Sunday, May 24, 2009

Tirta Gangga, the royal pools of Karangasem

The eastern part of Bali does not see much tourist traffic. Visitors who only have a limited time in the island normally would concentrate their sightseeing in southern or central Bali where cultural and recreational attractions are densely packed.

Tirta Gangga
the Mahabharata pond of Tirta Gangga, Rejasa, Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia

Tirta Gangga pool with koi- bridge at background
the South pond at the lower level of Tirta Gangga, Rejasa, Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia

Tirta Gangga fountain w/ algae
fountain at Demon island overlooking the South pond

I myself am guilty of this oversight and my forays in the Karangasem mostly were up to Besakih or Tengenan only. This April though, I decided to take my family in a different detour and went further up to the regency.

Tirta Gangga panorama of the stepping stones
panorama of the Mahabharata pond’s stepping stones

statue closeup- Sagriwa?
Mahabharata pool statue closeup

statue closeup- the teeth
a statue bearing her teeth at the Mahabharata pool

The three hour drive from Nusa Dua practically worked for us as our one year old daughter had the penchant of taking a nap inside a moving car. The destination I plotted was the royal fountains of Tirta Gangga.

Dia and Mommy stepping over the stones
Dia and Mommy hopping over the stepping stones

Literally meaning “holy water from Ganges”, Tirta Gangga is the summer garden of Bali’s last king of Karangasem. Spreading over a little more than one hectare in Rejasa some 5km south of Amlapura, it was built in 1947 by the rajah who as a budding architect, got inspired by his visit in the gardens of Versailles, France.

Tirta Gangga bridge
the bridge over the South pond, leading to the Demon island

Carved at the foot of Gunung Agung, the garden is laid out on 3 levels. One enters the lowest level first in the east. On the left is the South pond, the biggest pool. It is bisected by a longitundinal patch called Demon island which boasts of a series of flower-shapped fountains. On the right is the Mahabharata pond which is popular for its “floating” stepping stones that allow people to hop around the water. There are also several stone sculptures that depict characters of the Indian epic from which the pool got its name. In the middle level is what is mostly recognized as the architectural centerpiece of Tirta Gangga- a beautiful eleven-tiered fountain called Nawa Sanga which resembles a lotus and is Victorian in style. In the highest northern level lies the holy spring under the banyan tree, a royal swimming pool and two more ponds.

11-tier fountain
the Victorian lotus-style 11-tier Nawa Sanga fountain

Tirta Gangga from the bridge entrance
the Demon island as seen from the bridge

Tirta Gangga by local folklore, is Bali’s Fountain of Youth. Legend says that if one bathes in these waters on full moon one will be blessed with youth and be cured from illnesses. Regardless of belief, these are the same waters that run through and irrigate the adjacent ricefields which Karangasem is famous for. Myth or not, the royal pools remains the source of life, forever flowing, forever refreshing.

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