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TRAVEL BLOG ABOUT BALI
As I departed Bali, I promised myself that I will be back again. It is a place that made me feel at home. What is that thing(s) that makes people feel at home? Is it the people, or the exotic destinations or a mix of both? I reckon it is a mix of the above and the experiences YOU want to have. It all boils down to the kind of experiences one wants to have in life.
As I approach mid-life, I am asking those deeper questions, some existential (I’ve been asking them for a long time), but I am also asking the ones that will make me have the kind of life I want to live. You see, we all have limited time on earth.
I knew all that I wanted to see and do in Bali; at the same time, I was open to new experiences. I sure was looking for some spirituality. If you are looking for some good bars and white sandy beaches (or black sandy ones), you will find them too. Before you get all excited about Bali, here are some important facts about Bali that will give you a clear picture-
- Bali is a big island: around 5,800 square kilometers.
- Traffic can be extremely bad, especially near the airport area, Kuta, Seminyak and central Ubud area.
- The three most famous temples (everybody wants a picture in front of them; I got some too) are extremely crowded during the day and in the evening; if possible, go as early as possible to beat the crowds and the heat. I went to one of them around 0830am and there were only 4 or 5 people in that area.
- Keep a sarong in your handbag as almost all temples will require you to wear one before you enter the temple; gentlemen too need to wear one.
The gentleman, Wayan (Wayan means the first-born/ eldest child in Balinese; this is a common name), who looks after the villa that I stayed at, was suppose to pick me up from the airport (an extra $25 USD). His brother-in-law actually picked me up (his name was Wayan too :-D) and took me to the villa that was 2 kilometers from the monkey forest and around 3 kilometers to central Ubud area. Day one was more about relaxing around the villa and chilling out near the pool. I met another Australian lady, who was staying in the villa next to ours.
Dinner was served in our room and as per our liking; however, next day- I was more interested in discovering all about the Subak irrigation system, the age-old, UNESCO’s cultural heritage system, that the Balinese culture has kept intact till now. The most extensive rice terraces are in Tegalalang region, but you may check out the ones in Jetiluwih. The reason Subak is worth paying attention to is because of “Tri Hita Karana” philosophy- humans, nature and Gods coming together. Every rice field will have a temple and the division of labor is not only well-marked but also well-distributed. Community is an important part of Balinese life, and so is it for these rice fields. Leave a few comments below and we can keep this conversation running about Subak.
These rice fields are becoming quite commercial; you will find swings in every nook and corner of these rice terraces; for the adrenaline jukies, this is the perfect lush-green place to get that high; however, you can walk around this place for a few hours, talking to the locals and appreciating mother nature (please know that it can get really hot and humid sometimes); getting a guide will surely enhance your experience and will make you appreciate this temporal, yet spiritual process.
I then decided to try the Luwak coffee; yes, it is the same coffee that comes out with the poop of Luwak (Asian Plam Civet). It is the most expensive type of coffee in the world; google a bit if you want to know more. Cafés serving Luwak coffee are everywhere in Indonesia, not only in Bali. The one that I went to was facing the rice terraces; it was the perfect place to relax and relish a cup of coffee. The lady explains how Luwak coffee is made and then lets you try 7 different types of tea (rosela, saffron, ginger, vanilla, ginseng, cardamom and mangosteen) and 7 different types of coffee (ginger, chocolate, lemongrass, vanila, ginseng, coconut and pandanus); at this stage, you may choose to order a cup of Luwak coffee or not. A cup of luwak coffee also comes with a cup of regular Balinese coffee; this is an excellent way to compare the two kinds of coffee. A strong coffee drinker that I am, I found Luwak coffee quite mild.
There were a lot of saying about coffee on the walls of this place, but I loved this one 😀 –
I had a late lunch at an Indian restaurant ( I was craving some Indian curry) and walked around central Ubud area.
Next day’s agenda was to discover south Bali; south Bali is not only chic, but also crowded and expensive. First stop was the famous Pura Tanah lot (Pura in Balinese means temple); it is one of the nine temples, built at strategic locations to protect Bali from evil spirits. This temple is situated on the coast, and if the tides are high, it looks as if this temple is built on an island. If the tides are low, one can walk closer to the temple, but not inside the temple. Tourists, including Hindus from other countries, are not allowed to enter the temple. I happened to be there during high tide time; I sat there imagining the amount of effort and dedication the ancestors of Bali might would have put in to build that temple.
As the waves splashed against the shore, the cancerian in me got excited, just by the sound of the waves; I was submerged in tranquility. From the main entrance, after taking around 100 steps, you can take a left and go down a few more steps to the shore that is near the temple. Otherwise, you can take a right and walk around the paved pathway; this gives you a picturesque view of the temple from a distance and the gathering/ community hall. The garden around this area is well-maintained and a great place to enjoy mother nature.
After lunch in Seminyak, I thought that we will be in Uluwati area, the southern-most tip of Bali, in half an hour or so. As I was telling you earlier that traffic can be extremely bad in some parts of Bali, this was my first-hand experience; it took us more than two hours to cover a distance of 15-20 kilometers. Uluwati temple is on a cliff and like almost all temples in Bali, I wasn’t allowed to go in. However, do walk around the temple complex. Beware of the monkeys on your left, as they might pounce on you and take you belongings (I saw a monkey eating sombody’s phone cover :-P).
When you reach the central area, you can take the steps up and see the temple from outside, While you are going up, remember to stop at specific locations to admire the beauty of this temple made on top of a cliff. I got to see the sun set behind the temple and it filled me with serenity; it also made me think why these holy places are made on top of a hills and mountains. By the way, another place worth going to, at least once in a life time, is the tiger nest monastery in Paro, Bhutan.
You can take a left and walk up to the amphitheater area; Kechak dance is performed here every evening around 0730pm. Watching this performance is for free (it is included in your entry fee); if you plan to watch it, I suggest that you reserve a seat for yourself at least an hour and a half before the show starts. I decided to see it on my next Bali trip as almost all seats were taken up by 0600pm :-O
After spending 7- 8 hours in the car, stuck in Bali traffic, we decided to relax by the pool and indulge in some retail therapy the next day. As I was staying in Ubud, I decided to discover Saraswati temple, Ubud palace and pick up some souvenirs for family and friends.
I decided to get up early and go up the mountains in north Bali and discover a unique side of Bali- the twin lakes area and Pura Beratan. We were the first visitors to Taman Ayan Temple at 0830am; it was serene and the cool breeze made the parikrama around the temple a time to self-introspect.
As we drove up the mountainous region, the air got crispier and cooler. Wayan suggested that we take a detour to the botanical garden and spend some time with the other most important living thing, plants, that give us pure oxygen. This man-made botanical garden is huge, an area of around 160 hectares. Although a lot of kids and families come here to camp and use it as a picnic area, for the plant-watcher, this is an excellent place to explore and dive deeper into various kinds of cacti, orchids, palms, ferns, bamboos and tall eucalyptus trees. There is a small area near the guest house that gives you an aerial view of lake Bratan.
After rejuvenating my senses and thanking Wayan profusely for suggesting this place, we headed to Ulun Bratan temple. This is another temple, which is one the famous websites and photographs. When I entered the place, there was a ceremony that was ongoing in the temple premises. This temple is on the lake and people are not allowed to go in. You may rent a pedal boat or a speed boat and see the temple from different angles; rental place is on your right hand side from the main temple square. Take a walk to the left and you can sit in one of those sheltered areas made for tired tourists.
The night before my last day in Bali was full of excitement; I managed to find a place where I could see Legong dance and Barong dance. There are around 4 or 5 different forms of dance. I was infatuated by the stories behind both Legong and Barong dance.
So, Wayan told me that there is a 90 minutes show of various forms of Balinese Dance at Palace Plaiatan. There are a lot of places where you can enjoy Balinese dance, but try to go to not so touristy places as they get not only sold out too quickly but are over-crowded.
It was bright and sunny for the first 5 days of my trip; however, it started raining on the day I had to leave. Wayan, on a somber note, added that Gods are crying because you are leaving. I told him that I was deeply humbled by his hospitality and the hospitality of people of Bali in general. I promised him that when he will open his guest house in north Bali, I would like to be his guest.