Tirta Empul is a place to purify your soul.
For more than 1,000 years, the Balinese have been coming to this sacred spot to do just that. Built on a bubbling spring that flows from the Pakerisan River, Tirta Emplul Temple is a popular spot for ritual purification. According to legend, Indra, a Hindu god, created the spring that feeds the temple’s 13 fountains, infusing it with magical powers as he did. Locals follow the Hindu religion bathe in the holy water to cleanse their souls and ward off evil. Tourists come to experience a truly special cultural tradition. Here’s what to expect from your experience if you plan to visit Tirta Empul Temple.
Located in the Tampak Siring district, Tirta Empul is about an hour drive from Bali’s capital, Denpasar. I hired a private guide and was glad I did. It costs about $40 per half day, and it’s worth every penny, especially at a place like Tirta Empul Temple where it helps to have a local’s expertise to guide you. I wouldn’t have known what to do or where to go without my guide. And because you likely don’t want to take your camera in the water with you, your guide can take pictures of you while you bathe in the waters.
Tirta Empul opens at 7 a.m. daily and costs about $2 to enter the grounds. You’ll be given a sarong to wear over your own clothes. Be sure to return it when you leave. The earlier you arrive, the less likely you are to experience large crowds. Don’t be deceived by the featured image at the top of my post—this place is crawling with locals and tourists alike. How my guide managed to get a photo of me alone in the water is amazing to me.
A quick tour reveals the temple consists of three main courtyards, the Jaba Pura, or front yard, Jaba Tengah, or central yard, and Jeroan, or inner yard. Jaba Tengah features two rectangular pools with 13 “showers” each. This is where the purification ritual takes place, and there will likely be a lineup of people at each of the showers no matter what time you get to Tirta Empul. Don’t worry, they move quickly. You’ll likely also notice a sign posting the rules for entering the pools. Be sure to keep these in mind as you move through the temple.
Pro tip: Tirta Empul is an active religious site for the locals. They often come to collect the holy water in jugs to take home with them. At certain times of the year, they flock to the grounds to take part in religious events. It can be extremely crowded during these times, so be sure to check in advance if there are any special ceremonies and festivals taking place and plan accordingly.
Change Your Clothes
Before you can enter the water, you need to change out of your clothes and into a special sarong that’s different from the one you received upon entry to the grounds. You can rent the sarong and a locker for your personal items for a buck or two. You’ll find them, along with the fitting rooms, to your left if you’re facing away from the holy water showers. There will be a small table with one or two people to collect the cash and hand you your sarong and locker key. Then, head inside to find your designated locker and stash your stuff.
Pro tip: If you’re modest like me and don’t love changing in front of other people, there are large bathroom stalls at the back of the dark locker room that double as change rooms.
Guys can simply wrap the sarong around their waists, but the gals need to be sure all of their bits are properly covered. To tie the sarong, simply drape it behind your body and grab one end in each hand. Crisscross the two ends around your neck, and tie them together to form a halter. Your sarong will come tied with a red sash. Wrap the sash around your waist like a belt to keep the sarong closed.
Now that you’re in the proper attire, head back to the bathing pools. I plunged into the one on the right and got into the first line I saw. A kind man was nice enough to tell me I wasn’t doing the ritual quite right. You see, you need to start at the first shower on the left in the pool on the left and stand under each shower for the full effect. So, me and my soaked sarong climbed back out of the water and trudged to the first fountain.
Pro tip: The temple is made from stones that get quite slippery when wet—and they’re always wet. Be careful climbing in and out of the water. Also, beware there are fish in the pools, so don’t be surprised if one swims by or brushes up against you.
There were a handful of people in line in front of me, so I watched diligently as each one approached the shower so I would know what to do. Some people said a short prayer before bowing their heads and using their hands to sweep water over themselves a total of threes times. Others skipped the prayer part. Some people brought offerings of flowers and incense, while others gathered water to take back home to their families.
There are formal traditions that are part of the blessing at Tirta Empul, but it can be a bit of a challenge to find someone to explain them to you. Alternatively, you can do whatever you want, so long as it’s low key and respectful. No one will judge you or look at you funny if you don’t put your head right underwater, for example. It’s all about what’s right for you. But be mindful of the locals who are at Tirta Empul as part of their religious beliefs, and allow them the time and space they need to perform the ritual. For them, this isn’t just an opportunity to snap a cool selfie, it’s part of an age-old cultural tradition. I chose to say a few words of kindness to myself before washing water over my head three times. It takes about 15 minutes or so to perform the ritual at every one of the fountains. Some people drink the water, though due to deteriorating water quality, it’s no longer recommended.
Pro tip: It can be a bit of a challenge to keep your sarong from riding up in the water, and no one wants that to happen. Tucking it between your legs and shuffling your feet to walk is a great way to keep everything neatly in place.
Once you’re done purifying in the holy water, head back to the locker room to grab your clothes and change. then, drop off your wet sarong at the same table where you rented it earlier. Spend some time touring the grounds and taking in all of the amazing carvings before making your way home. You can even view the source of the spring water bubbling under the ground. It’s worth a look around.
Tirta Empul was one of the highlights of my trip to Bali. Throughout my experience, I felt like I was taking part in something truly special and cherished every moment of my time there. If you only have time to do visit a handful of sites in Bali, Tirta Empul Temple should be at the top of your list.