Goa Gajah Elephant Caves

The days have begun to blur into one already! This may be the tropical weather conditions which are very unfamiliar. It doesn’t feel as hot as dry heat, but it doesn’t take much before you are lathered in sweat. I’m not sure how to do this with the sun cream. It’s that oil and water conundrum that chemists have tried to work out for millennia. They don’t mix.

However it does seem to appear that Bali and temples do mix. They are everywhere! Komang my driver (that sounds so queenly to have a driver) has explained a bit about Bali village life. The pura desa or village temple is at the heart of village life, and along side it is the bale banjar which is a large covered open sided building, like a village hall where all the people who live in the village gather to discuss village matters. The meetings are held by the kelian banjar, who is elected for a period of time. He says if anyone is having trouble the bale banjar discuss it and work out how to go forward and remove obstacles, this can be personal, family, community, religious or government administration issues. They meet twice a month and we drove past a bale banjar in session and it was packed! Komang is really proud of the community.

I’m also noticing that many houses have an entrance gate that leads into a first courtyard with a statue of Ganesh there, guarding the gateway. Ganesh is the son of  Shiva and Parvati and in Hindu mythology Parvati creates her son whilst her husband Shiva is away and the boy stands at the gate of the house to protect his mother. Then there’s that awful business about Shiva coming back and not knowing the boy is his son, he cuts his head off as the boy refuses to let him pass. Parvati is obviously beside herself so Shiva intends to bring him back to life by finding another head. That’s how he ends up with the head of an elephant, and of course his mama loves him still and his papa declares him to be worshipped as a god to honour his virtues of protection. Thus he is the Hindu god for protection and removing obstacles. I’ve seen so many I’m tempted to do an instagram style #doorsoflondon  #ganeshafrontgatesofbali photo collection.


About Ganesh, yesterday morning I decided to visit the Goa Gajah Elephant Cave Temple. in Bedulu village, just 5km from Ubud. It’s very close to Kailash guest house where i am staying. This is a very old sacred site. The name is written om Negarakeertagama papyrus dated back to 1365AD and means hermitage on a river. Its thought that a Buddhist shrine by the river came first, and then later the cave became a place to offer prayers to Shiva, Parvati and their son Ganesh. At some point the front of the cave was carved with the face of a elephant with a giant open mouth as the door.

 I arrive at the site and manage to purchase a job lot of flower offerings and incense and set off down the many stairs into the gorge below that houses a river and the ancient cave. It’s a hot day and there is the ubiquitous market by the ticket office with the swarm of traders touting their wares of sarongs, sarongs and more sarongs. Everyone must wear a sarong to go into the temple space, it seems the Balinese are very protective about their sacred spaces and great natural custodians. I don’t escape without purchasing the most beautiful cotton flowery vibrant summer dress for my granddaughter, and a pair of gorgeous red with blue exotic flower shorts. This is because I am missing her such a lot. In fact, I’m really missing my family on this outing and I decide I’m going to make some prayers for them all down in the cave asking Ganesh to protect them and remove all obstacles to peace and well being in their lives. On the way down I see an Asian woman washing in the large stone bath with female statues pouring spring water into it, it seems that this is the place for purification before prayer. I place my first flower offering and douse my head in water, I notice that these statues have gorgeous curves and I reflect on the wonder and beauty of the mother archetype who is connected to an unlimited source of flow and fertility just like this water. I haven’t done any washing up or housework for days and I’m getting her vibe.

Purification at Goa Gajah

There are lots of tourists and everyone wants THE pic outside the elephant cave and there are tour guides speaking loudly in a few different languages. But I’m seeking something much subtler, I’m here to feel the energy of the place and wander back in time to touch that ancient pulse. I’m not a Hindu, I don’t even lean towards eastern spirituality particularly. I connect spiritually through nature and all forms of god and goddess delivering the message that we are all one, a unity consciousness. But today I’m going to offer up my prayers.

Flower and incense offerings

A lovely Balinese lady called Madi is laying out the flower offerings, so I go over and say hello. She bustles around getting me a tray for my offerings and flicking the holy water. She tells me she is 50 and has one son, I tell her I’m 47 and have 3 children and a granddaughter and I’m going to make prayers for their lives. She flicks me down with holy water and we share a bit of happy mama time. She takes my bag to keep safe in her shop and fusses over me. I feel special in my sarong with my flower offerings and off I go into the cave. Its dark and bare inside and there’s a long tunnel then an open space with 3 altars hollowed out from the cave walls. To the left is Ganesh altar with an elephant stone, to the centre is Parvati altar with a big round goddess stone, and to the right is Shiva altar with a set of stone lingums. I end up thinking about all the females in my family line at the centre, all the males to the right, then all the children at the centre. I set down my flower offerings and incense.

Me outside the elephant cave

I’m startled by the light when I come out, and Madi has fresh coconut for sale so I’m revived by this delicious drink “A nice sweet one for you” she says. As I wander on I go deeper into the gorge, sadly I see discarded coconut shells and straws thrown in the undergrowth on my way down to the river its self . I find a waterfall and it is here that the true spirit of the place talks to me, a prayer for mother earth bursts out of my heart, that we can learn quickly how to be better custodians of her, that the spirit of the Balinese way of caring for the earth can spread out before it’s too late. Further up there is a Buddhist shrine and I’m blessed with flowers and rice.

Ubud is so close and I’m invited back in to town by the thought of getting a plate of vegan food at the café Soma which has been recommended by a friend from Glastonbury, and describes itself on facebook as a cafe, a shop and community gathering space. Maybe I will feel differently about Ubud today? Soma describes itself as offering high vibe food and has a wonderful menu of raw vegan, vegan and vegetarian delights. Whilst I’m wandering around trying to find the place, I pass the monkey forest, so I decide to pop in. It’s a strange vibe in there as the tree shapes are so unfamiliar, with great hanging vines and a sort of swampy feel. I gravitate towards the holy spring which looks to be dedicated to Ganesh.

The monkeys are everywhere, and all the signs say do not look them in the eye or get out any food or drinks or they will nick them. I give myself permission to not like things on this whole trip. Its just that I’m so used to keeping up a positive attitude as a parent when holidaying with my family. We’ve paid in, it wasn’t cheap, we are only one step away from everyone breaking out into moans of how they are too hot, thirsty, bored or they just don’t like it, so its always been my job to keep up the happy vibe. You know the scene? So I just realise I don’t need to do this, I can if want to – simply just not like something if that’s what I really feel. I don’t like the monkey forest, I feel about 6 and the monkeys are scary. Not even a gorgeous mama monkey and cub melt me and I’m out of there like a shot.

I wander through Ubud market as I’d like to buy a special sarong for visiting temples, it feels like the same rules apply, don’t look anybody in the eye or open your bag or the traders will be all over you in a shot. I feel more vulnerable on my own, like a waiting target. I over pay a lady for a sarong and bolt out of there, I did haggle but I can tell it was still overpriced but I’m just too much of a softy for this, as all I can think about is her rent, food and kids.

Then I find Soma, its in the trendy end of town. Lovely narrow streets lined with gorgeous boutiques, musical instrument shops, exquisite jewellery and signs to spas and guest houses. Soma is set around a courtyard with a rather ancient looking gate standing alone like a nod to the past. The vibe is chilled out and I choose a gorgeous sofa at the back and literally lay flat feeling the heat. The menu is exquisite with delights like juices, smoothies, raw chocolate desserts, raw food salads and a long list of herbal teas. I order a large pot of fresh turmeric and ginger tea. Scanning the menu is a day out in itself, and just so interesting to read the mission on the front cover and then the wonderful synergies of vegetables, herbs and superfoods put together in an extensive and inspiring way. Soma is my kind of place. I order a raw vegan rainbow salad with peanut sauce, and a shiitake mushroom pattie with Asian greens. What can I say? I’ve found what I’m looking for! This food is outrageously wonderful, and I want to move in just so I can spend the next month eating my way through the menu.

Soma Raw Chocolate Dessert

I’m in love and I forgive Ubud immediately for its crazy scooter roundabout traffic, its monkey minded mayhem city vibe, its super trendy glamorous beautiful spiritual people poster look. Ok we can be friends! I’ve noticed over my shoulder I rather distinguished Balinese man who looks super chilled and like he might be the proprietor of the place, and soon enough he comes over and introduces himself in a very friendly way. Well it’s a small world because it doesn’t take long for us to discover that he knows and loves the Glastonbury crowd who come to Bali and with several mutual friends between us Soma feels like home. We chat about our friends, the food, the menu, the inspiration behind Soma and I just feel like I’m receiving a wealth of information about the spirit of the land from him and another Soma regular guest. I hear a story about the spirit of the Balinese farmers who are strong at sticking to their farming practices when tempted with take over offers from the big boys wanting to turn Bali into GM crops with Monsanto seeds.

The word Ubud I’m told means medicine.

My body is so happy for the food and as I wander off to meet up with my driver to go back to Kailash, Ubud is alive with the night vibe. A big ceremony is kicking off at the temple next to the palace and the whole place is crammed with the men in white temple clothes and the woman in lace tops, sarongs and prayer belts.

Houki, Keeku and Me

Back at Kailash the doggies come to greet me like a long lost friend, and i wonder if i’ll ever leave. I have a late night swim in the pool and give thanks for a day like this. I’m really intrigued about the story of this land. My friends at Soma tell me about Bali’s healing energy and how if you visit with your heart and mind open you will fall in love with the place. I’m intrigued to which part of Bali calls me. Is it her oceans, islands, mountains, springs, waterfalls, temples? Right now its my bed at Kailash and another good nights sleep. I breathe in deeply and out deeply reminding myself that i am allowed to take in all this loveliness.

May all the beings in all the worlds find peace.

At The Gates To Bali

I know its a big cliche i’m a 47 year old female and my youngest is 17, so its time to break free and quit my life for one month off in Bali. I’m blessed to have the money to do so, time off work and enough crazy wanderlust spirit to go for it. So the one month off, sole female traveler with no plans arrives in Bali. Well actually i do have plans, in order to pluck up courage i book one month air b&b home stay in Ubud, the centre of personal growth and all things spiritual, thinking this will be my home and i can come and go on short trips off to temples, the beach and whenever the compass points. Great plan, and to be fair this kind of security did get me here but on arrival i discover two things.

Firstly i’m not in love with Ubud, to my post 24 hrs journey nervous system its like crazy moped hell, with over priced yoga and matcha latte, and i just left my home town of Glastonbury, UK which is full of less overpriced yoga and less over priced matcha latte. However i did go and pay my respects to Pura Taman Saraswati Temple in downtown Ubud, a stunning water temple set with pink lotus flower filled ponds. The Hindu creator goddess Saraswati is the wife of Brahma, and only went and helped him create the universe. A wife who deserves nothing less than pink lotus flowers by way of honoring and acknowledgement.

Pink Lotus Flowers Framing the Saraswati Temple Entrance

Secondly i choose a basic Balinese home stay with traditional Balinese mattress. Air b&b describes “Bata Bata is quirky traditional styled guesthouse, built with bricks and wood as its main materials. We use traditional beds and pillows with ‘kapuk’ filling, cotton-like fluff from a tropical tree named Ceiba pentandra. Please note that as it is natural, traditionally handmade by Balinese local mattress artisan and is filled with ‘kapuk’, it feels rather harder than synthetic mattress. This kind of bedding is very good for healthier back”. So i feel really gung-ho, wild-and-free and au-naturel when i’m booking this homestay, only to arrive and discover i am like the princess and the pea and i cannot sleep on this bed AT ALL. So after two nights, a broken back, and buckets of tears i face up to it. I’m a beginner and i got it all wrong.

During my two days in Ubud i also sprain my ankle, get bitten by the puppy (quite painfully) every time i leave my cabin and eaten by mosquitoes due to the very pretty but really impractical open roofed shower. My inner child is desperate, lost and broken and i realise we are going to need to do this trip together and i am just not really the wild wolf woman “la loba” of my fantasies but rather a very domesticated 47 year old once princess now queen and i’m gonna need a bit of comfort and peace.

I can laugh now, as i’m sitting in my gorgeous room at the most lovely Kailash guest house’, a half hour outside of Ubud near the Tegenungan Waterfalls. Booked last minute on booking.com i’m here for only a fraction more of the price per night than downtown. About that – i made a mistake, i booked for a month, i’m pleading with air b&b for a refund, besides there was also no lock on the door to the cabin, no hot tub as advertised, no bedding and a crazy air conditioning unit. The lovely host was gorgeous and understood it wasn’t for me and agreed to a refund, saying the room will re-book straight away, but she has to wait for air b&b to approve this apparently. I really could do with that refund don’t get me wrong but i knew i couldn’t stay there. I didn’t feel safe, i know this whole trip is so far out of my safety zone that its off the map but i also know i need to feel safe, held, loved and heard. So i let myself off the hook and trust that all will be well.

So now for the good bit, i landed on my feet. Kailash guest house has maybe 12 rooms, 2 very small pools, and it is a beautiful Balinese architecture show piece built around the family house. It even has its own temple just off the courtyard. Its so peaceful and the bed is so comfortable, i slept like a wee small baby.

Tranquility at Kailash
The Kailash House Temple

There are dogs that live here, but not the biting types, just the cutest dogs you could ever meet. There is Mollie the pug, Miko and Kimi the blonde pekinese, and Houki and Keeku the adorabe cross-breeds who have been rescued by tourists.

Mollie hard at work guarding the temple

So i’m resting, arriving, breathing, stretching, getting over the guilt, giving myself what i need (that feels strange) and getting wet! Did i say it was the rainy season? Well tropical rain is just intense, it feels so wrong to an English person, like the roof is going to come in. Last night there was a dramatic storm, and i’m not only scared of biting dogs, unlocked doors at night in city’s, but also lighting. So i was so pleased to be at Kailash with the dogs and good company of fellow guests that were also loving the family feel. On the subject of tropical rain, well there’s a whole new level to getting wet, when i arrived at Tegenungan Falls today i just jumped straight into the natural spring water bath in the rocks on the way down as i was already soaked to the skin. Note to self – buy umbrella. BUT ITS WARM RAIN. Not that sideways freezing cold rain i’m so familiar with.

Tegenungan Falls after a storm