Around 6 kilometres away from Ubud, the archaeological sites of Goa Gajah are present in Bedulu village. The place is famously known as ‘Elephant Caves' although the name does not signify the presence of elephants in the cave.
Built as a place for meditation, the caves were constructed around the 11th century. The location is situated near the Petanu River, which was previously called ‘Lwa Gajah' or ‘River Gajah'. The theories behind their name suggest that the caves are called Elephant caves because of being at the bank of river Gajah. The entrance of the cave looks like a huge face with an open mouth with various carving depicting the animals and the forest. The prior name of the cave was Antakunjarapada which literally mean ‘elephant's border'.
The courtyard inside the cave is full of beautiful wall carvings. The cave has a narrow opening of carved stones, which looks like a Hindu deity Ganesha. Ongoing inside, there is bathing pools, fountains and a central meditation cave. The bathing pools which are said to be made in 1954 has a statue of Hindu angels holding vases. Inside the cave are three stone idols dressed in black, yellow and red clothes.
The structures inside the caves suggest the Hindu and Buddhism influence in the wall carvings. There are also some spots that show the sign of priests sitting and meditating. From the structures hidden in carvings, it is assumed that the southern side of the complex that is near the river is dominantly Shivaite while the northern side is mostly Buddhist.
Goa Gajah is built on the hillside where two small streams meet, making a ‘river junction'. This river junction is considered sacred therefore the community indulges themselves in prayers and meditation at this place. There are gorgeous paddy fields at the southern end of the caves and small streams leading to the beautiful Petanu river.
To enter the cave, wearing a Sarong and waist sash is compulsory which can be rented from the nearby shops. The best time to visit the caves is when the temple anniversary is celebrated. The date for which varies each year according to the Gregorian calendar. There are several refreshment centres and other shops in the temple compound. The entry fee is 15,000 rupiah for adults and 7,500 rupiahs for children. Women during the menstrual cycle are forbidden to enter the temple, which is practised in all the Balinese temples. The temple is open from 8 o'clock in the morning till 8 o'clock in the evening.
One can reach there by taxi from Ubud, which hardly takes an hour to reach.