations of nasi goreng, and a small amount often appears in traditional woven palm leaf offerings. Cultivation adheres to a well-organized cycle initiated by ritual observance at water temples — the nearby Gunung Kawi Sebatu temple is dedicated to Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice and fertility.

Bali’s tropical climate allows for rice to be grown year round, and the terraces of Tegallalang were lush and green on our visit in late April. It’s humbling to learn that the harvesting process is done completely by hand. The sheaves are thrashed in bunches to release the grains, which are then washed and laid out in the sun to dry.

 The undulating green hills are iconic of Bali

The undulating green hills are iconic of Bali

It Takes a Village

As consumers, when we think of rice, we may only see it as a pre-packaged commodity to be purchased off the shelves of a grocery store. We don’t imagine how it came to be there — namely, the result of a sophisticated agrarian community dating back to the 8th century, whose shared labor, known as subak, encourages farmers to work together to preserve the traditional egalitarian irrigation system passed on from generation to generation. This practice follows the Balinese philosophy Tri Hita Karana, in which humans, spirits and nature are intertwined in a harmonious, mutually beneficial relationship.

Wally and I paid a donation fee of 10,000 rupiah each (about $1) to enter. Standing at the top of hill, we gazed out, awestruck by the sea of emerald green terraces whose sinuous lines follow the contours of the hillside.

 Wally saw a small cave and crawled through it until he came out this end

Wally saw a small cave and crawled through it until he came out this end

There were a few other tourists captured in our photographs, but it didn’t bother us and added scale and color to our images. We hiked down mud steps to the valley floor and walked up the other side, meandering the narrow footpaths that cut through the paddies.

To prevent birds from eating the grain laden stalks, farmers have employed an ingenious technique using bamboo poles and strings. One version creates horizontal movement when the string is tugged and another activates a set of empty aluminum cans that loudly rattle.

 A lotus pond we stumbled upon

A lotus pond we stumbled upon

 You’ll marvel at the sheer scale of what you’re seeing

You’ll marvel at the sheer scale of what you’re seeing

50 Shades of Green

We spent a little over an hour wandering through the terraces and footpaths. Make sure to bring comfortable footwear, suitable for moderate trekking, bug repellent, sunscreen and bottled water, as the landscape is fairly exposed and open.

At one point, we were at the far end of the valley and couldn’t find our way out. Instead of following a group of equally baffled tourists, we backtracked past the swings, where you can swoop out over the terraces for that perfect Instagram photo or video. I refused to do this, as it seemed like something only basic bitches would do. Wally argued that it’s a requisite shot for all the influencers, so I told him he could take one if he wanted.

 These stepped terraces are a marvel of ancient engineering

These stepped terraces are a marvel of ancient engineering

 There’s no clear way to go, and we had to backtrack to find our way out

There’s no clear way to go, and we had to backtrack to find our way out

 Atop one hill, a hen and her chicks toddled around

Atop one hill, a hen and her chicks toddled around

We went back down the valley and took a different fork in the road, eventually ending up on the other side by the road we had originally come from, passing hikers going in the opposite direction.

There are small shops selling I ♥ Bali tote bags, clothing, cold drinks, coffee luwak (which is basically green coffee beans that have been partially digested and defecated by a mongoose) and other assorted souvenir fare along the way. We picked up a couple of Bintang Radler, but we’re still kicking ourselves that we didn’t purchase one of the ubiquitous penis-shaped bottle openers we saw here and in Ubud. They’re available in various sizes, have a set of balls and come in light or dark wood.

 Tegallalang has much to offer, though some travelers visit Jatiluwih instead

Tegallalang has much to offer, though some travelers visit Jatiluwih instead

Why We Chose Tegallalang

Prior to adding the rice terrace to our itinerary, I had weighed the pros and cons of Tegallalang and Jatiluwih. Jatiluwih, although recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, was over an hour from Ubud and a bit problematic when plotting out an efficient route using Google Maps that included the other places we wanted to visit.

 Wally’s never met a hammock he didn’t try out

Wally’s never met a hammock he didn’t try out

I understood that Tegallalang would very likely be more touristy and read reviews where some people had negative experiences and had felt like they were perpetually being asked for donations as they wandered through the paddies. This was not something we encountered, but after learning more about the cooperative subak system, it does make sense, as these are working fields and there’s a lot of creativity and hard work that goes into maintaining the terraces. My advice is to carry a few small bills with you in case a farmer requests payment if you want to take photos and try your best to stay on the designated pathways.

Even though our time in Bali was all too brief, I’m grateful we were able to check Tegallalang off our list. And in case you’re curious, Wally didn’t end up doing the swing by the Love Bali sign — he took one look at the dropoff and his vertigo prevented this from happening. –Duke

tegallalang6.JPG

Tegallalang Rice Terrace
Jalan Raya Tegallalang
Tegallalang
Kabupaten Gianyar
Bali 8056
Indonesia

The Dangers of the Ubud Monkey Forest

The Monkey Forest is worth wandering, but perhaps not with children. It’s fitting that the Great Temple of Death lies within this sanctuary, where people get bitten by monkeys every day.

 Gorgeous stonework and mischievous macaques abound in the Monkey Forest

Gorgeous stonework and mischievous macaques abound in the Monkey Forest

Things might have been much worse if we hadn’t had a somewhat scary encounter the night before we planned to visit the Monkey Sanctuary in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

We were wandering down Monkey Forest Road, right at the turn, near one of the entrances to the forest. A large macaque monkey scampered down a power line and stopped a few feet in front of Duke.

He was looking up at another monkey on the roof of a shop and I snapped a photo. And then, in a flash, the monkey jumped onto Duke, grabbed his water bottle, hopped off of him and scurried down the road a bit. It all happened so quickly, Duke didn’t even have time to react.

The monkey opened its mouth and sank its teeth into the girl’s shoulder, before darting away.

The girl screamed and screamed, yet her banshee-like wails failed to draw the attention of any staffers.
 The moment right before the monkey jumped onto Duke and stole his water bottle

The moment right before the monkey jumped onto Duke and stole his water bottle

We watched in astonishment as the monkey unscrewed the lid, poured some water out onto the street and scooped it up with its palms to drink.

 As cool as it might be to get a selfie with a monkey, we can’t advise it

As cool as it might be to get a selfie with a monkey, we can’t advise it

The last time I visited Bali, 17 years ago, I let a monkey crawl onto my back, and that picture became a now-legendary Christmas card. I might have done so again — but this incident was enough to put the fear of God — or perhaps the fear of Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god —  into me.

 The statue by the Monkey Forest entrance hints at what could happen to unsuspecting tourists!

The statue by the Monkey Forest entrance hints at what could happen to unsuspecting tourists!

Entering the Monkey Forest: It All Starts Innocently Enough…

So it was with a newfound sense of caution (and, let’s face it, downright fear of these creatures) that Duke and I wandered into the Monkey Sanctuary. The setting is epic: a glen of primordial trees, bridges that criss-cross a ravine with a river below and not one, but two pura dalems, or temples of death.

 The setting, with banyan roots, bizarre statues, lush foliage and wild monkeys, is quite epic

The setting, with banyan roots, bizarre statues, lush foliage and wild monkeys, is quite epic

We headed to the right, down a path that leads to one of the bridges that span the chasm below. There are a few landings here, with metal railings where monkeys like to hang out. This is a good spot for photos. The monkeys here seemed to know they’re models, and you can snap some shots at a safe distance.

 Down the path to the right is a landing where monkeys strike a pose

Down the path to the right is a landing where monkeys strike a pose

 Hindus, like those on Bali, revere monkeys, in part because one of their main gods, Hanuman, is simian

Hindus, like those on Bali, revere monkeys, in part because one of their main gods, Hanuman, is simian

 According to the park, there are about 600 monkeys in the area!

According to the park, there are about 600 monkeys in the area!

A path winds along the rock face at the edge of the river. It’s narrow and crowded and ends abruptly without a payoff. You might as well skip it.

 Banyan roots have taken over parts of the sanctuary

Banyan roots have taken over parts of the sanctuary

 Wally, who was scared the entire time he was in the forest, thought these were real lizards at first

Wally, who was scared the entire time he was in the forest, thought these were real lizards at first

Following the main path takes you over another bridge and walkway above the ravine before leading you to a temple. Duke and I were delighted to notice the strange, monstrous statues out front. We had arrived at Pura Dalem Agung Pandangtegal, or the Padangtegal Great Temple of Death. Demonic sculptures, including those of the witch Rangda, adorn pura dalems.

 The main temple of death in the forest is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva

The main temple of death in the forest is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva

 Rangda personifies evil — and loves to eat babies

Rangda personifies evil — and loves to eat babies

 What are these naughty babies doing?!

What are these naughty babies doing?!

 Statues of demons surround the temple of death

Statues of demons surround the temple of death

A young macaque with a mohawk posed on a ledge near the temple’s entrance, nibbling on what appeared to be a yam. While we were taking some pictures, a big lug came up beside us and smiled. “Cute,” he said, before telling us that he had just been bitten on the arm by one of these critters. He was just standing there, and a young monkey jumped onto his shoulder, supposedly unbidden. Before he knew it, she had sunk her teeth into his arm.

 This little macaque was hanging out on the temple entrance

This little macaque was hanging out on the temple entrance

I could tell by his accent that he was French, but I still spoke English to him. “You need to go to the doctor!” I told him. He just laughed, and I said, “I’m serious! You could get rabies! You could die!” But he just kept chuckling like I was telling him the funniest bit of nonsense he’s ever heard, before wandering away.

There supposedly haven’t been any cases of rabies from monkeys in the sanctuary, but I don’t think it’s worth the risk — especially since my doctor told me that rabies is 100% fatal. If you get bitten at the forest, don’t take any chances and get rabies shots at the Toya Medika Clinic down the street.

 They might look innocent — but they’re not

They might look innocent — but they’re not

Reality Bites: It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets Bit

Not long after the French guy told us about how he been bitten, we saw a family allow a small monkey to crawl onto their young daughter for a photo op. It was like a train wreck — we couldn’t look away. When the girl wanted the monkey to get off of her, she tried to shake it off. Sure enough, the monkey opened its mouth and sank its teeth into the girl’s shoulder, before darting away.

The girl screamed and screamed, yet her banshee-like wails failed to draw the attention of any staffers.

We also saw a monkey grab a stack of cards from a woman’s open bag. The man with her literally pounced at the monkey and tried to retrieve the cards from it. We shook our heads in disbelief. It seemed wiser to let the monkey grow bored with its prize and drop it, once it realized it wasn’t edible.

 Statues in the Monkey Forest tend to be grotesque — which Duke and Wally love

Statues in the Monkey Forest tend to be grotesque — which Duke and Wally love

It’s no exaggeration when I say that I was in a mild state of terror the entire time I was at the sanctuary. Any time we passed by a monkey, I’d freeze up and scooch past it as quickly as possible, my heart pounding through my chest.

Down from the temple is a bathing pool, and it was fun to watch the monkeys swing into the water and splash about — from a safe distance, of course.

 Delightfully horrific statues pair nicely with the monkeys

Delightfully horrific statues pair nicely with the monkeys

Beyond this is a ring trail that’s more sparse. The trees aren’t as tall and I felt more exposed. We hurried along the path, horrified, when, at one point, we saw a monkey that had stolen a bottle of sunblock from some tourists. It unscrewed the top and was trying to drink the thick white liquid. The couple watching this were laughing, but we didn’t find it amusing.

At the end of the ring path, we saw a small building with a group of the sanctuary’s staff just hanging out smoking. We couldn’t help but think they should be in the more populated areas, stopping people from doing stupid things and attending to the kids who have been bitten.

 You can skirt around the exterior of the pura dalem and admire the bas reliefs

You can skirt around the exterior of the pura dalem and admire the bas reliefs

 Frieze frame

Frieze frame

We circled back to the Great Temple of Death, bummed that tourists aren’t allowed to enter the temple grounds. We skirted around the exterior, though, peeking over the wall to see the courtyard within.

 The Great Temple of Death inside the Monkey Forest isn’t open to tourists

The Great Temple of Death inside the Monkey Forest isn’t open to tourists

Another trail leads away from the temple, and we followed this down to another area of the nature preserve.

En route, we passed a woman squatting down to allow a monkey to climb onto her lap. When it started tugging at her braid, we had to go. We weren’t in the mood to see yet another person get bitten.

 When you’re ready for the monkey to get off you, it might not be — and if you force it to move, you’ll probably end up getting bitten

When you’re ready for the monkey to get off you, it might not be — and if you force it to move, you’ll probably end up getting bitten

We ended up walking through a creepy tunnel lit by an eerie purple and green light. I kept praying we wouldn’t encounter any primates in that dark expanse, and thankfully, we did not.

 The entrances to the tunnel by the parking lot sport giant faces

The entrances to the tunnel by the parking lot sport giant faces

The tunnel led to a parking lot, so we had to double back and head through it again. We followed a sign that pointed to a cremation temple and found ourselves at another end of the sanctuary, wary of a pack of monkeys nearby but eager to explore the small pura dalem. We couldn’t enter this temple of death, either, but admired the demonic statuary, while keeping an eye out for roving macaques.

 The cemetery near the smaller temple of death is where bodies remain before a mass cremation, which takes place every five years

The cemetery near the smaller temple of death is where bodies remain before a mass cremation, which takes place every five years

At this point, we figured we had seen everything we could and decided to leave the Monkey Forest the same way we had come. We were on the home stretch, the exit about 100 yards away, when a particularly brazen monkey made a jump for Duke’s tote bag. He turned away, clutching it tightly to his body. The monkey made some rude noises and gestures to show its displeasure. But we were safe at last, having emerged from this ordeal with a healthy fear of monkeys. –Wally

 Monkey see, monkey do

Monkey see, monkey do

Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary
Jalan Monkey Forest
Ubud, Kabupaten
Gianyar
Bali 80571, Indonesia

I was in a mild state of terror the entire time I was at the sanctuary.

The Buddhist Bas-Reliefs of Borobudur

A walk-through of the Borobudur temple carvings that depict the lives of the Buddha as told in the Jataka tales and Avadana.

 The carvings on some of the levels of Borobudur tell the story of the Buddha as well as his past reincarnations

The carvings on some of the levels of Borobudur tell the story of the Buddha as well as his past reincarnations

The incomparable 9th century Mahayana Buddhist sanctuary of Borobudur in Java, Indonesia contains the largest collection of decorative panels recounting the life of the Buddha. The structure rests upon an oversized base, and the body of the monument is composed of six raised platforms, including five terraced galleries. They’re square in form and diminish in scale with height. The uppermost trio of circular terraces are plain in comparison, but are augmented by 72 magnificent stone lattice-work stupas rising to the stupa on the summit. Because Borobudur has no inner chambers, it is considered a pilgrimage site.

 The builders of Borobudur recognized the need for a drainage system because of heavy rains that cause erosion

The builders of Borobudur recognized the need for a drainage system because of heavy rains that cause erosion

Pilgrims would have entered via the eastern stairs to ritually circumambulate (a fancy word for walking around) the sacred manmade mountain of chiseled gray andesite in quiet contemplation. It's here that the stories told in the narrative relief panels begin, with the birth of the future Buddha, Prince Siddhartha Gautama. According to legend, the infant stood and took seven steps. With each step, a lotus flower appeared, to prevent his tiny feet from touching the ground.

The corridors are filled with detailed murals depicting celestial beings, guardian demons, conch shells, jewel trees, durian fruit and a menagerie of animals, including elephants, deer and tree-dwelling monkeys, to name a few.

 Animals are depicted in the carvings — including many that tell of the past lives of the Buddha

Animals are depicted in the carvings — including many that tell of the past lives of the Buddha

Open to the sky, the bas-reliefs adorning the 13-foot-wide passages create a broad platform and are read from left to right, moving in a clockwise direction around the monument, twisting in right angles from one terrace to another. The galleries represent the planes of existence that must be experienced before reaching the uppermost level of spiritual perfection.

Story Time: Jataka and Avadana

The first- and second-level stone reliefs depict tales from Buddhist lore, including the Jataka and Avadana. Wally and I had first seen these stories depicted in the frescoes of the Ajanta Caves in India.

The Jataka tales are about the Buddha before he was born as Prince Siddhartha. Thematically, they illustrate lessons in morality, karma and merit that distinguished the bodhisattva from all other creatures. As a bodhisattva, the Buddha was born and reborn numerous times, alternating from human to animal form, before he finally attained enlightenment.

Avadana are similar to Jataka, but the main figure is not the Buddha himself — the saintly deeds are attributed to other legendary people.

We didn’t experience the reliefs in chronological order, as our guide, Pras, led us down from the upper terraces, after we watched the sunrise.


borobudurtemple.JPG

We paused on the stairway to admire one of the ornate archways depicting the fearsome face and open mouth of Kala.

According to folklore, Kala was created by the god Shiva to eradicate demons, though he’s sometimes identified himself as a demon named Rahu, who is said to have swallowed the universe, only to release it after being decapitated by the gods.

 Be careful when crossing through arches formed by the mouth of Kala — his jaw is said to snap shut on those who have evil in their hearts

Be careful when crossing through arches formed by the mouth of Kala — his jaw is said to snap shut on those who have evil in their hearts

 Locals like to joke that the stone at the top depicts the golden arches of McDonald’s

Locals like to joke that the stone at the top depicts the golden arches of McDonald’s

Why Many Buddhists Are Vegetarian

Pras pointed out a notable tale depicted in one of the panels known as The Hare’s Sacrifice. The bodhisattva was born as a hare. His closest friends were an otter, a jackal and a monkey. He continuously urged his friends to strive for right conduct and to be generous in their daily life. Wanting to put the hare to the test, the god Sakra appeared in the forest in the shape of a brahman who had lost his way and was starving. The otter brought seven fish, the jackal a lizard, and the monkey ripe fruits. The hare, however, couldn’t offer anything. The brahman lit a fire for an offering — and immediately the hare jumped in, offering himself as a meal. The king of the gods admired the saintly deed, and while resuming his own shape, he praised the hare for his self-sacrifice.

Pras explained that this was why many Buddhists are vegetarian, as they would not like to think that they are eating someone who may have been reborn as an animal. –Duke

 Be sure to check out the carvings as you explore the multi-story Borobudur Temple in Java, Indonesia

Be sure to check out the carvings as you explore the multi-story Borobudur Temple in Java, Indonesia

Borobudur Temple
Jl. Badrawati
Kw. Candi Borobudur
Borobudur, Magelang
Jawa Tengah
Indonesia

Pura Dalem Ubud: The Temple of Death

Looking for things to do in Ubud? Wander among the demons — and attend a kecak dance — at Desa Pakraman Ubud.

 The Pura Dalem lies on the outskirts of Ubud

The Pura Dalem lies on the outskirts of Ubud

 NSFW: The temple is covered with depictions of bare-breasted demonic women

NSFW: The temple is covered with depictions of bare-breasted demonic women

As we drove out of town our last evening on Bali, I glimpsed a temple atop a hill on the outskirts of Ubud. There was something that called to me, and I made a note to investigate it the next morning. So after we had packed up our bags and our driver Made (pronounced Mah-day) picked us up, I directed him to the temple.

Duke and I were delighted to discover that it was a pura dalem, or temple of death. These temples always have the craziest statues and carvings depicting Balinese demons out front, menacing visitors with bulging bug eyes, fangs, long tongues and breasts that sag down to their stomachs.

 These dramatically sliced gates are common at Balinese temples

These dramatically sliced gates are common at Balinese temples

 Motorbikes are ubiquitious on Bali

Motorbikes are ubiquitious on Bali

 Many Hindu temples have balustrades that run the length of staircases in the shape of snakelike naga

Many Hindu temples have balustrades that run the length of staircases in the shape of snakelike naga

Snarling lions and hosts of demons line the entrance stairs. Duke and I couldn’t help smiling.

This is our Disneyland.

Pura dalems are dedicated to Rangda, the Demon Queen. She is the personification of evil, often depicted with pendulous breastes, fangs and unkempt hair. We passed a statue of her holding a baby in her arms — her favorite snack.

 Rangda, the Demon Queen, loves to snack on innocent babes

Rangda, the Demon Queen, loves to snack on innocent babes

 Many creatures in Balinese mythology — good and evil — have bulging bug eyes

Many creatures in Balinese mythology — good and evil — have bulging bug eyes

 Balinese temples are composed of numerous open-air shrines

Balinese temples are composed of numerous open-air shrines

 This was pretty much the only statue at the Pura Dalem Ubud that wasn’t monstrous

This was pretty much the only statue at the Pura Dalem Ubud that wasn’t monstrous

 Monkeys, skulls and babies, oh my!

Monkeys, skulls and babies, oh my!

 The entrance to the pura dalem has creepy creatures everywhere you look

The entrance to the pura dalem has creepy creatures everywhere you look

I’ve read that pura dalems are usually built at the lowest part of a village, as demons are associated with bhur, the underworld (some elements are consistent across religions). But this temple rises on a hill above Ubud. Maybe the Great Temple of Death in the Monkey Forest is the one situated at the lowest point.

Snarling lions and hosts of demons line the entrance stairs. Duke and I couldn't help smiling. This is our Disneyland.

 Parts of the façade were being renovated when we visited

Parts of the façade were being renovated when we visited

 Pura dalems are associated with bhur, the underworld, where demons reside

Pura dalems are associated with bhur, the underworld, where demons reside

 It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that this is a temple of death

It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that this is a temple of death

 Ferocious beasts populate the entrance to the temple

Ferocious beasts populate the entrance to the temple

 Wally loves himself a lion

Wally loves himself a lion

 Downward-facing demon: a new yoga pose?

Downward-facing demon: a new yoga pose?

Sneaking Into the Temple of Death

We wandered around the temple complex, and I was surprised to see a large courtyard off to the left, for dancing. I wondered what kind of performances would take place at a temple of death.

After a bit of research, I learned that this temple hosts the Kecak Fire and Trance Dance, which sounds like an intense experience I’m bummed we didn’t see. I’d like to imagine the environment becomes charged with a mystical energy as the flames dance to  the dissonance of the native music. Perhaps the statues themselves come to life to join the dance.

 The music pavilion near the dance performance space

The music pavilion near the dance performance space

 Balinese musical ensembles are called gamelans

Balinese musical ensembles are called gamelans

 Wood and bronze xylophone-like instruments are common on Bali

Wood and bronze xylophone-like instruments are common on Bali

 The instruments are intricately carved with creatures from Balinese mythology

The instruments are intricately carved with creatures from Balinese mythology

At the back of the dance area is a pavilion filled with row after row of the bronze instruments, many resembling xylophones, that comprise a gamelan ensemble.

 Which is Garuda and which is Duke?

Which is Garuda and which is Duke?

 Mischievous Wally likes sneaking into temples

Mischievous Wally likes sneaking into temples

The interior of the temple was gated off, but Duke and I skirted around it until we found a gate we could stick our hand through and unlock from the other side. We opened it as quietly as possible, trying not to capture the attention of the construction workers nearby. The gate let out painfully loud squeal, and Duke and I slipped in quickly.

 Lichen covers Balinese temples, lending an ancient air to even the newer ones 

Lichen covers Balinese temples, lending an ancient air to even the newer ones 

 Maybe this is where you sacrifice your babies to Rangda

Maybe this is where you sacrifice your babies to Rangda

 The interior courtyard of the pura dalem was locked — but that didn’t stop us from finding a way in

The interior courtyard of the pura dalem was locked — but that didn’t stop us from finding a way in

 Shrine towers in the most sacred space of the temple

Shrine towers in the most sacred space of the temple

 These woven baskets contain offerings to the gods

These woven baskets contain offerings to the gods

Various shrines rise jaggedly skyward in the interior courtyard, bright orange brick and pale stone carved into monstrous creatures. The ground, like many temples on the island, is striped, alternating bands of stone and grass, a dichotomy I imagine symbolizes the balance of good and evil so prevalent in the Balinese religion.

 Like many temples in Bali, the interior courtyard features rows of grass and stone

Like many temples in Bali, the interior courtyard features rows of grass and stone

 Could the alternating stripes on the temple floor symbolize good vs. evil?

Could the alternating stripes on the temple floor symbolize good vs. evil?

A holy banyan tree grows off to one side, its roots dangling in clumps like Randa’s matted dreadlocks.

 Banyan trees, with their roots that grow from above, are amazing works of nature

Banyan trees, with their roots that grow from above, are amazing works of nature

 Many offering tables are covered with black and white checkered cloths

Many offering tables are covered with black and white checkered cloths

 The gnarled roots of banyans pair nicely with demonic depictions

The gnarled roots of banyans pair nicely with demonic depictions

When someone dies on Bali, they’re temporarily buried, and their spirit resides in the pura dalem, according to Murni’s in Bali. It’s not until a cremation ceremony has taken place that the person is free to be reincarnated.

Despite the demonic depictions scattered throughout the pura dalem, I wondered if death isn’t something to be afraid of, amongst a people who believe in reincarnation. –Wally

 Many temple statues get adorned in sarongs

Many temple statues get adorned in sarongs

 A bit of heavenly light shines upon one of the demons of death

A bit of heavenly light shines upon one of the demons of death

Pura Dalem Ubud

Jalan Raya Ubud, No.23
Ubud, Kabupaten Gianyar
Bali 80571, Indonesia

17 Surprising Things About Brazil

From the bizarre beach culture of Rio to the urban sprawl of Sao Paulo, here’s a list of things that will shock you about Brazil travel.

 The girl (and boys) from Ipanema Beach in Rio

The girl (and boys) from Ipanema Beach in Rio

“What drew you to Brazil?” I asked first off. I’m always interested in knowing what draws people to destinations. The exoticism of Southeast Asia and Morocco appeal to Duke and me, but we have yet to visit South America together.

“Cheap airfare,” my friend Ben replied without a moment’s hesitation. He and his boyfriend Derrick subscribe to Scott’s Cheap Flights, a mailing list that informs you of airline deals. It’s well worth paying $30 a year for the premium version.

(I signed us up, and we’ve already received a few emails that have inspired us try to figure out a creative way to use a long weekend.)

 Derrick and Ben share their experience of traveling to Brazil

Derrick and Ben share their experience of traveling to Brazil

Brazil is a study in extreme contrasts. You have poverty and wealth, beauty and squalor, all of these opposing forces, in a very small space.

Ben pointed out that within 24 hours of booking, airlines are required by law to refund your money, unless it’s within seven days of the flight. So you call jump on a good price — and back out the next day if you’d like.

“We booked three trips almost immediately: Japan, Brazil and Spain,” he said, “And it all cost less than our trip to Australia the year before.” The trip to Brazil ran them only about $400.

 The botanical gardens in Rio felt like you’re on the grounds of an abandoned plantation

The botanical gardens in Rio felt like you’re on the grounds of an abandoned plantation

Neither of them had been to South America before, and “another upside was that it was their summer and our winter,” Derrick said.

The fellas stayed about five days in Rio and two and a half in São Paulo.

 The Selaron Steps in Rio de Janeiro, where Michael Jackson danced in a music video

The Selaron Steps in Rio de Janeiro, where Michael Jackson danced in a music video

They chose a different neighborhood each day, deciding upon a site or two to see — like the steps where Michael Jackson danced in the controversial “They Don’t Care About Us” music video, directed by Spike Lee, for instance — and then wandered around.

Here are their observations about Brazil, a country they found to be more complicated than they ever imagined.

 

1. Rio has a huge beach culture — but hardly anyone lays out or goes swimming.

People flock to the beaches in Rio, where they engage in athletic activities: volleyball, soccer or paddleball.

“But almost nobody goes in the water,” Derrick said. “It’s not the thing to do.”

“People aren’t laying down,” Ben added. “They’re all standing, and maybe sitting a little bit.”

The beaches are very large, but after you walk about five minutes, you’ve got the gist, because it repeats itself, Derrick said.

There’s a pretty black and white tiled path that runs the entire length of the seaside. And all along it, you have different restaurants and vendors, where you can get, say, a 5-pound coconut.

The waterfront is divided into different sectors, called postos. Each is known for different things, Ben says: One might be where the models hang out, one’s where the gay guys are, and another’s for families.

 Cachaça vendors can whip you up a caipirinha to go for a few bucks

Cachaça vendors can whip you up a caipirinha to go for a few bucks

2. It’s super cheap to drink in Rio.

By the sidewalk are the officially sanctioned snack kiosks, but as you go 100 yards or so onto the sand, you get unofficial tents setups, or guys with insulated backpacks peddling fried cheese, beer and drugs. A lot of people had caipirinha-making kits, and you could buy a drink from them for $3.

A bottle of cachaça, a distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice that’s the national drink of Brazil, could be bought at a store for $2.

 Christ the Redeemer towers above Rio. Sometimes he looks like he’s in Heaven

Christ the Redeemer towers above Rio. Sometimes he looks like he’s in Heaven

3. Christ the Redeemer could be lost in the clouds.

When Ben and Derrick went, the 125-foot-tall statue of Jesus that overlooks Rio atop Mount Corcovado was shrouded in fog the entire time they were there. Be sure you take advantage of a clear day and see the sites that are on the 1,000-foot-high rocky outcroppings above the city.

The 125-foot-tall statue stands atop the massive granite dome of Corcovado hill and, since its erection in 1931 has become one of the most famous landmarks in the world.

You take an incline railway up Corcovado. “As we were going up, we were like, still nice, still nice — and then, bam! Fog,” Ben says.

It killed them a bit that they couldn’t get the iconic money shot — but to make themselves feel better, they joked that it was like “seeing Jesus in Heaven.”

 The Parque Lage and School of Visual Arts is a gorgeous locale in Rio

The Parque Lage and School of Visual Arts is a gorgeous locale in Rio

4. Brazilians are beautiful — and parade around in next to nothing.

They’ll go from the beach to a food stall, wearing a speedo, shoulder shawl and flip-flops. They all wear Havaianas, the super-trendy, colorful plastic flip-flops created by a Scotsman in 1962.

 

5. But the people aren’t all that friendly.

For a city with a reputation as a party city, Ben and Derrick didn’t find the locals to be that outgoing.

“I’d always been under the impression that Brazilians were super nice, super willing to engage in conversation, that if they recognize an outsider, they’ll talk to them, but that wasn’t the case,” Ben says.

 The fellas felt pretty safe wandering around Santa Teresa during the day — but you should always be on your guard with valuables in Rio

The fellas felt pretty safe wandering around Santa Teresa during the day — but you should always be on your guard with valuables in Rio

6. The crime is, unfortunately, as bad as advertised.

When they got to their hotel, they were given cards with the hotel’s contact info and were told to leave their wallet and everything else locked in the room’s safe when they left the premises. “Carry this card and a copy of your passport, and that’s it,” Derrick advised.

They took what money they felt they needed and kept it in their front pockets. “Don’t take out more than you can afford to lose,” Ben said.

“It was a bummer,” he continued, “because I love taking pictures, and my go-to mode is walking around with my camera. Everything I read said, take a photo and then put your camera away immediately in a nondescript bag.

“One afternoon we went out, and within five minutes of leaving the hotel, this guy tapped me on the shoulder and told me, ‘You need to put that away. Don’t have it out,’” Ben said.

He did feel fine using a cellphone as a camera, though. Just don’t draw too much attention to yourself, he added. Expert tip: Use your work phones — just in case they do get stolen, heh heh.

A lot of banks don’t even let you access their interior ATMs after 8 p.m. because of the fear that people will force you to withdraw money, Ben said.

Derrick moved the money he planned to spend on the trip from his checking account into a savings account.

“There’s definitely a feeling of crime,” Derrick says. Someone told them not to have bags facing the streets because bikers could ride by and swipe them.

Kids beg for money, and it’s the second-highest country in terms of child prostitution, next to Thailand, Ben informed me. (He does his research.)

Both of their Kindles got stolen out of their hotel room — the one thing they didn’t put in the safe.

 

7. Brazil is an extremely sexual country.

Prostitutes are everywhere, especially in São Paulo. “You get propositioned all the time,” Derrick says.

There are bathhouses for days, along with love hotels, similar to those found in Japan.

 Take a sky tram up to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. Helicopter tours are available from here, from which you can see gorgeous views of the entire city

Take a sky tram up to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. Helicopter tours are available from here, from which you can see gorgeous views of the entire city

8. Rio didn’t get rid of its favelas (the slums built into the hillsides) for the Olympics.

Instead, they’ve had the police go in and take control, Ben said. “It’s like going into a war zone,” he added: police in body armor, SWAT vehicles, guns. They’re trying to drive out the drug dealers and crime lords.

Thousands upon thousands of people live in these communities, and they don’t have running water all the time or reliable electricity.

“They’re very vibrant communities, but are riddled with crime and corruption,” Ben said. The pieced-together shacks are, ironically, very brightly colored and pretty.

“Brazil is a study in extreme contrasts,” Ben said. “You can see the favela as you pass the Maserati dealership. You have poverty and wealth, beauty and squalor, all of these opposing forces, in a very small space.”

 Ben and Derrick recommend using a wireless hotspot and rideshare apps to visit spots like Parque Lage and School of Visual Arts

Ben and Derrick recommend using a wireless hotspot and rideshare apps to visit spots like Parque Lage and School of Visual Arts

9. Rideshare companies like Lyft are a convenient way to get around.

Ben and Derrick have found rideshare apps to be a better option in many parts of the world than taxis — some of which can be corrupt. This way, you’re going through an app, your route is mapped out, and no money exchanges hands.

“Brazil is a country where you definitely don’t want to rent a car,” Ben advised. “They have one of the highest rates of traffic fatalities.” (I told you he does his research.)

“Stop signs are suggestions,” Derrick added. “And so are stoplights.”

“There’s a lot of honking and screaming,” Ben said.

 The Lapa neighborhood is known for its aqueduct — and boho vibe

The Lapa neighborhood is known for its aqueduct — and boho vibe

10. There are some neighborhoods in Rio you can explore during the day — that turn into wild parties at night.

One day, the boys wandered through Lapa — a neighborhood in central Rio that’s easily identifiable by the aqueduct. Then they took the historic tram up the hill to Santa Teresa, a charming artists’ community. There’s an old mansion that burned down that’s now an art event space.  

 Santa Teresa, an arts district in Rio

Santa Teresa, an arts district in Rio

They also checked out Lapa at night, and saw about 300 people hanging out in the Shell gas station parking lot. This is known as the bohemian and samba district. “People are dancing right in the streets. It’s mayhem,” Ben said.

Lapa is directly downhill from a favela, and there’s a lot of pickpocketing on weekends.

A local girl told them that she survived Carnaval without getting anything stolen cuz she had a fanny pack that she wore under her clothes.

“While I’m sure that tourists are more targeted, it also happens to Brazilians,” Ben said.

 Marmosets crawl along power lines all over the city

Marmosets crawl along power lines all over the city

11. You’ll see monkeys running around everywhere in Rio.

They’re marmosets and they’re cute and like to scamper over power lines. From Ben and Derrick’s experience, they’re didn’t seem dangerous.

 Aside from good restaurants and a cool museum, São Paulo doesn’t have a whole lot to offer

Aside from good restaurants and a cool museum, São Paulo doesn’t have a whole lot to offer

12. There’s not a lot to do in São Paulo.

Despite being the most populous and geographically largest city in all of South America, São Paulo doesn’t offer much for the tourist, according to Ben and Derrick.

“Unless you want to eat really good food and drink really well, there’s not a lot to do during the day,” Ben explained.

Of course, they did find a couple of cool museums to explore: MASP (Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand) and Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo.

  Altarpiece No. 1-3  by Hilma af Klint at the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo

Altarpiece No. 1-3 by Hilma af Klint at the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo

13. São Paulo is like the gritty parts of New York — but without the visual appeal.

It’s one rundown, dirty storefront after another, Ben said. Mile after mile of urban sprawl.

They would be walking around and feel safe, and then turn onto a street that felt super sketchy. It was block-by-block.

 

14. There’s a shoe shine scam to watch out for.

In a scam that’s even used here in Chicago, a man will approach you, squat down and smear something all over your shoes. “It looked like a brown sugar mixture,” Ben said.

Then the man will make a big deal about the mess will start to clean it up — wanting, of course, to be paid about $30 for his trouble.

When this happened to the fellas and they declined, the man stood there, cursing them out.

 What’s for dinner? Lots of meat — but hopefully not a capybara

What’s for dinner? Lots of meat — but hopefully not a capybara

15. The cuisine consists of lots of meat and lots of beans.

Beef, cow, goat and seafood are omnipresent. Vegetables? Not so much.

You might want to try a dish Brazil is famous for: feijoada, a stew loaded with different types of slowly braised meat that takes five days to make.

 The urban sprawl of São Paulo

The urban sprawl of São Paulo

16. Distances can be deceptive in São Paulo.

You can look at a map and think, That’s not too far away — and it’ll end up being an hour Lyft ride, Derrick explained.

Ben’s friend told him that it takes about three hours to drive from one end of the city to the other.

 The Luz Railway Station in São Paulo

The Luz Railway Station in São Paulo

17. Overall, Brazil is a difficult country to navigate.

Ben and Derrick have traveled all over the world — and they found Brazil to be one of the more confusing countries. “If you don’t know somebody, if you’re not part of a tour group, if you don’t travel a lot, or if you’re not street smart, it definitely requires a higher level of awareness,” according to Ben.

“In a lot of ways, our trip to Brazil was unremarkable. Brazil is really about being in the moment, taking advantage of what’s there,” Ben said.

“Yah, if you’re a person who likes to go go go, or go out at a reasonable hour, Brazil’s not the place for you,” Derrick concluded. –Wally

Borobudur: A Stunning Sunrise at a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The largest Buddhist monument in the world, with its iconic bell-shaped stupas, is a must-visit on Java, Indonesia.

 Book a sunrise tour at Borobudur to see the silhouettes of the stupas materialize from the morning mist

Book a sunrise tour at Borobudur to see the silhouettes of the stupas materialize from the morning mist

When Wally mentioned that we should visit Bali, I suggested we spend a few days on the nearby island of Java, exploring the largest Buddhist monument in the world, Borobudur. I had seen images of the magical 9th century monument rising from the jungle mist, with its countless perforated bell-shaped stone stupas and seated Buddha statues.

 You have to carefully position yourself — and get there early — to frame your photos without any of the throngs of tourists

You have to carefully position yourself — and get there early — to frame your photos without any of the throngs of tourists

I purchased our tickets for the sunrise visit through the Plataran Borobudur Resort, where we were staying, for 870,000 rupiah each (about $60). On our second day, the concierge rang our villa at 4 a.m. As a precautionary measure, I also set my iPhone alarm — Wally and I never travel without earplugs, and I didn’t want to risk us sleeping through the call. We quickly got dressed and had coffee in the lobby before meeting our driver and heading out in the darkness to Borobudur.

I wasn’t expecting us to be alone, but I also wasn’t expecting to share this experience with hundreds of others.
 Volcanos can be seen in the distance — in fact, violent eruptions in the past covered the entire temple in ash for 800 years

Volcanos can be seen in the distance — in fact, violent eruptions in the past covered the entire temple in ash for 800 years

Our driver’s name was Wishnu. Without missing a beat, Wally asked if he was named after the Hindu deity Vishnu. He chuckled and said, “No, it’s just a very common name.” To which Wally replied, “So you don’t ride Garuda?” Wishnu took a moment to think about this, saying, “No, I ride Yamaha,” referring to his scooter.

We passed some parked buses, where local students awaited transport to Borobudur. When I asked Wishnu about them, he explained that the temple is a popular school trip but doesn’t open to the public until 6 a.m.

 Stay after the sunrise to wander the various levels of Borobudur

Stay after the sunrise to wander the various levels of Borobudur

Shortly thereafter we arrived at the Manohara Hotel, which is located on the grounds of the historic site, and where sunrise tours depart from every morning. There clearly were a lot of people waiting to gain 4:30 a.m. access. I wasn’t expecting us to be alone, but I also wasn’t expecting to share this experience with hundreds of others so early in the morning.

As we queued up to enter, we were given a small flashlight and introduced to our guide, Pras. He told us that the site draws in an average of 300 visitors for sunrise and up to 56,000 per day during the high season.

 This is the real Borobudur you don’t ever see in pictures — the hundreds of tourists all vying for a prime spot to photograph sunrise

This is the real Borobudur you don’t ever see in pictures — the hundreds of tourists all vying for a prime spot to photograph sunrise

Wally and I followed Pras up a central staircase, the beams from our flashlights bobbing as we made our way up to the circular seventh terrace. We squeezed ourselves behind a group of tourists who already had their cameras set up to capture the perfect shot of the first rays of sunlight.

 Even though UNESCO insists upon a 15-kilometer non-commercial zone, there are still tall lights you can see during sunrise

Even though UNESCO insists upon a 15-kilometer non-commercial zone, there are still tall lights you can see during sunrise

Sunrise Over Borodudur

As we waited, the sun slowly rose, turning the sky a blaze of ever-changing scarlets, pinks, oranges and yellows, bathing the gray stone in a hazy golden light. In the distance, Mount Merapi and its twin Mount Merabu rose from the horizon in the morning mist — two of the four volcanoes that surround Borobudur.

After sunrise, Pras invited us to wander around the upper temple. As the crowds dissipated, we were able to get some great shots.

 This Buddha went too far with a nose job

This Buddha went too far with a nose job

 Wally was happy he could spend his birthday at Borobudur

Wally was happy he could spend his birthday at Borobudur

 Duke added an excursion to Java onto our trip to Bali

Duke added an excursion to Java onto our trip to Bali

Pras explained the origin of the temple’s name, Bara-Budhara: Bara meaning temple and Budhara hill. Since a’s are pronounced as o’s in Javanese, it morphed into Borobudur.  

Before leaving the summit, Pras stopped in front of one of the bell-shaped sculptures. “This is the lucky stupa,” he told us. He explained that it was auspicious to circumambulate the central stupa clockwise an odd number of times. Wally wanted to walk around the structure five times because it was May 5 (the fifth day of the fifth month) and also his birthday. Pras kept count, holding up fingers each time we passed him. Upon completion, you touch the stone with your right hand — and you’ll have good luck.

 Wally and Duke love a good temple — and Borobudur is like no other

Wally and Duke love a good temple — and Borobudur is like no other

Knowing that Mount Agung had recently wreaked havoc on Bali, I asked Pras how regularly Merapi erupts. He told us that it’s the most active volcano in Indonesia and, far below, it sits upon a series of fault lines and grinding tectonic plates dramatically known as the Ring of Fire. He added that it blew its top most recently in 2014, blanketing Borobudur in a layer of ash that took laborers five months to remove by hand. (Incidentally, we were surprised to learn that Merapi had a minor eruption less than a week after we visited!)

 Workers clean moss off the temple twice a month.

Workers clean moss off the temple twice a month.

 The 9th century Buddhist temple has been impressively restored

The 9th century Buddhist temple has been impressively restored

Borobudur’s Magical Origins

According to traditional lore, the complex was designed and built in a single night by a divine giant named Gunadharma. After his task was complete, he laid down and fell asleep. Over time trees covered him, and his reclined profile is said to be visible in the peaks of the Menoreh Hills. He’s now called the Sleeping Buddha by locals.

Mythology aside, Borobudur was built by the Sailendra dynasty during the 8th and 9th centuries. It took three generations roughly 60 years to complete, and according to archeologists, was revised four times.

 Seeing Borobudur from a distance doesn’t do justice to its grandeur. It’s an entirely different temple up close

Seeing Borobudur from a distance doesn’t do justice to its grandeur. It’s an entirely different temple up close

Borobudur is essentially a stepped pyramid comprised of nine concentric terraces crowned by a bell-shaped stupa dome. The monument was constructed from over a million blocks of andesite stone quarried from the banks of the Progo River and originally stood 137 feet tall. At some point, the triple-tiered stone umbrella chatra, which served as the pinnacle, was struck by lighting, shattering the central stupa and reducing the monument’s height to 113 feet. The chatra currently resides in the Karmawibhangga Museum in the Borobudur complex until it can be properly renovated and restored to its position atop the temple.

 Was Wally the once-sleeping giant who created Borobudur in a single night?

Was Wally the once-sleeping giant who created Borobudur in a single night?

The terraces and the central stupa symbolize the 10 stages of development a bodhisattva must pass in order to become enlightened.

 Only two of the 72 Buddha statues are uncovered on the temple’s upper terrace

Only two of the 72 Buddha statues are uncovered on the temple’s upper terrace

UNESCO World Heritage Site

The structure collapsed in 1970. Extensive restoration work initiated by the Indonesian government began three years later, in partnership with UNESCO and international contributions funded by private organizations. For nearly a decade, most of the monument was closed to the public as it was dismantled block by block, meticulously recorded and reassembled layer by layer. A complex drainage system and lead sheets were added to prevent water from trickling downward, as erosion from rainwater is the number one detriment to the site.

 The sky turned numerous shades of orange and yellow during sunrise, before giving way to a gorgeous blue

The sky turned numerous shades of orange and yellow during sunrise, before giving way to a gorgeous blue

 What a lucky way to spend Wally’s birthday!

What a lucky way to spend Wally’s birthday!

 Borobudur makes Duke happy

Borobudur makes Duke happy

Each of the 72 perforated stupas, which locals referred to as “cages,” have a seated life-sized Buddha enthroned within. On the eighth level of Borobudur, two of these stupa are open. They weren’t able to be renovated, as 70% of the original material must be used in restoration to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site — a designation Borobudur was honored with in 1991. It’s actually pretty cool that a couple of the Buddhas aren’t covered by stupas and visitors get a chance to see what lies within. One of the Buddhas can also be found in the local museum.

 Underneath each stupa hides a seated Buddha statue

Underneath each stupa hides a seated Buddha statue

 There were 504 Buddha statues under the bell-shaped stupas because that’s how many times Buddha was reincarnated

There were 504 Buddha statues under the bell-shaped stupas because that’s how many times Buddha was reincarnated

 UNESCO requires that all restoration work use at least 70% of the original materials

UNESCO requires that all restoration work use at least 70% of the original materials

Another requirement of the UNESCO site is that nothing commercial can be built within a 15-kilometer radius. Locals aren’t too pleased with this regulation, Pras told us, but we couldn’t help but think the site would certainly not be improved with a 7-Eleven at its base.

 Borobudur, with its nine levels, was carved from the top down. In fact, parts of the base were never completed

Borobudur, with its nine levels, was carved from the top down. In fact, parts of the base were never completed

When Pras had completed the tour, he brought Wally and me to an open-air seating area near the main entrance where we returned our flashlights and enjoyed a traditional snack and coffee. As a memento, we each received a souvenir scarf.

Borobudur was a magnificent sight to behold, especially at sunrise. Its rings of galleries, terraces and sculptures were the perfect place for quiet reflection — even if it was with 200 or so strangers. –Duke

 The Buddhas on each level sport different hand gestures

The Buddhas on each level sport different hand gestures

 Wally and Duke admire the view

Wally and Duke admire the view

Borobudur Temple
Jl. Badrawati
Kw. Candi Borobudur
Borobudur, Magelang, Jawa Tengah
Indonesia

The Multi-Layered Genius of Natisa Jones

 The utterly delightful and talented Natisa Jones in her studio in Denpasar, Bali

The utterly delightful and talented Natisa Jones in her studio in Denpasar, Bali

A charming Bali painter welcomes us to her Indonesian art studio in Denpasar.

I’ll admit it — I’m a sucker for well-designed things. Maybe it’s my arts background and my ingrained appreciation for aesthetics. But when I found an issue of Design Anthology, a quarterly magazine with thick, matte-finish pages focused on Asia’s architecture and design world, on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, I didn’t hesitate to purchase it.

With a quick search on their website using the keyword “Indonesia,” a Q&A with the artist Natisa Jones appeared. After reading it, I wanted to know more about her work. I found her Instagram account and hit the follow button.

Shortly before our trip to Bali, I sent an inquiry to see if there might be any galleries displaying her work in or near Ubud, where we would be staying.

Natisa replied to my email and invited my husband and I to visit her at her studio. When we met recently, we were running a bit behind our agreed meeting time. I don’t think either Wally or I realized how intense the traffic can be in Bali.

 Wally, Natisa and Duke goofing off. Natisa felt like a kindred spirit from the moment we met her

Wally, Natisa and Duke goofing off. Natisa felt like a kindred spirit from the moment we met her

I’ll admit I was a bit nervous to meet her; I felt a bit like a starstruck fanboy. But once she opened the door to her workspace, her expressive eyes and kind demeanor immediately put me at ease. She was wearing a small silver Barong pendant and apologizing for having paint on her hands (she was working on a few pieces for an upcoming show in Jakarta). Her personality was undeniably contagious, and Wally and I were instantly smitten.

“You’re the first people outside of my immediate family to see what I’m working on for my next show,” she told us. We felt honored.

  A Field of Roses , 2017

A Field of Roses, 2017

Q&A With Natisa Jones

The Bali-based artist Natisa Jones’ emotive drawings and paintings are a flurry of bold, expressive strokes and an earthy color palette. Evocative in an almost primitive way, her pieces are a peek into her secret world. They often incorporate text and reveal the shadowy side of the human condition.

 

What was it like growing up in Indonesia? How has this influenced your work?

Even though Indonesia always was my base, I did spend my time growing up away from it as well. I spent my high school education in Chiang Mai, Thailand and my tertiary studies in Melbourne, Australia. I returned to Indonesia at 22 to start working in graphic design and illustration.


I like to imagine that your parents caught you drawing on the wall of your bedroom when you were a little girl.

Funnily, my parents didn’t catch me drawing on the wall — they encouraged it. When we were still living in Jakarta, my mom would take me up to the rooftop of our house, where we’d dry our clothes. She’d bring chalk and crayons and draw on the walls up there with me. I have fond memories of spending time doodling with her there.

Then when I was about 7 years old, we moved to Bali. My parents let me draw all over my room as well. It was a good way of making new friends think I was cool — because they would be allowed to draw on the walls, too, when they came over.

  Don’t Drop the Soap , 2017

Don’t Drop the Soap, 2017

At what age did you have an interest in art? Do you remember what the subject of your first drawing was?

I picked up the brush and pencil as soon as I was able to. I have pictures of a 2-year-old me painting on the balcony in Jakarta, where my mom had set up an easel.

As soon as I could identify shapes and control lines better, it was more often than not a human figure. Looking back, I realize my drawings were always self-referencing. My mom kept a lot of my drawings from when I was a child up until high school, and I would often draw people I knew, or myself. And if not, it would be a human figure that aimed to express what I felt.

 

You mentioned that you began as a graphic designer. What was your a-ha moment, when you knew you wanted to make the leap to multidisciplinary artist?

I was making illustrations for fashion magazines, and it was easy. People were satisfied with what I would give, and it didn’t challenge me creatively. I also began to realize that my sense of idealism is stronger than I assumed. I really thought that after art school, the “pure art life” wasn’t for me. I liked the idea of having a desk job and a community to come to, where I get to draw all day and go home, and be done. But I started to feel unsatisfied very quickly with what I was doing. I felt wrong using my skills to push these limiting beauty agendas and shallow trends to 14-year-old kids. So I decided that the best way I can contribute to society in a positive way was to utilize my talent the best way I can. And that was that. I was much happier.

 

How do the cities you travel to influence your work?

I am very responsive to my environment, so wherever I am and what I go through always makes its way into my work, whether it be directly or indirectly. It can come in color, mood, phrases I hear, events that occur. Absolutely anything.

  Fudge You , 2017

Fudge You, 2017

During our conversation at your studio, you mentioned how you were working on several pieces simultaneously. What does a typical day in the studio look like?

I usually start with going into the studio, reading, writing or sketching for 45 minutes to an hour. And then I will go at it, onto works I have been working on or start a fresh sheet of canvas. Some days I will go into the studio and nothing happens but one stroke on a painting I have been stuck at. Those days I would just read or watch documentaries and stare at all the pieces around me, having conversations with them in my head. But those days are work, too. They are just as important.

 

I love the layers and colors of your pieces. Are there particular colors you are drawn to, and do they have a symbolic meaning for you?

I think over the years I have subconsciously established my own language with color. I seem to reserve certain colors to denote certain emotions or expressions — but this also depends on the gestural strokes they are accompanied by. But these representations are often layered and never one-dimensional. So the color + stroke + imagery creates a dialogue between each other, and depending on that dialogue, each element exists to serve one another.

Within the process of creating, I am not always conscious of why my colors appear the way they do. I mix and match my colors as I go, and it really relies on my mood that day or moment and what emotions I was trying to express. It's not unlike the feeling of when you wake up and you just know that today you want to wear that green sweater. It’s an impulsive gut feeling.

Sometimes though, I have to admit — it is the art student and graphic designer in me that refers back to the color wheel to see what colors will best solve a creative problem.

  May It Bloom , 2017

May It Bloom, 2017

One of the canvases we saw in your studio has a large figure with a haunting gaze that reminded me of Michelangelo’s Delphic Sibyl. What artists are you inspired by, and do you find that they shape your personal style?

As a former art student, I am aware and do refer back to art history and at times do engage with it within my work. But often it is not fully my purpose. I think studying them, there are gestures in poses and also influence in color that are imprinted in my mind from many different art movements that indirectly end up on my canvas.

In terms of personal style, I think the most influential movement in the context or art and art history lands more to abstract expressionism and the New York school era. As I get older though, I am starting to go back further and further in time, back to modernism and then even further to the Renaissance. But I think as an artist, that’s your job. To explore all the artists and context of art before you, and move back and forth in time to better understand your own.

“Art goes into the future, while the art lover goes into the past; they meet in the present.” as J.L. Siesling writes in Art Is More.

 A work in progress in Natisa’s studio, with some good advice she’s written on the wall

A work in progress in Natisa’s studio, with some good advice she’s written on the wall

How do you start a painting?

I kind of go without a plan, and it shapes itself as I go along. It reveals itself to me slowly. Some days I will have an idea and start with that — most likely ending up nowhere near the initial idea! Some days, when the last thing you want to do is be confronted by a massive canvas and talk about feelings, it becomes very technical, and I force myself to start with a stroke, and then I keep responding from stroke to stroke, shape to shape, color to color. And voilà! Might not be genius, but it’s a start.

 

Do you listen to music while you work?

Yes, music is very important — it helps me channel my creative flow, as it does for many artists, I’m sure. Silence is also good sometimes. It depends on how you woke up that day!

 

How do you know when a piece is complete?

The age-old question of “when do you know a piece is complete” is a really difficult thing to explain. There is definitely some sort of learning process of letting go. For me, since I’ve done this most of my life, it’s roughly a feeling of satisfaction or exhaustion. Either I’ve exhausted that expression and I don’t need to work on that feeling within myself anymore, and am done; or I have an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction with a piece and I have to pull myself back from fixing things that don’t actually need fixing.

It is difficult to know when it’s done, but I think the difference is: If it feels like it is complete, then it probably is. But when it is not complete, it usually is very obvious only to me and I would not be able to send it out into the world like that.

  Sitting at Home , 2016

Sitting at Home, 2016

Have you ever put a piece aside or completely reworked it?

Almost all the time and every piece. Working on multiple pieces all at once allows me the space to bounce from one expression to another. It creates less pressure for me. But eight out of 10 pieces go through 100 stages and images before they reach their conclusion. I have maybe five pieces in my entire life of canvas works that have been completed in under 24 hours and stuck to their initial forms.

 

Have you ever regretted selling a piece?

When I first started selling work, I have to admit it was difficult to let go, because it was a concept that was so foreign to me. When I was working in graphic design, I understood the dynamics very clearly. I was good at something, and they needed that skill, and I was there to serve their vision first and not mine. Or at least that’s how it was for me at the time. I was thick-skinned with rejection when it came to commercial work and felt I was always good at reading what people wanted from my work.

But painting was different. It was a concept that I had to get my head around as I went along. My painting was my therapy and served me and only me growing up. To come into a profession where your feelings and psychological states were up for sale and judgement was definitely a big pill to swallow. It was quite literally the idea of someone buying what I felt on a Tuesday. So at the beginning this was hard.

 

Okay, here are a couple of silly questions. Durian: love it or loathe it?

The smell, the texture, the shape — what’s not to love?

 

Kopi luwak (a coffee made from beans that have been pooped out of the lusaka, or civet cat)?

Like it, but also not, for the way it is made. Not the poop part, but how some of these farms provide horrible living conditions for the lusaka and definitely aren’t animal-friendly.


What are you working on currently?

I am currently working on four shows and one big solo show in Jakarta.

  Moon , 2014

Moon, 2014

Follow Natisa on Instagram!  –Duke

Spa Day Heaven: Padma Spa at Plataran Borobudur

If you’re in Java, relax with a massage and scrub — though it’s all about the volcanic stone tub and epic view.

 Our treatment room overlooked the jungle-covered mountain

Our treatment room overlooked the jungle-covered mountain

Indonesian hospitality is in full effect at Padma Spa at Plataran Borobudur Resort. The exotic teakwood villa that houses the space sits perched like a Javanese treehouse on a hillside overlooking a dense forest of teak, casuarina and rasamala trees.

The facility offers a wide range of options and features six treatment rooms equipped with bathtubs carved from volcanic stone taken from nearby Mount Merapi as well as a relaxation lounge, nail salon and gym. They also have a small but well-curated assortment of items for sale in the reception area.

Among the elements incorporated into the spa’s design are intricately hand-carved teak fretwork window panels reflecting the region’s cultural heritage.

The first thing we noticed was the volcanic stone tub, big enough for both of us.

The room offered floor-to-ceiling views across the jungle valley to the temple of Borobudur.
 The spa is on the grounds of Plataran Borobudur

The spa is on the grounds of Plataran Borobudur

Java Nadi Massage

Our visit began with cool towels and cups of ginger tea. Wally and I opted for the 60-minute Java Nadi massage. The spa director suggested we add a body scrub from the treatment menu. We agreed to add the 45-minute Lakshmi scrub — and were glad we did.

When we entered our treatment room, the first thing we noticed was the freestanding Merapi stone soaking tub, big enough for both of us. Flooded with natural light, the room offered floor-to-ceiling views across the jungle valley to the ancient Buddhist temple of Borobudur in the distance.

After we had changed into our robes, our feet were placed in basins of warm water to soak. Each therapist added bath salts, kaffir lime wheels, lemongrass, dried pomelo slices and peppermint essential oil, which gave off a delightfully revitalizing aroma.

 Various natural ingredients are used in the spa’s treatments

Various natural ingredients are used in the spa’s treatments

We were asked to lie face-down under the top sheet on our massage tables. The tone from a single-note energy chime resonated as it was tapped three times before beginning.

The word “nadi” refers to the pathways or channels of energy that run throughout the human body. Java Nadi is a healing technique rooted in centuries-old traditions. Its aim is to restore balance and energy to the body.

A unique combination of slow, fluid movements, incorporating deep kneading and thumb pressure, this hands-on holistic treatment eases muscle and joint pain while increasing circulation.

When our massage had concluded, we experienced the hammam-like Lakshmi scrub: an aromatic combination of sandalwood, ground rice, lemongrass, candlenut and grapefruit that left our skin silky smooth.

 Wally didn’t want to ever get out of the volcanic stone bathtub

Wally didn’t want to ever get out of the volcanic stone bathtub

 Duke relaxes in the milk bath after the massage and body scrub

Duke relaxes in the milk bath after the massage and body scrub

We finished by relaxing (OK, there was some goofing off as well) in the dramatic bathtub, which was filled with a lemongrass milk soak. As we gazed out the window, it felt like we were hovering over the landscape. Eventually, I was able to convince Wally to leave the tub.

I wanted to take home the earthenware teapot, batik robes and energy chime — but I didn’t want the bad karma. We loved every minute of our experience, and it put us in a deep state of relaxation. –Duke

Plataran Borobudur Resort & Spa
Dusun Tanjungan
Borobudur, Magelang
Jawa Tengah 56553
Indonesia

The Splendors of the Tirta Gangga Water Gardens

Take a day trip from Ubud through Heaven and Hell and discover the enduring appeal of this royal Bali water park.

 The last raja of Karangasem built these gorgeous gardens

The last raja of Karangasem built these gorgeous gardens

Our Bali itinerary was already filled with a week’s worth of activities packed into a handful of days. Then, on a whim, Wally suggested we add Taman Tirta Gangga, the lavish mid 20th century water gardens owned by the royal family of Karangasem, located two hours east of Ubud.

We had decided the night before to eliminate a few spots from our checklist, as we both quickly came to a realization from a previous day’s excursion — getting around on the two-lane roads on Bali is not the easiest, as they weren’t built for the amount of vehicles now using them.

If you bathe in the waters on a full moon, you will miraculously be blessed with youth and cured of illnesses.

We had found and hired a driver that Wally liked because he was wearing a traditional sarong. Besides being affordable, our driver Made (pronounced Meh-day) cost about $50 for the day. I was resistant to visiting Tirta Gangga at first, but in the end agreed it’d be worth making a road trip.

 The stepping stones in the Mahabharata Pond at Tirta Gangga get a bit crowded

The stepping stones in the Mahabharata Pond at Tirta Gangga get a bit crowded

The Royal Water Gardens of Tirta Gangga

Tirta Gangga, whose name translates as “Blessed Water of the Ganges,” is surrounded by emerald green rice fields and rests upon a natural spring.

The enclosed recreational gardens occupy 2.5 acres and were built in 1948 by the last raja of Karangasem. An imaginative and budding architect, he was influenced by a visit to the gardens of Versailles, France.

During construction, it was a great surprise for visitors to find the raja spending his days knee-deep in the mud, steadily working alongside local craftsmen.

In this water garden, the source of its many water features is located beneath a sacred banyan tree named Rijasa by the villagers. Like the local river Ganges, it’s considered holy.

 Duke and Wally on the bridge leading to Demon Island

Duke and Wally on the bridge leading to Demon Island

 The waterspouts at Tirta Gangga depict various creatures

The waterspouts at Tirta Gangga depict various creatures

Local lore holds that if you bathe in the waters on a full moon, you will miraculously be blessed with youth and cured of illnesses.

When we arrived on a clear blue afternoon, the place was already a bit crowded. The gardens provided a glimpse into the Bali of old. The courtyards of Tirta Gangga are laid out on three levels, representing the Hindu concept of triloka, the mortal plane, the divine world and the lower realm of demons. Each level contains water features and sculptures that visitors can walk around and admire.

The first thing we saw when we entered was the monumental 11-tiered Nawa Sanga Fountain, which resembles a lotus and is Victorian in style. This fountain, together with the lower swimming pool and Mahabharata Pond, form the mortal bwah level of Tirta Gangga. The eight deity figures encircling the fountain represent the guardians of the cardinal directions and are positioned around the powerful central deity of Siwa, or Shiva, here represented as the fountain itself.

 The 11 tiers of the Nawa Sanga Fountain were designed to resemble lotus flowers

The 11 tiers of the Nawa Sanga Fountain were designed to resemble lotus flowers

We followed the footpath leading directly to the auditorium pavilion, which is perched on the higher northern level, swah, the divine world and flanked by a pair of statues, reproductions of the original benevolent beast Barong, his humanlike feet playfully poking out in front.

 Barongs, their feet sticking out in a comical manner, guard the back of the gardens

Barongs, their feet sticking out in a comical manner, guard the back of the gardens

Just beyond, in the garden’s northwest corner, lies a small meditation garden, with eight figures depicting samsara, the continuous cycle of life, death and rebirth, including three benevolent deities, a mortal man and mortal woman, and three horrifying demons.

 Two Rangdas don’t make a right

Two Rangdas don’t make a right

 Beware the demon queen!

Beware the demon queen!

 One of the demons in the meditation area at the back of Tirta Gangga

One of the demons in the meditation area at the back of Tirta Gangga

Realizing we would most likely not attain enlightenment, at least not in this lifetime, we wandered over to the swimming pool. Wally was overheated and I agreed that it would be pretty special to cool off in a pool whose waters are considered sacred. After figuring out where the entrance was, we paid a small fee to take a plunge. Wally went in for a swim, while I dipped my toes in the bracing but refreshing spring water. Admittedly, I was a bit jealous that I hadn’t joined him, though I was amused by the antics of a group of college-age French boys.

 Wally took a dip in the Lower Pool

Wally took a dip in the Lower Pool

 A mythological creature spews water

A mythological creature spews water

After our swim, we visited the Mahabharata Pond. The octagonal stepping stones enabled us to walk across its surface and admire the large koi fish swimming in its crystal-clear waters. This feature is very crowded, and it’s a bit nerve-wracking letting people squeeze past you on the tiny stones as you pause for a photo. Sometimes people had to backtrack all the way to the start because they met up with someone going the opposite direction.

 Duke is steppin’ out

Duke is steppin’ out

 This celestial nymph is actually Wally

This celestial nymph is actually Wally

There are several stone sculptures spouting water into the pond. Other sculptures depict the mythical creatures of the Indian epic from which the pool got its name. The raja’s former country house, located just beyond the Versailles Pond, has been converted into an inn.

We eventually arrived at Tirta Gangga’s largest water feature, the South Pond, which is located to the left of the gardens’ entrance and incidentally bhur, the lower realm, where monsters reside. The pond contains the provocatively named Demon Island, which can be reached via a pair of bridges featuring ornately sculpted Balinese dragons.

 Dragons perch atop the arched bridge to Demon Island

Dragons perch atop the arched bridge to Demon Island

 Demon Island isn’t scary at all. It boasts a series of elegant quatrefoil-shaped fountains

Demon Island isn’t scary at all. It boasts a series of elegant quatrefoil-shaped fountains

The gardens were abandoned in 1963, when Mount Agung erupted unexpectedly after having been dormant for the past century. An ambitious restoration process began in 1979, led by the raja’s son, Anak Agung Made Djelantik, and was continued by Widoere Djelantik, the raja’s grandson, who has returned the gardens to their former glory.

Although the road trip to Tirta Gangga was a bit long, we both agreed how impressive it is and that it’s a special place worth visiting in Bali. –Duke

Tirta Gangga
Ababi
Abang
Karangasem Regency, Bali
Indonesia