Sunday, May 11, 2014


Bali evokes all the magic and mystery of the mystical East but this is only true to those who live in the West. For most of us who live in the Asia-Pacific region, Bali is such a common holiday destination that we get the usual surprised look when we tell someone we're going to Bali for a holiday. The usual question is, "Haven't you seen all of Bali?" Many of us think we have and Bali has nothing further to offer us. As my mum puts it, she can recognise every grain of sand in Bali. 

What I hope to show in this 3-part series on Bali is that Bali has a lot more to offer even to the most seasoned Bali visitor. The first part deals with Bali as any tourist knows it to be. The second part shows the darker side of Bali and if you are disturbed by graphic photos of dead bodies and a particularly disturbing photograph of a throng of villagers brandishing unsheathed machetes coming towards me and my camera, please do not read Part 2.  Part 3 will be written on the spot - in Bali itself. I will be visiting a part of Bali I've not been to and I will document on site what I see and experience.

NOTE: All photos in this blog, unless otherwise specifically stated, are photos I've taken myself and they are fully owned by me.

There is a lot more to Bali than what the average tourist gets to see. The Kecak dance is probably the first cultural activity that a tourist goes to. Next is the Barong dance. After these two dances, you probably feel you've had enough of depictions of stories from the Ramayana but you shouldn't miss the Fire Dance which is really quite spectacular. Before the Fire Dance begins, a young male devotee is blessed by a Hindu priest. By the way, all these dances have strict religious significance and they can only be performed after the participants are blessed by a Hindu priest. I once attended a Kecak dance which could not start on time and had to be delayed for half an hour because they couldn't get a Hindu priest to conduct the blessing. Let me go back to the Fire Dance. A large bonfire is built at the centre of a clearing and the boy then prances around on a toy horse (it's usually made of straw and metal) and he goes in circles and very soon he's in a trance-like state. He then begins to kick the bonfire and helpers erect barriers to stop the burning coal that is flung all about from hurting the spectators. The boy continues to dance and kick the bonfire until everything is extinguished.
 Fire dancer receiving a blessing from a priest
The boy is careful to avoid stepping on burning coals and in the right pic, you can see how difficult it is with burning coals strewn all over the clearing.

Below is a more experienced fire dancer. He kicked all the flaming coals with a great deal more energy and he played the part of an entranced spiritualist much better. At the end of the dance, I chatted with him in Bahasa Indonesia and I was surprised to see that he truly believed he was protected by the Dewi, a goddess. I was curious why it was a goddess and not a god which protected him but I didn't dare to ask for fear of causing offence. I didn't want him to throw some remaining embers still smouldering at me! But if you look at the photograph I took below, you can see that his feet looked burnt.

There is much more to Bali than the beaches. True, the beaches are beautiful but then, so are most beaches. You won't ever find gravel beaches like what you see in some parts of England. No, our beaches are always beaches of fine sand and it's always the same breeze, the same coconut trees and the same blue sea. Kuta beach used to be lovely but it became overused. You get to see the sun rise in Nusa Dua and Sanur and the sunset in Jimbaran and Seminyak. But then one might argue that you get to see the sunrise and the sunset on beaches outside Bali too and so what is there for Bali to offer?
Left: sunset at Jimbaran beach                  Right: sunset at cliff near Uluwatu.

Next we have the temples.  Naturally, on the Island of the Gods, one expects to see temples. The temples of Bali are unique but once you've seen them all, what else is there? Uluwatu is really a must-see but you've got to be careful with your glasses and other possessions. Here's where monkeys are trained to steal your glasses or camera and you will be compelled to pay someone (and he's probably the monkey's trainer) to retrieve your possessions for you for a fee. Tanah Lot is beautiful only because it's out there in the sea and is only accessible at low tide. But tourists aren't permitted in the temple so there really is no point waiting for low tide unless you want a photo of the temple at low tide. Other temples that aren't that commonly visited include Pura Gunung Kawi which is really quite impressive and Goa Gajah which is quaintly pretty.

Left: sunrise at Uluwatu                           Right: sunset at Uluwatu.

Left: Low tide at Tanah Lot                         Right: Gunung Goa.

I will not post photos of many other temples in Bali which aren't really all that special. Besakih is always mentioned as a must-see but I really don't recommend it unless you've been to Bali many times and you feel something is missing if you don't see it. Pura Gunung Kawi (photo below) is far more impressive even though my photo doesn't do justice to the splendour of the place.

Sometimes, the name of a temple sounds just like something that comes out of an Indiana Jones film and I set out one morning in Ubud for the Sacred Monkey Forest. I was eager to see the Temple of the Dead. But after trudging deep into the Sacred Monkey Forest which is actually more like a park with dense foliage, I saw this nondescript little building (see below left photo) and that was my Temple of the Dead. But true to its name, the Monkey Forest is at least full of monkeys (right photo below) but my Temple of the Dead didn't resemble by any stretch of the imagination the kind of temple Indiana Jones would steal the magical eye of Kali from. Not in the least.


And if you are wondering why I have a sarong wrapped over my trousers, many temples in Bali require visitors to be dressed in a sarong or a sash. It makes sense to buy a sarong and wear it for all your temple visits.

Now that I've dealt with the beaches,  the culture and the temples, what more is there? After all, I've stayed in hotels, villas and resorts in Kuta, Sanur, Nusa Dua, Ubud, Jimbaran and Seminyak and I have visited many other places which I've not stayed overnight in. So, really what more is there? Wait for Part 2 and you will see how much more there is to Bali that the average tourist can't possibly even dream of. Before I conclude, my "Bali Part 1" would not be complete if I did not talk about an event I attended in June 2005. It was a huge event organised by the Indonesian government and which was attended by State dignitaries. There were festivities and dancing on a large stretch of Kuta beach. Security was tight and the ceremony which was called "Kuta Karnival" was designed to show the world that Bali and specifically Kuta which was bombed by Muslim terrorists just three years before had  bounced back to life and Bali was once again the ideal tourist destination.

There was dancing everywhere.

Indonesian dignitaries releasing turtles into the sea as a mark of peace.

Sadly, 3 months after this event, Muslim terrorists launched a second Bali bombing simultaneously in Kuta and Jimbaran, killing more than 20 people and injuring more than a hundred.  For the past 9 years, Bali has been peaceful and let's hope it stays that way.

I will soon continue with Part 2 but like I've said, if you are easily troubled by vivid images of dead bodies and of villagers armed with machetes heading in my direction, please do not read or view the photos in Part 2.

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