Photo: Move over Indiana Jones.

Gunung Kawi

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Carved into the steep sheer rock face of the lush Pakrisan River valley, about 14 kilometres north of Ubud, monumental Gunung Kawi is one of Bali’s oldest and most enigmatic antiquities.

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The impressive complex houses two rows of “candis” (shrines) on opposite sides of the gorge, towering more than seven metres, hewn from the cliff within sheltered niches. The site forms part of Bali’s subak irrigation system, granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2012. This is one of our favourite sites out of Ubud to take visitors to and it belongs on your must-see list.

Expect an offering or two. Photo taken in or around Gunung Kawi, Ubud, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Expect an offering or two. Photo: Sally Arnold

There is much conjecture, but the candis are believed to have been constructed in the 11th century, dedicated to descendants of the royal family of the Warmadewa Dynasty whose influence stretched across Bali to Java. One possibility is that Gunung Kawi was to honour King Udayana (for whom Bali’s Udayana University is named), his queen Mahendradatta, and their sons Airlanga (who became a king of Java), Anak Wungsu (King of Bali) and Marakata, along with imaginably lesser queens and concubines. This is perhaps Bali’s very own Valley of the Kings, although it’s unlikely they contain actual remains.

Of course there are local legends as to its existence, and the character here who literally had a hand in it was the giant baby, Kbo Iwa who was said to have carved Gunung Kawi, along with a number of other sights in Bali with his fingernails. Look for the giant baby statue on the main road between Sanur and Ubud—that is Kebo Wanara or the Kbo Iwa of folklore (you might hear him crying if he hasn’t been given enough offerings).

Enigmatic. Photo taken in or around Gunung Kawi, Ubud, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Enigmatic. Photo: Sally Arnold

As you descend the punishingly steep steps towards the sacred river (wear comfy shoes), passing the usual huddle of stalls selling tourist tat and cold drinks (very welcome on your ascent), have cameras at the ready for the gobsmacking views of the surrounding rice terraces tumbling into the ... Travelfish members only (Around 800 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.

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Popular hotels in Ubud on Agoda

Gunung Kawi
14 kilometres north of Ubud
Daily 07:00-18:00
Admission: Child/adult: 7,500/15,000 rupiah (sarong rental by donation). Parking is 5,000 rupiah for cars, and 2,000 rupiah for motorbikes.

Location map for Gunung Kawi

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