After driving through more rice paddies and negotiating more winding roads we arrived at our next temple. We had to rent sarongs and sashes, and Seamus had to wear a traditional hat as well. Next we had to pay for a guide with the going rate being $5.00. However, the guides are ruled by a syndicate operating in Besakih. They target tourists by offering a compulsory "tour guide" at exorbitant charges. In fact they tried to have us pay $50. It is a clever scam where they show you visitors' names and how much they have paid, even although the figures look like they have been written by the same person. The quite evil looking guy with a massive mole on his cheek tried to bully Seamus but he held firm and we paid $5.00. After all that excitement we met our guide who was a lovely, well informed young man.
It was a long hike up to the temple but very rewarding once we arrived there. To understand how the temples work you need to know that there are is a caste system in Bali consisting of four castes The four castes of Bali are:
- Shudras - peasants making up more than 90% of Bali's population. They constitute close to 93% of the population.
- Wesias (Vaishyas) - the caste of merchants and administrative officials
- Ksatrias (Kshatriyas) - the warrior caste, which also includes some nobility and kings
- Brahmins - holy men and priests
The members of the four castes use different dialects of the Balinese language to address members of a different caste. Nowadays, the caste system is used more in religious settings where the members of the lower caste would ask the members of the Brahman caste to conduct ceremonies. It is not really used in everyday life.
The Mother Temple of Besakih, or Pura Besakih on the slopes of Mount Agung in eastern Bali, is the most important, the largest and holiest temple of Hindu religion in Bali. Perched nearly 1000 meters up the side of Gunung Agung, it is an extensive complex of 23 separate but related temples with the largest and most important being Pura Penataran Agung. This is built on six levels. The higher castes use the temples at the higher levels.
We were very fortunate to see a rambling procession of families mainly dressed in white. Several of them were balancing golden urns on their heads. Twenty-one days after a death families come to the site to pray for the deceased and receive the holy waters. As we climbed higher and higher we encountered the group giving offerings, moving in smaller processions, and sitting on the ground chanting and praying. They seemed to move from temple to temple. It was all very interesting. We said good-bye to our guide and removed our rented attire.It was three o'clock and definitely time for lunch.
Our driver took us for a short drive to a stunning restaurant on the side of a mountain, overlooking the tree tops and in the valley below were more rice paddies. We ordered some banana juice and the set menu. The table was not big enough for the huge amount of food that we couldn't begin to finish. There was salad, two kinds of rice, lovely mixed vegetables, cooked beans, chicken satay, chips, rice chips, shrimps in sauce, pork and best of all chicken wings. Any readers who remember the amazing wings at Mustang's in Mississauga and who haven't tasted the like since, here was their equal high in the mountains of Bali. What a way to end this day.