Bali to restrict tourist access in temples following incidents of disrespectful behaviour

Tourists visit Lempuyang temple which overlooks Mount Agung volcano, in Bali, Indonesia, on Dec 3, 2017.
Tourists visit Lempuyang temple which overlooks Mount Agung volcano, in Bali, Indonesia, on Dec 3, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

BALI (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – The Bali administration is preparing a new regulation that will ban tourists from entering the main and most sacred parts of temples across the island after a series of incidents where boorish tourists desecrated Bali’s holy sites.

Balinese Hindus were shocked when a photo of a foreigner sitting on top of a shrine at the Luhur Batukaru temple in Tabanan regency went viral on Instagram and spread to other social media platforms earlier this month.

The tourist was identified as 36-year-old Tony Kristian Jarvi from Finland after he went to Sanur police station following a motorcycle accident, and he confessed that it was him in the photo. The Sanur police later took him to the Penebel police station, and he was asked to perform a cleansing ritual at the temple

He has since deleted his photo on Instagram and apologised to Balinese residents. He also posted a video compilation of him performing the cleansing ritual at the temple.

Mr Jarvi’s case was not the only one that has offended Balinese Hindus. In April, a European tourist posted a photo on his Instagram account of him sitting on top of a shrine in the Besakih temple. In July, two foreign tourists posted a similar photo of a temple in Nusa Lembongan.

The head of the Bali chapter of the Indonesian Hindu Religious Council, I Gusti Ngurah Sudiana, told The Jakarta Post that he was very offended by the tourists’ actions, because the temples were sacred places for Hindus.

“I’m very angry about what they did. I think everyone should respect every place of worship of any religion, not just temples,” he said on Wednesday.

He also urged the government to take action to prevent such incidents from happening again.

Following Mr Jarvi’s incident, the Bali administration said it was drafting a regulation to prevent a similar incident from happening, while still ensuring tourists can visit the temples.

Bali Tourism Agency head Anak Agung Gede Yuniartha Putra said the local administration was discussing the regulation, saying it would ban tourists from entering the temple’s sacred area but still allow them to enter the outer courtyard of the temples.

Hindu temples are divided into three areas – nista mandala (outer courtyard), madya mandala (middle courtyard) and utama mandala (inner sanctum), with the last two considered to be sacred areas, as they are used when Hindus perform their prayers.

Mr Yuniartha said some temples, such as Uluwatu temple and Taman Ayun temple in Badung, impose bans on tourists entering the madya and utama mandala. However, some temples still allow tourists to enter the sacred areas.

“Thus, we’re in a dire need of a regulation that bans tourists from entering the sacred areas,” he said, adding that a by-law would be drafted immediately.

The administration, he said, would also install signs informing tourists of the temples’ rules and regulate visiting hours.

Mr Yuniartha suspected that most cases of disrespect by foreign tourists happened because they did not receive enough information about the temples’ rules, as well as the lack of staff at the temples.

Bali Deputy Governor Tjokorda Oka “Cok Ace” Artha Ardhana Sukawati said at a hearing with the local council last week that tourism in Bali should be evaluated.

“Too many tourists are coming and most of them are not accompanied by tour guides,” he said. “There are also too many illegal tour guides operating in Bali, so we really need to evaluate it.”

Out of the 14 million tourists that visited Indonesia last year, 5.6 million visited Bali, while the administration is aiming for 6.5 million tourist arrivals.

The government also expressed hope that the island could attract more tourists in the years to come, as it targets 20 million tourist arrivals in 2019 to boost the country’s revenue and strengthen its foreign exchange reserves.