Bewitching Bali

 

 
We deliberated, debated and ultimately decided to choose Bali for a holiday this year. The weather conditions rang warning bells loud & clear but Bali seemed to bubble over spraying its invigorating fizz. And when this bohemian wonder seemed to beckon, there was no looking back..

Soon what followed, was a sojourn in Singapore and Yogyakarta too!  

Our trip commenced from Singapore and concluded there, with Bali and Yogyakarta being the highlights. 
Yes, I’m going to wax eloquent but no, it is not an exaggeration for, Bali is really lovely, truly heavenly!
Bali―a tiny fish shaped island being one among the many Indonesian islands, soon unfolded! Different from sparkling Singapore, Bali unfurled its captivating colors―sunny yet serene, quaint yet contemporary, cordial yet shy, nevertheless singular in appeal. 
 
This predominantly Hindu island welcomed us into its fold & it felt as an extension of our own land.
Ganesha idols are ubiquitous here as are the Buddha statues.
Needless to say, South Bali can never be missed and we began our tour from Kuta ―a coastal junction connecting South Bali to the rest of it. 

Bali may seem topographically quite similar to any other beach destination, but the likeness ends just there as its myriad temples take over ―towering tall and proud, austere yet beatific & truly awe-inspiring. Their spotless lanes lined with the ever-pervading Frangipani flowers that exude a heady fragrance are another treat to the senses! 

What yet again sets Bali apart, are its humble homes that come alive with embellished engravings that  render a palatial look. It’s hard to tell apart a home from its temples.  

 

Every home here sports these decorations made of palm leaves

TAMAN AYUN TEMPLE

This twirling spire of Taman Ayun is one outstanding example of Bali’s many architectural wonders. Known as the Meru Tower, this pagoda-like structure adorns most temple tops in Bali.   

Emplaced in a lush lawn, with lotus ponds flanking the path leading to the sanctum sanctorum, the temple precincts have a few impressive visual treats strewn about. 

Exquisitely carved figurines and deities, statuettes and totems dot the landscape, lending a mythical feel of the place especially with each mien eloquent in its expressions. 

This leonine depiction as many would know, is a constant in most Asian lands.

 

Statue of a Balinese Dancer
 
 
A Sculptor at work
 
Wading through the array of artisans and their masterpieces, we came face to face with the main temple. What struck me was the keen dedication and detachment with which the priests and the craftsmen went about their work ―absolutely unmindful of the stream of tourists.
 
 
The sanctum sanctorum is not open to public but is accessible only to natives who visit for worship. Yet, the pervading tranquility is divine enough! 
 
 
 

Beyond the temple is a series of steps progressing to a placid pool bordered by bamboo groves, making it a befitting spot for spiritual reflection!

Bali is popular for its many shore-temples and in South Bali we had the option of Ulluwatu and Tanah Lot ―both renowned for their spectacular sunsets. Close to Taman Ayun was Tanah Lot and hence an afternoon visit to Tanah Lot was the most feasible, although I must suggest that if you’ve more days in Bali, you must make separate visits to Tanah Lot and Ulluwatu for the gloaming glimpse. Nonetheless, sundown at Ulluwatu was certainly splendid. 


TANAH LOT


 

 

 


The silhouette of Tanah Lot against the splendour of the setting sun had caught my attention when I first saw it in a calendar some 20 years ago & the urge to explore Bali only deepened after Elizabeth Gilbert immortalized the place.  

 

This shore temple perched on an outcrop mid-sea, is indeed one of the most iconic images of Bali. Low tide makes for an easy access wherein the perilous path continuing up to the temple makes it easily navigable. However high tides are what lend the temple its mystical and buoyant appearance.  
Unfortunately given the paucity of time, we had to satisfy ourselves with an afternoon visit. Nevertheless, the perse blue of the seas reflecting the azure of the noonday skies makes for a pretty picture, and the peculiar land formations ―some like a crouching dragon dipping into the deep waters accentuate the score. 
 
 
 
 
Souvenir shops gracing the mazes going up to the temple
Post lunch, we once again whizzed past Kuta to catch a glimpse of the ebbing orb at Ulluwatu. Our home-stay at Kuta made that option more viable.  
 
Ulluwatu
 
We reached Ulluwatu at 5:30 p.m. ―on time to survey the place before dusk fell. In fact that’s recommended as one needs to choose the best spot to capture the fleeing sol.

 

 

 

 
 
Where Ulu means ‘top’ and ‘watu’ means cliff, this shore temple perched precariously atop a precipice, with the waters of the Indian Ocean touching its feet, is equally apt for the sunset moment.    
 
The spurt of tourists grew steadily but there was ample space for all. As the sun suspended itself on the western horizon, tourists fished out their selfie sticks. One particularly interesting bunch of South East Asian girls stopped by only to hum a merry tune in perhaps Chinese, which seemed Greek & Latin to most of us. With utmost respect for visitors, & without breaching the pervading peace, the girls hummed briefly & went their way, while onlookers smiled a knowing smile! 

The mood was instantly infused with quiet camaraderie even as silence prevailed once again, but I’m sure every heart had allowed their jingle to linger. Such a hush was perceptive yet thoughtful, as tourists once again poised themselves to capture the essence of the moment. 

 

 

 

It wasn’t exactly the picture perfect moment as portrayed in the many pictures, yet it was indeed a glorious moment for us! The golden glow sprinkled on the abutting buttes & the pinkish orange that suffused the serene sea were indeed scenes worth dying for. 

 

 

 

 

As the pall of dusk began to descend, we decided to call it a day. 

 

 Roaming around the complex we discovered many interesting facets. Like talons, these bare boughs of Frangipani clawed their way heavenwards rendering an arcane ambiance to scattered relics and scattering their heavenly fragrance in the environs. 

 
Even as the super star fades away, Ulluwatu temple throbs with the stellar performance of Kecak dancers, dressed in their titivating traditional costume.
Early next morning, we left Kuta & headed for Ubud where we spent the next 3 nights. Ubud in South Central Bali poses a better junction to explore East, North and central Bali, while Kuta is a better option for South Bali tours. 
 
Ubud 
 
 
En route to Ubud, we halted at Celuk, which is famous for its silver, & Mas famed for its treen work. 
 
 
Within were artisans carving and burnishing their silver wares.
The inner chambers showcased a plethora of scintillating silver jewelry ―trinkets, bijouterie, brooches and gimcracks. They do offer a decent discount on most items. 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

Ubud 

Before checking in, we decided to make the best of the morning and what better way than to head for the palace? 

 

Ubud Palace (Puri Saren Agung)
 

At the heart of Ubud, is its stately palace.

The kori agung (Padurakshas) or the towers atop the temples here are distinct in design from the Pagoda like shikaras of Taman Ayun. 
With august gates that open into pavilions bearing gabbled Chinese roofs that house gilded thrones, profusely carved sculptures & ancient musical instruments, the Ubud Palace, ensconced amid sylvan surroundings, is a true stunner! 

 

 

Given its countrified character, it may not be the characteristic palace but it’s exotic.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We decided against visiting the famed Monkey Forest.
Pura Taman Saraswati Temple
 
 
 
Another ocular delight is the Taman Saraswati Temple that’s very close to the palace. Although somewhat similar in architecture, the drawcard here, is its lotus pond. Flanking the temple are twin lotus ponds with countless pink lotuses ―symbols of purity and wisdom!

 

 

Lotus Land
 


As with most Balinese temples, this too wasn’t open for worship. That was indeed disappointing but it seems the temple gates would be thrown open to devotees only on festive occasions. 

However, the statues and figurines here, which were quite exclusive from the others, were a source of consolation. 

 
 
 
Man made marvels of intricately carved yakshas and nymphs, mythological birds and demons vie for attention with the blooming flowers, and together they cast a spiritual spell.      
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

We weren’t really satisfied but we had miles to go & therefore packed as much as our cameras could hold and hearts could contain. And our next halt at Tirta Empul was equally rewarding.

                                              Tirta Empul
 
Tirta Empul, which means ‘Holy Water Spring’, has within its precincts a number of springs known for their curative properties. A ritual lavation here is believed to heal ailments and purify the spirit. 

 

 

 

 

 

Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the temple is steeped in mystery and culture.

 

 

Legend has it that Lord Indra in order to restore the lives of some of his men who had perished drinking poisonous water from the spring created by Balinese ruler King Mayadenawa, had dug up the earth & brought forth a spurt of holy waters. 

 

 

 

This temple unlike the others, makes it mandatory for tourists to follow the pilgrim protocol of donning a sarong before entering the bathing area.

More than a dozen water-spouting springs gush forth with cold refreshing water & to stand under their torrential stream is such a relief on a hot, humid day. A ceremonial lavation entails a preliminary orison at a shrine followed by the entry into the pool, where one must pay obeisance to each of the springs before the ritual purge.      

 

The surrounding sculptures & colossi speak volumes of Balinese architectural styles & are a photographer’s delight.

 

 

 

 

Outside the bathing area are a number of shrines ornately adorned in gold and red, and enshrined within are a number of deities of the Hindu pantheon. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Environed by a dense wooded patch, overseen by a grassy hillock, and an adjoining small pond of lotus, the temple exudes an otherworldly charm.
 
 
 
 
Dotting the temple compound are a line of idols of demigods and yakshas, each distinct in features than the rest. 
 
 
 
Unperturbed by the scurry of pilgrims & tourists, a mother duck shepherds her ducklings to the pond for daily lessons.   
 

A nearby fish pond containing koi fish, adds to the allure.  

 

 Water water everywhere!

There are bathing ponds, lotus ponds, fish ponds & there are millponds with traditional ‘Tedungs’ or Balinese bumbershoots floating about; moats with floating foyers & meres, which serve as mere reflections!

 

 

 

It’s not if you ‘must’ or if you ‘can’ but you certainly ‘will’ be compelled to allot at least 3 hours to soak in the atmosphere of Tirta Empul and drench yourself in its revitalizing cool waters. You’d surely emerge rejuvenated, for, it is undoubtedly a spa of a spiritual sort! Do not forget to take fresh clothes with you. 

The line of shops outside will make you tarry a bit, but you’d never regret that. 

 

Tegallalang Rice Terraces

Bali’s loveliness can be found on earth as well as in the shores. Swathed in serpentine swards of paddy, the Tegallalang rice terraces snaking their way around the hills are a sight to behold!  

 
 
Tegallalang is also famous for its paintings.
 
Kintamani Volcano (Mount Batur)
Bali is certainly a crowd-puller of sorts. From foamy seas to stupefying temples; serene spas to emerald green paddy fields, from its captivating Kecak to its eye-catching curios, Bali is a bagful! If you can find your nirvana alow, you could find it aloft too. That’s what a visit to Kintamani promises.  
 
 
No, we did not trek there, because a trekking trip to Kintamani will entail rising as early as 3 in the morning! However, if you have more time, you should. But, beholding the mountain in its entirety from afar was more breathtaking!!
The view of the caldera formed at the foothills and Mount Batur encircling this lake will not allow you to capture the scene on your lens, for you would want to have it etched in your memory first. 

 

 

 

Bali’s bucolic beauty is as alluring as its architectural sensations. It was impossible to pass by these rows of golden marigold found near this humble hamlet. 


 

Ulun Danu
A trip to Bali is incomplete without a visit to the most famed & iconic temple of Bali―Ulun Danu!!

 

 
Pura Ulun Danu Beratan, (where ‘ulan’ means ‘above’,) is a temple dedicated to Goddess Devi Danu. The temple afloat the Lake Beratan, is superlative and mystical in appeal more so with the veil of mist that almost always drifts about. 

 

 

Devi Danu, the Goddess of beauty & fertility is worshipped along with the holy trinity of Brahma-Vishu-Shiva. 

 

 

Obviously, tourists clicked away every bit of this magnificent temple & the mob didn’t seem to disperse.
 

 

 

 

Beratan Lake offers boating facilities but dark clouds had begun to loom so we preferred staying ashore.

 

 

 

 

 

Temple Complex

 

 

 

A stark stalk standing afloat

Lying alongside, are the Botanical Gardens. The Canna Indica in its multi-coloured forms, is a constant here.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Owing to its location in the highlands, at an altitude of 900 meters above sea-level, it’s pleasantly cooler & that afternoon while we were there, it suddenly began to rain. We were a wee bit lucky as we had finished exploring the place just then.

Aesthetics is second nature to Balinese culture, which is evident from the many elegantly designed porticoes, where we rushed to seek shelter.
 

And a mention of the Balinese populace is a must. Resourceful & industrious, they know how to make ‘way’ while the rain reigns! Huddled together inside the portico, we waited in vain for the rain to abate. Our vehicle was parked at a distance & Wanai our driver ―unreachable. But we didn’t have to wait long. Armed with umbrellas, a few local ladies marched by; they were renting out umbrellas at a price that translated to INR. 100, per umbrella LWe grabbed ours & ambled along to the parking lot, while the ladies made more bucks transporting new visitors indoors. 

‘Awesome’ is an understatement, for Ulun Danu’s beauty is simply ineffable! Looking back from our vehicle, I wondered if I’d get a chance to make a revisit..
Besakih Temple or Mother Temple―the most revered temple in Bali was beyond us that day. It began to pour & Wanai informed that Besakih, owing to a festival, was open only to locals. So we took a detour to Batu Karu―a temple frozen in time!  
 
Angseri Hot Springs
En route was Angseri Hot Springs. The skies spilt forth & we thought the hot springs would be a comfort but if you ask me, I’d advise you to skip this one. Angseri boasts of individual springs in separate rooms apart from the main spring that wells up with water from a cascade known for its medicinal properties. 
But, the sight of school boys ―boisterous & unrestrained, deterred us. Rollicking away to glory, they often spat in the pool where they bathed. Of course they were open to small talk as they were just a handful of innocent preteens but at 12 or 13 could they see reason? So we left.. J   
 
Jatiluwih Rice Terraces
Jatiluwih at the foothills of Mount Batu Karu, is another rice bowl of Bali. No tourist can traverse this strip without halting to inhale the salubrious country air. 
 
 
 
Cloaked in verdure, this paddy patch is bound to bring a smile on your face, is sure to lift your spirits & usher in an Elysian bliss!    
 
 
 
Soon, we reached the portals of Batu Karu Temple.

Located at the foothills of Mount Batukaru, the temple nestles in the lap of a forest.

 

 

Walking into the temple was like entering a time warp. The plaque bearing this writ, spelt of the temple’s ancient austerity. And we wondered how ‘our’ land, which is the cradle of Hinduism had so many rabble-rousers wrestling for equal rights!  

 

Owl-light & there were hardly any tourists present, perhaps owing to the secluded location. The local Balinese went about their rituals in a muted manner. 
 

Prayers & rituals are a way of life in Bali. The typical Balinese way of worship involves dressing up in appropriate attire of sarong or the like & supplicating in a unique way ―raising the elbows & joining both palms above the head with both thumbs resting on the corners of closed eyelids.  
I heard that orison offered to deities differed in style from those offered to the dead.  
I wonder if this is what inspired Ms. Gilbert to churn out, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’.  

 

Canang Sari ―offerings placed in plaited palm-leaf baskets 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As dusk descended, we decided to call it a day.
 
This Garuda statue & the icon of Parthasarathy or the divine charioteer are a common sight in Bali & are strategically placed to redirect traffic.   

 

Our last sojourn in Bali covered Eastern Bali. 

 

Kerta Gosa

 

Balinese penchant for water perhaps led its hydrophilous rulers to get their act together & erect several shore temples. And their ambitious projects includes some palatial marvels too, among which Kerta Gosa Pavilion or Bale Kampung is a fine example.  

 

 


 

Located in the Klungkung province, Kerta Gosa Pavilion was where the King convened a meeting with his ministers.  

 

 

Up above, the ceilings bore interesting paintings known as Wayang or Kamasan work depicting Bhima Swarga ―an excerpt from the Mahabharata. 

 

 

This art form still lives on, thanks to artists like him who sell these paintings even while juggling their work in progress.

 

 

An Engraved Egress       
 
 

 

 

This moated pavilion with floating lotus, spouting fountains & gliding kois conveys nothing but elegance!  

The Palace Doors

 

Semarajaya Museum

 

 
In the same complex is the royal museum showcasing royal chattels, reliquaries, regalia, brass ewers & urns, antique musical instruments, brass figurines & paintings.

 

 

 

 

 

 
Just across the road, lies another museum, its unmissable spire already beckoning. You could spare 5 minutes to scan its modest display.

 Seizing one gaze at Bale Kumpung, we moved over to our next stopover ―Tirta Ganga.

 

 

 Candidasa Beach followed us to our right as we drove eastward.

 

 

Tirta Ganga

A definitely drool-worthy destination, Tirta Ganga in Eastern Bali is another water palace & most certainly the most romantic of places.

 

 

‘Tirta Ganga’, which translates to ‘Water from the Ganges’, is verily an ethereal fairyland! 
On one side is a pacific pool while on the other, the pond pulsates with life as fays & fairies emerge out of the pond as if after a dip!   
 

Water abounds ― in the pond, under the bridge, spewing forth fountains, burbling from busts…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rising mannequins are sure to entice you & once you’ve taken the plunge of posing with them, you’d be stepping on surfacing stones surrounded by skimming Kois & then there’s no looking back, till you reach the finishing line!  

 

Like the fabled ‘wise goats’ that helped each across the bridge after an affray, sightseers lent a hand to help each other cross, & to take snapshots, as we took one step at a time.   
 

 

 

 

 

A sweeping view from a knoll 
 

 

 

Bird’s eye view from a restaurant
 
While tourists revelled holding court below, there were strange creatures ―some harmless & some puckish, which seemed to hold their cabal above. 
Fairies & nymphs, gnomes & goblins seemed to subdue each other ‘cloak and dagger’ in this ‘hole and corner’ sphere.   
 
We left them to their own device because we had Ujung ―the last spot on our agenda. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 Ujung (Soekasada) Water Palace
 
 
Bali’s proclivity for water has churned out one more ‘Water Palace’ ―Ujung Water Palace or ‘Soekosada’ ―another structural spectacle.
 
Across this bridge we wandered into a wonderland that was this ‘Water Palace’.   
 

 

 

 

Overseen by Mount Agung & the Ujung Beach far afield, Ujung Water Palace adjoined to a graceful garden, is a supernal paradise.    
Surprisingly it seemed to be the least visited place in Bali; even Tirta Ganga had a trickle of visitors but the crowd seemed to thin out at Ujung. Shall I say we were lucky? Barring a scatter that easily dispersed, a few yoga enthusiasts & students, the entire palace grounds were ours, so to speak. We rested awhile on the lawns, listening to birdsong before exploring the place.
 

 

 

 

 
The scent of Plumeria (Frangipani) trailed along every promenade. The fallen flowers upon the cobbled path lent a rustic charm & I couldn’t resist gathering some. I smelt some & left some where they were. 
 
I couldn’t decide if it was the floating palace that enhanced the beauty of the setting or if the pools created the magic or whether the gardens glorified the place.    
 
The colonnades connecting the Balai Gili (the Palace) to a canopy at the other end steal the show. Chiselled with delicate motifs, the passage allows a commanding view of the lakes & the gardens.  
 
 
On one side of the palace garden, is a flight of steps heading uphill to an open pavilion. Rain or shine, you must take the steps, for it is from atop that you will have a panoramic view of the place! 

 

 

 

As we began to ascend, our focus expanded. The minute trivia started to fade, even as the bigger picture began to emerge, till what ultimately unravelled, was the whole picture! Do we have a lesson here?? It was indeed our ‘wow’ moment. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The open pavilion had another pretty garden nearby, and pathways that ran into various vantage points.   

Seeking as much as there was to see & soaking in as much as we could gather, we left Ujung wondering if we’d get to see this place again, & when. 

The setting sun streaked the sea in a pinkish orange glow & the snow-white surf spumed forth crashing on the sooty stones.  

 

I cannot leave Ubud without a reference to our stay at ‘Kailash Home-Stay’ at Jalan Raya Sutami, Ubud. Remember the street name as they’ve a namesake at Ubud itself. Run by a gracious couple the place was pleasant & haimish. Their staff were a warm & friendly lot; attentive & efficient too & their food delicious. Kailash’s pool-facing rooms with spacious balconies need a special mention. 

 

Bali’s intangible beauty can be contained in cameras but its tangible booty has to be packed in cases. Shopping experience in Bali can be thrilling, given the deluge of handicrafts, souvenirs, curios & Batik.


Most tourist attractions flaunt their display but if you wish to shop at leisure or compare cost, then Ubud Market is your best bet. Bali’s wood work vies for attention with its silverware & art display. Its batik work can be found in masks & sarongs. The most famous objet d’ art being Rama & Sita, you’d most certainly buy one set. 

However, haggling is a norm here & even while you haggle with one retailer, 10 others would approach you. So while striking a bargain, do inspect your wares carefully lest you bring home a ‘Rama-Sita’ pair, with both sporting a moustache😛.

Also make sure whatever you purchase is bubble-wrapped. 
 
 
Ubud Art Mart
 
Mas near Ubud, has shops displaying its marvelous furniture & colossi. But Ubud Market is where you get tiny treens. 
 
Our hosts at Kailash own a shop with an astounding collection of furniture, showpieces & centerpieces that are colossal in proportion.  
 
 
 
 
 
This granny selling trinkets & baubles willingly posed for me.
Celuk near Ubud has its streets lined with silver shops but its backyards boast of skilled artisans & jewelers who may offer you good discounts.  
 
In South Bali, every lane in Seminyak is lined with life-size busts of the Buddha, Ganesha & other mythological deities.
 
 
 
 

Shop till you drop & when your shoulders begin to droop, sneak into any of Bali’s numerous spas for a Balinese massage. The ones in Kuta seemed more conspicuous. But those in Ubud, which were tucked away in the woods were the ones where one could enjoy some halcyon moments.   

The Balinese are an affable lot & most locals loved to hear about the Ramayana & Mahabharata from us & a staff at Ubud even expressed his desire to visit Kurukshetra in India! 

While initially we had planned 8 days in Bali, we squeezed Jogjakarta, which shortened our stay in Bali to 5 days. There’s much more to Bali than what meets the eye & a fortnight here would be ideal although some spend a month & a Russian whom I met & befriended sent me a WhatsApp message recently saying she’d be extending her stay for a couple of months more! 
 
 

This lotusland that is Bali, had completely bowled us over & bidding adieu was getting to be difficult. Very reluctantly we bade farewell to this blessed land, hoping that somewhere in the distant future we shall make a revisit & go off the beaten track to discover some more bliss.

Watch this space for more on our next stopover. 
 
 

 

 

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