Located on the western fringe of Bedulu Village just minutes from central Ubud, Elephant Cave Temple (known locally as Goa Gajah) is a historically significant archaeological site and popular tourist attraction. Despite its name, you won’t find any pachyderms here, unless you count the stone figure of Ganesh, a Hindu lord with an elephant’s head. A special place to visit, tourists staying in Ubud won’t need more than an hour to explore the relics contained in the courtyard, meditation cave, fountains, bathing pools and rock-wall carvings.
Built as a spiritual place for meditation, Elephant Cave Temple dates as far back as the 11th century. Built on a hillside where two streams met to form a river junction, the site was deemed sacred and the temple was built for prayer and enclosed meditation. The entrance to the cave depicts a giant menacing face whose wide open mouth forms the doorway. While there are various animal and forest motifs depicted by carvings on the outer rock face, the giant face of the doorway is considered to be that of an elephant.
As you reach the base you will come upon the large wantilan meeting hall and a collection of large ancient stone carvings, some which have been restored to their former glory. Excavated in 1954, the pool also features five out of a reported seven statues that depict Hindu angles clutching vases which act as water spouts. Throughout the temple complex, a variety of structures bare Hindu influences which date back to the 10th century as well as relics which feature some elements of Buddhism that date back even earlier, as far back as the 8th century.
The cave itself is actually quite shallow, yet inside you will find three stone idols wrapped individually in yellow, red and black cloth. Visitors may be curious about the black soot lines that mark the cave’s walls, however despite their mysterious appearance they are merely the result of incense burning. Those with a keen eye will be able to spot a number of indentations which are a testament to the places where priests once sat to meditate.
The northern side of the temple complex is dominated by Buddhist culture while across the river in the south is predominantly Shivaite. Access to the main grounds is down a flight of stairs from a roadside parking area lined with refreshment kiosks, souvenir shops and art stalls. The Elephant Cave Temple complex is open daily from 8am to 4pm with entry costing 15,000 Rupiah (AU$1.50) for adults and 7,500 Rupiah (AU75c) for children