Insta-strophe at Pura Lempuyang

« Sorry Miss, are you menstruating? – None of your business, I crave to retort, but instead I shake my head with a polite half-smile.” My patience for religious lunacies is waning after nearly a month of calls for prayers all day long and disturbing my precious sleep in the middle of the night too. It is taking a toll on the familial atmosphere, but so far I’ve managed to keep an acceptable social demeanour. Besides, It is another one of the rules I must agree to before entering the temple, keeping positive thoughts.

After having paid at the bottom for the shuttle tickets and paid our entrance tickets at the booth, like everyone before us, we each get a sarong fitted around our waist, we can choose the pattern and color, and walk the remaining stretch uphill from the shuttle parking to arrive at the entrance of Pura Lempuyang Luhur (aka Temple in the Sky, aka Stairways to Heaven, aka Gates of Heaven) per se, at 768m altitude, pass another booth where we are blessed with holly water and are asked our tickets to staple something on it. Without paying much attention, I put them back in my purse, eager to finally see for myself the famous Gates of Heaven framing the majestic Gunung Agung (Mount Agung, highest peak on Bali).

Here they are, at one extremity of a large square, facing North-West, and surprisingly we can’t see many people queueing around them to take a picture, as I had been warned and expected. It takes a few minutes to notice, though, that what looks like a semi-empty square is in fact a civilised tourism exercise orchestrated by a trio of men monopolising the center of the square, the best angle from which to take pictures. One is sitting low on a little stool under an umbrella next to a donation box, taking pictures for you, and the other two are standing or squatting, calling out numbers, checking tickets and passing on phones and camera to the photographer.

So the devotion edifice has turned into an Instagram shit-show with a crowd of tourists, not wandering around the place admiring its architectural singularities, but all gathered on the edges of its main square, sheltering from the sun in the shade of the open-wall huts erected on both sides, half-bored, waiting for their number to be called out so they too can be photographed meditatively praying, summit-gazing or jumping in front of Mt Agung between the Gates of Heaven. Not to mention the deception of the photographer in-chief, holding a mirror horizontally under the camera lens to produce a fake water-reflection effect, tricking the outside world into believing there is a romantic water basin at the temple!

I knew that the Instagram frenzy had taken over the tourism industry prompting tour operators to organise “Instagram day-tours” but somehow thought it wouldn’t be THAT bad. Anyway, I check our number (stamped on the piece of paper stapled to our tickets), 192, they’re currently calling out 170, so we could probably wait and participate in the masquerade. Oh no, we misheard, it was 117, forget it, I wait for the change-over of protagonists to take a picture of the gates with no one in the frame, albeit on a slight angle, and one day maybe, I’ll photoshop our family inside the gates…

It’s a shame that this experience should tarnish the visit of an otherwise impressive 11th century temple on a prime location, with magnificent views on the surroundings valleys of bright green rice fields, and a multitude of stone sculptures and ornaments, including three massive, long and steep stairs and gates leading to the praying area, bordered by long-tailed dragons, with intricate necklaces, earrings, and jewel crowns.

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