Tirta Gangga is a village in East Bali.
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.
If you are driving yourself, Tirta Gangga is on the main east coast road just north of the town of Karangasem (Amlapura) and is fairly well signposted.
You can reach Tirta Gangga with public transport even from the airport: take the korridor 2 Trans Sarbagita bus to Batubulang bus terminal in Denpasar (3,500 Rp. It goes by Kuta and Sanur on the way). From Batubulang, take a bemo or minubus to Amlapura (30,000Rp, 3 hours. They pass by Padang Bai and Candi Dasa on the way). In Amlapura, take any orange/red bemo heading north (Abang, Culik) for 5000Rp, less than 10 minutes. (Oct 2015)
This is a great area of Bali in which to walk with many small roads and paths to explore.
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 20,000 (foreigners) 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.
An easy and free, stroll for those not used to full-on hiking is one from outside the wall of the Water Palace on the low side. Walk about 300mt along the wall from the road and you come to a large concrete lined water channel off to the left. You can comfortably walk along the top of the channel for about 3km through the rice paddies. This is a great way to take in the stunning view of the volcano and also see village life.
There are a few souvenir shops and stalls at the entrance of the water palace but you will not be hassled. If you are using an Indonesian sim card in your phone, recharges are available at the small post office. A shiny new grocery store is located about 50 mt south of the entrance road to the Water Palace. There is one ATM next door to this grocery.
There is a surprisingly good choice of eateries in Tirtagangga. They are located around the entry to the Water Palace and prices are lower than in most other tourist areas. A dozen or so eateries are open throughout the day with fewer at night. They range from the traditional Indonesian warung to the exclusive up market restaurant located within the Palace grounds.
"Rijasa Warung" offers traditional family cooking at village prices. The breakfasts are particularly good.
Good Karma is a great value, long-established restaurant above the main car park of the water palace.
Tirta Ayu inside the water palace is a good quality restaurant with a superb aspect looking out over the pools and gardens.
There are several budget accommodation options alongside the main road both south and north of Tirta Gangga. Look for the signs.