Journey of The Water Temples of Bali

Tirta Empul

Bali is an island of water magic

Over the last few days I have visited waterfalls and water temples. Each one more awe-inspiring than the last, and with each visit I can feel the magic of this water just dissolving all my hard-outer layers and transporting me to a space of flow, surrender, gratitude and humbleness. As I sit and write this afternoon it is raining, I mean proper tropical rain delivering an unquestionable cleansing to the earth.

Yesterday I heard that the ancient name for Bali is Tirta Island, meaning island of many natural springs. They are everywhere and there is often a water temple at the site. I’m so drawn to natural springs, like all the ancient pilgrims before me I feel intuitively in touch with something that is life affirming when I am there. I love being in water, I think I may be part mermaid, and I’m in heaven when I’m diving deep and immersing myself into its flow. Water is the element of emotions and flow, its easier for me to feel when I’m in water, to touch grief and joy, two essential emotions that have formed the shape of my life. I can touch gratitude in water and let my whole-self bubble up with thanks for what is. Just what is today, nothing more nothing less.

Sumampan Waterfall

My water journey began several mornings ago when I walked over to Sumampan waterfall just 10 minutes from my door. I enjoyed the wander down the rural lanes of Bali, passing people working in the rice fields and several dogs that looked like they were on a mission. I descended into the deep valley via a set of 160 stone steps to arrive at the valley floor and to be greeted by the tall intense waterfall cascading onto the rocks at the other side of the river over a sheer drop. I had the place to myself so sat for a few hours playing my wooden flute, apart from a monkey who ran across the tree trunk acting as a bridge over the river, I was glad to be alone as I’m a total beginner and I managed to compose a small tune dedicated to the waterfall and her devic nature spirit. I became aware of a small Balinese lady carrying a pile of rectangular clay bricks on her head walking up stream and then on up the small steps to the top of the valley. She came time and time again. I wondered about her life and how she managed to do this job, I puzzled over what she was doing with her crazy monkey mind to be able to hold focus and diligently perform this heavy weight task. I thought about how it would be to carry our burdens this way. Just one step at a time.

Soon enough a family and their Balinese guide came to join me, and the guide was quite sure it was safe enough to wade through the fast-moving river and up onto the tree bridge to go over to the waterfall. The papa went first, and he was so delighted that he came back for mama and the oldest child. I couldn’t help myself joining in with this fun and meeting the strong force of the river, the balancing act of the bridge and the wonder of the waterfall which invited us right underneath its flow, just in its arch, but not straight under as it was too fierce. I noticed how this water was helping me feel strong and playful and I thanked the family for including me in their fun (and giving me safe boundaries to explore). Back up to the valley top I returned home feeling excited and bubbling, on the way I stopped at one of the 2 village warung’s (meaning small family owned café) and was delighted to order a fresh turmeric, lemon, lime and honey juice. Amazingly, miles away from trendy Ubud this small café had a long list of healing juices including aloe Vera and coconut milk. It was a scorching day, so I returned to the pool side for the rest of the day to meditate, do yoga and forage around in my bag of pencils and chalks I brought with me and make some pictures. These are the things I really treasure doing, my pearls that I go deep diving for in my life back home. But somehow it still takes such discipline and diligence to draw myself back inwards and embrace these practises even though I have all the time in the world. My burden of heavy bricks has been lifted for one month and I aim to make my choices count in every moment.

Me at Sumampan early morning

Yesterday morning I woke to greet the day early as I had arranged with Pak Ketut Jaya, (the Balinese healer I visited a few days ago for a healing session) (you can read about this healing treatment here) to be my guide for the day and take me to the water temple, north of Ubud. I was half expecting that we would go to the famous Tirta Empul, one of the most well-known temples in Bali, but Ketut arrived on his scooter with other plans. He said we would go to a smaller water temple that was peaceful and a bit more off the tourist map, the place where he goes to make his prayers for purification, a place called Pura Dalem Pingit Sebatu. Pak Ketut Jaya would also be my spiritual guide for the visit, to hold prayer ceremony and guide me through the right way to do purification and prayer at such a place visited by the Balinese Hindu community.

The location of Pura Dalem Pingit, at Sebatu  was incredibly special and reached by a path leading to steps circling deep into the valley bottom. The vegetation was thick and lush with beautiful flowers and moss-covered rocks. Nature just felt so abundant with the smell of sweet fresh spring water.

Journey down to Pura Dalem Pigit

I can only tell you that the experience was very beautiful, I fell deeply into my heart, allowing my breathe to be deep and rhythmic, there were blessings upon blessings each ending with a flower behind the right ear. Ketut was very clear and direct in communicating what each prayer was about. It held a familiar form of asking for permission to the guardians of the place, connecting to god, to the goddess, to mother earth, asking for forgiveness of self and others, asking for purification of the ego. This translated into surrender, release, letting the heart unburden, connecting to the eternal infinite source of creation through the breath, feeling the elements all around and receiving the beauty of the water blessing.

There were numerous places to stop on the way down where much of this occurred, however it culminated at the bottom of the valley in the water pool that received the spring as a waterfall into its depths, with full immersion into the waterfall holding the breath for as long as possible. At first, I resisted and felt the fear of drowning but then on the third time I got it and just felt an amazing surrender. I could breath a little bit in short pants whilst standing within the waterfall and realised it was OK to just let go and stay there. This was the most amazing feeling, to just stay in the waterfall, I can’t really find the words, but it was like belonging to another world, like maybe before I was born or after I die. Yes, it was profound, and I think for one tinny teeny moment I might have released the grip of the mind and ego.

Pura Dalem Pigit

My intention was for the cleansing and purification of all the waters on our blue planet, for all the seas, rivers, streams, lakes and puddles, and I held this as my focus as Ketut performed a fire ceremony for bringing healing to our earth mother at the Pura Gunwang Kawi temple just around the corner from Pura Dalem Pigit. Throughout the ceremonies Ketut laid on the prasad – the offerings of flowers, incense, fruit, cakes and more for the altars. By the end I had so many flowers behind my right ear that I joked I would need to pray for bigger ears for next time.

The wind brought me back to my body on the scooter ride home and we did some good grounding things like visit the studio of THE master wood carver of Bali, the Ada Garuda Gallery, which was mind bendingly stunning, with enormous statues of Balinese gods and goddesses carved from a single tree piece, as special comissions for Hindu temples around the world. Yes really!

I must tell you about this funny drink we had when we stopped at a local warung, it’s called a daluman drink. It consists of coconut milk, tea and this green gel that is made from the daluman leaves, which are a bit like aloe-vera. It was crazy with big lumps of gel that slid down your throat, but it was also tasty and refreshing. It has medicinal properties and is cooling and soothing to the digestive tract, which is useful after all the chilli.

And there is more! Today I decided I would visit the water temple that everyone has told me to go to. The famous Pura Tirta Empul located close to the town of Tampaksiring in the village of Manukaya. The village is a 30-minute drive to the north of Ubud. This temple is situated right next to the president of Bali – Joko Widodo’s residency and was visited by the Obamas when they came to Bali. Its very much on the tourist trail and you can read about how it is all set out here. However I will share with you my very personal experience of the purification pools that consist of fountains of spring water entering two large bathing pools. The pool on the left is for purification and letting go and the pool on the right is for blessings on the future of your life, your family, your house, your new business and all things moving forward.

I enlisted a guide who called himself my personal assistant and he explained clearly about what to do, and he looked after my bag and took lots of pics on my phone. I’m glad I received his guidance as I could see tourists kind of getting it all wrong and sticking their heads under the fountains for the dead and such like. He was immensely kind and really held the space for me to meditate and go within to my own prayers and wishes. He also sorted out all the flower offerings and incense and kept calling out for me to look over for a photo, which was quite sweet and resulting in many good pictures to keep as memories of the day. I have been doing a daily meditation practice of breathing in these seven virtues – purity, patience, generosity, kindness, disciple, diligence and humility, so I decided to make this my focus and let go of all the opposite states of ego mind to these virtues.

Dressed in my sarong and sash I entered the cold spring water bath on the left-hand side and joined the queue of pilgrims. 10 fountains for purification, and then missing out 11 and 12 as these are for the dead, a 13th for clearing nightmares and a 14th for cleansing the 5 elements. At each fountain spout its 3 handfuls to drink, then 3 handfuls to wash the face, then head under the fountain spout to clear the crown chakra at the top of the head. Wow this was powerful and meaningful to make a ritual in this way with all these people. Then up and over and into the bath on the right-hand side, 1st fountain spout to clear the spoken word, clearing all the bad or nasty things you have ever said, then 2nd spout to clear all the nasty things people have said to you. Fantastic, I love this, its just my kind of thing. Then the final fountain spout to welcome water blessings into your future life and the lives of all your family, ancestors, future family and relations. Boom! Its done.

Bali I love you, I love your water temples and the possibility and invitation to commune with this natural spring water in this way. I also went over to the the place where the spring water comes out of the ground before i left, the springs are bubbling up the clay earth around into clouds and eddys, thick and fast, determined and in 33 places I’m told. Tirta meaning water, and Empul meaning up out of the earth. Wow what a water temple you are Tirta Empul. Thankyou for having me today.

On the way back I stop for a tea at the Tegallalang rice terraces, which is “one of the three most splendid terraced landscapes in Ubud’s shared region, with the others being in the villages of Pejeng and Campuhan”. They are green, beautiful, lush, layer upon layer of terraces lining each side of a stunning deep undulating valley, with a strange mix of rice padi farmers hard at work on their land in their conical hats and ‘we love Bali’ tourists looking for that perfect Instagram shot.

You could move way too fast through this land, but it would be a great sadness and terrible mistake really to miss the feel of the place. Slowly slowly the goddess of the land that is Bali is opening her arms to me.

May all the beings in all the world be love.

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