Gates of What?

Gates of Heaven at Pura Lempuyang temple in Bali, is what I am talking about in this story. Also known as Heaven’s gate, Gateway to heaven etc. All you have to do is search for it with the word Bali or Lempuyang, and you will find numerous sites and pictures. In my research for things to do in Bali, achieving this experience was high on the list.

Neither the remote location of this temple nor the magnitude of it (levels and steps) deterred me from going there. The awesomeness of the images seen on the net and the detailed writeups were more than tempting. It was clearly an Instagram worthy shot to chase. And not being on Insta didn’t deter me either!

So, I got there on a hot sunny afternoon. It was hot enough to burn my skin, but I was getting to a dream location and didn’t care. There are enough advisory posts explaining that this magical experience lies on Level 1, and there is no need to scale the other 4 levels of this temple. Bothered by the heat and wanting to escape the steps, I hired a two-wheeler cabbie to take me to level 1. After all, I had done so much homework of this place, I had to get there the easiest possible way. Once I got on the scooter, I knew how stupid that decision was, as I had to get off before I could even settle in position, that’s how close Level 1 was from parking.

I entered Level 1 and saw a commotion filled place. It was not clear where the temple was, where the gate was, where the mountain was and what the snaking human lines were for.

Before I go any further it is important to explain what I actually was looking for. The gate I was looking for was like any other ‘Split Gate’ from Balinese architecture, used in temples and other places. The specialty of the gate in this remote temple, beyond the fact that it was high on a mountain, was that you can see the majestic Mount Agung through it. Add to it a human silhouette at the gate, you truly have an amazing one of a kind photo opportunity, giving it the heavenly gate vibe. While this was discovered and shared widely already, drawing crazy crowds to this location, the people seem to arrive there without any appreciation of what they are looking for. What was even worse? The locals, who may or may not have been a part of the temple, who had taken over the rights to photograph anyone at the gate. No one could dare get near the gate, forget clicking a picture.

On entering, I saw people lined up under a shelter. At first, I thought they were there for a religious ceremony. After a little bit, I discovered they were there for their turn to get to the gate for a click. I looked hard and could see no mount Agung and was confused. I slowly got to the other side of where the line was, sat and observed. There were about 50 people in the line at all times, in the 2 hours I was there. Mount Agung hid behind the clouds, refusing to make an appearance to this unruly mob of picture takers and clueless subjects. Anyone who wanted a chance to stand at the gate, had to come in line, handover their camera to the self-assigned official photographer. Each person or group got a specific number of clicks, kept track by the photographer’s assistant. When she screamed ‘nadha pose’ (another pose) in a nasty voice, the subject at the gate had to switch pose. Special notification was needed at the time of giving the camera if the person wanted a jumping pose, and typically it was the last pose allowed. They had to leave the gate after the jump, and the next in line would have already arrived to take position. The photographer clan also had a couple other older guards, who watched around, announcing in a microphone to get in line to get to the gate, and warned anyone who tried to bypass this mob.

I sat there disgusted and all excitement shattered. I focused on getting a glimpse of Mount Agung as the clouds opened and closed in quick bursts.

I pitied the people getting to the gate and joyfully posing like they were there for a modelling audition. They didn’t seem to care the background they came for was missing, or that their photographing freedom was forcibly taken away. I left the place, jealous of the previous visitors who discovered it in the true sense, and thankful for their images etched in my memory.

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