Elephant Cave Temple – Ubud, Bali

The Elephant Cave Temple in Ubud is, quite simply, awesome. Known as Goa Gajah to the Balinese, it has served as a place of worship (complete with a holy bathing pool) and general sanctuary since the 9th century.
We visited the temple on another hot, tropical day, but the beauty of the place was well worth the heat. The stairs at the entrance led down to a kind of plateau, nestled into a lush green rainforest. The bathing pool has immaculately decorated elephant heads, with holy water pouring faithfully out of their trunks.
The actual elephant cave is surprisingly small and only the beginning of the sanctuary. But it’s pretty cool that the front of the cave is a giant Hindu elephant-god’s face, and the entrance is through his mouth.
My favorite part about this temple was the natural beauty. A path from the center cuts through the rainforest and leads to smaller temples placed on random plateaus. The trails to the mini-temples were lined by giant, bubblegum-pink flowers that stood at least five feet tall. The whimsical flowers and twisted trunks of enormous, ancient trees and huge moss-covered rocks gave the forest a mystical, fantasy-land feel. It was like wandering through the forests in Avatar or The Croods.
We spotted a less-trodden trail on the way back, and since we weren’t ready to leave, we followed it for almost an hour. We had no idea where it led to, but we passed a few priests that steered us towards the holy waterfall that it supposedly ended at. We occasionally came across a few aunties selling bottled water, papayas and coconuts, even a solid half hour into the forest.
The trail was pretty precarious and unsafe; like many things in Indonesia, it would never, ever fly in the United States. Most of it was extremely narrow, poised on the very edge of the cliff, and laden with slippery mud. At some points, the mountain jutted out at chest-level so we had to climb/crawl underneath. At some spots, we clung to tree roots and vines while carefully ascending broken stairs and wide gaps.
The end of the path was absolutely worth the effort. It opened up to a clearing of smooth rock next to a rushing waterfall and the mouth of a giant river. The hike was hot – it was in dense forest with no wind, after all – but the clearing was nice and cool.
It took us a while to get back, but (at least for now) this is my favorite temple.

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