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The founding of Klungkung was not as idyllic as the name suggests, however. Prior to 1651 ancestor of the Klungkung kings ruled Bali from their capital at Gelgel, some 5 km to the south. At its height, Gelgel was a great and powerful court, governing a realm that extended to the adjacent islands of Java, Lombok and Sumbawa. In 1651, the prime minister of Gelgel revolted and forced the royal family to flee. Some 30 years later, a young prince chose the present site for a new capital, and a smaller kingdom was born here.
Despite its small size and lack of natural resources compared to the other kingdoms of Bali, Klungkung has always maintained the mystique of being the island's original royal center. The Klungkung royal family is still considered more regal than any other on the island, and up until recent times this meant having exclusive rights to certain ritual status-symbols, such as the 11-tiered cremation towers. In the intricate etiquette of the formal Balinese language, moreover, the Klungkung royalty have the right to speak down, literally, to everyone else.
The people of Klungkung are still extremely proud of this heritage, and uphold a reputation for being more traditional than other Balinese. This is supported by the active role the royal family takes in the life of the area, and by the presence of many famous Priestly families in the region, all of whom once participated in the great rituals of the court, and to whom Bali's most famous and venerable Pedanda priests trace their origin.
The prestige of Klungkung and its illustrious past is such that most Balinese aristocrats trace their ancestry back to Gelgel. Pamily histories will often tell why their ancestors left the center, and temples in Klungkung still draw people from all over the island for major rituals to celebrate their heritage. Gelgel is full of sites of legendary deeds by ancient kings, ministers and priests.
Perhaps because of its past, Klungkung today seems rather removed from the hustle and bustle of tourist activity. Its main tourist spots are the Kerta Gosa - the famed judgment hall of the former Klungkung palace and the bat cave temple near Kusamba.
In general, its income derives more from trade than from tourism, since it is a stopping point on the busy inter-island trade route, which runs from East Java, via the port of Padangbai, and on to Lombok and eastern Indonesia. A visitor to Klungkung can get a sense of this lively commercial activity from a visit to the city's market - the largest in Bali. Since most of the trade passes along the main road through the town, visitors to Klungkung find the side-roads quiet and serene.
Outside the busy town, Klungkung offers a contrast of landscapes - from the lush hills on the road leading to Besakih temple, to the stark gravel pits to the east, formed when Mt Agung erupted in 1963, its lava flows laying waste to the rice fields of the area. The villages of Klungkung are among the most charming in Bali, and have been major prize winners in the all-Bali "beautiful village" competitions sponsored by the government.
One of the natural highlights of the Klungkung area is the great Unda River just east of the city. Floods and changes in the river's course figure in many episodes of Klungkung's traditional history. Nowadays its caprices are kept in check by a system of dams and man-made dikes, built with the voluntary aid of those who live by the river and are dependent on its waters for their survival.
The town of Klungkung centers on the Puri Smarapura or "Palace of the God of Love" former home of Bali's most illustrious line of kings. Unfortunately, all that remains now are the great gate and garden, and two pavilions with magnificently painted ceilings. These are the Kerta Gosa Hall of justice overlooking the town's main intersection, and the larger Bale Kambang or Floating Pavilion just behind it.
The rest of this splendid complex was razed to the ground in 1908, during the royal mass suicide or puputan ("ending") against the Dutch invaders. This event removed the last obstacle to Dutch domination of the island. A monument commemorating the puputan now stands across the road.
The Kerta Gosa was a place for the administration of traditional justice in pre-colonial times by a council consisting of the great king and his priests. The paintings on the ceiling tell of the punishments awaiting evildoers in hell, and of the delights of the gods in heaven. Different levels and station in heaven and hell are described through the story of the hero Bima, who journeys to the underworld to save the souls of his parent. These scenes were used to alternately threaten and cajole anyone who appeared before the court.
Like the Sistine Chapel, the Kerta Gosa presents a whole complex of ideas on the workings of fate and the role of the divine in human affairs. The ceilings themselves have been repainted three times in recent memory. The last complete refurbishment occurred, in 1960 under the famous artist Pan Seken although in 1984, weather damage cause a number of panels to be repaired.
The Bale Kambang in back is actually rather new, having been added to the complex only in the 1940s. The ceiling was originally painted by Wayan Kayun in 1942, depicts episodes from the story of the Buddhist king Sutasoma, who defeated his enemies through passive resistance. Also portrayed is the story of the commoner pan Brayut - a coarse man who received great spiritual blessings.
Members of the royal family who survived the massacre of 1908 were exiled to Lombok. They returned in 1929 and settled in a new palace, the Puri Agung to the west of the old site on the other side of the street. Chief, among them is Dalem Pamayun, eldest son of the former king, who has become a priest. To the north of the main crossroads, on the right hand side, is a set of beautiful and important royal temples, with an ancestral shrine dedicated to the great king of Gelgel, Palem Seganing. Just next to it is the Pura Taman Sari or Flower Garden Temple, consisting of a peaceful garden and moat around a main pagoda. In the 19th century, a famous warrior queen of Klungkung meditated and wrote poetry here.
There are many priestly estates in Klungkung with long histories connected with the royal house. The best-known is Griya Pidada Mungkung, once home to the chief priests of the court. Another residence with long historical associations is the former palace of Lebah, to the east of the city just before the Unda River, now the Ramayana Palace Hotel. Just to the west is the Banjar Pande, the blacksmiths' ward of Klungkung, and the long-established Muslim quarter.
The best time to visit Klungkung is every three days on the Balinese day known as pasah, when the Klungkung Market is in full swing. The market nestles behind a row of shops to the east of the Kerta Gosa, and although it has lost some of its old atmosphere as a result of being re-housed in a new, multi-storied concrete structure, it offers a full range of local delights, including handmade house wares, baskets, fruits, flowers, vegetables and the like.
For those interested in souvenirs, the row of art shops on the main road in front of the market is well known to antique collectors. The astute old women who own them have been in business since the 1930s, although age is now thinning their ranks. They all complain, however, that nowadays they can only occasionally find the sort of valuable items, which used to routinely fill their shops.
To the west of the town of Klungkung, bordering on Gianyar regency is the fertile district known as Banjar Angkan, separated from Klungkung by a spectacular ravine. This once served as a buffer zone between the two frequently warring kingdoms, and changed hands many times during the 18th and 19th centuries. Partly as a result, Banjar Angkan has developed its own unique identity quite apart from the rest of the region.
One of the objects of these frequent wars was the important temple of Pura Kentel Gumi, "the Temple of the Congealing Earth" - located on a bend in the main road west of Klungkung. The name of this temple indicates that it was a focal point around which the mystical and political forces of the former kingdoms moved.
Northwest of Klungkung are the villages of Tiingan and Aan. Tiingan is most famous as the village of gamelan smiths or pande gong, which have been famous throughout Bali for centuries. Aan is best known as the home of a learned high priest, Pedanda Aan, who advises people on the proper procedures for Bali's most important rituals. Between Banjar Angkan and Klungkung lies the village of Takmung, which also has many interesting temples, and is known, as a center for the Resi Bhujangga sect, who is priestly worshippers of Wisnu.
The old court center of Gelgel is situated 5 km south of Klungkung town and actually comprises a number of distinct villages, notably Tojan and Kamasan. The entire area is filled with ancient and legendary sites from Bali's "Golden Age" - the 16th and 17th centuries - and this is the area to which all Balinese nobility and just about everyone else on the island trace their ancestry.
The most important site lies at the very heart of Gelgel - the sacred Pura Jero Agung or "Great Palace Temple," which stands on the site of the former Gelgel palace. The temple is the ancestral shrine of the old palace, which was abandoned in the 17th century following a rebellion. Adjacent to it is the Pura Jero Kapal, all that remains of the second largest palace in Gelgel that of the Lord of Kapal.
To the east of the Pura Jero Agung is ancient temple, the Pura Dasar or "base temple." This is the lowland counterpart Besakih, providing a direct connection with the sacred "mother temple" up on Mt Agung.
The festivals held at Pura Dasar are spectacular, as all members of the royal family join in. It is here that the deified ancestor are worshipped - inside are a number stones set on a stone throne, archaic symbols of ancestral worship. Nearby is the Gelgel Mosque, the oldest on Bali, which was set up to serve the spiritual needs of Muslims came from Java to serve the king in ancient times.
Further to the east of Gelgel is a large complex of graveyards and temples, which are cited in the genealogies of many families from all over Bali. Just north of this is a set of two unusual shrines, the Pura Dalem Gandamayu, which was the dwelling of Pedanda Nirartha - Bali's greatest priest and the ancestor of all Siwa brahmans on the island. He established this as a branch of the legendary graveyard of the same name on Java. One of the shrines at Gandamayu is dedicated to the descendants of Nirartha, while the other belongs to the pande or black smith clan.
The present temple of Gandamayu was restored in the 1970s after being partially destroyed by the 1963 eruption of Mt Agung, which devastated the whole area. The Paksabali is famous for its Dewa Mapalu or Pasraman Dewa festival - the dramatic "clashing" or "meeting of the gods." This is held during the annual Kuningan festival, when idols are borne from the temple aboard palanquins down a steep ravine to the Unda River to be ritually bathed and given offerings. As the palanquin bearers proceed back up to the temple gates, they are possessed by the gods they are carrying and race madly in circles, colliding against each other in an effort to get back into the temple compound.
The nearby village of Sampalan is the home of Bali's foremost traditional architect, Mangku Putu Cedet, who is a builder of fabulous cremation towers and traditional houses. He has traveled all over the world exhibiting his skills, and is thoroughly steeped in the arts of healing and white magic as well. When the royal family of Klungkung holds major ceremonies, it is he who is asked to perform a ritual to prevent it from raining.
An important village further to the east is Dawan, home of one of Bali's
most famous high priests, Pedanda Gede Keniten. He is directly descended
from the court priest of Gelgel and is in great demand for major rituals.
North of Dawan is the village of Besang, famous for its main temple
which has an ancient inscription under a giant pagoda. The Dawan area,
situated among small hills, is another "hot spot" or center
of natural and
The main road meets the coast at the fishing village of Kusamba, with its dramatic black sand beaches. For several decades the late 18th century, the palace Klungkung was inhabited by a mad king Dewa Agung Sakti, and Kusamba was the headquarters of his son and rival.
Kusamba was at this time an important port; like Kamasan and Klungkung it was a center for the blacksmith clan, whose skill in the manufacture of weapons was of crucial importance to any ruler. In 1849, when the Dutch conquered north and east Bali, Kusamba was the site of a major battle in which a Dutch general was killed by order of the "virgin queen," Dewa Agung Isteri Kanya.
Not far beyond Kusamba is the famous Goa Lawah bat cave temple, one of the states temples of Klungkung. Legend has it that when Mungkung was ruled from Kusamba prince of Mengwi sought protection here and entered the bat cave. He was not seen again until he emerged nearly 20 kms to the north, at Pura Besakih. No one has since tried to enter the cave to prove whether it really extends that far - the strong odor of bat droppings is no doubt a major deterrent.
Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan are Bali's three "sister islands" situated in the deep, whirling straits separating Bali from Lombok. Nusa Ceningan, the smallest of the three, is little more than a tiny rock with a single village that snuggles cozily between the massive highlands of Penida to the east, and the coral beaches of Lembongan to the west. The three islands differ radically from the rest of Bali, consisting of barren limestone highlands covered by cacti and shrubs. Physically, they have much more in common with the southern Bukit Peninsula and the islands to the east of Bali.
Water is scarce, so the only crops grown here are maize, cassava, beans and tobacco. It is common in the small villages to see cacah strips of raw cassava drying in the sun before being steamed as a substitute staple for rice.
The islands are very sparsely populated. Nusa Penida (usually called Nusa) has 25 villages scattered along its shores and in the highlands. Access is difficult, as transport is not well-developed and roads in the highlands, winding and uneven, are just beginning to be paved. Everything comes by boat from Bali, including cattle, motorcycles and even bulldozers (which are knocked down, transported and re-assembled).
Houses, built with limestone blocks on the Balinese pattern in the lowlands, are more like Lombok's one-room huts on the plateau. They always include a family shrine (sanggah), as most inhabitants are Hindu Balinese. However, in the main town of Toya Pakeh, many people call themselves "Muslim Balinese" by which they mean a mixture of Malay, Sasak, Bugis, and Javanese migrants - settled here for generations. They have their own mosque, and Sasak cloth traders from nearby Lombok live semi permanently in this desa Islam.
Most highland farmers work in terraced dry fields and breed cattle. Cows are brought to market aboard jukung to be slaughtered in Denpasar. On the coast, people live by fishing, transporting passengers and goods to and from Bali, and, more recently, by culvating seaweed. The seaweed the large green kotoni and the smaller, red pinusun is exported to Hong Kong for use in the cosmetics industry. On shore, one finds co and cashew plantations.
Women help their husbands in the fields they used to spin cotton and weave cepuk (rough checkered cloths used- for life cycle ceremonies) on back strap looms, but this has almost disappeared over the last 15 years,
Daily life is hard. Rainwater is collected huge tanks for supply during the dry season and on the southern cliffs of Penida, a spectacular bamboo stairway has been constructed together water from natural springs just above the sea. Electricity is not yet available in the highlands, and education, job entertainment opportunities are scarce.
All kinds of appalling myths have always been attached to Nusa Penida, due to its gloomy atmosphere and unrewarding conditions. Black magic is said to flourish here, and Balinese from the mainland are careful about what they say to Nusa people so as not to offend them. All evil Bali especially floods and diseases during the dry season - is said to come from Nusa, brought by the giant demon king, Jero Gede Mecaling. In the Badung and Gianyar regencies, the giant and his troops, who are said to cross the straits and land at Lebih, are met and expelled by means of exorcist sanghyang dedari trance dances.
Formerly, the islands were part of the Klungkung kingdom, which used Nusa as a place of banishment. There fore, most inhabitants are commoners and only a few bear the noble titles Dewa or Sri.
Nusa Penida is the ideal place to get off the beaten track, and to seek quietude and authenticity. The inhabitants here speak Balinese, with a local accent and vocabulary influenced by Sasak, but for them Bali is another world to which they go only from time to time. The form of ceremonies, such as weddings and cremations is similar to those in Bali, but in other ways these islands remind one of Lombok or Sumbawa.
In Nusa Penida, there is almost no tourism yet. It is wonderful to walk, ride on ojek two wheeled taxis, or drive through the villages in the highlands and along the shore to experience the island's rough beauty. It is also a rare experience to spend the night in a local home, as people are very friendly.
Several sights are worth visiting, such as Karang Sari Cave, the spring at Sakti and sebuluh Waterfall near Batu Madeg. The most interesting temple is Ratu Gede Mecaling's Pura Peed, 3 kin east of Toya Pakeh. In the smaller sanctuary here, a strange tree composed of three entangled ones grows, and from the trunk a stone mouth of Mecaling's minister protrudes. The temple odalan falls on Buda Cemeng Kelawu. Every three years on the fourth full moon (Purnama Kapat), a great festival (usaba) is also held, during which pilgrims from all over Bali come to pray at Pura Peed.
The Gandrung Dance, performed by two young boys clad in women's attire is still practiced in Plilit (Sekartaji) and Cemulik (Sakti) on Kajeng Kliwon, Purnama and Tilem according to the Balinese calendar. It is inspired by a dance of the same name in West Lombok. Baris Pati is performed in cemeteries at the time of cremations, in simpler costumes than on Bali. Baris Gede is danced at the odalan at Batu Ngulapan (Batu Nungul). Sanghyang Jaran exorcist dances are held in times of crisis in Kutampi and Sakti.
Nusa Umbongan is a small island covered with coconut trees, mangrove forests, small farms, and is surrounded by coral reefs. The island is split between two villages, Jungut Batu and Lembongan. About 75 percent of its population is involved with seaweed farming. The relaxed atmosphere on the island is synchronized with the cycles of the tides. Villagers are seen planting, replanting, and drying the seaweed. Much of this activity takes place on the beach so it is difficult to find an isolated beach for sunbathing.