Wednesday, June 23, 2010

the Taman Ayun Buddhist temple on Bali

pura taman

PURA Taman Ayun, one of the prettiest temples in Bali, is a treat for garden lovers. Located in the village of Mengwi, about 18km from Denpasar, Pura Taman Ayun was built as a family temple by the local raja, or king, in 1634 as a place of worship and relaxation. The name, according to tourist literature, translates as beautiful garden or the temple of the beautiful gardens, which indeed it is, a sanctuary of green wrapped around three interconnecting temple yards and enclosed by a wide canal-like moat. The entrance to the temple is dominated by a vast, treeless and (therefore shadeless) swath of lawn, searingly hot during my March wet-season visit.
To one side is a large pavilion built as a meeting hall and cockfighting ring.
Between each temple courtyard stands a handsome split stone gate, or candi bentar; inside, moss-blackened stone buildings are decorated with garudas and fearsome, fanged boma. The innermost sanctum, viewed over a tall stone wall and lotus-strewn moat, contains numerous shrines and pavilions designated for the coterie of court musicians, dancers and priests in attendance on ceremonial days. This handsome collection of buildings is dominated by several multi-tiered merus, those striking thatched, pagoda-like towers typical of Balinese Hindu temples.
But it is the garden surrounding this temple that is most lovely. Cuffing the timeworn walls are avenues of large frangipani trees, luminous white trunks sprouting a fine down of ferns. There are palm trees and clipped bamboo, banks of spider lilies and the occasional exclamation mark provided by a spiny euphorbia.
Beyond the innermost temple yard the garden is less cultivated, more park-like, as it slopes to a canal where fishermen wade chest-deep to check their nets.

The deep shade provided by an impressive collection of large trees is welcome on this steamy day; the green dappled light, dancing with butterflies, creates the illusion, at least, of a cooler place.
My travelling companion and I are lucky to have a guide with excellent English and a passion for gardening.
Seeking tree and plant names in foreign climes is fraught and, given my non-existent Latin, Gede's help is most welcome as we wander the meandering paths behind the temple. There are some trees I do recognise, such as a large banyan and a huge, spreading mango that, like an old man, is sprouting growth in unexpected (and unwanted) places.
"Here we have mogo fruit," Gede says. It's like watermelon (but bitter, not edible) from the forests of Java, a pretty tree dangling with large, round, pendulous fruits. There's a pudek tree with white flowers that have a sickly sweet scent. "At night this is very strong," Gede tells us.
There are also guava trees ("Good to help Bali belly", Gede promises), mangosteen, durian and rambutan trees and countless other perfumed plants and shrubs.
For keen gardeners who may like a little taste of Bali in their backyard, there are several roadside vendors in the area selling pretty, decorative umbrellas of the sort seen across Bali outside shops, restaurants and temples.
At just a few dollars each, they are perfect to jazz up an alfresco dining space.
See how to use them to best advantage at the very swank Sardine restaurant in Seminyak, where the artist-owner has landscaped a rice field so fetchingly (with an avenue of the aforementioned umbrellas), it seems a pity to harvest the stuff.