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Tabanan encompasses a broad range of landscapes - from the lofty peaks in the north, including Mt Batukau and part of Mt Bratan with its dramatic volcanic lake, to the verdant rice plains in the south. Beautiful black sand beaches between Pasut and Klatingdukuh are now being developed for tourism, but apart from the famous seaside temple of Tanah Lot, this is not yet a tourist area.
Many rivers run north to south from the mountains to the sea. 'Me roads follow their courses, with only a few running east to west. The main highway from Java passes through the gently sloping southern part of Tabanan along the coast. This has turned Tabanan Town into a thriving commercial center.
A steep, winding road leading across to Singaraja on the north coast passes from Beringkit (in Badung) via Perean, Bedugul, Candi Kuning and Baturiti. The mountainous area around Bedugul is cool, misty and rainy. Vegetables, such as carrots, cauliflower, cabbage and maize, as well as many fruits (including apples and even strawberries) grow well here and are sold at the market in Bedugul. It is traditional for travelers to stop here and enjoy the cool mountain air before continuing on their journey.
The fast-flowing rivers have cut steep ravines into soft volcanic rocks overgrown with giant ferns (pakis). There are huge boulders in the riverbeds and spectacular waterfalls. The mountain area around Apuan offers fine views. Here one looks down upon innumerable terraces with small rice plots, surrounded by jagged dikes and tiny canals with gurgling water.
There are some archaeological remains in the north. A temple in Perean and a makara spout in Candi Kuning date from the first half of the 14th century (1334 and 1339 respectively). Copperplate inscriptions were found in the south in Kediri and Pandak Bandung (1071).
The Balinese believe that the descendants of Arya Kenceng and Arya Belog, who accompanied Patih Gajah Mada during his tour of Bali in the 14th century, settled in Badung and Tabanan. The Tabanan branch of Arya Kenceng's line begins with Arya Tabanan, who lived with 4000 men in the village of Buahan (on the road to Apuan). Arya Belog lived in Kaba-Kaba with 5000 men.
After some time a new and powerful group of descendants of Arya Tabanan settled in the village of Tabanan, which was then called Singasana. They expanded their territory to the northeast (Perean, Pacung) and northwest (Pupuan). In the course of the 18th or at the beginning of the 19th century, a branch of the Tabanan family settled in Krambitan. From the foundation of the realm of Mengwi around 1700 onwards, there were conflicts and battles with Tabanan. KabaKaba became an ally of Mengwi, but never warred with Tabanan.
Soon after the defeat of Mengwi in 1891 by the combined forces of Klungkung, Badung, Tabanan and Bangli, the Dutch began to expand their influence in south and east Bali by intervening in conflicts between the various rulers. This resulted in military annexations. A conflict between Badung and the Dutch over salvage rights for shipwrecks ended in a military expedition, and in September, 1906 Badung fell. The ruler of Tabanan wanted to negotiate with the Dutch. However, he and his son were captured and put in jail, where they committed suicide.
The Dutch soon reorganized Bali into seven sub-departments, with Tabanan as one. In 1929, Bali was redivided into eight realms, ruled by regents chosen from the old royal families. These received the status of "kings" in 1938, but this was only to last a few years. Indonesian independence from Dutch rule brought an end to the active role of royalty.
Like all old Balinese realms, Tabanan has a mountain-to-the-sea axis - an ordering of the physical landscape that mirrors the ordering of the cosmos, with major points marked by temples. Each former Balinese kingdom thus has six major temples, the so-called sad kahyangan, consecrated to the six most significant features of the landscape - the forest, the mountains, the sea, the lakes, the earth and the rice fields. In a similar way, there are six cardinal temples for the whole of Bali. Two of these six are to be found in Tabanan: the seaside sanctuary of Tanah Lot and the ancestral shrine of Pura Luhur high up on Mt Batukau.
About 20 km west of Denpasar on the main highway, one arrives at the town of Kediri, where a large sign at the main intersection announces a turn-off to the southwest toward Pura Tanah Lot - the famous seaside temple to the south. Tanah means earth and lot means south or sea (usually written lod) thus something like 'Temple of the Earth the Sea" is intended. It is actually constructed atop a large, jagged outcropping of rock just off the coast. It is accessible only during low tide. The temple itself is quite modest, consisting of two shrines with tiered roofs (7 and 3), a few small buildings and two pavilions.
Poisonous, black sea snakes live between the rocks and in caves along the coast. They guard the temple, but give the site a reputation of being "dangerous." Nevertheless many Balinese love to sit on the beach or on a bluff overlooking the temple in the la afternoon, watching the tides change and enjoying the silhouettes of the temple meru against the brilliant setting sun.
Like so many other temples in Bali, Tanah Lot is connected with the famous Brahman priest, Danghyang Nirartha, who wandered from Java to Bali in the 16th century. On one of his journeys he decided to sleep in the beautiful spot, and then afterwards advised the Balinese to erect a temple here. As mentioned above, this is one of the sad kahyangan or six most holy temples for all of Bali as well as for Tabanan district.
On the way back to the Kediri intersection, stop in at the village of Pejaten, famous for its pottery. These range from traditional roofing tiles, now painted in bright reds and greens, to replicas of glazed Chinese ceramics. The latter are the result of an initiative taken by Dutch potters during the 1980s. Already in the 1970s a Chinese painter from Tabanan, the, late Kay It, introduced the production of terracotta tiles decorated with figures of gods, goddesses and wayang heroes in relief These were mainly used for interior decoration of restaurants and shops in the tourist areas of South Bali.
To the west on the main highway, one soon enters the medium sized, bustling town of Tabanan. Though it appears rather nondescript and has not much of a reputation among tourists, the arts are actually well represented here. The town already had skilled woodcarvers at the end of the 19th century, and there was and still is many good juru basa, or bards who recite fragments of classic Poems (kakawin) at festive occasions and during contests of the Bebasan recital clubs.
Bali's most famous dancer, the late I Ketut Marya (pronounced, and frequently written as Mario) is also connected with Tabanan. He was born at the end of the 19th century and died in 1968. Although he was actually born in Denpasar, he was raised in Tabanan under Anak Agung Ngurah Made Kaleran of the Puri Kaleran palace.
Marya performed as one of the dancers representing the (female) pupils of the witch, Calonarang, with a music club called the Gong Pangkung, which was founded in 1900 and became quite famous. The Gong Pangkung, named after a village quarter in Tabanan, also possessed a set of tingklik instruments, bamboo replicas of a gamelan orchestra.
Marya and his three fellow dancers experimented widely with this orchestra. They traveled and gave gandrung (transvestite) performances. They also refined the fast and lively kebyar musical style that had been invented in north Bali around 1900. Marya developed a number of new dances for the ensemble. The two most famous are the Trompong Dance, in which the performer crouches and plays the trompong (a row of 10 bronze kettledrums) while dancing, and the Kebyar Duduk (sitting kebyar), in which he crouches and sinuously flirts with a drummer or another musician while dancing.
In the late 1920s and 1930s, these dances were already well known to tourists. Walter Spies made superb photos of them for the book Dance and Drama in Bali which he produced with Beryl de Zoete in 1935-36. Marya was also a teacher of many dancers who would later become famous, in particular I Gusti Ngurah Raka from Batuan. He was a very strict mentor and only accepted the very best pupils. Although he taught them the same dances, he assigned each pupil slightly different movements, to enable him or her to have something characteristic. To remember this dancer and teacher who made Tabanan so famous, the Gedong Marya Theater was erected in Tabanan in 1974.
There is also a museum in Tabanan. This is the Subak Museum, which contains tools and implements connected with rice field irrigation and agriculture in Bali. It lies just outside of the town on the right-hand side of the main road to Denpasar.
Tabanan also has a modern temple-like memorial, which can be considered
a national shrine. It is located in the village of Marga, about 15 km
northeast of the town, on the spot where lieutenant-colonel I Gusti
Ngurah Rai, commander of the nationalist forces fighting the Dutch,
was killed with his 94 men on November 20th, 1946. They fought till
the death, and their behavior is commonly compared with that of the
ruler of Badung and his family in 1906, so that the event is also referred
to as a Puputan.
Several villages located to the southwest of Tabanan Town are especially rich in dance and art traditions. The village of Krambitan, in particular, is noted for its tektekan performances. This is in fact not a dance, but a procession of men with giant wooden cow bells with huge clappers around their necks and bamboo split drums. They traditionally marched around the village during an epidemic or great drought to chase away the evil spirits and bring fertility to the area.
There are two palaces here, belonging to a branch of the Tabanan royal family. Since 1972, the Puri Anyar has been holding "Palace Nights" for tourists, with a tektekan group from nearby Panarukan and a performance of the dramatic calonarang trance play. One can commission a private performance with dinner by candlelight within the palace precincts, and both palaces are also renting rooms to tourists.
In the nearby village of Tista, just one to the west of Krambitan, special versions the of legong kraton dance, called leko or adat are performed. This is a dramatized version of a classic tale (the Ramayana or Malat) danced by three young girls - a condong (female attendant) and the two legong (processes). They change roles during the performance, but wear the same costumes. The Tista group was founded in 1989 under the guidance of two old dancers from the, 1920s
Two km south of Krambitan, the village of Panarukan has many good sculptors both Brahmans and jaba (sudras) working in wood as well as in soft volcanic paras stone. The village is also known for its tektekan, for the painter Ajin Ida Putu Cegeg from Griya Gede, who was a pioneer in the use modern elements in his works.
Several kms beyond Panarukan, the road ends at a broad, black sand beach by the village of Klatingdukuh. This long, deserted strip of paradise is slated for tourist development within the coming years on account of its fine sand, pounding surf and stunning views down the coast in either direction.
At the end of a steep road north of Meliling past Wongaya Gede, about halfway up the slopes of towering, 2278 meter-high Mt Biatukau, perches the Pura Luhur temple all unusual complex of shrines and a pool set amidst lush, tropical forests. The main enclosure lies at the northern end of the complex, with two smaller temples, Pura Dalem and pura Panyaum, to the south. A man-made lake to the east completes the "cosmic" design.
This was the state ancestral temple of the Tabanan court, and each of the shrines represents a different dynastic ancestor. Di Made, ruler of Gelgel between about 1665 and 1686, is represented by a shrine with a 7-tiered roof, and Cokorda Tabanan by one with a 3tiered roof. All of the shrines are very modest, without much ornamentation, which gives a great feeling of unity to the complex.
The nearby pond is fed by the river Aa (pronounced "ehe"). In the center are two pavilions on a little isle, one for the goddess of Lake Tamblingan and one for the Lord of Mt Batukau. The sacred peak thus surrounded by waters can be compared with the mythical Mt Meru where the gods reside, enjoying themselves in floating pavilions.
The area around Batukau is one of great scenic beauty. There is a tiny road leading from Wongaya Gede across steep rice terraces to the village of Jatiluwih. On the road south back to Tabanan; stop in to see the Pura Puseh in Penebel, which possesses an ancient lingga (phallus, symbol of Siwa) with a yoni pedestal in a pavilion west of the entrance to the inner court. These are quite common in Java, but rare in Bali.
Only a few other antiquities have been discovered in Tabanan. One lies in Perean, west of the main road to Bedugul. This stone shrine, discovered here in 1920, consists of a square basement with panels and a temple body with niches on three sides and an entrance on the fourth - a mock-door with a kind of lock carved in stone. Porcelain plates of various sizes were mounted in the temple body on both sides of these niches and the entrance. The temple now has a thatched roof with 7 tiers.
There are remains here also of three small, ancient buildings. The complex is surrounded by a wall with a split gateway. Inscribed stones discovered nearby bear the dates AD. 1339 and 1429. East of Perean, on the other side of the road, is hot water springs, the so called Yeh Gangga. ("Waters of the Ganges").
More to the north along this road, in Candi Kuning, a fine spout carved with the head of an elephant-fish (makara) was discovered. It dates probably from the 14th-15th century.
High in the central ranges of west Bali, a cool mountain retreat nestles in the crater of an extinct volcano. Here lies placid Lake Bratan, source of life-giving water for the springs, rivers and ricefields below. Verdant tropical rainforests blanket the hills, which at 1400 m above sea level provide temperatures several degrees lower than the plains 11°C to 30°C.
Few tourists stop to explore Bedugul and Lake Bratan on journeys to
and from the north coast. But this little hideaway is well known to
long-term Bali residents for its delightful scenery, spectacular mountain
walks and many other recreation opportunities.
Near the top of the hill the road suddenly branches to the right, sloping gently down and a striking new panorama is revealed sparkling blue waters backed by lush, green hills. Cottages dot the hillside down to the shores of the lake, and a pier provide a mooring for boats of all shapes and sizes.
This is the Bedugul Hotel, center for water skiing, parasailing, canoeing
On the western shore of the lake, dramatic Pura Ulun Danu Bratan projects into the water. This is the temple of the lake goddess who is much revered as a source of fertility Built by the king of Mengwi in 1633, it consists; of four compounds, the two outermost of which are completely surrounded by water.
When the three-tiered Siwaitic lingga Petak was recently restored, the builders discovered a bubbling spring and a big white stone flanked by two red ones - a phallic lingga representing the reproductive power of Siwa as the god of fertility. Towering above this, on a separate islet, is a single shrine of 11 roofs dedicated to Wisnu in his manifestation as the lake goddess Dewi Danu, protects all living creatures.
The main temple complex on the shore Pura Teratai Bang, is a pura penataran or temple of origin. Its many shrines, associated with different aspects of creation, are d nated by a large 7-tiered meru dedicate Brahma.'Ibe smaller Pura Dalem Purwa dedicated to Dewi Uma Bhogawati, the goddess of food and drink.
In 1959, a large expanse of tropical rain for in the foothills of Bukit Tapak was set as by the government as the Kebun Raya Karya Bali - a botanical garden cove an area of 129.2 hectares. This extensive A is a popular place for weekenders, but d the week it is a haven of peace and solitude,
More than 650 tree speciess have been recorded in the park, and there are 459 different wild and propagated orchids, including some rare ones collected from the nearby forest. Visitors interested to learn more are welcome to call in at the Information Center, although it pays to take a guide, as the staff do not speak fluent English.
The temperate climate, abundant rainfall and rich volcanic soils make the crater ideal for market gardening. In the early 1970s most local farmers cut out their coffee gardens and started growing vegetables. Now the Bedugul gardens supply the huge Denpasar markets and hotel resorts with fresh cabbages, carrots, onions, strawberries, passion fruit and other fresh fruits and vegetables.
Flower growing has also proved profitable, and bemo-loads of freshly cut roses, lilies, gardenias and gladioli are sent southwards at dawn. Nursery gardens and orchid shelters have sprung up all over the valley.
Stop at the produce and plant market to see tier after tier of exotic flowering plants. Women here call out to passers-by in a new language. "Dendrobium? Azalea? You buy orchid, madam?"
Some will find this the last word on Bali as a paradise. At the northern end of the Bedugul crater is one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world, designed by famous golf architects Thompson, Wolveridge and Fream. This is the Bali Handara Country Club, an 18-hole masterpiece with lush green fairways and the fastest greens you are likely to find anywhere. Trees and beds of colorful flowers line the fairways, and there is a spacious clubhouse, complete with pro shop, sauna and fitness center, and a restaurant. Open to the public except on tournament days, the course is playable all year round, with no problems of advance booking.
For those who enjoy nature more without whacking a little white ball around, there are many delightful bush walks in the vicinity of Bedugul. Guides are available at the Bedugul Hotel. They don't speak much English, but they know every inch of the countryside.
One exhilarating hike takes you to the peak of Mt Mangu, on the southeastern side of Lake Bratan. It is a 6 hour walk. At the peak is an ancient temple, Pura Pucak, built by the first raja of Mengwi. The view is spectacular.
Another walk begins at the northernmost end of the botanical gardens. There is a good wide path here, so it is safe without a guide. It leads across the foothills of Mt Tapak to the northern end of the valley. The 8 km path emerges in the midst of vegetable gardens to greet the main road at Pancasari village.
There is a further walk passing up and behind Mt Tapak through dense jungle to a waterfall on this other side. This is a long and steep climb and should only be ventured with a local guide. So set off early and bring food. Nature lovers will find it well worth the effort.