Although there was no noticeable temperature difference here compared to the coastal areas of Nusa Penida, the Tirta Gangga area exudes a comforting serenity. Our bungalow faces a picturesque rice terrace with a slice of Gunung Batur and massive Agung to the northwest.
The unpleasant experience of a denied booking had gone with the night and morning presented a charming and amiable face of rural Bali. Our homestay (Batur Indah) was simply heavenly. On the veranda, were the two standard chairs and a lounger. The compound was perched on a terrace overlooking a valley. The fertility was glaring, bursting and shouting out with greenery and the occasional flowery exclamation.
There were hints of Japanese inspiration here and there. Marble tables and chairs allowed the contemplative to immerse themselves in this wonderful blend of nature and nurture. Just outside the dining area, was a little fountain, a miniature copy of a much larger one at the main attraction in this area. We had breakfast and the owner unlocked a gate leading to the bottom of the valley. It was a beautiful morning to visit Taman Tirta Gangga. We were told that it would take only about 15mins to reach there.
From the gate at the bottom of the terrace, a trail leads downhill. At the bottom, there is a stream and the trail forks out. We’ve been advised to take the path on the right. This was followed by a steep ascent to a sealed road. It gets a bit confusing from here. We asked around before getting the correct directions.
Situated at an altitude of just 350m on the southeastern slope of Gunung Agung, Tirta Gangga means water from the Ganges but Taman Tirta Gangga refers to a water palace built fairly recently in 1948 by the Raja of Karangasem. The compound consists of a complex of bathing pools, fish ponds and lawns, linked by bridges in some areas and a maze of stepping stones leading the way to the central fountain, also known as the Nawa Sanga. All the fountains are surrounded by a lush garden with water plants and stone statues. The water in the pools here comes from a natural source which is considered holy. Religious rituals and ceremonies are sometimes held here.
For Balinese Hindus, seeing the Ganges must be a lifelong dream. If that’s not possible, then building some representative of it would be the next best thing. Hence, Bali’s Taman Tirta Gangga. But having seen the real Ganges, I must say that the Balinese impression of the holy river is highly sanitised.
The stepping stones lead to the main fountain which is shaped like a spire. The paths laid out by the stepping stones are all one-way. Thus, you see people being stuck on some of the stones, unable to move until someone somewhere makes a move. Thanks to Instagram, Tirta Gangga is now known to many influencer wannabes.
Constructed for the royal family to stay cool in the summer heat, Taman Tirta Gangga cannot do without bathing pools. There is a fenced swimming/bathing pool with gargoyles spouting water for bathers to receive a blessing. Unlike in Singapore, the local ladies here readily pose for photographers. I hope the three ladies can see this picture.
Water is a symbol for life. Thousands of miles from the holy river, Taman Tirta Gangga exudes its own unique brand of holiness. The gods and demons, whether real or imaginary, come alive among the statues, or even in the water.
But it’s important to note that the Taman Tirta Gangga we see today is actually a reconstructed version of the old garden. No, it’s not that some zealous tourism authority wants to keep this place “relevant”, but as fate would have it, the 1963 eruption of Gunung Agung destroyed most of the Raja’s creation.
Fortunately, the Raja’s grandchildren included two architects educated in Holland. The place was beautifully rebuilt with Balinese artistry and European technology. Many of those who donated towards the project are Dutch. Thankfully, nobody calls this “foreign influence”. You can check out the Raja’s family’s website over here.
It is easy to spend half a day here. Even after you have explored every corner of the garden, you can still hang around and take a contemplative break in the meditation platform or snack out at one of the cafes, but the crowds do come in from late morning.
I’m not sure what these Victorian water lilies are doing here. If they’re ever open for “stepping”, then we’re definitely going to see another wave of shallow Instagramers. I sincerely wish they are left alone.
While the garden has an elaborate lighting plan (as seen from the website), it’s curious why it’s not open at night. It would be interesting to stage shows at the amphitheatre or hold talks at the auditorium in the evening.
We left the gardens and returned to the homestay to check out. It was only on our way back that we discovered that following the main road (without going down the valley), the garden could be reached in less than half the time it took us to get there in the morning. Going down to the valley was a waste of time and energy for there weren’t any views there.
The rice terraces were a lot more impressive from the terrace holding the homestay. The owner of the homestay, offered us a taxi ride to Ubud for Rp 450,000. We didn’t realise that it was a steal! Grab and Gojek all indicated a much lower fare of about Rp350,000.
Back at Tirta Gangga, I tried using both Grab and Gojek to book transport, but nobody accepted our booking. Local drivers claimed that Grab and Gojek are “banned” in these parts. In fact, the apps work just fine. It’s just that nobody dares to accept passengers for fear of being assaulted by the local taxi mafia. After waiting for nearly an hour and not wanting to waste anymore time, I relented and ended up paying Rp600,000! Important lesson learned: the mafia has its way here. The homestay owners always give the best deals.
To be continued …