Bali is very diversed and has plenty of great spots to offer; whether you are in for a cultural experience, adventure or spend your honeymoon here, it’s always worth a visit. It took me some time to figure out that even a hotspot like Bali has some shadows. Today I’m focused on the temple of Besakih, aka the Mother Temple for all Hindus in Bali.
The Besakih Temple is a large complex of several smaller temples, forming the holiest place for Hindus in Bali. Located on the slopes of Mount Agung (Bali’s highest volcano), it has spectacular views over the surrounding valleys and is about a thousand years old.
-The volcano erupted the last time in the 1960’s and destroyed several villages around, yet the temple was either hit by the floating lava nor the ash rain-
In August 2013 I guided a lovely Italian couple to the temple, since the place was on their travel wishlist for Bali. Prior to visiting the temple, I tried to find as much information I could on sites like Trip Advisor and -if any- travel blogs; dozens of furious tourists complain about being treated like human ATMs. Soon, I understood that a whole bunch of self proclaimed “temple guides” (read: temple mafia) would be awaiting us. Great I thought; I am guiding, never visited that place before and my Indonesian at that time was more like so so…
“Temple guides -and staff trying to pull out your money wherever and whenever they can!”
While the entry fee to the temple is quite affordable and more or less the same like for all other major temples in Bali (IDR 15000, ca. $1.50), it would be quite easy for people to pull out your money, here is why:
1.) You have to wear a sarong for religious reasons. Now this sounds fair and is similar to other temples in Bali. BUT HOLD ON: you should bring your own one, unless you are willing to pay around U$25-30, after bargaining from one of the small souvenir stalls there. Sarongs cost usually around U$5-6 in shops around Kuta and Denpasar, better even, ask your driver in advance if he has some spare ones, but note, it is NOT his responsibility though.
2.) While we walked up our way towards the temple, we automatically passed by some souvenir stalls. There is one at the beginning with a big sign displaying “Tourist Information”. Some guy in traditional Balinese clothes called me over (I saw some of his assistants approaching other visitors around) and started to talk about some “important ceremony” being held at the temple today.
“Mister, you must give donation! Today very important ceremony for Balinese!”
Baamm ! That’s the moment when most of the tourists will be caught.
Because how the hell should you really know what ceremony is today? Are you carrying a calendar with all important Hindu ceremonies around you? I don’t think so.
“-Mister, where are you from ? – I’m German; -Mister, you must give donation. You see, Mr. Peter from Germany also gave donation, IDR 600.000 ( around 40 Euros ). You must also.”
He then opened a book in front of me with people’s names, signatures and the amount they donated.
DON’T even bother to move yourself to the booth, it’s all just big bullshit! The only thing you might see is people praying. But praying is not immediately a ceremony. It’s just a reason to again take your money.
Just move on and also DON’T give anyone your entrance tickets, as those might be kept by some of the “temple-guides”.
3.) Once we approached the gate at the temple, another group of self proclaimed “temple guides” tried to tell us that it would be necessary having a guide for the inside of the temple. Yes, of course you have to pay for him. And no, you don’t have a choice.
“Start to bargain politely and get more and more aggressive until you left in peace.”
Or pretend you are not able to talk in English ( well, this works if you are Asian ). For me and the Italian couple the offer started at 10 Euro ( yes, the “guides” will start their “offer” usually with foreign currency ), we bargained down until IDR 50.000 ( 2.90 Euro ) for three adults , which the guides first didn’t agree on – so we started walking away – but eventually accepted our offer, since less money is obviously better than no money.
Above: our personal temple-guide waits until we finish our photo session.
“The best way to get rid of your guide is to ask him plenty of questions about Bali and Hinduism;”
the age of the temples; the names of the most sacred ones; etc. I was surprised that he was not even able to answer what “important ceremony” is held today (remember that guy at the “Tourist Information”?) he started to feel uncomfortable and left us soon alone.
Also, if you wish to have a picture with your spouse or the whole family, ask another tourist to take it for you, DO NOT hand you camera to the guide, as he will ask you for a tip in return for your camera.
“Why is the police / government not helping, as this is an important cultural and historical place which should be taken care of ?”
The only reason I can explain it to myself is that the temple is so controlled by some organized Mafia, that even police or government are too scared to disrupt it and / or getting large bribes paid.
Having “religious” people around, trying permanently to fleece out your money sucks and can turn a great experience quick into a negative one. But looking overall from the cultural (and natural) perspective, Besakih is definitly worth a visit, if you take our advices from above.
Have you ever visited Besakih or planning to? What was your experience? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below !
Source cover picture: Xeviro at Creative Commons Wikimedia