Fortune favours the brave. This old saying can be applied perfectly to the project to build the Great Temple of Bali in the Kingdom of Ganesha, one of Pairi Daiza's most fascinating worlds. Pura Agung Santi Bawhana is a true place of worship, consecrated by Hindu high priests and built with absolute respect for the architectural traditions of the Indonesian island that is as famous for its beach resorts as for its spiritual retreats.
Like the other temples on the site, it has been built from blocks of dark lava. Its impressive solemnity speaks volumes about the sophistication of a culture that creates an intimate blend of worship and daily life (in Bali, there are as many temples as there are houses). It is easy to write these words, but actually raising this sacred temple and the other buildings on the hill that faces the monumental staircase of Cambron was a huge challenge. The result is breathtaking and the sense of wonder that it creates makes all the effort worthwhile. From the Palace of Ani to the Pura Bunga, the Flower Temple, from the Temple of Angkor to the Artist’s House – the illusion is perfect. We really are in Indonesia.
How wonderful to stroll along this long, shady avenue lined with immense centuries-old plane trees. How sweet and soothing it is to hear the sounds of a gamelan orchestra (consisting of percussion instruments, gongs, bronze xylophones and copper bells), with its mantra-like tunes and throbbing intonations that transport us far from our usual certainties. How pleasant it is to see the herd of Asian elephants passing its days peacefully in this beautiful Hindu palace and watch them bathing. It provides a special moment of joy, both for the elephants and the public who are privileged to be present. In Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Bali and Sulawesi, the animal is intimately linked to human life and serves as the main source of inspiration for the statues created by the artists of these islands in the Indonesian archipelago.
Welcome to the land of Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity, god of the arts, education, knowledge and science. Boldly climb the great staircase that leads to the Sacred Hill, under the protection of the Naga snakes. When you reach the top, Garuda, the great eagle that is Vishnu's mount, welcomes you with its huge outspread wings. But where are the real animals, in the flesh, with their fur and feathers, crests, spines, striped or plain coats? You will find them everywhere in the Kingdom of Ganesha. Starting with the Sulawesi crested macaques, with their impressive canine teeth and long tuft of hair on top of their heads, and their distant cousins, the Sumatran orangutans, which are more advanced in their development and much closer to our own species.
Well established in the Temple of Flowers, they challenge us with their gaze, gestures and attitudes and we realise how little separates us from these great primates of the tropical forests. Of course, just like humans, not everyone is quite so popular. Take for example, the Komodo dragon, the largest species of lizard in the world. It is a carnivore and mainly a scavenger. Visitors to Pairi Daiza are privileged to see such a creature, as it is quite rare to observe them outside their natural environment. By contrast, the white Bengal tigers and Javan leopard don’t have to worry about winning a popularity contest. We are immediately bowled over by their beauty, and when they look us in the eye, it is a truly amazing moment!