What to do when a great mountain calls
I arrive at ‘Great Mountain View Resort‘ and the journey here is stunning. It’s about 30 minutes from Padang Bai to a village called Banjar Alas Tunggal, in the province of Sideman. We take a mountain road which just gets steeper and steeper and more winding. The area is covered in tropical jungle with deep drop away plunging valleys looking back over to the coastal plane and sea. The air gets fresher and we climb up to 900 metres. Great Mountain View Resort is in the middle of nature looking out across rice fields and right at the foot hills of Mount Agung! The place is ran by a Balinese couple, Nyoman and Wayan, and i’m told there has just been a silent meditation retreat held here for 8 days. I can’t really remember how i found the place but i give enormous thanks for my higher power guiding my here. It is so peaceful and beautiful, i’ve come to a very special place, i can just feel it.
The owners are very eco- friendly but not in a trendy over expensive way, just in a way that respects and honours nature. We are wrapped up in it here. The garden is lush with coconut trees, and many lush tropical plants. The architecture is all stone, wood, and natural materials. There are only a handful of bungalow cabins and I can’t spot another guest as yet. I find out later in my stay that Nyoman and Wayan have a passion for natural architecture and are currently building a beautiful house out of bamboo with open sides and glass walls, situated right in the rice fields out on their land, so you can wake up to see Mount Agung. Its costing them 600 million IDR, which is about £32,000. I’m shown the plans and it looks so elegant, natural and a temple to nature. Seems like I’ve organised myself a spiritual retreat for meditation at the foot of Mount Agung. Who knew?
On arrival I sit in the beautiful open sided bale looking out towards Mount Agung that is currently veiled by clouds in the mid-day heat, there are Balinese prayer flags everywhere. I eat rice noodle soup cooked for me by the smiling lady called Madi, whilst watching the white cranes fly over the rice paddy fields in harmony and union. It just feels so different up here, sort of rarefied and pure. I chat to Nyoman and he tells me that Mount Agung has great significance for Balinese spirituality as it is where Shiva dwells, it’s his mountain basically. Shiva is of course one of the three main Hindu gods, who is a bit of a work-aholic creating, protecting and transforming the universe as his day job, one of his other mountains is Mount Kailash. The connection that my home from home guest house back in Ubud is called Kailash is not lost on me. Shiva’s wife Parvati is the mother goddess, known for her fertility, divine strength and power. This volcanic mountain is definitely female to me, in her enormous fire power, strength and majesty, a part of mother earth that does not negotiate. Nyoman goes on to tell me that not only is Agung the highest peak, it’s also known as the purest energy in Bali, and the temple of Besakeh situated on its slopes is the mother temple of all temples in Bali. Holy moly! My higher self has really picked the spot. I sit on my front terrace and just breathe it all in, i still my mind and just receive the energy of the place. I fall in deeper, attuning to the mountain and drop into a breathing meditation, it would be rude not to.
Later in the afternoon Nyoman drops me over at Jagasatru waterfall, maybe 10 minutes away by car. I saw the sign on the way here and i’m told it is very tall and of course revered as a holy spot. I walk down and down the steepest road, again winding its way into a crook of the land. It’s incredulous to see the scooters go up and down this road defying gravity. Then a path and lots of steps further down into the jungle valley, and the crazy sound of cakowing going on (I find out later that this is the cungeretan, which is a kind of cricket), lush jungle everywhere and the sound of water. I approach the waterfall which is 250 metres high, plunging down into the clearest rock pool, there’s water mist in the air and the rocks are all shining and singing with the natural devic energy of the place. There are shrines in several places and a sign to say respect the spirit of the place, and no hanky panky! I’m all alone, so I unburden my bags and scramble over the rocks and slip into the pool. It’s awe inspiring and i fall into a prayful place. Thankyou for my life, Thankyou for this beauty, Thankyou to the water spirit, Thankyou to our mother earth, Thankyou for creation. Then I go under, once, twice, three times. Again it’s a reset, a cleanse of so much old story, karma.
As i ascend back up again i’m early at the meeting point, which is a very small village above the waterfall. Whilst i’m waiting i have the loveliest time, an elder in the village comes over to talk, and he has a few English words, he welcomes me to the table of his sister and two nieces who are making Canang sari, the shrine offerings made out of young coconut leaves. They have a little shop and i buy a can of fizzy cold green tea, and we have a fun time chatting away in signs and symbols and i play my flute for them all, and then the children come over and say hello. When i leave with Nyoman they give me a big send off and on the way back we pass Nyoman’s cousin and he says he has heard that i was at the next village as the word came through! Just wonderful i love it.
Wayan recommends i get up at dawn to see the mountain appear, she says its normally clear skies and a very sacred time of day, with first prayers beginning at 6am. So for the first time on the whole trip i go to bed early, which is a good plan as the mosquito are out in crowds in this jungle terrain. So are the frogs who hold a concert in the rice fields, and the fireflies and gecko all over the path. The bed is so comfy and i’m covered with a mosquito net and i seriously have the best sleep ever.
I wake at 5:45 to my alarm, and it takes a minute to remember who i am and what i’m doing. Its cool in the mountain air so i bring my poncho and sit myself on the edge of the bale feet all tucked under to greet the dawn. Its so exciting seeing the mountain appear, as i haven’t see it in its glory yet. Its still dark, and the next 20 minutes are filled with wonders as the dawn chorus and morning prayers begin and the mountain comes into view. A soft mist like a fine gossamer veil rests over everything and there are a few flashes of very peaceful lightening. Its huge and conical shaped like the proper volcano that it is. I lap up this opportunity to go within and do my morning meditation practice, i feel deep peace. This is more to do with the environment than my immediate ascension but its a start, and i’m treasuring it. Below is my rather amateur video of dawn breaking in timed installments from 5:55am until 7:30am.
After breakfast Nyoman’s cousin Ketut takes me round to the west side of the mountain to Pura Besakih (pronounced Be-sar-key) which takes about 40 minutes. Its a huge complex of temples, at an altitude of 1000 meters above sea level, with the mountain peak rising above. It is a Catur Lokapala temple which honours the four directions, with the Penataran Agung Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva at the centre.
I must add that Mount Agung is an active volcano with the last major eruption happening in 1963, and the fact that the lava missed this temple site was seen as a great gift of god. It did become active again in 2017 and the whole area was evacuated as it blew off some smoke and fire but didn’t fully erupt. It was reported at the time that despite the volcano alert being a level 4 or 5 full moon prayer ceremony still went ahead at Pura Besakih. Nyoman tells me that the crew at Great Mountain Views Resort stayed put and they were full to the brim with visitors wanting to see the flumes of smoke and fire out of the volcano spout.
Its full moon today and this means there are many Balinese Hindu familys dressed up and looking lovely in temple clothes coming to pray. The temple has seven levels to it and it is reached by climbing many steps as the buildings ascend up the hillside. I cannot begin to describe the lay out to you, you can check that out here, but i can share my own personal journey. Firstly the views of the mountain and surrounding valleys are stunning, as is the temple architecture with its statues, gateways, ascending pyramid towers called merus, and inner and outer courtyards. There are strict areas for Hindu worship here and today they are absolutely packed. As a non Hindu westerner i stick to the edges and feel like i am looking in on a world that is very communal, colourful and celebratory. Its comfortable to be an observer and track the shadows opening up a conversation with myself about what this visit means to me. I share some heart opening moments with the Hindu temple crowd, as we wander about they smile and great me with Om-swastiastu (meaning – greetings) – a few times they want a picture together, its very friendly. The women are dressed up in their best sarongs with a long sleeved lace blouse and colourful prayer sash around the waist, often carrying woven baskets of prasad (flowers, incense, fruit, cakes, offerings) on their heads. The men are in sarongs and long shirt with the prayer hat on their heads (which is like a wrap of material that peaks at the front).
I find a quiet spot in the Vishnu temple (he’s the one who governs water so there is no surprise there) and i sit and unwind. Since our god is the same god, and infact has a goddess consort, i connect to divine masculine and feminine in the way i always do and start breathing in the energy of universal source. Well it’s quite a pokey spot i must say and the lights certainly seem turned on. I find myself making an energetic offering to the guardians of the temple, to the land and to the mountain. I go on an inner journey and i’m up and off on a magic carpet to float over the mountain. I sit for what seems like an eternity (in a good way) but is probably only about 20 minutes, as i’m still working on the virtue of patience. But i’m uplifted and energetic and feel like i’ve got wings so i bounce round the rest of the temple courtyards i’m allowed in and take lovely pictures of what is in fact quite a stunning temple complex.
Back at Great Mountain Views i’m wrapped up again by this peace and abundance of nature, i sip ginger tea and just roll myself out for the afternoon. I attempt a pastel chalk drawing of the luscious garden, i dip in the beautiful simple swimming pool looking out over the rice paddies, i have a Balinese massage under the stone arch by one of the extended family. Its all Nyoman’s and Wayan’s family who work here and they have a lovely community vibe, two of the woman are pregnant and the kids turn up after school. The pace of life is very slow here. There is prayful singing all afternoon, with a male voice chanting, then a female voice singing the Balinese version of Indian ragas. At 6pm, Wayan goes around dressed in her temple clothing and makes offerings to all the shrines. Its full moon tonight and there is an air of excitement as its a special day in the temple. They make me delicious rice, vegetables and peanut sauce for dinner and i eat early to avoid the mosquitos. The mosquitos are however horrific, there are so many and i’m bitten to shreds, i start using the mosquito repellant every hour. I’m really starting to slow down my crazy mind chatter and let it all in.
In fact by night fall i feel a huge shift. I decide to do my own full moon ceremony, and hop about getting a candal, incense, all my crystals, my bags of herbs, my tarot cards and journal and what not into place. Its mid way on my trip and i decide that my intention is now about creating what i want for my life moving forward, when i return home. I’ve focused a lot on letting go but i get the idea that i’ll make a vision for what i want to call into my life, and make some affirmations i can work on over the next few days. I’m sitting on my terrace just giving thanks for this bounty, looking at the moon and then i spot it, an enormous feeling of guilt. I tease it out a bit and unravel it, its just sitting there, this belief that i am just not worthy of all this. Its bloody tragic that i feel this but the good bit is that i spotted it because as i start to turn it around, i am worthy, i am worthy of this, i am worthy of god, there is enough of everything for everyone, as above so below, i feel such a happy release. I have a very special evening just creating and weaving positive prayers and good energy for my life firstly, and also my family and the planet. Think i might be getting the vibe.
The next day i chill out at home base. The weather is so changeable up here in the mountains, and i spend most of my time just taking in the moving panorama of the mountain. Dawn, first light, baking sun, rolling clouds, dark clouds, a huge storm with torrential tropical rain, thunder and lightening, the fresh clear sky after the storm, the hum of a simple life. I’m amazed at the sound that some of the local creatures make, repetitive calls that go on for hours, my brain can only register them as car alarm, broken water pipe, open gate knocking against wall. They are all natural, and as i’m playing my flute later, i get how it would have been completely intuitive to make an instrument to mirror the animal sounds and rhythms to communicate with the natural family in ones living environment.
Wayan sends me off on a nature walk following the irrigation channel over the rice fields, I find the path leading to the river, through jungle again then out onto the country lane. There is rice laid out on plastic tarps on the road, and scooters and occasional car just ride straight over as it is drying. I’m told that this is cool as it still has it’s skin on? I head back through the village and I just love taking it all in. The simple everyday normal things, the infants back from school at 11am, the people carrying all manner of things on their heads, fire wood, baskets, bundles of leafy branches, little fires everywhere, people working in the rice fields ankle deep in water, the village shop selling packet noodles, cigarettes and toothpaste.
Great Mountain Views Resort and the mountain region of Sideman has been an utterly awesome place to visit, and if you want to touch base with rural Bali then this is the place to come. Visiting Sideman was a top tip I received from a family member before I came and i’m so glad I did! Thanks hun! In reflection of my journey, my aunty sent me this poem by Miroslav Holub
Go and open the door. Maybe outside there’s a tree, or a wood, a garden, or a magic city.
Go and open the door. Maybe a dog’s rummaging. Maybe you’ll see a face, or an eye, or the picture of a picture.
Go and open the door. If there’s a fog it will clear.
Go and open the door. Even if there’s only the darkness ticking, even if there’s only the hollow wind, even if nothing is there, go and open the door.
At least there’ll be a draught.
May all the beings in all the world be guardians of their environment