The Amazing Jatiluwih Rice Terraces

Tuesday, 11-11-2014. Day 83.

Elephant Caves, Long Rides, Free Meals.

After three days of leisure, we decided it was time to venture out and see some more Bali sights. We'd heard that the Elephant Cave was interesting to see and, as part of  visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites, we wanted to see the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces.

Our driver picked us up and, after a quick stop for petrol and a visit to the ATM, we drove a short distance down a traffic-clogged road with three different names to the Elephant Cave.

Goa Gaja,  the Elephant Cave

Before we were even out of the car, we were bombarded by waves of aggressive sarong peddlers.


The conversations went something like this, accompanied by sarongs being thrust into our faces:

"Sarong, sir?"

"No thank you."

"Best price. Three dollars."

"No thanks."

"You need sarong, for temple."

And that much was true. We did need sarongs. The Elephant Cave is part of a temple that's still actively worshiped at, so Balinese decency standards apply. This means modest dress that covers the legs below the knee, and that means a sarong.

But here's what the vendors don't want you to know. After you buy your tickets (45,000 rupiah for the four of us), the temple will lend you a sarong. The ladies got by with a selendang, a knotted wispy blue sash around their waists, while I strapped on a dashing green sarong with Goa Gajah screen-printed in white along the bottom edge.

This is the only elephant you'll see at the Elephant Cave.

This is the only elephant you'll see at the Elephant Cave.

There's a little bit of a mystery surrounding Goa Gajah. Elephants are not native to Bali, and there are no elephants at the elephant cave (much to Jackie's disappointment). Some say the place got its name because the large face on the entrance to the cave resembles an elephant. Others say it's so called because of its proximity to the Elephant River, but there's no river of that name anywhere around here (though it's possible a long time ago there was).

I can tell you one thing for sure, though—the face on the cave looks nothing like an elephant.

Not even close.

Not even close.

The origins of Goa Gajah are even more mysterious than how the place got its name. No one seems to know when it was built, exactly. Some sources say it dates back to the 9th century, others say the 11th, but most people seem to agree that it was built as a hermitage for both priests of Shiva and Buddhist monks, though not necessarily at the same time. The cave was built (hand dug by priests, some say) near the point where two rivers meet, the Kali Pangkung River and the Petanu River, a natural occurrence that is believed to have magical properties.


In addition to the cave itself, there are a number of temples inside as well as the Patirtaan Pond, which, compared to the rest of the site, was excavated relatively recently in 1954. Because of the proximity to the magical confluence of two rivers, the water in the pool is considered holy and is used for ceremonies and purifying baths.

There's a Hindu side and a Buddhist side in Goa Gajah. During our visit, the hindu side was quite active while the Buddhist side was more serene.



The most interesting part of the Buddhist side (at least we assumed it was the Buddhist side because a woman was praying to Buddha at a shrine as we were there) was the faces that were carved into the rocks just past the enshrined statue of Buddha.


I can't find the story of these anywhere, and since we eschewed the offer of an "official" tour from the monk who approached us as we entered ("Where you from? California? Tour for you only $15."), we may never know. But they were pretty fascinating.

The Hindu side was busy, though. There was some praying going on, but even more commerce. A good number of vendors were set up all throughout the temple. Some sold drinks and snacks and some sold tourist-type trinkets, but both types were openly hawking their wares to all passers by. It seemed strange to me to have this level of capitalism in a place of worship. You can't have bare legs in the temple, but it's okay to buy a bottle of water and toss it on the ground when you're done.

Harmony with nature.

Harmony with nature.

We made our way back to the car, dodging more zealous sarong peddlers as we climbed in and headed off to our next destination, the rice terraces of Jatiluwih. As we started down the road I asked our driver how long it would take, guessing about an hour. He replied with, "No, 90 minutes." We settled in for a long ride.

Jatiluwih Rice Terraces

The road to Jatiluwih is a challenging one. The streets are narrow and often filled with deep ruts. On a few occasions we were off blacktop and bouncing down gravel and mud roads.

A common sight on the road to Jatiluwih.

A common sight on the road to Jatiluwih.

At one point as we neared Jatiluwih, we passed a giant stack of eggs sitting by the side of the road. There had to be at least 4500 of them, maybe more, just sitting there in racks of 30, plied neatly about 10 racks high.



Soon after that, we got our first look at the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces. The ride was taking a lot our of us, and I was starting to think that this may have been a poor decision. Would seeing these terraces be worth the long hours in a car? In short, yes, it was worth it. The terraces of Jatiluwih, nestled in the shadow of Mount Batukaru are pretty impressive.


After we paid the 60,000 rupiah to get in to the area, our driver asked us if we wanted lunch. We'd been in the car for awhile and it was well into the afternoon, so we thought a little food would be a good idea before we wandered around the rice fields. As we pulled up to Billy's Terrace Cafe, our driver told us the food here was free. It seemed a bit too good to be true, but shrugged and went ahead. There aren't too many other restaurants in the area. Our hostess seemed to re-iterate that the meal, a buffet of traditional Indonesian food, was free, except we had to pay for drinks (kids were half price). Again, this seemed a bit strange. So we weren't too surprised when we went to pay the bill and found that it was not, in fact, free, although it seems one of our meals was free.


After we ate, we wandered around the rice fields for about an hour, following the tracking route down took us down the hill, through rows of planted rice, and along the irrigation channel.

Follow the arrows.

Follow the arrows.

To keep birds away, the farmers hang colorful flags and banners and large lengths of tin on poles that flap in the wind. The tin sheets make a heck of a racket, but it's strangely melodic, especially when a few of them are snapping in the breeze close to each other.



The reason this place is a UNESCO World Heritage site is because of subak, which is Bali's community-based system of irrigation and water management. The first temple we toured way back on our 2nd day in Bali, Taman Ayun (also known as the Royal Family Temple or the Water Temple), is also part of this system. Priests apparently have final say about who needs the water and where it goes.

The water here flows fast, especially downhill.

The water here flows fast, especially downhill.

The sky over Mount Batukaru was looking a bit menacing, so we decided to it was time to head back to the villa. We took one last look at the rice terraces and walked out to the street where we found our driver waiting for us.


As we drove back past the eggs, we saw a trio of men picking them up and putting them into the back of a small pick-up truck. As we bounced down the road back toward the villa, we wondered how eggs would fare in the back of the truck on these same, bumpy roads.

Collecting the eggs.

Collecting the eggs.

Notable Statistics

  • iPadographers: 1
  • Hours in a car: 4
  • Stacks of eggs seen: 15
  • Balinese boys fishing in the rice fields: 2
  • UNESCO World Heritage sites visited: 1 (cumulative: 6)
  • "Free" meals: 1

is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. He also drinks coffee.

Read more of Tom's posts.

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The Amazing Jatiluwih Rice Terraces
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