Located at Bedulu Village in Bali’s Gianyar Regency, Goa Gajah known as the Elephant Cave is one of the island’s most famous and oldest temples. It is about 10 minutes drive from Ubud, another famous tourist destination and about 1hour 30minutes drive from the Ngurah Rai International Airport. Even though the name of the temple is mind provoking, don’t expect to find elephants at the temple, not even the baby ones. In fact there is not even a statue of an elephant here. Interestingly, not even an area or a village close by has ever been given a name involving elephants, nor are these large mammals found naturally in Bali. The elephants seen at Bali’s well-known animal parks are all from the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
Since the beginning of tourism development on the island, the Goa Gajah temple has always been packed with tourists because of the beauty and the uniqueness of its statues, plus easy access from all directions. Also, it is close to many other popular tourist attractions. Travel agents love to include Goa Gajah in their tour packages for their local and overseas clients, other reason tourists flock to this site every day. It helps locals increase their earnings by selling souvenirs, snacks, drinks, sarong rentals and tour guiding services.According to scripture, Goa Gajah dates back to the 11th century and was built as a spiritual place for meditation and other ritual purposes. The first building that welcomes you upon entering the grounds is a large ‘wantilan’ meeting hall and an assortment of large old stone carvings, some restored to their former full glory. The pools, excavated in 1954, features five out of supposedly seven statues depicting Hindu angels holding vases that acts as waterspouts. Visitors can see beautiful fishes playing under the crystal clear water at these pools.
Various structures reveal Hindu influences dating back to the 10th century, and some relics feature elements of Buddhism dating even earlier to the 8th century. The cave is shallow; inside are three stone idols each wrapped in red, yellow and black cloths. Black soot lines the cave’s walls as a result from the current-day practice of incense burning in the offerings placed all the time by pilgrimages. Several indentations show where meditating priests once sat.
Going down from the main grounds at the southern end are beautiful rice fields and meandering streams that lead to the Petanu River, the longest river in Bali that is also full of history. Small waterfalls, stone formations, gigantic trees are great backdrops for memorable photos. There are a few smaller temples following the river stream that attracts locals and surrounding villagers for ritual activities.