Beautiful and bountiful Bali

Tourists Delight

Beautiful and bountiful Bali


‘You mean Balidwip?’ Now they were envious. After all, Balidwip as the island of Bali was referred to by the older generation, is regarded as ‘so far, but so near’ by Indians at large. Because though the island belongs to a country with the highest Muslim population in the world, more than 90 percent of its population are Hindus. They are very devout in their way of life and follow their faith without interference in secular Indonesia. Ramayana dance dramas play an important role in Bali’s social life as also the temples.   

With its aquamarine ocean and lush green landscape, Bali also happens to be a dream destination for tourists. The suicide bomb attack in 2002 by religious zealots on the Kuta beach mainly targetting white tourists, which killed 202 people, and followed by  another in 2005 killing 20 had dented the reputation of Bali as a tourist haven. But today, visitors are back, I found, as we landed in the Ngurah Rai airport in Denpasar, Bali’s capital.

Out in the open, Bali immediately struck me as a gentle land with mild-mannered people. In their sarongs and long-sleeved blouses, the women looked extremely graceful. Their way of greeting Om Swasti Astu, straight from Sanskrit, was another charming introduction to the land I had long dreamed of visiting.

Our resort hotel was in Nusa Dua. Its serene sea beach is lined by many such hotels, each offering a sea-view, restful massages and a variety of cuisines.  Next day, we planned a visit to Kintamani where Mt Batur, a still active volcano, and the Batur lake are the main attractions. The road was smooth, gently rising, and at frequent intervals villages came along, each adorning a temple with intricately worked woodwork for which Bali is justly famous. For a sample of this reputation you just have to make a stopover at Ubud, a craft-village where shops display exquisitely carved figures, from small to huge sizes. I choose the goddess of prosperity, our Lakshmi, done in a typically Balinese style, to take back as a memento. 

The air at Kintamani was cool; some locals were even wearing woollens. A mist covered Mt Batur peak and naturally, we were disappointed. But sun god took pity on us; there it was, looking disarmingly serene though apparently lava is still boiling inside. The first historically documented eruption of Batur was in 1804, and it has been frequently active since then.

A high point here was lunch at Grand Puncat Sari restaurant. As the eatery has glass windows all across you can get a fantastic view of Mt Batur from inside.   On way back, we made a stop at Tirta Empul temple, a wonderful example of Balinese architecture. Before entering, many devout Balinese take a bath at adjacent Tampak Siring under flowing water coming out from stone pipes. This is to wash away sins. Legend says that it was fashioned by god lndra himself.  

Another place worth visiting is the Goa Gajah cave temple, more commonly known as the elephant temple. It was excavated in 1924. Archaeologists say that these man-made caves date back to the eighth century. Above the entrance to the cave is a giant head with floppy ears, giving the impression of an elephant head, hence the sobriquet.

To the west of the capital on the Tabanan coast lies Bali’s most famous temple, Tanah Lot. It is dedicated to lord of the sea. The drive itself was picturesque with terraces green with paddy and interspersed with small village houses with their wonderfully carved wooden facades. The temple itself, perched on a small hillock overlooking the sea, gave a feeling of eternity. The approach to the temple is through a creek of the sea but during low tide you can walk down the pebbled path. So we did, stepping over stones and trickling water, while beyond, young boys were flying huge, colourful kites, a favourite pastime here. We had just about caught the fag end of the kite flying festival.

On the other side of the Tanah lot is the Batu Bolong temple. From the distance it looked as if a hole was carved into the approach path to the temple making it look like a bridge. If you are made of sterner stuff, you can pose with a python wrapped around you. Not me by any chance. By afternoon, visitors were lining the higher grounds over the sea. The  sunset at Tanah Lot is spectacular and is at every tourist package. Justly so. The road to Tanah Lot is lined with souvenir shops offering a great variety of  local products. Bargaining is expected.

A visit to Bali is not complete without a seafood dinner. I tried Ikan Bakar (fried) Tenggiri fish with chilli, garlic and lemon served with rice; it was delicious. So was Cumi Cumi Cha Sayur, calamari fish. Since the fishes come with lots of vegetables and steamed rice, they are substantial enough for a one-meal dish.  Bidding farewell to Bali creates some heartburn, but then you have to head home, however heavenly a place is.

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