Soon what followed, was a sojourn in Singapore and Yogyakarta too!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Before checking in, we decided to make the best of the morning and what better way than to head for the palace?
At the heart of Ubud, is its stately palace.
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.
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.
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.
Water water everywhere!
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.
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!
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.
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 L. We grabbed ours & ambled along to the parking lot, while the ladies made more bucks transporting new visitors indoors.
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.
Our last sojourn in Bali covered Eastern Bali.
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.
The Palace Doors
Seizing one gaze at Bale Kumpung, we moved over to our next stopover ―Tirta Ganga.
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!
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.
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😛.
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!
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.