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Tourists hates Besakih. Despite it being the island’s most important religious and cultural destination, many have had bad experiences coming here, feeling ripped off as they were charged a hefty admission fee whilst locals come in for free. Then there is the relentless peddlers and kids selling you postcards, flower offerings or souveniers. They will attach themselves to you, bringing out their best puppy faces and some are even multilingual like this girl (skip to 1:50).
However, despite all that I think that you should still give Besakih a chance. To a Balinese Hindu, this place is our Mecca, our Vatican. This is where we go for a pilgrimage, this is our mother temple and this is as Balinese Bali gets! Nothing here is just for show or artificially made to accomodate tourists. If you can look pass the annoying peddlers and horrible management of vendors/dodgy guides, Besakih is really something else.
So let me show you how a real local Balinese visit Besakih and what exactly it is that we do there.
Dress like a local
If you don’t look Balinese, at least dress like one. By dressing like one of us, this will lower the chances of them bothering you. Whether you’re Chinese, black, caucasian or middle eastern, dressing like one of us will make people think that you live in Bali and are accustomed to coming to places like this.
For men: Simply wear a white buttoned shirt, white udeng (headband) and a colourful sarong accompanied with an extra layer of a white saput (white cloth) and sandals.
For women: A blouse/kebaya (preferably white), colourful sarong and maybe tie your hair up. Wear sandals or a comfortable heel, just avoid covered shoes.
Say ‘no’ to persistent peddlers and vendors like a local
Looking like a local can only get you so far, you should also learn how to say no politely when they are bombarding you with bracelets or postcards. Here are some things you can say:
Ampun – Actually translates to forgiveness, but in this case it means ‘I’m fine thanks’.
Tidak, terima kasih – No, thank you
Terima kasih – Thank you in Indonesian
Suksma – Thank you in Balinese
Nggak – More informal way of saying ‘No’
Start with food
After a long drive from Denpasar, the first thing we do is eat. Preferably some Nasi Campur (rice with assorted meats and vegetables). There is alot of food stalls line up on the main road leading up to the temple. Just go for the one with the most customers if you’re feeling skeptic.
Should you buy a canang (flower offerings)?
Buying a canang will make you look more like you’re visiting Besakih as a local than a tourist. You can only buy them in a bundle, so one plastic bag with 10 canangs inside should cost you Rp10,000-15,000 (AU$1-2). It’s better if you buy one beforehand as the ones they sell in Besakih tends to be overpriced, even for a local. They usually sell canangs either at a local market or on the streetside.
Where to pray
The Besakih temple complex is made out of many different shrines, each catering to a specific group in the religion. These temples are usually out of bounds for both tourists and Balinese who don’t belong in that group. So if you want to participate in a prayer, make sure you head out to the main courtyard of the Pura Penataran Agung Besakih. You can navigate your way around Besakih with this map.
How to pray
What to bring: All you need to bring with you is 1 canang (flower offering), a dupa (incense stick) and a korek (match) to light it.
Where to sit: Sit anywhere you want on the ground. Just sit where the locals sit. Men sit crosslegged and women sit on their knees.
When to start: The priest will ring the bell and say his prayers, but you don’t start praying until he instructs you to. During this time, clear your mind and be calm.
How to pray: When everyone starts praying, this is how you do it.
- Put your hands over the smoke of the incense stick and then put your palms together and hover it over your forehead. Keep your hands up until the bell stops ringing. During this time, you should introduce yourself to the dieties by saying (in your head), ‘Om Swastiastu (hello)’.
- Once the bell starts ringing, take some flowers and hold it on the tip of your fingers. People have different ways of praying but for me, I use this time to say thank you for my health, my happiness, the obstacles in life, for protection, etc. Discard the flowers when the bells stop ringing.
- Grab some flowers again and apologize for your sins and any harm you may have caused for others and to yourself. Discard the flowers when the bells stop ringing.
- Grab some flowers again and say what you want in life, what you need, but never ask for money or harm to others. Discard the flowers when the bells stop ringing.
- Put your hands over the smoke again and pray empty handed. This is when you say good bye and thank the gods, the spirits and your ancestors for everything they’ve given you in life.
- Don’t leave yet! There will be people coming around with holy water.
- When its your turn, they will firstly drip water on you 3 times.
- Then they will pour some water to the palm of your hands for you to slurp on 3 times and last one to just wash your face.
- Then they will drip water on you again and afterwards give you some rice which you will place abit on your forehead, abit on the side of your face (next to each eye), abit on your chest and then eat a grain or two.
- Do a last prayer to say good bye again and you’re done!
Like any religion, the temple lives on donations alone. A Rp10,000-50,000 (AU$1-5) donation should be enough. If anyone ask you for a donation of anything more than this amount, its a scam and walk away.
Explore the temple complex
Now you can walk around the temple with confidence of feeling like a local, especially with that rice glued to your forehead. Besakih can look repetitive after a while, but its a nice stroll and not to mention the views. You can get one of the best viewsof the temple from the top of the Pura Goa.
Head down to the market or the main road and grab yourself some snacks. When locals come to Besakih they usually snack on chicken satay dipped in sambal or peanut sauce, steamed peanuts, corn, fried tofu/tempe, serombotan (vegetable dish) and even ice cream.
Photos taken with an iPhone 5C