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Tirta Gangga - Karangasem - East Bali

Seven km northwest of Amlapura (20 minutes). The turnoff is just one-half km beyond the bridge after leaving Amlapura. One of the prettiest places in Bali, Tirtagangga ("Water of the Ganges") is a well-maintained pool complex built by the last raja of Karangasem, Raja Anak Agung Anglurah Ketut, in 1947 with corvee labor on the site of a sacred spring emerging from under a banyan tree. The site of a small water temple, these formal, almost Italian-style water gardens were one of the old raja's weekend retreats.

With its shallow pools and channels, pleasant cool weather (500 meters above sea level), few mosquitoes, great beauty, quiet star-filled nights, and birds chirping over the constant sound of splashing water, Tirtagangga is perfect for relaxation. Sitting on the slopes of Gunung Agung, the open-air palace's fabled water basins, fountains, bizarre statues, and figures have been repeatedly damaged by earthquakes. Locals and the government are involved in a seemingly ceaseless restoration project. Open daily 0700-1800.

It's a sublime experience to swim laps in big flower-strewn pools filled from freshwater mountain streams. Pools are drained on Monday mornings, but are completely filled again by afternoon. You can come and go all day to use 45-meter-long pool and the lower pool. The water is spine-tingling cold, so wait until noon to plunge in. After 1800 swimming is free of charge, but the water is too cold.

This area has fantastic scenery. It's a nice walk following the water source of the pools. Take a dip in the pool when you return. Climb the hill in back of the water palace for about 1.5-km to the village, where locals host the occasional secret cockfight. Come back via the winding road through the valley: see coconut palms, brilliant rice fields, the distant sea, with Bali's biggest and most sacred mountain towering above. Three km west of Tirtagangga is Puncak Sari with a panorama over rice fields.

Another superlative walk is the path leading uphill to Tanahlingis and Ababi. Tanahlingis is known for a choral group peculiar to Karangasem that rhythmically imitates 'gamelan' instruments. Ababi's attraction is a big washing place with walls of brick in a dry riverbed.

Getting Away

It's easy to get 'bemo' into Amlapura (20 minutes). They run until 1700. For Singaraja, buses call on Tirtagangga starting at around 0900, doing the 92-km three-hour run. Red 'bemo' also pass from 0400 to 1600 (three to four hours). To visit Kintamani from here, take the 'bemo' to Kubutambahan (three hours), then go south one hour to Kintamani. For Candidasa, you can also use 'bemo'.