Stairway to Heaven: Nusa Penida Island, Bali
I squeezed my way through a tiny gap between two huge boulders and was assured by my guide, “Yes, yes this is the way, just keep squeezing”. This was by far the most unusual way I had ever entered a temple. Within seconds, my eyes adjusted to the dim light and the cave opened out to reveal a huge space inside with an enormous cathedral-like dome above. Adorned with gold and white silk and sacred stones, there were four temples inside. Pointing to a beautiful hand-chiseled stone staircase, Nengah explained, “that leads to the upper level of the cave, a place for sacred meditation. First you must bathe in the holy cave water. You must perform melukat, a cleansing ritual, and then you can take the stairway to heaven,” he said with a smile.
Nengah, my guide and driver, and I were the only ones in the cave. As the cool water dripped from the damp rock walls, Nengah explained, “When we have a ceremony there can be up to 5,000 people in here”. I looked up at two long pipes running along the wall leading to several large tanks stationed throughout the cave. “These containers collect the water that drips from the cave. People say Nusa Penida is a dry island, but not here. Look how much water we collect. We are lucky because we never run out of water for our ceremonies”.
Another long pipe ran most of the way from the entrance of the cave along the 265-metre long cave chasm. It connected to an oversized industrial fan, “That pipe is for oxygen,” Nengah said, “When we have 5,000 people in here, you can imagine how hard it is to breathe.”
We passed a couple of huge boulders draped in black and white material, “The cloth is for protection and harmony,” he commented, “and this stone is sacred, so we wrap it. The black and white cloth represents the good and evil that exists, the black and the white, the yin and the yang. In Bali, we always strive to reach a balance. This is what the special cloth signifies”.
Goa Giri Putri Temple is used specifically for meditation and seeking spiritual purity. It is a place to pray to be freed from negative influences in your life. The word goa means “cave,” girimeans “hill” and putri means “female”. The temple is dedicated to Siva, who is the manifestation of the Hindu goddess seen as protecting, nurturing and loving all human beings.
Close to the exit, a series of red rice paper lanterns hung from the cave roof illuminating an alcove that housed a beautiful Chinese temple. Goa Giri Putri Temple is not only for Balinese Hindu devotees but also for followers of Buddha and Confucius.
The road leading from the temple hugs the beautiful scenic coastline of Nusa Penida and passes through the village of Karangsari. Dotted along the coastline, stretching as far as the eye can see, was a patchwork of seaweed farms. I stopped in at a small village and talked with Putu, a seaweed farmer, who was just arriving home after a long day’s work. “We don’t get very good money for our seaweed now,” he said. “This seaweed ends up in cosmetics in Korea, but the price is low. We only get IDR 5,000 (USD 35c) per kilo. What can we do? This is the market price. We have to work a little harder and harvest more. Everyone in my family helps out, even the children. Some villagers are now growing cashew nuts, which fetches a better price”. Putu’s Grandma looked up from her large cooking pot, which was balanced over an open fire in the front yard, “We are very happy because we live nearby Ped Temple,” she said. “There is special energy there.”
As I left this little village, the children were all pitching in and helping with the seaweed processing. They were spreading out strips of seaweed on trays for drying and covering other mounds of seaweed with huge sheets of plastic. There was an industrious buzz about this little hamlet on the ocean, with piles of seaweed arriving on mass and empty baskets making their way back for another haul. Everyone was full of smiles as they pointed the way to my next destination, Pura Penataran Ped (Ped Temple), where, I was to discover, Nengah was actually the temple keeper’s son.
“My father has been the temple keeper for a long time before I was born, but he is now 79 years old and considered too old to work. He is retired now. Through him, I know many tales from this temple. You know, it holds very strong power, and before Megawati Sukarnoputri became President of Indonesia, she made regular visits here to be blessed by the priest, take the holy water and draw on it’s power. Once she got her power and became President, she never came back,” he said with a shrug.
“People pay a lot of money when they come here,” he explained. “Donations are very large, because the more you give, the more you receive. People make special pilgrimages here to become more prosperous. This temple also has powers to make you a healer. We believe this. So many people have come here, and many have gained wealth or become more spiritually attuned healers. Every Balinese Hindu must come to this temple once in their life. Everyone knows Ped Temple holds mystical powers to manifest whatever you want in life”.
Indeed, this was confirmed when I spoke to my local homestay host. “My mother longed for a son. She had two daughters, and she came and prayed at Ped Temple, and here I am,” he said with a wide grin.
Nusa Penida is a very pure and raw place, not tainted yet by mass tourism. It’s hard to believe that it is only 30 minutes away by boat from Sanur, Bali. Most of the accommodation on the island is in homestays and getting around on a motorbike is the most practical way to see all the attractions. After the visit to the cave and the temple, there was much more to see and do, and my next stop was a magical spot called Angel Billabong.
This natural, clear pool is in the shape of an angel and hangs slightly elevated, above the ocean. It involves a bit of scrambling down the rocks to reach the pool. My motorbike driver (whose name was Purnama, meaning “full moon”), and I were the only ones here. Swimming in a hanging pool, perched above the ocean, floating in natural surroundings, as the ocean waves crashed below was about as heavenly and angelic as you can get. It was a good one-hour on a bone-shattering motorbike ride to get there from Ped Village, but that was all part of the adventure.
After my swim, as I stood on the cliff to take one last look and bid farewell to the angel shaped pool, four dolphins breached at the mouth of the pool. Purnama and I stood there in amazement, “I have come here many times, “ he said, “You are very lucky to see this. For me, this is the first time I have seen dolphins here”.
On the way back to Ped Village, we stopped at a cute little café and bar on the beach, called Penida Colada. Yes, they do serve real Pina Coladas and also hot cassava chips, and cashews, fresh from a farm nearby which has over 400 cashew nut trees.
The owner of the little cafe, Wayan, and his wife Liza run weaving workshops hosted by Ibu Ketut, a master weaver from the local village. Liza, who is from Australia, told me she grew up weaving and learned the craft from her mother. “When I was a little girl, living in the rainforest of North Queensland, I would collect cane and weave fruit baskets and toys for my younger brother,” she told me. “Weaving is very natural for me so when I met Ibu Ketut, we decided to start up this local initiative together, here on Nusa Penida, and keep the tradition alive. We run small workshops from my café and next door at Ibu Ketut’s house. Liza’s mother, Kim Tait teaches weaving skills in schools in Australia and runs basket-weaving workshops in Bali called Weaving Connections. It was a delight to meet both mother and daughter and sit and chat through the strands of bamboo.
I stepped my way through piles of bamboo strips strewn across the floor and joined the small group of weavers. With a bit of instruction, I managed to get into the flow and weave the bamboo into shape and soon enough a fish trap was starting to form. We also made Pandanus leaf mats under the watchful eye of Ibu Ketut, who was extremely patient and helped us out when our weaving went a little wonky. This local community connection not only preserves traditional basketry and weaving skills but also allows for a genuine exchange with the local people.
Surprises of inner delight and angelic offerings await you on this beautiful island of Nusa Penida.
Weaving Connections offers authentic, grass roots, cross-cultural weaving programmes that promote fair trade, sustainable tourism and conservation of traditional weaving practices for remote indigenous communities.
Weaving Connections in Bali is about taking you on a journey of discovery; of traditional Balinese cultural knowledge of fibre preparation and use, skills and techniques and of the incredible versatility of the natural environment. Weaving connections prides itself by operating with utmost care and respect for local communities, culture and the land. They support local businesses by partnering with companies that are 100% locally owned and embrace fair trade ethics providing real economic benefit to the local traditional weavers.
Written by: Stephanie Brookes
Accommodation – Hotel | Ring Sameton Inn
Accommodation – Homestay | Jero Rawa Homestay
Guide and Motorbike driver | Nengah Tel: 0812 39339020
Guide and Motorbike driver | Purna Purnama
T: 0878 61915593
Penida Colada Bar – Nusa Penida
T: 0821 467 63627 – Wayan and Liza