Goa Gajah, Bali’s Elephant Caves, is somewhat of a mystery – the origins of the ancient sacred site is mostly unknown, and only religious folk tales allude to the cave’s creation by a legendary giant.
The ancient cave is carved into a rock face, and it’s entrance created by an intricately detailed relief of a demon’s mouth. Upon entering, the atmosphere is cool and calm, exuding spirituality and peacefulness in only the way some place so old can.
Located just outside of Ubud, Goa Gajah is a spiritual center for meditation and prayer. In addition to the ancient rock cave, where modern Hindus still practice their religion to this day, the complex consists of a bathing pool with fountains, multiple temple structures, and a display of stacked stones whose presence is also a mystery, but one which warrants a bit of imagination and mysticism.
The cave of Goa Gajah was discovered in the 1920’s, nestled deep within Bali’s thick rainforest highlands, but the beautiful bathing pools with their stoic and neutral-faced Hindu goddesses, weren’t excavated until the 1950’s.
I imagined them buried beneath the lush tropical overgrowth, silently awaiting discovery, imbuing life and energy into the surrounding area.
Just beyond the goddess fountains are steps leading down to a valley and the rest of the complex, where a natural waterfall runs down a dark rock face to the left and a well manicured pond surrounded by giant, sprawling banyan trees lies to the right.
This part of the complex feels lush as you’re greeted with thick, humid air as you enter deeper into the rainforest. More temples sit near the far end of the area, with the incense of daily offerings burning.
Rudimentary, ancient carvings of faces and beasts can be seen on the rock faces near the temple and waterfall, and multiple walking paths can be taken to explore the area and bask in it’s beauty and purpose.
Travelers to Bali become accustomed to Hindu temples and religious monuments, as they’re so central to Balinese culture and day to day life that they’re literally on every corner.
However, Goa Gajah is among the oldest religious sites on the island, and you can feel a presence of extreme peace, meditation, purpose and intention – if you let it. You could pay your 15,000 rupiah and borrow a sarong to enter, walk around, take a few pictures, and leave…or you could sit among the ancient relics and gorgeous rainforest for a quiet, meditative moment and consider what the site’s presence would have been like hundreds of years ago, and what it means to the culture you’re experiencing today.
Following the latter, you might leave with your spirit a bit lighter and your experience richer.