The Road To Heaven’s Gate: Pura Lempuyang

Pura Lempuyang Luhur is one of Bali’s oldest and most respected temples, as well as one of the least visited on the island. Despite having few visitors, it’s recently become Instagram famous and known to the western world as Heaven’s Gate. Technically, it’s a series of six temples running up the side of the mountain, with the final, largest temple sitting at a cool 1,775m above sea level. However, Heaven’s Gate is actually part of the first temple, which is only about a 20 minute walk from the parking area. If you want to climb to the top temple, the return trip will take at least three hours and you’ll climb more than 1,700 stairs, but you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular view from the peak of Mt. Lempuyang. However, it’s so much more than a pretty picture waiting to be taken.

On your way there you’ll pass through small remote villages, seeing a side of Bali that you won’t experience in the crowded tourist areas, and at the temple you’ll be one of only a handful of tourists, and treated like a local by the guides and priests. Compared to every other temple I visited in Bali, this one was by far the best experience. It’s not nearly as easy to get there as the other, more popular temples, but if you are looking to enjoy the beauty and serenity of a Hindu temple as it’s meant to be experienced, rather than swarming with tourists and camera flashes, make time to make the trip to Pura Lempuyang.

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Getting There

Organizing a trip to Pura Lempuyang turned out to be more of a challenge than I expected. It’s located in far east Bali, near Mt. Agung, (the volcano that has been on high watch for eruption for the last few months) and while it’s only supposed to be about a 2.5 hour drive from Canggu, traffic can make the trip much longer, so I didn’t want to risk getting stuck hours from my hostel on a rented scooter with no cell phone service at night. I checked Go-Jek, which is basically Indonesian Uber, but the trip was too far to book, so I decided it was time to hire my first Balinese guide.

Unfortunately, I quickly found out that even though you can hire a driver/guide in Bali for a day for between 500,000 and 700,000 IDR, that doesn’t necessarily give you free reign to choose where to go. All of the drivers I spoke to about visiting east Bali raised the price when I told them where I wanted to go, which is a good indicator of how few tourists you’ll encounter at Pura Lempuyang, but I did finally find a driver who agreed to take me there and to a few other places for 800,000 IDR for the day. Not wanting to foot the bill on my own, I ran around my hostel asking everyone if they wanted to “go on an adventure” with me (which is perfectly acceptable hostel behavior by the way) and was able to round up two guys to split the trip with.

Our guide picked us up at our hostel in Canggu at 8:30am, and it took us almost 3 hours to reach the temple, by which time I was really happy I didn’t try to take a scooter there. While the highway does turn into four lanes once you get passed Kuta, so you don’t have to worry about traffic being too backed up, you have to drive up an extremely steep road with a lot of sharp turns to get to the entrance of the temple. Our driver had to put his van in first gear for most of the ascent, so I know it would’ve been difficult to go by scooter.

Tip: Travel to the mountain from Ubud if you’re planning on staying there, and find a guide (not a taxi) who will also take you to a few other destinations, like Tirta Gangga, or one of the waterfalls in east Bali. You’ll pay less for the shorter distance, and you’ll get more for your money by going to multiple places.

The Climb

At the entrance to the temples we paid an entry fee/donation of about 70 IDR per person, which included a local guide to take us up, and we all had to put on sarongs, but they have them for guests to borrow if you don’t have your own.

This was the only temple I visited in Bali that included a guide, and next to the view, he was the best part of the trip. As we walked through the three levels of the first temple he explained a little bit of the history of the temple and its modern uses in ceremonies, and then he offered to take photos of all of us on our phones and cameras. He explained the meanings behind the three different tiers of the temple, that the famous gates are a Hindu symbol of welcome, and that the dragons are guardians, which is why you’ll find their statues all over Bali.

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The other thing that made this temple such a unique experience is that at the third level, visitors were actually invited to participate in the prayers. At every other temple I visited in Bali, the prayer area was gated off from visitors, but Pura Lempuyang is different (probably because it has so few visitors). When we reached the prayer level, our guide gave us each a small offering, and showed us how to sit cross legged on the stone ground and place our offerings and incense in front of us. He carefully demonstrated the whole process of cupping the smoke and pulling it to our faces, crumpling flowers and bringing our hands together in prayer, and then accepting the holy water the priest dripped onto our heads and into our hands for us to drink three times. Finally we were instructed to place grains of rice on our chests, foreheads, and next to our ears, and put a flower behind each ear.  I won’t say that it was a spiritual experience, because I’d be lying, but I will say that sitting there, in the sweltering heat, drenched in sweat, with the sound of a Hindu priest’s singing echoing over the loud speaker, I felt a sense of serenity and simplicity that you just don’t experience every day.

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The whole process only lasted a few minutes, but it was beautiful and peaceful, and I was honestly amazed at how accepting the priests were of us strangers in their house of worship. Religion can be a touchy subject, and as an agnostic, I generally just steer clear of it all together, but at Pura Lempuyang we were welcomed with open arms and it was a great experience to be able to learn about and participate in a ritual that is such a big part of Balinese life.

We decided to only climb to the first temple because we had already used three of our ten hours with our guide just getting to the mountain, and we wanted to go to a few other places before we got dropped off, but if you have the time to go to the top, you should go for it. Just don’t complain on the way up. Locals consider the trek to be purifying, and if you’re truly worthy of making it to the top, you won’t complain along the way.

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Tip: The only bathrooms at the bottom of the Pura Lempuyang temples are squatty potties, so take your own toilet paper or baby wipes and hand sanitizer, and be prepared to get a little leg workout, or just don’t drink much water on the way.

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