Like a delicate Chinese painting, this
small, pagoda-like temple 13-km southwest of Tabanan sits
on a huge eroded outcropping of rock offshore. Tanah Lot
('Sea Temple of the Earth') is only one of a whole series
of splendid sea temples on the south coast of Bali, all
paying homage to the guardian spirits of the sea.
So that these spirits may be constantly propitiated, allowing
pilgrims to walk between them, each temple is visible from
the next along the entire southern coastline. On crystal-clear
days from Tanah Lot you can just make out Pura Uluwatu.
Legend has it that the temple was built by one of the last
Brahman priests to arrive in Bali from Java, Sanghyang Nirantha,
a man remembered for his successful efforts in strengthening
the religious beliefs of the populace and for founding several
of Bali's most dramatic 16th century sad sanghyang temples.
At that time, the area's holy leader, Bendesa Beraben,
jealous when his followers joined the newcomer, ordered
the Hindu saint to leave. Using his magical powers, Nirantha
left by simply moving the rock upon which Tanah Lot is built
from the land into the sea, changing his scarf into the
sacred snakes that still guard the temple. Later, Bendesa
Beraben converted wholeheartedly to Nirantha's teachings.
Incomparably situated off a black volcanic sand shore,
Tanah Lot is one of the most photographed and sketched temples
in Asia. Watch the hypnotic sunset from the park opposite
the temple, its oddly shaped rock silhouetted against a
blood-red sky. Tanah Lot is actually only one reason to
come here, this relaxing nearby park is another.
Follow the paths to the cliff-top temples in the vicinity-Pura
Batu Bolong, Pura Batu Mejan, Beji Taman Sari, Pura Enjung
Galuh. There are many vantage points from which to view
Tanah Lot, the best from Pura Enjung Galuh on a bluff just
west of Tanah Lot.
The whole site is well-maintained, commercial activities
are in keeping with its peaceful isolation, charm and holiness.
The tacky souvenir stands are outside the park. A favorite
of the multitude of domestic tourists who visit Tanah Lot
are the scores of poisonous snakes (ular suci) sleeping
in sandy holes just above the waterline along the beach.
When the tide is out, they slither into the temple. The
locals believe these snakes guard the sanctuary from intruders,
and great care must be taken by all who visit the temple
not to disturb or anger them. The snakes are the property
of the temple's guardian spirit.
Big crowds come to pray here even though the structures
that make up the Tanah Lot complex are actually quite unremarkable,
consisting of just two pavilions and two black thatched-roof
'meru' shrines-one with seven-tiers, dedicated to Sanghyang
Widi Wasa, and the other with three-tiers, dedicated to
Like all Bali temples, Pura Tanah Lot celebrates 'odalan'
once every 210 days. The birthday falls close to the festivals
of Galungan and Kuningan, when ancestor spirits are invited
to visit their family shrines. Four days after Kuningan,
Hindus from all over Bali come laden with rice cakes, fruit,
carved palm leaf, and holy water to pray to the Hindu gods
Women bear towers of votive offerings on their heads, waiting
until low tide to safely walk over a concrete-reinforced
walkway and up rock-cut steps to the solitary temple.
At high tide, when the walkway is submerged, the incoming
waves can get pretty ferocious. Fees are required to park
your vehicle and walk through a gauntlet of souvenir stalls
onto the rocky beach opposite the temple.
Only Hindu devotees may actually climb the temple stairway
and enter the grounds. Time your arrival for low tide, which
is around noon at times of the full moon. From Tanah Lot
a beautiful panorama unfolds as headland jut out into the
sea and heavy surf pounds the rock, throwing spumes of spray
high into the sunlit air.
To prevent further erosion around the south side of the
temple base, unsightly concrete tetrapods have been lowered
into the sea by helicopters to help 'protect' the temple.
Within walking distance is a serene beach to the west called
Pantai Nyanyi, with black sand, big waves and beautiful
views, especially during the full moon. About 13 km from
Tabanan. About an hour's walk away, Kedungu and Yeh Gangga
are nice beaches along a jagged coastline northwest of Tanah
Lot toward Negara
Getting There and Away
The most scenic way to reach Tanah Lot is to walk at low
tide six hours (14 km one way) up and back from Kuta. Wear
a bathing suit, as the rivermouths along the way can be
forded. Time your arrival for Tanah Lot's spectacular sunset.
You can also reach the temple by driving from Denpasar
toward Tabanan and Negara, then taking a left (southwest)
at Kediri's stoplight down a side road that leads after
nine km to Tanah Lot's parking lot. Tanah Lot is about an
hour's drive and 31 km to the northwest of Denpasar.
Most of the travel agents in Bali's major resorts include
Tanah Lot as an almost de rigueur stop. Minibuses and 'bemo'
depart Denpasar's Ubung Station for Kediri (30 minutes),
from where you take 'bemo' onward to Tanah Lot (nine km,
30 minutes). 'Bemo' departures slow down in the afternoons,
so if you want to arrive by sunset you might have to consider
When you're ready to return to Denpasar or Kuta, don't
wait too long after 1600 to get a 'bemo' back to Kediri
so you can connect with another 'bemo' to Denpasar. Otherwise
you might have to charter a ride on the back of a motorbike,
If you're staying overnight at Tanah Lot, be aware there
are no public 'bemo' until 1100. Just start walking and
someone will pick you up, for a fee, of course. It takes
about three hours to return to Kuta by public transport.