There are two Gunung Kawi's in Bali, which we don't think is unusual as
duplicated names are often the cause of the problem when we get lost.
The one that we visited is 10 to 12 Km north and a little east of Ubud, on the road to Kintamani which passes through Pejeng and Tampaksiring. (You did stop to wonder at the history and origins of the 'Moon of Pejeng' didn't you?)
Gunung Kawi is almost in the centre of the Tampaksiring district, in the valley of the revered River Pakerisan ('the river of the kris').
At the small village of Penakar, on the right just past Tampaksiring, there is a market and car park at the head of the well-made path that leads down into the valley where the surprising carvings and temple complex of Gunung Kawi have been built.
The path appears simple and appealing until it has drawn you in to a point where you feel committed to the descent - then it drops away at an angle which is a little alarming in places. In this photo the grey concrete path starts just to the right of centre at the bottom, drops down a small flight of steps and curves to the left between the buildings before it disappears down into the rice fields along the valley.
Along the way down you pass a fine example of the work done by subaks (district rice and water committees) to make the most of the water available from rivers, dams and springs. Here the river, which flows along the line of the trees in the background, is diverted into two streams. The stream on the left of the curved wall goes around the side of the hill and waters all the paddies that are on the same level (or just a little lower) as the crop here in the middle ground. The stream that drops down on the right runs directly to a lower level of fields. As always there is a small shrine for daily offerings on the middle of the dam.
Just after the concrete path crosses the last level of rice paddies it change into steps cut into the bedrock of the valley and through a large arch cut right through an outstanding rock ridge. Just to the left as you go through this arch there is a large area of ground which has been levelled off. Into the cliff wall at one side of the level area are several meditation cells and four huge carvings ('candi') cut into what I think is the limestone overburden of the granite bedrock. These are known as the Kings tombs although they are really not burial sites at all. The carvings are of an abstract design representing the doorways to the afterlife for the royal family they were created for. They are not too unlike western modernist art work of a decade or two ago, but of course these are very old, memorials to 11th century rulers and their wives who would have thrown themselves onto the funeral pyres of the king..
The carvings are in quite good condition at the top generally but the limestone has eroded badly along the lower levels, probably from the water that seeps down the cliff face from the rice paddies above rather than from the rising river levels in the wet season. If indeed this erosion is caused by rising river levels then I for one would not risk going down there in the wet as the river is many metres further down below a little foot bridge (next photo).
This is the end carving of the four and the pattern of the carving at the top is fairly clear. These carvings are over 7 metres in height as can be judged by comparison with the flight of 18 to 20 steps (picture above) that lead up from the level area to a broad path across the cliff at the base of the carvings. The little elevated 'bale' in the foreground here is a nice resting spot from which you can contemplate the climb back up to the car park!
Back to the path there is a small village and a little arched bridge over the river. Drinks are available and very welcome at the little warung by the bridge. As you contemplate the climb back up try to remember the little drink stalls at each level of the task. Your arrival at many of them will be a welcome relief.
On the other side of the river there are five more carvings in a similar modernistic pattern and known as the Queen's Tombs. There more meditation cells and a large temple complex, parts of which it is traditional to enter only in bare feet.
If you wander a couple of hundred metres around the edge of the rice paddies heading upstream on this side you will come across a small but powerful waterfall dropping over the edge of the cliff.
If you are young and confident you could venture to the left as you begin the climb back up to the car park. Around the top level of the first rice paddies after the cutting through the wall of granite, across a small irrigation stream, jumping here and there from rock to rock, you will find the 'Tenth Tomb'. Again this is not a tomb but a series of meditation cells cut into the face of the vertical cliff at the edge of the narrow path. The cells were used by priests in years gone by. There are tales that their disciples bricked them into these small niches for weeks and even months as they contemplated the future and communicated with the gods. Even today the noises of the road above and the river below cannot be heard. In those days their incarceration must have been eerily if not deathly quiet.
There are more travel tales about Bali in the contents list on our Home Page.
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