Things to Know When Climbing the Steps of Pura Lempuyang
The end of my solo trip to Bali coincided with my birthday, a date I wasn’t particularly looking forward to. I wanted to do something to mark the occasion that was unique and would allow me to convince myself that I was spiritual and accomplished - the type of person who doesn’t worry about birthdays. But where to find something unique on this (overly) touristed island? Hike along a volcano? Swim with manta rays? All interesting, but my attention was caught by the challenge of Pura Lempuyang, a series of 7 Hindu temples along a 1700 plus stair climb in east Bali. Local wisdom say those with a heavy heart will not reach the top, so...no complaining while taking those steps. It seemed the perfect mix of spiritualism, adventure, and potential folly that would make for a good story.
Staying in Amed at the excellent Bubu Racok Homestay, I had one of the sons of my B&B host drive me the 30 minutes to the base of the mountain. At that base is food, water, souvenir vendors, and men offering their services as tour guides. The cost to enter is about 20K IDR. The man at the gate showed me a map to take a picture of and gave me a stern warning about not taking photos of people faces or bothering them while they’re at prayer.
Like other temples on the island, you’re required to wear a sarong. Bring your own or you can rent one on-site for a small fee (about 10K IDR). I looked about as comical as you can imagine in workout clothes, sturdy shoes, and a sarong but… it’s all part of the humbling process!
The most striking temple you’ll see there is also the closest one. Many people visit just that, take some pictures, then leave. Not a bad option, but I was here for the full enchilada (or its Balinese equivalent). From there, it’s a ½ mile walk on a paved road uphill. There’s an option to take a scooter up the first ½ mile or so for a small cost. Nah, fresh and energetic me thought, I don’t need that! Feeling both overly confident and a little broke, I opted to walk. It was a bad call. Take the scooter. Even with my early morning start it was hot, humid, and there’s so, so much more climbing to do.
Onto the steps! The route can be a little confusing as there are a few different ways to make the circuit and, at several points, there are cutoffs to a nearby road. Somewhere between Temples #4 and #5, even with my map, I got a little lost. The signs are... not great.
Luckily, there were several groups of Balinese pilgrims there also doing the full circuit and I fell into line behind a group from the Kuta area. At Temple #5 they took pity on me and adopted me into their group. I was grateful but, keeping the warnings of the man at the gate in my head, I felt like I should keep my distance. Instead, at the next temple, they asked me to sit with them and watch the ceremony. The humbling continued as I learned about the Hindu pujas that bring in all senses - incense, bell ringing, chanting, food offerings, and more.
Heading up the steep steps, the hairs started to stand up on my arm - this is where the aggressive monkeys start to come out. Like a character in a horror film I walked slowly and followed the rules of dealing with Balinese macaques: Don’t hold anything in your hand. Don’t have anything shiny on you. Put your camera and watch away. Don’t look them in the eye. And, lucky for me, there is safety in numbers. Temple #6 is really the best view (if you’re debating which temple to turn around at). But we made it all the way to Temple #7, said our prayers, and relished the victory of making it to the top.
And of course, once you’ve made it up those 1700 steps, you have to go back down. You don’t need to retrace your steps, there are turnoffs to shorten the route. But even a fraction of the steps were a lot for my ankles and knees. I cheerfully handed over my money to a scooter driver to take me back down the paved ½ mile of road to the entrance.
A word on supplies - there are a few stands along the route that offer up water, soda, chocolates, and other snacks. There are also a few outhouse-style toilets by a few of the larger temples en route, which will cost you to use.