Last weekend Neil and I decided to check out the Elephant Cave (Goa Gajah), a significant and very old Buddhist and Hindu site about 10 mins drive from Ubud. I had anticipated a fairly brief wander around this popular tourist landmark, but the wander turned into an amazing two hour jungle trek – in jandals no less!
Entering the site we saw stacks of rocks all neatly laid out, which I learned were excavated from the ruins of a Buddhist temple dating back to the 11th century.
Our tour guide assured us there have never been any elephants in Bali, rather the cave was named for the elephant-like carving that wraps around its entrance. Many centuries ago the monks came to this cave to meditate (they still do), inside you can see hollowed out holes where they used to burn coconut husks for light.
This tree is over 300 years old and would need several people fingertip to fingertip to wrap around its very wide trunk.
The site also includes an old bathing area (strangely similar to the Roman baths in England) with 7 goddess statues holding water spouts. As per tradition we splashed our faces with water three times and once on the head.
Then we followed a narrow path that lead deep into the jungle, winding our way down into a big ravine. Waterfalls sprayed us from above, huge vines hung down from ancient trees, we crossed a bamboo bridge over a raging river (me: is this bridge safe? tour guide: yes it will take up to 100 kilograms me: er, how much do you weigh?). We saw four caves carved out of the rock at water level, once used for religious ceremonies they are now only accessible by swimming. Our tour guide tells us that an ancient Buddha statue found in one of the caves was unfortunately washed away after the water level rose exceptionally high one year.
After a hot, steep climb back out of the ravine, Neil and I stopped at a little jungle drinks stand for a cold beverage. Once again my expectations have been far and away exceeded. What I thought would be a stuffy museum sight tour turned out to be a mystical jungle adventure. Bali you are amazing.
Recommendation: this magical visit to Goa Gajah has been one of my favourite excursions, highly recommended!