Bali has long been known as paradise to travellers. Our first sighting of this Indonesian Island from the air is a breathtaking vista of royal blue sea rolling towards golden sand lined with coconut palms, and a lot of
hotels in Bali have windows facing these beautiful views. But all this will have to wait...
After landing in the coastal town of
Denpasar, my husband Rick and I immediately travel into the interior's dense jungle and to Sayan's Four Seasons Resort, which by the way is where Julia Roberts puttered about, when not in the nearby town of Ubud sitting in the magical presence of medicine man Ketut Liyer during the filming of
"Eat, Pray, Love".
In our own visits to Ubud, we uncannily find the spirituality of the gentle Balinese people rising like an aura from the public temples and small shrines to be almost tangible. Ninety-five percent of the population adhere to Balinese Hinduism, honouring the same gods as India's Hindus; though locals are quick to point out they have one supreme god -
More prominent in the everyday life of the Balinese is the continual presence of ancestral spirits and myriad of powerful Balinese gods, arising from a strong animistic belief of good spirits living in high places, and demons under the sea, while humans try to balance these forces in the middle world with daily offerings. We watch worshippers placing baskets of flowers, rice and sweets on temple and shrine altars for benevolent spirits, and walk in hop-scotch fashion to avoid stepping on baskets placed along sidewalks for evil entities.
Bustling markets dot the route to the
Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. Outside the entrance ladies sell bananas to feed the monkeys. I purchase a half-dozen, while noting signs recommend tossing, instead of holding bananas while feeding, and further advise a park attendant be on hand.
Suddenly, a large broad-shouldered male monkey flies out of nowhere aimed at my bananas; my flash reaction is to toss the whole bunch. He scoops them up and runs to a nearby ledge to devour them, while Rick expounds, "Why'd you do that?"
Banana-less we start through the sizable park of ancient temples amid thick foliage. The
Balinese Macaques (also called long-tailed Macaques) are at all sorts of monkey-business - eating bananas at the hands of less edgy visitors, munching on chunks of coconut supplied by park staff, swinging from trees, sitting nonchalantly with legs splayed, tending to rascally youngsters.
Stone steps descend to the Bathing Temple. We become drenched in the sauna-like cocoon of towering trees that let in only squints of sunlight. Stone monkeys dating back to when the temple was built in the mid-14th century appear as Chia Pets, with woolly coats of moss and lichen. We move along to the main temple standing like a massive sentinel with statues of gods and spiritual beings.
From the Sanctuary dirt paths take us to artisan villages, each with its own specialty of hand-made crafts - one for wood carving, another for paintings and beadwork. Other villages produce stone carvings, batik cloth, and jewellery.
Another day's excursion is to the ancient monuments of
Gunung Kawi with our driver/guide Mr. Devi. A stairway descends to a river and lush valley where our eyes feast on ten rock-cut shrines; each 7-metre-high and chiselled into the cliff face. They are believed to be memorials for members of 11th century Balinese royalty.
Leaving this site, Mr. Devi aims his SUV up surrounding hills for a panoramic view of rice terraces. Spectacular lime-coloured paddies stretch out like an irregular patchwork quilt for an indeterminable distance.
Mid-week we move from the interior to the Four Seasons Resort on Jimbaran Bay. We are thrilled at the resort's special event of classical dancers performing to the beat of
"gong" music (a traditional collection of musical instruments). A welcome dance by tiny girls, a Balinese warrior waving a dagger, and a women's temple ritual are enthralling displays of intricate hand, feet and beguiling eye movements.
Jaunting into the nearby town of Kuta, we join surfer dudes and sun-browned tourists to frolic in the warm waves, meander down streets of kitschy shops, and kick-back in neat cafes and restaurants.
No matter what activity the day holds, the fuss about sunset is contagious - and proves to be an event unto itself. Visitors and locals flood the beach in droves, equipped with folding chairs, blankets, picnic lunches, and beverages. Sales are good for hawkers with baskets of snacks and souvenirs. The crowd emits "oohs" and "aahs" as Mother Nature splashes the fading-blue sky with sultry oranges, rosy pinks and startling yellows for the grandest extravaganza.
We bid farewell to this utopia, knowing Bali will long be remembered for its serene atmosphere, remarkable culture, and sensational scenery, truly an earthly paradise.
Irene Butler writes for Canadian and US newspapers and magazines. She has trekked thru 69 countries with a focus on culture and history and off-the-beaten path travel.
Indonesia's archipelago is comprised of 17,504 islands with a total population of 237.6 million (1 of the 10 most populated countries in the world). Java is the largest and most populated island, with 58% of the country's population, including the 9.5 million in Jakarta, Indonesia's capital. Bali Island is off the SE tip of Java; population 3.9 million (2010 census).
The official national language is Indonesian (a form of Malay), but 737 native languages are spoken by the numerous ethnic groups. 88% of Indonesians are Muslim; Balinese Hindus make up 2% of the country's population.
All travelers to Indonesia must be in possession of a passport that is valid for at least six months from the date of arrival, and have proof (tickets) of onward or return passage.
Visa on Arrival - valid for 30 days to nationals of 63 countries (extendable for another 30 days) - see particulars at http://www.indonesia.travel/en/travel-information
Air - international and domestic airlines fly to Bali.
Bus/Ferry - numerous bus companies have daily bus & ferry combo packages from major cities in Java to Bali. Ferry services also run between other major islands and Bali.