Probably best visited from Ubud due to its central location. From Ubud, the journey takes about 2 hours to the northeast. Often the trip is combined with a quick visit to Kintamani to view the volcano and Danau Batur. From Denpasar, Kuta or Nusa Dua, the journey probably takes a little more time through Batubulan, Gianyar, Klungkung, Rendang and Menanga.
For avid temple visitors to Bali, Pura Besakih is a must-go place. It signifies the oneness for the kingdom of Balinese Hindus. Honestly, there are conflicting numbers on how many pura (temples) are there within the massive Besakih complex. My local pura guide mentioned of 28 temples, but literatures that I have read put it between 30 to 38.
Nonetheless, my trip was vividly unpleasant. Apparently there is a new admittance fee supposedly set by the Karangasem Regency for non-religious visitors. While I am all for minimal fee for the preservation cause of this heritage monument, the initial fee quoted of Rp 100.000 ($10) was a real slap in the face. I was told by my driver to bargain, hence bargain I did. Rp 60.000, said the middle-aged leader of the pack (hopefully he actually represents the regency and not a scam). I asked Rp 50.00 and got what I wished for. He said the money is not for him but for the pura. Donation he said. I gave in and got the usual sarong and head band.
I was assigned to a young temple guide. The walk on the steep hill was exhausting at best. Besakih complex was built at about 900 meters right at the foothills of the majestic Mt Agung. Two locals came taunting to rent out their motorcycles. I refused. They continued their selling pitch until the climb was about halfway before they gave up.
The weather was a tad disappointing. In fact, a tad disappointing is probably an understatement when I got severely drenched on the way down. Mostly it was overcast, rendering the spectacular mountain view invisible.
My temple guide started his narration as soon as I entered the proper temple compound. To my left was Pura Dalem Puri (or Temple of Palace Ancestors) which is devoted to the beloved deceased of any family members. Shortly afterwards, a steep flight of stairs brought me at the split gate of the colossal Pura Penataran Agung (or The Great State Temple). The center of attraction for Besakih complex lies here. A peek into the vast courtyard revealed 3 main shrines, each enthrones the Trisakti (or Trinity). Each deity has its own color symbol - white for Shiva, red for Brahma and black for Vishnu. There was a religious ceremony held inside the grand temple's courtyard.
My uneasiness did not stop after bargaining with the Karangasem Regency people a.k.a the guardian of Besakih. My innocuous-looking temple guide brought me to a smaller pura and told me to pray. Follow me, he said. I was torn between telling him the truth that I'm not a follower of his religion, or running the risk of offending his devout soul. I decided to follow while my mind flew off thinking what on earth was I doing. Things got worse afterward. A sami (Balinese version of a priest) then sprinkled me with the "holy water" into my palm and instructed me to drink it. Then, my temple guide told me that I am "encouraged" to give another donation to the temple. I offered Rp 10.000, he said since I'm a foreign tourist (well, he knew that!), I should give between Rp 50.000 to Rp 100.000. I offered Rp 30.000 and he agreed, shoving the donation box to my hand. There I was, bargaining again for the second awkward moment, and it was not for souvenirs to bring home.
By then, I had enough of Pura Besakih. Divine intervention had me that I was not up for it. When the guide offered to bring me to a pura devoted to Dewa Iswara (or God of Lightning), I politely refused and insisted on returning down to the parking lot. Enraged the God of Lightning probably was that it rained cats and dogs as soon as I stepped out of the Besakih complex. I got myself drenched and had only my indifference to blame.
At the bottom, before I left, the young man asked for some money for himself. Apparently the two previous donations were not for him, he said. I ran back to my van, short on small change. My driver (Pak Putu) luckily had some, which I repaid him later of course. I gave the guide Rp 20.000 and waved him goodbye.
My driver was apologetic when hearing my harrowing experience. He did remind me of the possible "complication" but I never thought it was at this fairly huge proportion.
Nine paragraphs of story, most of them about how I felt divinely scammed. Sorry, no verdict for this one.