The Besakih Scam
Since we were so impressed with the architecture of the temples we saw before, another temple we really wanted to visit, was “Pura Besakih” in the east part of Bali. This temple is called “The Mother Temple” and it is the most important, largest and holiest temple of Hindu religion in Bali. It is situated in the village of Besakih, 1000 m on the slopes of Mount Agung. The complex itself is made of 23 separate but related temples with the largest and most important being the “Pura Penataran Agung”. The precise origins of the temple are not really clear, but it dates back at least 2000 years. We drove around almost two hours by motorbike to find the right way to get to the temple but as soon as we arrived, the first problems started.
During our first week on Bali we had a really good time, everyone was very nice and helpful. But as soon as we entered the Besakih Temple complex, we experienced a whole different vibe. First off, we get stopped about 1km before the actual temple ticket office at some kind of road stop where some men asked us to pay an entry fee for the Besakih Temple. Because we saw locals being allowed to just drive through, we asked these men if they could give us a ticket. They couldn’t, so we refuse to pay and follow our way towards the main ticket office. Here we pay 15 000 IDR per person for an actual paper ticket, but it wasn’t as much an office as it was a guy standing in the middle of the street selling tickets.
A little bit further on we were halted by an angry man after we drove through a gate. “Tickets, tickets!” He said loudly while he pointed towards an office. I really hoped this was not the official ticket stall. Fortunately we only had to show our tickets to these self-claimed “Guardians of the Temple” who are based in a small office surrounded with a whole lot of sarong-shops. They wanted us to write our names in the “official visitor book” and give a substantial donation, to be able to see the temple, and for good karma and protection. This didn’t make sense, because we just showed them the ticket we bought, to see the temple. When we asked them how much that donation fee had to be, they showed us the previous page of the book with other visitor’s names who (acccording to them) also gave a temple donation. The funny part was that these donations were written in a completely different handwritings than the names and we saw amounts of 800 000 – 1 000 000 IDR (80 – 100$)! It was very difficult not to laugh, but we kept our cool and said that “we’re good” and just want to visit the temple without donation, without protection. Ofcourse they told us that this was very disrespectful of us and they started to yell. There was simply no way to argue with these guys and they said that now we were only allowed to see the temple by walking around the outer temple walls, and could not go inside the complex. We did have to rent a sarong to cover our legs. No problem, we respect that. Nathalie had her scarf, but I needed one. So we payed the overpriced sarong rental fee of 20 000 IDR (we could also buy the sarong for 50 000 IDR) and walked towards the first steps without paying a donation to enter the complex when another man stops us. He was a guide and without paying him for being our guardian we couldn’t enter the complex. I was already fed up by all the people who were trying to scam us, so we just walked further along and pass a second “guardian/guide/scammer” who was trying to ask for a donation. This one told us it would be unrespectful for us as foreigners, as non-locals, to enter the complex but it would be alright if we paid him to guide us. Are you serious? Eventually we just walked further but besides a little bit of shouting, they did not stop us from entering the temple complex. After an hour of walking inside the temple together with a lot of other tourists (who ofcourse, also didn’t have a guardian with them), we decide to descend the outer steps back towards the main entrance again. I see two girls being stopped by another “guardian”, they were arguing with the guy because he did not let them walk through. So I tell the girls that they can just walk further along and are allowed to see the temple as long as they don’t enter the central and most holy part of the temple complex where at that time a ceremony was taking place. Then, all hell breaks loose and a few guides start to act tough towards me. Yelling, pushing, trying to take a picture of my face because according to them I was making problems and they actually called me a terrorist. They were threatening me and saying that they would call the police. There was no way to argue with them, so we just let them be and left the temple. We handed our sarong back in before we left this “holy” place, feeling pissed off.
It’s funny and sad to see locals, who claim Besakih to be their holy and most precious temple, use this place as a tool to get money from tourists who show genuine interest in their religion and temple. We feel that there is no other way than to label this temple as a “tourist trap”, because all that’s going on here is local people trying to scam tourists by asking too much money from them. They keep deliberately pushing and asking until a lot of people, who just silently want to enjoy this place, probably just pay up to get rid of them. It’s a shame the local government does not act upon these “hustlers”, because this has nothing to do with religion, purity, belief or even tourism. This is just a pure scam. They ruined our (and probably a lot of other people’s) visit to the most beautiful temple situated on the island of Bali. If this was our first temple visit, or our first encounter with Balinese Hinduism, we would be put off by it I guess. Luckily it wasn’t and we know that Besakih is unique in its kind in Bali, in every way.