East Bali – The Palaces of Karangasem

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the ruler of Karangasem was the only Balinese raja allowed to retain his title and powers

Twenty five kms (16 miles) farther east, the road crosses a wide lava bed and enters Amlapura, a medium-size town formerly knows as Karangasem and once the capital of Bali’s most cultured king. Following the bloody Ducth congquest at the turn of the century, the ruler of Karangasem was the only Balinese raja allowed to retain his title and powers. Subsequently he became active in coonial commerce and prospered, expanding his residence in Karangasem and building two elaborate pleasure palaces outside the town.

The traditional home of the Karangasem kings, Puri Agung Karangasem, is an austere compund surronded by a thick redbrick wall, penetrated only by a theretiered main gate.

Puri kanginan, the palacewhere the last raja was born is an eclectic creation reflecting the strong European influnce of his education, and of his architect – a Chinese by the name of Tung. The main building, with its lavish Edwardian mouldings and long verenda, is called the Bale london. The furniture, curiously, bears the crest of the Brisht royal family, Above a doorway hangs a photograph of the late king. Anak Agung Anunglurah Ketut, whose passion in life was to build opulent water palaces for frequents excursions with his wives and children to the country.

Eight km (five miles) to the south, in Ujung, are the ruins of his first creation, a vast pool bordered by small pavilions representing the sun and the moon. In the centre “floats” the king’s large stainedglass and stone bungalow, perhaps a later-day Mt. Meni surrounded by the calm seas of the Hindu cosmos, in which case the raja is symbolically deifying himself as resident of the sacred mountain. This retreat was completed in 1921 and the king retired in his old age to pursue his religious studies, but it was badly damaged after his death, by the eruption and earthquake of 1963.

In 1946, the king finished a new project: the Tirta Gangga (Gangges water) pool located 15 kms (nine miles) to the north of Amlapura, at the site of a sacred spring and temple formerly known as Embukan. It was acclaimed as a masterwork of hydraulic enginnering at the time, and was the source of some considerable pride to the much-decorated raja and his wives. Like the palace at Ujung it is a polymorphic follie of various royal modes. One can still swim in the its three clear, fresh ponds, which flow out from under the umbrella of a huge banyan tree, with lovely views over the eastern hills to towering Mt. Agung. From here, a track leads nortg along the barren, uninhabited northeastern coast to Singaraja, but this route is not particularly recommended.

From Subagan, a village in the solidified lava flows on the western outskirts of Amlapura, the mountain road climbs due west through Sibetan, a village famous for ita salak-a teardrop-shaped fruit with the sweet-sour texture of an apple and skin resembling that of a cobra. Past Sibetan, the road levels out, winding across an exiting landscape of sculpted rice-ter-races and river valleys of grats dramatic beauty.

Stop at the village of Putung, were a road to the left leads to a small government-run guest house and restaurant perched on a cliff overlooking Padang Bai and the coast. From Putung, the road forks. Either continue straight on through Selat to Rendang and thence up to Besakih (about an hour’s drive), or turn left on the road through Iseh to Klungkung.

The idyllic mountain village of Iseh was chosen by painter Walter Spies as the site for his country home. After Spies untimely death, the Swiss painter, Theo Meier, lived in the house for many years. It gazes over an uninterrupted vista of mighty Mt. Agung – acclaimed by many as the great Bali view.

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