It is also called Tanah Let which means ancient land and also Tanah Lod, which means the land to the south. The temple Pura Tanah Lot, simple in its construction, is dramatic in its ocean-front location and is one of the main temples in the worship of Balinese gods.
Like a delicate Chinese painting, this small, pagoda-like temple 13-km southwest of Tabanan sits on a huge eroded outcropping of rock offshore. Tanah Lot (‘Sea Temple of the Earth’) is only one of a whole series of splendid sea temples on the south coast of Bali, all paying homage to the guardian spirits of the sea.
So that these spirits may be constantly propitiated, allowing pilgrims to walk between them, each temple is visible from the next along the entire southern coastline. On crystal-clear days from Tanah Lot you can just make out Pura Uluwatu.
Legend has it that the temple was built by one of the last Brahman priests to arrive in Bali from Java, Sanghyang Nirantha, a man remembered for his successful efforts in strengthening the religious beliefs of the populace and for founding several of Bali’s most dramatic 16th century sad sanghyang temples.
At that time, the area’s holy leader, Bendesa Beraben, jealous when his followers joined the newcomer, ordered the Hindu saint to leave. Using his magical powers, Nirantha left by simply moving the rock upon which Tanah Lot is built from the land into the sea, changing his scarf into the sacred snakes that still guard the temple. Later, Bendesa Beraben converted wholeheartedly to Nirantha’s teachings.
Incomparably situated off a black volcanic sand shore, Tanah Lot is one of the most photographed and sketched temples in Asia. Watch the hypnotic sunset from the park opposite the temple, its oddly shaped rock silhouetted against a blood-red sky. Tanah Lot is actually only one reason to come here, this relaxing nearby park is another.
Follow the paths to the cliff-top temples in the vicinity-Pura Batu Bolong, Pura Batu Mejan, Beji Taman Sari, Pura Enjung Galuh. There are many vantage points from which to view Tanah Lot, the best from Pura Enjung Galuh on a bluff just west of Tanah Lot.
The whole site is well-maintained, commercial activities are in keeping with its peaceful isolation, charm and holiness. The tacky souvenir stands are outside the park. A favorite of the multitude of domestic tourists who visit Tanah Lot are the scores of poisonous snakes (ular suci) sleeping in sandy holes just above the waterline along the beach.
When the tide is out, they slither into the temple. The locals believe these snakes guard the sanctuary from intruders, and great care must be taken by all who visit the temple not to disturb or anger them. The snakes are the property of the temple’s guardian spirit.
Big crowds come to pray here even though the structures that make up the Tanah Lot complex are actually quite unremarkable, consisting of just two pavilions and two black thatched-roof ‘meru’ shrines-one with seven-tiers, dedicated to Sanghyang Widi Wasa, and the other with three-tiers, dedicated to Nirantha.
Like all Bali temples, Pura Tanah Lot celebrates ‘odalan’ once every 210 days. The birthday falls close to the festivals of Galungan and Kuningan, when ancestor spirits are invited to visit their family shrines. Four days after Kuningan, Hindus from all over Bali come laden with rice cakes, fruit, carved palm leaf, and holy water to pray to the Hindu gods and goddesses.
Women bear towers of votive offerings on their heads, waiting until low tide to safely walk over a concrete-reinforced walkway and up rock-cut steps to the solitary temple.
At high tide, when the walkway is submerged, the incoming waves can get pretty ferocious. Fees are required to park your vehicle and walk through a gauntlet of souvenir stalls onto the rocky beach opposite the temple.
Only Hindu devotees may actually climb the temple stairway and enter the grounds. Time your arrival for low tide, which is around noon at times of the full moon. From Tanah Lot a beautiful panorama unfolds as headland jut out into the sea and heavy surf pounds the rock, throwing spumes of spray high into the sunlit air.
To prevent further erosion around the south side of the temple base, unsightly concrete tetrapods have been lowered into the sea by helicopters to help ‘protect’ the temple.
Within walking distance is a serene beach to the west called Pantai Nyanyi, with black sand, big waves and beautiful views, especially during the full moon. About 13 km from Tabanan. About an hour’s walk away, Kedungu and Yeh Gangga are nice beaches along a jagged coastline northwest of Tanah Lot toward Negara
Getting There and Away
The most scenic way to reach Tanah Lot is to walk at low tide six hours (14 km one way) up and back from Kuta. Wear a bathing suit, as the rivermouths along the way can be forded. Time your arrival for Tanah Lot’s spectacular sunset.
You can also reach the temple by driving from Denpasar toward Tabanan and Negara, then taking a left (southwest) at Kediri’s stoplight down a side road that leads after nine km to Tanah Lot’s parking lot. Tanah Lot is about an hour’s drive and 31 km to the northwest of Denpasar.
Most of the travel agents in Bali’s major resorts include Tanah Lot as an almost de rigueur stop. Minibuses and ‘bemo’ depart Denpasar’s Ubung Station for Kediri (30 minutes), from where you take ‘bemo’ onward to Tanah Lot (nine km, 30 minutes). ‘Bemo’ departures slow down in the afternoons, so if you want to arrive by sunset you might have to consider alternate transport.
When you’re ready to return to Denpasar or Kuta, don’t wait too long after 1600 to get a ‘bemo’ back to Kediri so you can connect with another ‘bemo’ to Denpasar. Otherwise you might have to charter a ride on the back of a motorbike, or walk.
If you’re staying overnight at Tanah Lot, be aware there are no public ‘bemo’ until 1100. Just start walking and someone will pick you up, for a fee, of course. It takes about three hours to return to Kuta by public transport.