Built on the slope of Bali's highest peak Gunung Agung, Besakih is a complex of almost two dozen temples stepped up the slope.
While the site is thought to have had spiritual importance since the 14th century, the central temple of Pura Penataran Agung dates back to the 17th century.
A major eruption of Gunung Agung in 1963 saw the lava flow miss the temple by metres. This close call only increased the regard the Balinese have for the temple as it was seen as a sign from the gods that it was indeed an important place of faith.
The annual Bhatara turum kabeh ceremony is one of the most important festivals held at Besakih, with every fifth year it being bigger, every decade bigger still and around every century Eka Dasa Rudra, the most important ceremony in Bali bar none, is held. It was actually this festival that Indonesia's first president Sukarno moved forward a few years (for decidedly ungodly reasons) and is believed to have brought the eruption on in the first place.
While there are over twenty temples on site, the casual visitor will probably only find the central focal point of particular interest. Allow for an hour on site (not counting the time required to beat off the touts with a stick).
As with Tanah Lot, the immediate arrival area contains an absolutely ridiculous number of shops and touts. The touts in particular can be a major headache and often result in tourists swearing never to return. The best way to avoid this is to visit early in the morning — before the touts are out of bed! We arrived at 08:00 (coming from Sideman) and had the entire site to ourself.
The most popular time to visit is in the late afternoon when the temple can look glorious in the afternoon light, but we'd forgo the pretty light for a bit of peace and quiet.
Should you be accosted by touts, you do not need a guide to visit the site and you most definitely do not need to pay any fees other than the admission. Should you decide to engage a guide, agree on the price upfront. Do not settle for a "whatever you think" as that can turn into extortion at the end of the tour. The touts here can be ruthless.
Last updated on 11th July, 2011.