One of the quirkiest places in Bali is the famous Elephant Cave near Ubud, known as Goa Gajah (sometimes spelled Goa Gajah). It can easily be included in an Ubud day trip and is quite a unique Bali attraction worth seeing. Be sure to read up on its history and significance to fully appreciate this historical site.
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Goa Gaja Information
Goa Gajah is only a 15 minute drive away from Ubud’s main shopping streets and not hard to find. There are signs pointing you in the right direction. At the parking lot you will be greeted by lovely vendors selling souvenirs and sarongs.
Afterwards you descend to even more shops, the ticket booth and then some more until you are on the first plateau. This is where the main temple shrines, the bathing pools and cave are located. Step down even more and you will reach waterfalls and the remains of the Budah Cave with a lotus pond.
Address: Bedulu Village, Jalan Raya Goa Gajah, Blahbatuh, Gianyar
The Goa Gajah entrance fee is 50,000 IDR (3.5 USD) and scooter parking is 2,000 IDR (0.14 USD). Car parking would be 5,000 IDR (0,35 USD).
If you want a local guide, there are a few men on site who will gladly advertise their services. I was quoted 150,000 IDR for a tour around both caves, which I deemed way too much for a 15 minute tour. I settled for 50,000 IDR for the Elephant Cave only. Beware of scams and set a price up front if you agree to take a tour.
The exact origins are not entirely clear but the creation of the cave has been dated back to the 11th century. Originally, it was used as a sanctuary. At the site two rivers met, resulting in believing the area to be sacred. A temple was built accordingly.
The cave was forgotten for centuries until Dutch archeologists found it in 1923. Goa Gaja Cave has been on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List since 1995.
Elephants aren’t native to Bali and only now through tourism have they been introduced to the island. So why the name Elephant Cave? The name was first mentioned as “Lawa Gajah” in manuscripts found onsite, which later turned into Goa Gaja. Also, some people suggest that the River Petanu used to be referred to as “Lwa Gajah”.
Then, the religious cave is dedicated to the deity Ganesha who is depicted with the face of an elephant. Ganesha (गणेश) is the patron deity arts, sciences, intellect and wisdom and stands for beginnings and removing obstacles. He is the son of Shiva and Parvati.
According to local tales, the cave was carved out by a giant called Kebo Iwa. He used his fingernails to dig into the solid rock. He apparently formed nearby complex Gunung Kawi and Goa Lawah as well. (Don’t mistake Gunung Kawi Sebatu Temple with the Gunung Kawi Kings Tombs.)
The Cave Entrance
You can hardly miss the cave because the rock has been intricately carved into the shape of a ferocious demon, the barong face. It doesn’t look exactly like an elephant but it is supposed to be. Around the gaping mouth – which serves as the doorframe – and glaring eyes there are also patterns of plants and animals.
Left of the cave entrance you will see a small pillar. In it are roughly 1000 year-old depictions of Ganesha, demons and Hariti/Men Brayut, a mother symbol. A few small statues stand around the cave as well.
The Cave Inside
A small tunnel leads from the Goa Gaja cave entrance 7 metres deep into the T-shaped prayer room. The three side of this represent the three elements: fire, water and wood.
On either side of the entrance tunnel you can see sitting nooks, which were used for prayers. (Notice the indentations from people sitting here.)
On either site you can present your offerings and pray to the respective deities. On the left side is the statue of Ganesha. At the other end of the room are the three yoni, the female counterparts to Shiva. In the middle are more wall stone carvings.
The Temple Complex
Of course, the cave doesn’t just stand on its own. It is part of a larger temple complex and coming down the stairs from the parking lot, you have a pretty good overview. At the bottom of the stairs, you will see the Greeting Hall (wantilan).
Close by are rows of fragmented pillars and boulders. Those used to be part of the gender separated ceremonial bathing pools (Patirtaan) right opposite the stones. You can still see the statues and fountains that were used for purification and the blessed water (tirta) before entering the cave.
After an earthquake wreaked havoc, the bathing pools were buried and rediscovered in 1954. They are no longer used. Only the female pools can be entered for a closer view now. In total, there were seven statues, 6 which have been put back on their pedestals.
The more modern shrines next to the cave date back to 2015. The roofs are made from palm trees and the stone is from Pukara. Close behind are sites for food preparation used during temple ceremonies. While the Northern part of the temple complex is Buddhist, the southern one is mostly Shivaite.
The Dress Code
As is customary with Balinese temples, appropriate attire is obligatory. Cover your shoulders at the very least. Sarongs and sashes can be borrowed at the entrance and have to be returned before leaving.
The many kiosks and souvenir stalls will also sell you a sarong if you’d rather have your own. Women during menstruation aren’t allowed entry.
Best Time to Visit
Goa Gajah Cave is a popular destination and as such well visited. If you are travelling Bali during peak season, try to get to the cave early. The site opens at 8AM and closes at 4PM.
A great time for a visit to Goa Gaja is during the temple anniversary, which is on the “Anggara Kasih Prangbakat” Tuesday of the Balinese calendar. In 2019 it will fall in March 26.
Are There Tours?
If you only have a day in Ubud and no scooter of yours, it can get pretty annoying and expensive to constantly call a taxi or go-jek to get around.
Calculate in waiting time, tips and the fact that you won’t get local information, a tour is a pretty good way to get around places fast and conveniently. I found a few that I can recommend to help you with your Bali travel planning:
I say it really is quite fascinating. The area is quite big but not too big and you can easily spend 30 minutes to an hour here. But that’s it. It’s a great detour if you are in Ubud anyway. I wouldn’t drive here just for the cave though.
Would you like to visit the Goa Gaja Cave?Sources:
Why Visiting West Bali National Park Solo Was the Dumbest Idea
Ultimate Guide to Visiting Tanah Lot Temple Near Canggu
Taman Festival Ghost Town – Bali’s Abandoned Theme Park
Don’t Make This Major Mistake at Uluwatu Temple