Photograph of the week: Tegallalang, Bali


Located on the island of Bali, Tegallalang is without question one of the most unique landscapes you can witness in all of Indonesia. For centuries, the Balinese have cultivated rice in these beautiful terraces using the Subak System to irrigate the paddies. Although you have several options to witness this ingenious system, which is so important to the culture and way of life on the island, there are simply none quite as picturesque as the fields at Tegallalang.

Standing in the middle of the jungle at 600 metres above sea level, the site is only a fifteen-minute drive away from the popular centre of Ubud. Although these days the majority of Balinese in the area make their living through tourism, thousands still work in the rice fields day in, day out.

Rice is the staple of all Indonesian cuisine and is often described as the lifeblood of the Balinese. The cascading formation of rice terraces is key to cultivate the grain in these steep areas around Ubud. Each individual plot is called sawah and is contained by dykes of black earth. Water flows seamlessly from one plot to the next on waters glides contained in bamboo sleeves. Every farmer owning a sawah in Bali is a member of an agricultural society that controls the distribution of the precious irrigation water to its members.

Even though this site has become a hotspot for tourists, in the early morning it remains as tranquil as it’s been for hundreds of years. Visiting before 9 AM is highly recommended. Save for the clicks of a few cameras from the photographers who braved the sunrise wake-up call, all you can hear are the birds singing and the occasional howl of a monkey coming from deep inside the jungle.

To reach Tegallalang this early, the simplest way to go is on your own two wheels. You can rent a scooter from any accommodation in Ubud for only a few dollars per day and the road to the site is quite straightforward and in very good condition. Just don’t forget your helmet and international drivers license! If you aren’t comfortable on a scooter, you can always grab a taxi or hire a private driver for the day.

As photographers, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect location for sunrise than the site at Tegallalang. You can walk the paths here for hours, but we prefer to make our way to the far end of the site to appreciate its beauty with fewer people around. An extra donation to Wayan, who looks over our favourite part of the site, grants us access to shoot in a fenced-off portion of the terraces. From here, the drone gets launched high into the air to capture the majestic site with Mount Agung, the largest volcano on Bali, looming in the background.

Thank you to Sam Dowal of mapping along for permission to share the photograph.

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Comments (7)

  1. Jen says:

    The private driver option for the day may sound quite extravagant but it’s always worked for me. Over the day you usually build up some sort of relationship with the driver. If the driver’s English is reasonable or if you can speak the local language you can often get a lot of insight into the local customs and way of life. It’s a good way of finding out what local people are really thinking.

  2. Karen Morris says:

    One of the great things about travelling is that you can sometimes learn about skills that the First World has forgotten. Although I haven’t seen it in action, the Subak System for irrigation, sounds to be a environmentally responsible system. We can learn a lot from such sustainable operations, it’s also good that the rice farmers take responsibility for ensuring that its run fairly.

  3. Angela Richardson says:

    Great tip on going early and renting a scooter to get there. I hadn’t thought about a licence for one of those, good point.That’s when I’d like to go though, before the crowds when it’s more tranquil so you can really appreciate the atmosphere and the view. My partner’s friend moved to Bali about two years ago now so I imagine he’s been to Tegallalang a few times. He loves the place, hence the move.

  4. Steve says:

    This picture really shows the advantages of drone photography. A drone can get you to angles and elevations that would be difficult otherwise. Really drones are giving us whole new ways of seeing the world, nowadays we’re getting the birds eye views.

  5. Ruby Jane says:

    I’ve read about these rice terraces in Tegallalang before, I imagine those are one of the biggest tourist hotspots there. Never would have thought rice cultivation could look so beautiful. So every farmer owning one of these sawahs has to sign up to a specific agricultural society to get the right amount of water for irrigating the land? I guess that’s a good way to make things a little more equal and stave off potential water shortages.

  6. Kate Comer says:

    Great tip on getting there early in the day. Later on when the tour buses roll in to see the rice terraces it can get hectic. Beautiful photograph and I wish I could fly a drone!

  7. Percy Nguyen says:

    Bali never fails to amaze me and I always find the island so marvelous. There are so many beautiful sceneries that will make you love the country even more. They have these stunning beaches with crystal clear waters and amazing sunsets, not to mention, the accommodations are very affordable even the 5 and 4-star hotels. You can really loosen up, relax, and forget all your troubles. I’ve had the opportunity to visit the rice terraces and go on their famous Bali Swings (by the way, there are so many around the region). It actually reminds me of the Banaue Rice Terraces in the Philippines. They’re very famous as well and worth a visit if you are into nature and venturing into far-off places. Both require you to travel on the road for hours, though Banaue takes longer.

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