No time is wasted getting back on the road following our close encounter with the bats at Goa Garba (Tua). Into the car we pile and back to the home of the priestess Jero Mangku to drop her off before continuing on our way. We’re starting to get really into the rural areas of Bali now, and built-up cityscapes give way to developing villages and finally to rice fields and simple farming houses and the occasional roadside warung (small food stall). Despite this, traffic is heavy. This was our mistake for organising our little road trip on a Sunday, which is Bali’s day of leisure as school children still attend classes on Saturdays. Still, onwards and forwards to our next stop: Pura Bunut Bolong.
Pura Bunut Bolong in the Asah Duren village area, as Ketut Darmika informs me, is temple by a sacred tree with a large hole in it, so big that traffic passes through without issue. It wasn’t manicured or directed to grow the way it does, which makes it all the more interesting. It’s a bit of a drive to get there though, some might call it a pilgrimage. Over two hours from the home of the priestess, and that’s with Ketut Darmika’s intense Balinese driving skills, some seriously narrow roads and way too much traffic. But, our patience is eventually rewarded when, with the cool mountain air drifting in the windows, we finally pull up at Pura Bunut Bolong.
That’s my immediate thought as I get out of the car, staring at the amazing tree in front of me while fumbling for my camera. I know, it’s hardly going anywhere, but I feel like I need to photograph it in that moment of absolute magic. A massive banyan tree, it’s branches reaching up high above me, sits directly in the middle of the road. But, without reason, its roots seem to have separated, allowing a road to pass through the very centre of the tree. Another road also passes around the tree, so I can imagine that the hole wasn’t always big enough for traffic (and certainly some larger vehicles would struggle) but what a sight! My little moment of natural awe is briefly disturbed by a pack of teens speeding through the hole in the tree on automatic scooters, seemingly ignorant to how incredible it is. But then I suppose it’s already become a part of their lives, so why pause to look at something familiar?
Luckily, Pura Bunut Bolong is not familiar to me! Admittedly, I initially have trouble believing that the tree has grown just like it stands in front of me without any manicuring. But, I eventually decide to just run with it, and enjoy the incredible scene. Walking through the hole in the tree is amazing, almost like I’m drifting through a solid tree. Moss and smaller plants cover the moist surfaces of its many smaller trunks and branches, and tiny bugs and lizards swarm over the safe haven inside the tree. While I’m wandering around staring at my new favourite plant, Ketut Darmika stops to pray at the temple, and probably have a moment of reflection following our intense car trip. Not that its seemed to bother him at any point though, talk about the picture of zen.
We hang around until everyone is both absolutely sick of me taking photographs, and ready to face the car again. In we stack and off we go. Our return journey to the chaos of Kuta is via the scenic mountain pass overlooking Batu Karu Mountain. It’s very rural up here, but I can definitely see the march of progress. Advertising is more prevalent, and even the smallest warungs carry advertising for coffee products or SIM cards for phones. They seem very out of place against a backdrop of rice fields and basic farming villages. Everything has a tendency to look the same from a car window, and in the end I’m staring out at green rushing past in a blur as we head back to the lowlands of Bali.
But, our adventure isn’t over just yet, and we have one more temple to visit. The temple of Luhur Mekori is definitely an unexpected surprise (and not just because I had no idea we were going there!). From the road, it looks tiny. A small temple stands about 20 metres from the road, on which there’s a scattering of motorcycles with worshippers, a whole lot of offerings and a couple of cheeky monkeys. I walk up to the small temple not expecting much, and certainly not understanding why Ketut Darmika thought I HAD to see this particular temple. A quick, no muss no fuss blessing at the temple and Ketut Darmika directs us in further, to the inner temple area. Apparently most people only pray at the front temple, but the inner temple is something else entirely.
Well, he’s not wrong.
I felt like I was walking into something of a lost world. On a slippery, mossy path through the jungle I feel the temperature drop just a little as afternoon falls. The temple is hardly a long walk from the road, but it feels like a whole different universe. We enter the first gate and my jaw drops.
Greenery is everywhere. Tiny plants have sprung from soil and pavement without discrimination, and moss has inched its way across every conceivable surface from pathways to stairs and roof tiles. Monkeys play around the bases of giant trees that stretch up into the jungle canopy. Ketut Darmika continues on through the next set of gates into the praying area of the temple. I follow along slower, once again blown away by what I see. Balinese temples are scattered around the grounds of the innermost temple, obviously in a pattern but the meaning of which I do not know. Offerings are placed here and there, obviously somewhat disturbed by the primate presence. Moss is on absolutely everything. It’s so green I feel like I’m turning into a plant myself. As Ketut Darmika is praying, a few curious monkeys come to check out what might be left behind for them (after the gods have taken the essence, of course).
When the praying is done and I’m heading out the door I look up to the canopy and to the three giant temple gates standing stark against the cloudy afternoon sky. I know I’ve got one hell of a drive back home, but at this point I don’t care at all. What an amazing day, and what a fantastic way to welcome myself to Bali and to the start of my South East Asia adventure. On the way home, through the traffic and the chaos (although it grates on me) I find myself thinking how much I hope the next few months will be full of amazing experiences like this one.
I would like to thank my mum for her great connections in Bali, and Ketut Darmika for his wonderful expertise and impressive driving skills. Ketut Darmika offers ‘spiritual tours’ of Bali, and is available on Facebook.
This post originally appeared on BarefootBeachBlonde.com, the pre-evolved version of Maps And Mandalas. I’ve republished it here with its original date because I love it that much.