Not everyone goes to heaven, but at least we can all find the Secret Gateway to it!
Bali, Indonesia is one of those places that is on everyone’s “I-really-want-to-go-there!” list. Essentially this means that everyone and their mothers follows at least one Balinese inspiration Instagram account and already has all the top spots that they plan to see pinned. When they finally book a ticket to go, its time to cross off the rice terraces, beaches, and temples off the dreams list. The slight problem with this is that in 2013, there were 3.27 million foreign tourists crossing all the same places in Bali off their bucket list (great for Balinese, horrible for tourists). Places that were once local-secrets and off the beaten path quickly made their rounds on social media and became overrun with tourists. Seeking beautiful places on the island where you can snap a photo without other tourists in the way prove more difficult as the years pass by. Fortunately, there are still some that haven’t quite caught on yet – Pura Penataran Agung Lempuyang being one of them.
Before arriving in Bali, Tung and I spent some time in Cairns starring all the places we wanted to see on this island. Tung stumbled across a gorgeous photo that showcased gates that looked like they protruded straight up into the sky. Through the opening of the gates we could see a huge mountain and cloud cover – it was an out-of-this-world photo.
I replied “WOW! Let’s add it! Where is it?” A search on Google Maps showed us it was a temple on a mountain in East Bali and it was 2.5 hours away from Ubud – much too far! The other 10 or so places we had already starred were max 30 minutes away from Ubud. When we found a place wanted to see that was further than 30 mins we would scrap it. But somehow we kept coming back to this photo when looking through Instagram, so I said ok, maybe we can dedicate one full day for a road trip just once during this trip. One day with a driver wouldn’t be that big a deal, and the photos would be totally worth it!
Hiring a Driver
When we arrived in Ubud in our second week in Bali, we had to recruit a driver for this road trip. Finding a driver in Ubud, or Kuta, or all of Bali for that matter will not be a problem – they are everywhere and you’ll be asked every few meters you walk if you need a driver. For the first 9 days here we declined a couple hundred offers, but the day before we wanted to go to the Gateway to Heaven we finally needed to find one. A trip to Pura Lempuyang would take 2.5 hours there and 2.5 hours back, so 5 hours of transport. A full hike of the temple takes 3 -4 hours as Pura Lempuyang is a collection of 7 temples on a mountain. Yes – ON A MOUNTAIN. The main temple is 1,175 metres above sea level and takes 1,700 steps to get to – more on this in a bit. So we needed a driver for 9 hours minimum and knowing the going rate for a day driver, we set off to find one.
Current Driver rates in Bali
Half day: 300,000rp ($30 AUD/$30 CAD/$23 USD)
Full day: 500,000rp ($50 AUD/$50 CAD/$39 USD)
A good rule of thumb is to pay 50,000rp per hour, so depending on how long you think you might need a driver for on a given day, you can negotiate based on this metric. Note: Don’t let them swoon you into paying them more just because you want to see 3 places in one day – if 3 places can be seen within 10 hours, refuse to pay any higher than 500,000rp. If 5 places can be seen within 5 hours, $250,000rp is your number. Rates are not calculated based on stops, locations, or distance to travel. If they tell you this, they are playing you for an uneducated tourist. Don’t be an uneducated tourist, pay them by the hour! (I read on TA post a New Zealand lady paid $320 NZD for a driver for ONE DAY!!!! The thing is she was praising him and sharing his contact info with others planning to visit Bali and needing a driver!!!! Oh lord, please please please do not pay anywhere near this disastrous rate for a day driver!)
If the first person or even the first 5 drivers you speak to gasp and act like 500,000rp is much too low and want 750,000rp ($75 AUD/$75 CAD/$58 USD) from you, move on. Drivers in Bali have designated blocks, so you can expect that within a 3 block radius they all know each other and know what the others are pitching you for price. Just keep walking. Chances are one of them will buckle and call you back and agree to your price, because he knows if you don’t, he’ll just lose your money to a competitor a few steps away. Drivers rather make less and gain a customer than not make anything at all. Business is rough out here, the market landscape in Indonesia is perfect competition so they know you can easily find someone to agree on your price if they let you walk away. The first guy pitched us 750,000rp and I laughed but played along knowing this was uneducated tourist pricing. I kept trying to get it down to my magic number of 500,000rp but the lowest he’d go is 650,000rp. So as I’m telling you to do, I moved on and the next person Tung found told us 450,000rp right off the bat. Bingo! We left him a 50,000rp deposit, got a receipt, and were to meet him the next day at 9am.
The next morning we got in our driver’s SUV with our cameras, water, and snacks. It was a long long drive to get to Mount Lempuyang, but the further we got from Ubud the more scenic the views became. You really get to see the real Bali on these long distance drives. The tourists disappeared, the roads got smaller, brick houses became huts. On both sides of the road were stretches of rice terraces with mountains peering in the distance.
Unfortunately it began thunder storming. March is right in their monsoon season, so it was torrential down pouring. The sky was dark and cloudy but our mood wasn’t. After all, Tung and I have had our fair share of hikes in the wet rain (why does this always happen to us?!), and we also know since Bali is tropical that tropics come with tons of rain. We weren’t worried because storms in South East Asia don’t last a full day like they do back home in Toronto, Canada. They usually go on for an hour or two then stop, and they might start up again after an hour break. I was hopeful that the rain would stop by the time we arrived at the base of the mountain.
When we arrived at the entrance to the temple, it was still raining hard so we waited in the car for about 20 minutes. We had a quick lunch at one of the shops just outside the entrance and when the downpour decreased to a drizzle, we started our 4-hour hike.
The Gateway to Heaven
Entrance is donation-based and I gave 20,000rp ($2 CAD/$2 AUD/$1.54 USD) for the both of us. To enter to any Hindu temple you must cover your shoulders, your legs, and not be menstruating. We both wore t-shirts and brought our own sarongs we purchased in Kuta. As for the menstruation part – this is a very dated culture back to when menstruation could not be “hidden” with pads and tampons. Menstruation was viewed as “dirty” in ancient times – imagine walking through a temple and seeing blood on the ground? Yeah, not a pretty sight. Thankfully, we have advanced as people and females are able to menstruate without people knowing unless she wants them to. To go just slight deeper into this no-menstruation rule, it was also believed that being on your period makes your energy too angry and powerful which doesn’t match with the pure energy of the temples and gods. This was most likely another way of punishing the woman population for something they could not control – a way of taking away their power and showing them their “place” beneath men. But anyways, don’t be too bothered if you or a lady in your group is menstruating. The older and more religious generations might be against if if they found out but who is gonna find out? If you ask a worker if you are allowed in while menstruating they will say “it is up to you”. So there you have it! Moving on….
The Instagrammable view of the Gateway to Heaven is the first out of seven temples on this mountain and about 3 minutes up from the entrance. Once you get up the first 2 set of stairs, the field opens wide and you finally see the gates you’ve came here for. It stands there in all its glory, surrounded by levels of trees and plants. The thing is, this isn’t even the best view yet of it. One flight of steps leads right up to the level of the gates and once you walk through the gates, you see 3 more flights of steps at the next temple. But when you stop in your tracks and turn around to look back to where you just walked through that is where the money shot is.
Unfortunately (or fortunately?) the clouds had not left yet so we were left with a moody, somber mood for our photoshoot. On a normal day, you can see Mount Agung on the other side through the gates, the tallest mountain in Bali. We played around on our cameras for about 20 minutes getting all types of poses at all different angles. The clouds and rain may have been a blessing in disguise because it actually looked like a gate to heaven since it was just pure sky in our photos! No mountain on the other side to show we were close to earth, just white clouds and gates.
The 1,700 step climb to the top
As mentioned, the main temple – temple #7 – is 1,175 meters above sea level and you must climb 1,700 steps to get to it starting from the Gateway to Heaven. It will take roughly 2 hours to get to the top/ 4 hours return trip and it is not recommended if you are not physically fit or don’t enjoy hiking, unless you for some odd reason love the StairMaster. The locals believe that pilgrims with a heavy heart will never make it to the top, hence the spiritual aspect of the climb.
Fortunately if this all sounds too daunting and you’re unable to do this hike, you can totally snap a photo of the gates at the base of the hike and be on your way. We of course didn’t come here to do only that, but a few tourists were dropped off the same time we arrived and those 8 people left after just taking a photo of the gates. We were the only ones that continued on – Power to us!
Back to the opening of this post – there was nobody here at all. We saw 3 other tourists during our entire hike up.
The climb was difficult, sweaty, and many times cruel as my heart just couldn’t take all the hills and steps. I really really really hate steps and I still am not quite convinced to this day that I actually enjoy hiking as much as I say I do (that’s some bi-polar love/hate relationship right there). Tung and I took many breaks along the way so I could get my heart rate back down. There are lots of stalls selling drinks and snacks on the way up so don’t feel like you need to pack 4 litres of water on the hike. We only brought water with us and a quarter way into the hike I really felt like I needed sugar so we got some Pocari Sweat (Asian version of Gatorade) from one of the stalls.
To be honest going up the steps were so goddamn physically demanding and painful that I don’t even remember seeing 7 temples. I recall seeing another 4 after the first one with the gates. Who knows where my mind was for the other 3!
The clouds were heavy and moved in fast the higher we got so our views outward were pretty limited. At one of the higher temples we were able to see the outline of Mount Agung and the villages below which was really awesome and rewarding. The next temple after that I saw a few families of monkeys doing monkey things but then it started raining again and they all went into hiding. If you see monkeys on your way up to the top, remember: don’t feed them, don’t touch them, and DO NOT LOOK THEM IN THE EYES. They interpret this as a form of aggression and will attack you. One monkey leapt towards Tung because he was taking a picture of it, lol!
Either after the 5th or 6th temple, it started raining down really bad. We bought rain ponchos from one of the stalls and continued the rest of the way up. I would really like to request an official recount of the steps because I swear it was closer to 5,000 steps up! By the time we got to the topmost, 7th, and last temple, we were soaked and it was raining harder than ever. We were supposed to be rewarded with amazing panoramic views but all we saw were clouds! Feeling defeated, wet, and exhausted we made our way back down. It flash flooded on our way down the mountain and I slipped 3 times going down the 1,700 steps overflowing with water. Its so hard on your legs going down all that way!
We arrived back down at the Gates to Heaven exactly 4 hours after we started! A real coinky dink but also on really good time considering all the rain and all the extended breaks we took along the way. I highly recommend the hike up to the top of the mountain and to see all 7 temples (here I go saying how much I love hiking again). It is a very safe hike as we were never on the edge of falling off at any point, there are railings for most of the way, and you’ve got lush surroundings and fresh mountain air the whole way. It’s really fascinating to think that people carved an entire way up to the top of the mountain, let alone placing 7 different temples up here on a trail!
All in all I highly recommend a full day with a driver to see Pura Lempuyang, it is definitely worth the time and money. If you’re gonna make the long journey out here, you might as well complete the hike to the top and see all 7 temples too! I hope I’ve provided all the information you need to get the most out of your time here and to get the best experience seeing this magnificent temple.
Have you heard of or seen photos of Pura Lempuyang’s Gateway to Heaven before?
Have you crossed this place off your list using our tips and advice? How did it go?
Let us know below!