–take a mysterious morning meander, just minutes from central Sanur.
The volcanic black sand beach of Padang Galek, seven kilometers north of central Sanur, is the site of a quirkily eerie former amusement park, a beautiful well preserved temple complex and a memorial to a tragedy which happened long ago in a place far away. To visit this area is a feast for all the senses; it can also tell some stories of how the locals actively honour the ancestors and our shared past.
Sanur has not always been the developed, bustling, commercial beach hub as we know it today. In the days before the masses of travelers and wanderers- before the first European tourists and artists lured here by Dutch travel companies in the 1920s, before independence in 1945 and before the building of the towering Bali Beach Hotel in the early 1960s, Sanur was, in fact, regarded as a rather unsettling place to be.
Some locations in Bali are more infused with black magic than others. Certain villages- Sanur being one of them- are known to be angker– unusually strange or fearful. As Fred B. Eisman explains in Bali, Sekala and Niskala-Volume One, what seems mysterious to visitors is how much the Balinese base their relationship to the universe upon mystical powers, magical forces and strange and unexplainable energies. The Balinese recognize the existence of these forces and are constantly aware of them- their lifestyle, art and rituals all attempt to control or harness these forces in order to maintain a harmonious life balance.
Taman Festival- the abandoned amusement park- was opened in 1997 and closed under murky and mysterious circumstances in 2000. From the car park at the end of Jalan Padang Galek it can be accessed by its official entrance, guarded by caretakers who demand a small donation for entrance.
The adjacent beach has a narrow black volcanic sand shoreline, as the result of the mighty 1963 eruption of Mt Agung. Concrete wave breakers adjoin the arterial bicycle and walking path back to Sanur.
Urban legends can manifest themselves into creepy stories. The crumbling structures and montages of ornamental figures partially covered with dense foliage and creeper vines add to the park’s dystopian feel- so they are easy to believe as truth as you wander down the paths and into the decaying buildings. To add to the legend, on Friday the 13th of March 1998, the expensive laser equipment for the light shows was struck by lightning. The park was closed and bankrupted and the site handed over to the local government.
In the short time the 8.9 hectare park was open, it had among other attractions, several theatres, an enormous swimming pool, an amphitheatre, a zoo, an artificial mountain, a microbrewery and a crocodile exhibit. There are many juicy rumours regarding the fate of these poor creatures after the park’s sudden closure- including that they resorted to cannibalism- however it is also whispered that they were taken to a zoo in Java to live out their days.
This was not my first visit to Taman Festival- I often bring visitors here as it is such a unique place to explore and take photographs. Whenever I get into conversations with long term residents of Sanur I ask them their memories of the park. Most say that they enjoyed visiting- it was a fun place that they came to with their families. Unfortunately, the late 1990s was before the widespread use of digital cameras- so no-one has been able to show me any actual photographs, which adds to the mystery and notoriety of the place. In the past few years the site has been used for motorcycle shows, paintballing tournaments, art and photography and just plain ‘hanging out’ to be a part of a constantly evolving, yet decaying, wonderland.
I had brought some new friends to the park- and as we wandered the winding pathways, playing guessing games as to what the building might have been used for, we came across a smiling young man in his crisp, bright white ceremonial clothing and his two more casually dressed companions. They were sitting and chatting outside a small temple wrapped in black and white checked cloth and yellow sashes with canang saris (small offerings) dotted outside the temple base. He introduced himself in English and began to unravel the mysterious story of the park’s abrupt closure and its subsequent surrender to nature and the elements.
Officially, Taman Festival was shut down due to financial difficulties; unofficially it is said to have closed because it was built on land already inhabited by spirits.
He said that the locals simply didn’t like the place- they believe long abandoned sites are home to lost spirits. It was also expensive to visit, but mostly locals didn’t like it because the ground was busy with lost souls- those who were not properly farewelled from this earth after their mortal remains were left uncremated and not properly blessed- therefore unable to enter the afterlife.
What seems mysterious to visitors is actually a part of life to the Balinese. The world cannot be explained using western logic- it is much more magical and revered than that.
The creative expression found in the crumbling buildings can be seen as a new manifestation of life and energy on the site. The Balinese have gone to great lengths to try and ease the suffering of the lost spirits by performing ceremonies and rituals in the temples along the coast and within Taman Festival itself. The colourful and thought provoking murals and wall art tell many different stories and create vibrant, re-imagined worlds on top of the park’s decaying reality.
As we walked into the roofless canopy of the amphitheatre, the late morning sun streaming in, we looked up and were confronted by the penetrating yellow eyes of a giant owl painted on the exposed wall behind us. To the front, where a screen may once have been, was an obscured view of the Badung Strait and the eastern islands of this fabulously complex archipelago.
In many cultures, owls are associated with wisdom and intuition; they are able to see what others do not see. They can also sense the truth beyond deceit and masks; their presence is also associated with change and transition. Its eyes followed us down the steps and passageways which lead to dark and musty dead ends.
On the cool, sunny August day we visited, we exited Taman Festival to walk north along the dusty beach path at the front of the park toward some black pagodas rising majestically into the bright blue sky. To our right we could see the hazy outlines of Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida. The waves were crashing into the breakers and ahead of us lay a winding strip of black shoreline leading up the north east coast of Gianyar and Klungkung regencies. We turned into a deserted car park shaded by pine trees whispering in the soft wind. It was here we discovered that there was much more to Taman Festival than meets the eye- for beyond the back of the park lies the memorial for the lost souls of Pam Am Flight 812.
On 22 April 1974, 107 passengers and crew perished when their plane crashed into Mount Mesehe in the Bulelung Province of West Bali. Newspaper articles from the time describe that wreckage was scattered across mountainous terrain; the search and rescue team struggled through heavy undergrowth and rugged jungle, unable to find any signs of life. The recovery of the bodies was fraught as their remains were scattered and identification was near impossible- the passenger and crew list needed to be used for the issuance of death certificates as there could be no fingerprint matching. Also fraught was the recovery of remains and the consecration of the dead- there were many different nationalities on the flight and some cultures believed in burial and some in cremation- therefore a ceremony and memorial needed to be created for all that were on board the fateful flight. As the mortal remains could never completely be recovered, it is believed their restless souls are still trapped on this island, unable to be set free into the ocean and onto their next life.
The memorial is a Balinese style concrete walled sanctuary with lists in engraved marble of the names of the passengers and crew. The locals call it ‘the monument’ and a quick internet search shows a YouTube video of its consecration in 2014 with some family members of those who perished in attendance. Monuments are needed so we don’t forget our shared history- the Balinese need to acknowledge the role of the ancestors as a living force on the island, and so the memorial needed to be in a place which could be easily accessed and maintained, therefore this site was chosen- even though it was far from the mountain. Vivid magenta bougainvillea vines embrace the wall of the memorial, and beyond is a back wall of the amusement park, towering over us and providing some increasingly much-needed shade.
Toward the beach is the Pura Dalem Temple complex, a busy place of worship with many brightly painted statues- white tigers, happy elephants, dragons and dancing girls- many shaded with colourful ornamental umbrellas. Near the mouth of the adjacent river there were wandering dogs, patient fishermen and the comforting aroma of burning incense.
As we began walking back to Sanur, we witnessed a ceremony taking place on the paved coastal path. We discretely veered around them so not to disturb- and tried to peek into their ritual as curious observers. The cluster of worshippers were sitting cross legged in the full sun under small white umbrellas on this gloriously blue day; by this time the ocean was quiet and the winds were still.
In Indonesian, Padang means field; in Balinese Galak can be translated as temperamental and wild. The wild fields and wind-swept coastline are a constant reminder of the power and beauty of nature amongst the busy temple, the lonely monument and the abandoned buildings of Taman Festival.
Nature and art are the new life force within this little part of Padeng Galek. The wandering spirits have been acknowledged and respected, the quest for harmonious balance through ritual continues, and all the while, the ocean and mountain quietly observe our activity and imaginings – and will constantly do so, long after we have all gone.
Eiseman, Fred B Jnr. Bali-Sekala and Niskala; Essays on Religion, Ritual and Art. Tuttle, 1990, Singapore.