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Why Elephant Cave (Goa Gajah) is special ?
Located on the cool western edge of Bedulu Village, six kilometres out of central Ubud, you do not need more than an hour to descend to its relic-filled courtyard and view the rock-wall carvings, a central meditational cave, bathing pools and fountains.
Even though the site’s name translates into ‘Elephant Cave’, you won’t find any pachyderms here. Various theories suggest the origin of the name, such as back in time the Petanu River was originally called ‘Lwa Gajah’, meaning the ‘River Gajah’, before it came to be called Petanu River. Other sources state that the ‘Gajah’ or elephant aspect came from the stone figure inside the cave depicting the Hindu lord Ganesh, who is characterised by an elephant’s head.
Ancient inscriptions also allude to the name Antakunjarapada, which roughly translates to ‘elephant’s border’. The cave’s entrance shows a menacing giant face with its wide open mouth as the door. Various motifs depicting the forest and animals are carved out of the outer rock face. The giant face was considered to be that of an elephant’s.
What to explore at Elephant Cave (Goa Gajah)?
Goa Gajah dates back to the 11th century, built as a spiritual place for meditation. The main grounds are down a flight of steps from the roadside and parking area, which is lined with various art and souvenir shops and refreshment kiosks. Upon reaching the base you will come across a large ‘wantilan’ meeting hall and an assortment of large old stone carvings, some restored to their former full glory. The pool, excavated in 1954, features five out of supposedly seven statues depicting Hindu angels holding vases that act as waterspouts.
Various structures reveal Hindu influences dating back to the 10th century, and some relics feature elements of Buddhism dating even earlier to the 8th century. The cave is shallow; inside are three stone idols each wrapped in red, yellow and black cloths. Black soot lines the cave’s walls as result from the current-day incense burning. Several indentations show where meditating priests once sat. The northern side of the complex is dominantly Buddhist while south across the river it’s mostly Shivaite.
At the southern end are beautiful rice fields and small streams that lead to the Petanu River – another natural site entwined in local legends. Goa Gajah was built on a hillside and as two small streams met here forming a campuhan or ‘river junction’, the site was considered sacred and was built for hermetic meditation and prayers.
How to get to Elephant Cave (Goa Gajah)?
Go east from Ubud approximately 3km towards Jalan Raya Goa Gajah
- A Lovely temple
- A very spiritual temple in Bali
- Historical & Spiritual place
- An interesting Cave, Short Walking Tour
- A sarced temple
Goa Gajah Ubud Bali Indonesia
Tips for you
I came here first thing in the morning and it was really quite quiet. The Temple is partially set in rain forest so it is very hot and very humid, but so worth it. There are a lot of steps, as there always seem to be here, but the scenery is lovely. Look out for the monkey faces carved into the rocks further down :-) Lots of mini water falls and caves, and just a generally lovely atmosphere. It's not massive, so don't expect to spend more than an hour here, but absolutely recommended.It was perfectly possible to visit here, Gunung Kawi and the Holy Spring at Tampaksiring all in one morning (and I would highly recommend each one, followed by lunch on Monkey Forest Road and an afternoon in the Monkey Forest if you're in Ubud for the day). You will need a sarong and sash at each one, but you will be lent one for free at the gate if you need one. Do not be fooled by the many stall vendors on the way (or your driver, if you have one) who may tell you that you have to buy one, you don't!Cost 15,000 rupees in July 2013, the same as Gunung Kawi and Tampaksiring.