Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Culture and times of Bali

Bali is one of the islands in Indonesia, popular among tourists as a beach resort, as well as providing a rich cultural experience to all. We did a short four day trip to Bali, and it turned out to be quite a complete vacation.

The capital of Bali is Denpasar Bali, where the airport is located. Thankfully, Bali offers visa on arrival for tourists which is a big plus. The Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) is the currency used in Bali and a big pain to use. Most dinner bills would run into millions of IDR irrespective of how much you eat. So you have to be very careful about using the bills:).

We landed at Denpasar and the first view of the country is enough to make you feel it has a lot to offer: and something very different from what you would have ever seen before.

Our first stop was the Hard Rock Hotel in Kuta where we stayed for the first day. Kuta is a beach resort town very near Denpasar. Nusa Dua is the more popular place for water sports, but Kuta is more popular with the surfers. It is however a small city, hence not as isolated as some people would like. Anyways, we went to the
beach which was very commercial and full of people. But the waves were really good to even body-surf. The sunset was lovely, as well as the different shaped kites flying in the air. We even saw some of the flights landing at the airport from the beach itself. The air strip almost runs into the sea, and the flight landing there is scary as well as mesmerising.

The Hard Rock cafe has a huge pool, with sand and an artificial
beach created. Good for some lazing around. Outside the hotel, there are lot of shops to get a good meal. Indonesian food is yum, the curries, the chickens and all. In fact most of the places we ate, the food was very tasty. Also the shops in Kuta as well as elsewhere in Bali sell a lot of colourful dresses made of batik. Very colourful and bright, they look very tempting to buy. Kuta is a nice place to chill and relax, and thats what we did!

The next day we did a full-day tour of Ubud and Kintamani and other places on the island. Our first stop was to see the traditional
Balinese dance. Since Bali is a Hindu country, a lot of the dances are based on stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharat, but are still somewhat different and unique.
We saw the Barong dance at the village, and it was a lot of fun. 

The dance had characters like Devi Kunti and her son Sahdeva though in a very different context.The Balinese dancers look very graceful and dance slowly. And the Barong (or the tiger like animal below) is a lot of fun to watch. The music is also very different, very soulful, with musicians playing different kind of instruments than the usual ones.

After the dance, we visited different local villages. Each village in Bali has a village craft, which everyone in the village learns.
So we saw the Batik painting in the village, jewellery, stone carvers as well as the wood carvers villages. The Batik paintings and jewellery pieces were pretty though quite expensive. What we loved the most though were the wood carvings, they were all masterpieces, very intricate, detailed and pretty.

Also, the villages in Bali are very pretty. There is a lot of greenery around, with rice fields and other
plantations. The houses are all very pretty and well decorated. Each house in built in a similar design, with a sloping roof and stone carvings placed outside the house. Each house also has its own temple with exquisite artwork decorating it. The houses on the way were a treat to look at as well as all the temples in the villages.

Apparently, each village in Bali has three temples, dedicated to the three gods: Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. (This is something very different from the Hinduism we practice in India, isnt it? ).

The temples are again very pretty and grand with intricate carvings and sculptures. The temples are however opened only once in six months for ceremonies,the rest of the time they are closed. We did manage
to see a temple during a ceremony actually. It looked like the entire village was there, in traditional attire, waiting for the ceremony to start. Tourists are allowed to enter the temples but you need to be dressed in the traditional sarong to be able to do that.

The same day we also visited the Batur volcano and lake, one
of the two volcanoes in the island. Apparently you can trek to the top in two hours, we however chose to just take a look at it:). Its quite a pretty place to spend some time, and an even better place to bike!

We also visited a coffee plantation, as part of the agro-
tourism being promoted in Bali.Saw how Luwak coffee is made, uggh!! That day we stayed at Ubud which is supposed to be the cultural capital of Bali, at another wonderful resort, Kori Ubud.

The next day we visited the Ubud palace and temple. And then cycled in the city and villages around. We visited the monkey forest, which is dedicated to Hanuman.

The temple in the forest is again worth a visit. Beware of the monkeys there though. They are revered as well as very naughty. I almost lost our camera there!

And then that day we drove through the market and through
the villages with the layered green fields. So serene and unreal it was! We also saw rice fields in the villages, very quiet and calm. Not at all like villages in India :)).

Passed by farmers...

On the way while biking, we also stopped at a place where women were sitting and making offerings for ceremonies using leaves. The version of Hinduism practised in Bali is quite different from what we follow in India. Its very interesting to see how something with the same roots could develop into something so different! The people of Bali are very simple and nice. They still seem to be untouched by commercialization, was quite a nice thing to see:). Also, they get very happy to meet people from India. 

A standard line we heard was ' You Hindu? Me also Hindu (with a big smile) Nice to meet you'!! They also seem to like Hindi movies a lot, a lot of them use that to strike up conversations with Indians:).Also, here is the statue in the main square in Ubud. Its funny that in the country of its birth, I have never seen a statue of Ram in a public place like this![Update: This statue is actually of Arjun, rather than Ram as I thought. Still a surprise, have never really seen a statue of Arjun in India either!]

Firangipani is a popular flower in Bali, used everywhere,
in dances, as offerings, and even by women everyday to put in their hair. A very pretty flower. Also, balinese massage is something very popular with all, guess you can try it. I didn't find it great though.

The last day we spent in shopping in the markets of Ubud. Stone carvings and Batik dresses was the most popular selling item. Not very reasonable in prices though.

All in all, a really enjoyable trip, with relaxing on the beach, cultural tourism as well as seeing the countryside. Its a really charming country, still far off away from commercialisations. A must do place for a nice week in the countryside.

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