There’s this water temple just north of Ubud that I’d really wanted to see but by the time we got to the area during our Big Bali Scooter Tour it was too late, but now I’m out of hospital and my lungs are behaving themselves we figured we could just nip up there from Padang Padang on our wobbly scooter for a bit of water purification. Turns out we weren’t nipping anywhere. I swear it doesn’t look that fucking far on the map but if you take into account that Bali’s major roads were designed by a fucking sadist, throw in having to pull over and take shelter because the heavens opened and there are few things more miserable than riding in the rain, add a dash of getting lost and top that off with the engine cutting out with a sudden, gentle sputter as we were waiting at lights.
Fuck. I tried to restart it but it was having none of it, predominantly on account of the fact bikes require petrol to do the going thing and we’d run out. The petrol gauge on our rental was busted which meant we had to just kind of guess how much we had left and we guessed very wrong. We wheeled it to the side of the road where there were a few blokes working on a scooter’s paintwork and I asked them how far the nearest gas station was, and when I asked if it was walkable because we were totally out he siphoned off some of his own petrol for us. He wouldn’t even accept any money for it, and they even stopped the traffic so we could get back onto the road. Absolute legends. And this bastard temple better be worth it.
We stopped briefly in Ubud to refuel ourselves with snackings and fizzy drinks because I’m still not great at being upright without large quantities of sugar then scooted up to Tirta Empul, the water temple. Right. We knew you had to wear sarongs and we brought our own so we bypassed the sarong rental place. You can’t get the ones you rent from the front desk wet, if you wanted to go in you can either wear your own or rent one by the lockers for Rp10,000. Locker rental is also Rp10,000, you’re not meant to get changed by or leave your shit lying around the holy pond. Apart from that we had no idea what we were meant to do.
We wandered around for a little bit and watched people as they prayed, left offerings and let the fountains wash over their heads. We sat for a while and decided if we were going to do this then we wanted to do it properly, and for this we’d need a guide. We didn’t even know if guides were a thing here, no one had offered us their services which is generally unheard of when guiding services are available, usually you’re descended on before you’ve had time to fasten your sarong. So we ended up asking a guy, who asked another guy, who went off and found us a local guide to tell us everything we needed to know about the water purification ritual at Tirta Empul.
Gidi was our man. He told us that most Balinese know how to do the ritual but a lot of people just show up with no idea as to what they’re doing and end up bathing in fountains meant only for the dead. He told us that Balinese Hindus will start with an offering which he’d prepare for us if we wanted. We wanted. So whilst he sorted that out for us we stashed our crap in a locker then met up with him again by the pool. You see these offerings all over Bali; little squares made from palm leaves filled with flowers or sweets or tiny biscuits, always with an incense stick.
He told us that the colours all meant something, like red for love, white for purity, black for bravery, yellow for knowledge etc, and it was important to offer something to the gods when you pray, or you’d just be taking all the time. He said that Balinese always pray for a smile, which is why they use these colours, because without the things that the colours represent you can’t smile. And finally, the incense represents your connection to god. So after he sprinkled holy water on our offerings and heads, we sat comfortably, cross legged, and held our offerings next to your chest whilst we prayed. My connection to god kept going out. Bugger. Gidi re-lit it a few times before he gave up and got me a new stick. This is what happens when atheists try and get all spiritual. We prayed and left our offerings with the others then headed to the first pool.
Okay, so there are thirteen fountains here but you only use eleven of them. One through ten are for cleansing yourself of things like jealousy, greed, laziness, all those sins that ain’t good no matter what religion you follow, and that most humans are generally pretty fucking guilty of. Gluttony is my favourite. It’s what enables me to consume entire cheesecakes whilst yelling, “I regret nothiiiiing!!”. You skip numbers eleven and twelve and go straight to thirteen, because those two are only for cremation rituals. “See, many people don’t know,” Gidi said, gesturing to a bloke rinsing himself off under number eleven, “Now he is taking water for cremation.”
What you’re meant to do is go from left to right and pray at each fountain. You might have to queue but that’s fine. You pray, splash the water over your face three times, drink the water then put your head under the fountain. Right, let’s just backtrack here. Drink it? Yeah nah, I don’t think I’m going to drink it, mate. I don’t care how bloody holy it is, I don’t want it anywhere near my digestive system thank you very much. I put it in my mouth and spat it out and to be fair, that’s what everyone seemed to be doing. And it’s cold! I mean, we’re not talking nipples visible from space utterly bastard freezing but it does cause you to make a few monkey noises as you ease yourself in.
The second pool only has two fountains and you pray at both of them. Same as before, you pray, splash over your face three times, pretend to drink then put your head under it, but this time you’re praying for forgiveness for every bad thing you’ve said or done, or any bad thought you’ve had. I’m not entirely sure there’s enough holy water in the world for the level of forgiveness I’d need, I wish harm on people if they take too long to get their money out of their wallet at the bar and then proceed to count the change out coin by coin. Or if they order Guinness last. Or if they order one drink at a time. Yeah, I think I need several gallons of forgiveness please. Or a new line of work.
Then there’s the last pool which has seven fountains and is meant to align your chakras. I think my chakras are about as aligned as the front wheel of our rental scooter. I’m not even sure I still have chakras. I might have swapped them for a bottle of Jägermeister and a Kit Kat that one time. And to be fair, Gidi did tell us that we really should be learning yoga and meditation to align our chakras before using the fountains to do so. I did yoga once. Turns out I don’t bend that way. Probably because I don’t do yoga. There’s also the very real risk of fanny farting during yoga, couple that with trying to tie yourself in knots a fisherman would be proud of and yoga is actually really traumatic and not as all spiritual and relaxing. But yeah, you do this fountains in reverse, from right to left, praying and splashing and not drinking and letting the fountain cleanse you.
I’ve no idea how long we were in there for but it seemed like ages and it was awesome. But we still had to get home. Good god it seemed like a fucking age away and the human buttocks are not designed to spend that long on the back of a scooter. Honestly, I’m not sure sitting down will ever be a thing ever again. But it was most defintely worth it I think. I’m glad we didn’t try and rush it last time we were in the area, and I’m especially glad we found ourselves a guide. If you’re going to do this then do it properly and get a bloke to show you how.
Tirta Empul Temple, Nr. Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Stayed at: Belong Bunter Homestay Two, Padang Padang