At the bottom of a lush green river valley lies one of Bali’s oldest and largest ancient monuments. Gunung Kawi consists of 10 candi (shrines) – memorials cut out of the rock face in imitation of actual statues. Part of a region nominated for Unesco Heritage status, they stand in awe-inspiring 8m-high sheltered niches cut into the sheer cliff face. The views as you walk through ancient terraced rice fields are as fine as any in Bali.
Each candi is believed to be a memorial to a member of the 11th-century Balinese royalty, but little is known for certain.
Legends relate that the whole group of memorials was carved out of the rock face in one hard-working night by the mighty fingernails of Kebo Iwa.
The five monuments on the eastern bank are probably dedicated to King Udayana, Queen Mahendradatta and their sons Airlangga, Anak Wungsu and Marakata. While Airlangga ruled eastern Java, Anak Wungsu ruled Bali. The four monuments on the western side are, by this theory, to Anak Wungsu’s chief concubines. Another theory is that the whole complex is dedicated to Anak Wungsu, his wives, concubines and, in the case of the remote 10th candi, to a royal minister.
As you wander between monuments, temples, offerings, streams and fountains, you can’t help but feel a certain ancient majesty here.
From the end of the access road, a steep, stone stairway leads down to the river, at one point cutting through an embankment of solid rock. Be prepared for long climbs – there are more than 270 steps. The sarong is necessary as parts of the site are considered holy.
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