The so called tourist trap, which I was very happy to fall into. This location is basically an island in the geographical sense and the religions one too. It is a Hindu island, in a Muslim country and moreover, Balinese Hinduism is different from the Indian one, but I still haven’t finished my reading on that.
My base camp was in Ubud, for the whole stay in Bali. After 2 days I finally made up my mind. The lodge owner and the staff were very kind and helpful, made me feel welcome. I decided to stay with them. Besides, the place seemed to be an island on a island, since it had its own micro climate being on the hill top, as well as a good location. The island is not that big, something like 300 x 400 km, thus this is a pretty good point for day trips to whichever corner, as well as a place well known for its cultural richness.
One of the Balinese women working In Da Lodge, I think the owner’s SO, made a very sweet remark on me, while examining my stature. With a genuine smile and a scrutinizing look, she turned towards the owner and said: She’s small, like us! :) Balinese women are also in the range of 165cm, thus only completion was left to be fixed!
I spent the first day strolling along the 2 – 3, main streets of the ‘city’. I started off on the back door ‘shortcut’ that I landed on after I tried to follow the instructions the lodge owner gave me to the Monkey Forest Sanctuary. Of course I got it wrong at some point (I think, but not that sure anymore) and ended up on some country road with some houses and half mad street dogs passing me by, on your way to the even crazier monkeys!
Eventually, I got off the paddy fields, and I made it in the end to my first destination. Honestly, I did not find that corner of Ubud very attractive, even though people seemed to enjoy it. Monkeys everywhere, all the same, sometimes fighting on food and increasing your changes to land in the middle of that fight, other times just picking fleas from each other. Thus, I moved on pretty quickly.
On the way back I realized that my little shortcut not only gave me the wrong first impression of Ubud, but the fact that I also missed the whole Monkey Forest Road (which is very nice btw. with shops, restaurants and cosy cafes). I took Hanuman Street (the monkey warrior in Sanskrit epics) on the way back and even though it was a long walk, I enjoyed it and it sort of brought my hopes back about the place. Balinese cities are quite small, and the infrastructure is missing. The pedestrian walks are with many ups and downs, that could cause inattentive tourists to bite their tongues or to eventually trip, or even worse, the sometimes missing concrete slabs could easily break a leg.
This detail is in perfect harmony with the local concept of traffic, which besides being on the wrong side :), is full of scooters and in the same time slow. Higher speed than 50-60 is pretty rare. Thus the pace of life is slower here, but this is also due to winding, narrow roads in general. Besides, locals don’t really have where to rush. They are pretty rigid regarding mobility. This was a trend also in Kota Kinabalu region. People are happy living their lives in the same place as born. Then I guess Switzerland is not to be criticized anymore… .
The general feeling on this part of my vacation, was indeed a vacation, more relaxed and with a high dose of ‘things will work out one way or another’ attitude. It is very sad though to learn about the lack of education among youth. I learn that high school is mandatory, though, I see most of the men and lads on the streets doing nothing… or lightly harassing tourists with taxi service. They are also kind though, when passing by at least I always got a Hello and a smile.
Not entirely true that they don’t do anything. Actually they are very skilled wood carvers. In Mas, a small village nearby Ubud, they work with ebony and other interesting woods (2 colored ones like in Rama and Sita sculpture here).
The population of this island is much better at sculptures and painting. Besides gorgeous landscapes, they dye batiks with local motifs. Thus the sarong here has different patterns as the one is western Indonesia or in Malaysia. The most often colors are red, dark blue and white, the colors of the three main Hindu Gods —Brahmā, Vishnu and Śiva. Plus yellow/gold, for Mahadeva.
The local culture, like Asian cultures in general, it is also rich in stories, mythological figures that fight the bad, symbols, etc. . It all revolves around religion. People start their day by giving thanks for life’s richness and they prepare offerings. Therefore canang saris will be lying around on the side walks and in front of the places that are believed to be inhabited by spirits. This one must be a very good form of the spirit, holding a gada –symbol of bravery.
Besides the daily offerings, praying and purification is also very important part f the culture. Thus I ended up visiting a few temples here too. Goa Gajah (TentativeUNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site), Gunung Kawi and Pura Tirta Empul. Pura means Hindu Temple. The latter one I liked the most. This is the place where people go for purification. They prey and then they get blessing and spiritually ready for purification, in the holy water.
These rituals for me are very attractive, since it is all new, full of mystery and curios significances. Thus, the most impressive and straightforward means for discovering the beauty of this culture were the temple dances. Each night, there would be 7-8 temple dances performed in different temples located in various corners of Ubud. These dances depict ceremony fragments that at their turn rely on Sanskrit epics. I had the chance to attend 2 of such dances (they rotate between temples). They were both amazing experiences, the Kecak fire and trance dance and the Legong dance. To my knowledge, temple dances are performed only in Ubud, thus the cultural center of Bali.
Besides the dances, they play a sort of shadow puppet theater called wayang kulit, designate by UNESCO to be a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. This was also a very cute, interesting experience. Right before the lights went off, a cicak was hunting insects around the light bulb.
Pura Ulun Danu Bratan was the last temple to visit. It is situated in a region of high fertility, thus the name of the lake, Lake of Holy Mountain. The pagoda-shaped shrine which is found in almost every Balinese temple, is named after Mt. Meru, a sacred Hindu peak, considered the home of the Gods. The importance of the God being worshiped is indicated by the number of roofs, which is always an odd number, with a maximum of 13. The 11 roof pelinggih meru, followed by a 3 roofed pelinggih meru, are dedicated to Wisnu and Dewi Danu.It is important to notice that the main feature of the meru is the accurate, proportional construction technique, as well as the decorative effect it has, both symbol of the local wisdom and traditional Balinese architecture. Another important feature of the merus is the roof construction, which is made of non-ordinary palm leaves. The palm trees producing these dark leaves are used only for meru roof top construction, whereas the standard ones will be used for producing book covers and paper.
Good, a last edifice that I visited, was Tirtagangga Water Garden, the former Royal residence. It is not used anymore, thus it feeds the tourists… like me. Nice complex of pools and floral ponds, mostly featuring Lotus flowers, symbol of beauty, prosperity, and fertility. Balinese scripture Danghyang Dwijendra calls Bali the Padma Bhuwana, or “lotus flower” of this planet.
So much spirituality must be follower by purification, but this time it was a corporal one, namely at the hot springs from Air Panas Banjar. Very nice place for a bit of relax, and an extra opportunity to get glance at how Balinese people enjoy nature’s gifts. There are actually 3 pools, with water at various temperatures. Very …. exhaustive experience, by the time I got back at the end of the day I was dropping tired in my bed.
Besides the cultural beauty of the island, Bali has more to offer. The other part of the trip concerns flora lovers. The abundance, variety and beauty of flowers is wonderful! Besides the colors, each flower delights the olfactive senses with a distinct, soft and very pleasant fragrance. Most of these flowers you will find in offerings and the most common ones are Ylang-Ylang, Frangipani, Cempaka, and the rest of them that are used as spices (Ginger Flower) or ornamental (Heliconia).
But not only flowers grow on this island. It is also a source for Coffee Bali , cinnamon, pepper, chili, vanilla, cloves, and naturally fruits like ca-ca-o (or cocoa), pa-pa-ya, ba-na-na, co-co-nut, a-na-nas (pineapple), and probably some more repeating syllable named fruits –interesting naming trend :). Nyoman told me that in Bali, and in Asia in general, they give names very easily. E.g. the child could wear the brand of the car it was born in — like in Life of Pi. We made a stop at the Oka Agriculture plantation, where we had a degustation of various coffees and teas. Seems like tin Bali there are many farms to live off of agrotourism. They offer most of the time Balinese coffee–Luwak coffee processed by the Luwak :), lemongrass, coconut oil products, as well as chocolate but what I loved the most are the essential oils. They can be used as perfume and they really last for long. At least the Champaka, Jasmine and Night Queen that I purchased from Oka, last a whole day and are very pleasant. The more recently purchased one from Teba Sari –rose is wonderful, but not as long lasting as the previously mentioned ones. Will see how the rest of them turn out to be.
Aaaand finally, we’re getting there, the paddy fields. And this is a hard photo choice! There are so many beautiful fields, of a mesmerizing crude green, wonderful. Bali is good at this as well, but where does all that amazing green come from, besides the mountain water? as a matter of fact, from its 3rd UNESCO stop over, Bali’s traditional subak irrigation system as a World Heritage Activity! All the rice terraces are beautiful, but the ones from Baturiti… well see for yourself.
My journey ends with a nice day of snorkeling near Amed and I owe a big Thank You! Nyoman, my friend and driver, for all the teaching and the wonderful places that he showed me during my stay in Bali.
More pics here.