Tirta Gangga literally means water from the Ganges and it is a site of some reverance for the Hindu Balinese. Strictly, the name refers to the water palace built here from the late 1940’s to the 1950’s by Gusti Gede Djelantik, heir to the former Kingdom of Karangasem. It is widely used, though, to refer to the general area which includes the water palace and some particularly stunning rural areas around.
Tirta Gangga is a popular side trip from the nearby coastal resort towns of Amed and Candidasa. It is in fact right beside the main road between these two locations. The Water Palace is the main draw card where the gardens, the huge koi fish and the spring fed swimming pools are worth the stop. There are also about a dozen eateries located around the entry to the Water Palace. The quality is superb and the prices are cheaper than in the Tourist Traps. The hiking around Tirta Gangga is excellent. You can just take a short stroll on your own along any well beaten track into the rice paddies or, for the more serious hikers, a full-on climb of nearby Gunung Agung. Organised tours are widely offered.
The primary draw in this area for visitors is the Tirta Gangga water palace, a lovely maze of pools and fountains surround by a lush garden and stone carvings and statues. The one hectare complex was built from 1948 onwards by the late heir to the Kingdom of Karangsem but was destroyed almost entirely by the eruption of nearby Mount Agung in 1963. It has been lovingly re-built and restored and has an air of authentic royal magnificence. The centrepiece of the palace is an eleven tiered fountain, and there are many beautiful carvings and statues adorning the gardens. This is a great spot to unwind and it has a real atmosphere of old Bali. You can bathe in the pools for 10,000Rp which is additional to the Rp 30,000 (foreigners(2017)) entrance fee. You can easily reach Tirta Gangga from Amlapura by any orange/red bemo heading north (Abang, Culik) for 5000Rp.
The area around Tirta Gangga holds some stunning rice paddy terraces. Those postcard pictures of Bali rice terraces which you have all seen are usually from photographs taken here.
Lempuyang Temple (Pura Lempuyang Luhur) is about 10 km east of Tirtagangga on the slopes of Mount Lempuyang. This is one of the key nine directional temples on the island. Park in the car park and walk up the steps to the temple. The lower temple is always open but the upper temple (at the top of the dragon staircases) is often locked, so ask if it’s possible for the temple priest to open it up for you. It’s situated high up a mountain and there are magnificent sunset views at dusk. From Tirta Gangga, you can take a bemo to Abang (4000Rp, 5 minutes), and then walk (the temple is 6km away, but mostly uphill), take an ojek (30,000Rp, there are no bemos) or try to hitch a ride (this works best on the way back). There is a mandatory “donation” to enter the temple; 20,000Rp should be fine. They will suggest taking a guide, but it’s not necessary. They will give you a short briefing on what not to do at the temples. Bring a sarong from home, and if you have a white shirt, today is the day to wear it. There are seven temples. The first one is right at the parking, and probably is the most beautiful and has great views of Gunung Agung. The second temple is just an altar, and is 2 km away. There are ojeks that take you there for 20,000Rp, or it’s an easy walk. Then there the stairwell begins, and shortly afterwards there is a fork. Turning right takes you in a loop to the third, fourth and fifth temples. This path then joins the main one, which runs directly to the sixth and seventh temples. The short way (temples 1, 2, 6 and 7) takes about two hours on the way up, and one hour to go down. Add an extra hour for the loop with the other three temples. All along the way there are plenty of shops selling water and snacks, even proper meals (bakso, mie ayam, nasi sate, etc.).
Taman Ujung to the southeast of Karangasem (Amlapura) is another water palace built by the predecessor of the King who constructed Tirta Gangga. It must be said that it is rather inferior, but still a charming attraction and worth a visit. Taman Ujung was built in 1909 as a relaxation and recreation palace by the then King of Karangasem, I Gusti Bagus Jelantik. It was largely destroyed by the eruption of Mount Agung in 1963, damaged again by an earthquake in 1979, and has not been restored on the same scale as Tirta Gangga. You do get a sense of how lovely it must have been though. From Tirta Gangga, head back south to Karangasem and then take the minor road south east to the village of Ujung. Taman Ujung is another 2 km past the village, very close to the coast. If you are staying in Tirta Gangga or Candidasa, you will certainly be offered tours which include Taman Ujung. You can easily go to Taman Ujung with a blue bemo from Amlapura’s Pasar Karangasem for 4000Rp, or even go walking (3.5 km, <40 minutes) as the way is down hill and surrounded with nice rice paddies. The entrance to Taman Ujung is an (unworthy) 35,000 Rp.