Balinese magic

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SANDIP HOR finds out there is something for everyone in Bali’s enchanting environs in our December (2) 2012 issue


I am not the only one who fell in love with Bali on my first visit; there are many like me from different parts of the world. I pleasingly discovered this during my recent second visit when I came across many who were now enjoying their third, fourth and even sixth trip to this little Indonesian island. Bali bestows everything to lure holidaymakers, from sprawling beaches and wild surf to Hindu temples and a vibrant culture; from colourful markets and gleaming shopping malls to luxury resorts and an array of restaurants and cafes serving culinary delights of your choice.

Located 8 degrees south of the Equator, Bali with its awesome natural scenery, lays a serious claim to being paradise on Earth. It is a magical land that goes beyond the sun, sea and sand into multiple shades of green streaked across hillsides and spreading valleys and terraces, amid tranquil settings. The atmosphere creates a unique appeal which pledge to change one’s life as seen in the recent Hollywood blockbuster, Eat, Pray, Love.

The Balinese are very hospitable and I felt that warmth once again while checking in at the chic Vira Bali Hotel located in Tuban, south of downtown Kuta, the Mecca for tourists in Bali.  The other two areas where tourists congregate are Legian and Seminyak, the latter being a bit more stylish and trendy. A large number of sleeping accommodation is located along the beach in these three urbanised quarters, packed with restaurants, bars, nightclubs and shops. However those travellers who prefer tranquil hideouts sneak into luxurious villas and resorts in beachfront areas outside urban limits, such as at Nusa Dua, Jimbaran and Uluwatu where the reputed hotel brand Anantara has just opened an opulent haven, extraordinarily ideal for romantic escapes.

Doing nothing is a great way of spending time in Bali, particularly for those with a mission to relax and recharge their batteries. A group of holiday-makers leave their watches in the hotel safe and follow the sun from its rising till it sets. After having breakfast, sometimes on the beach, they just sit back and loosen up under the sun, gazing at the blue waters of Indian Ocean perhaps with a Bintang beer or green coconut water in hand. When bored, they go around the sheltered bays for a swim or trundle along the seaside. Some dive into a special Balinese massage for the ultimate relaxation of mind, body and soul.

The mood changes as soon as the sun comes down, with a carnival like milieu engulfing the ambience. Neighbourhoods like Kuta and Seminyak come alive with fun and fiesta. Loud music can be heard from all directions. Bartenders get busy shaking cocktails while waiters in plush restaurants keep flying like expert ballet dancers from one table to the other, skilfully balancing plates of food for guests finishing their day with a lavish meal, washed down with the best international wines. Clubs open their doors for night owls keen on continuing the ‘chill out’ period into the early hours of the morning.

However, by no means assume Bali isn’t a place that rewards the traveller who wants to plan and ‘see and do’; they can be easily kept busy for days with activities to suit their taste, as well as endless sightseeing.

Being surrounded by water, Bali is naturally a haven for aqua fanatics. All kinds of water sports and aquatic activities from surfing, scuba diving, snorkelling to jet skiing and banana boat riding, are available to keep adventure-lovers active. For shoppers, the opportunities are endless. There are large departmental stores such as Matahari, Centro and Sogo which sell local and imported goods at excellent prices. However shopping from the colourful nests in narrow alleys and back lanes is exciting, bargaining being the key element of the game. You can get designer label products such as watches, sunglasses and clothing, fake but hard to distinguish from the real ones, at rock bottom prices. However some designers such as Ralph Lauren have licensed manufacturing units in Bali, so the number of their branded shops selling genuine Polo goods at prices much lower than expected, will surprise you. And for culture vultures, the menu card is pretty long, ranging from temple hopping to browsing art at the galleries in Ubud, the epicentre of Balinese culture, or enjoying a traditional dance performance such as Legong or Kechak, the performers magical in their colourful costumes.

Bali is famous for its myriad of architecturally stunning temples which are sprinkled throughout the land, giving the island its other name, ‘Sharibu Pura’ meaning land of a thousand temples. Even every house has a small temple, demonstrating the strong religious affinity of the people. Strangely there are no deities inside; praying is mainly through the practice of century-old traditions and daily offerings of fruit, flowers and incense sticks symbolically to Hindu gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The shrines are generally quiet but on special days, large numbers of devotees gather at the local temples for worshipping through dance, music and rituals.

On my last trip I visited many of them, but the ones that impressed me were the Pura Besakih, Bali’s holiest shrine; Pura Tanah Lot, the most photographed site; and Pura Luhur Uluwatu, perched atop sheer cliffs that drop straight into the pounding ocean. These three are located in the countryside away from din and bustle of the urban quarters. I visited the temples this time again, not entirely inspired by their piousness, but more because of their vibrant ambiance and picturesque settings. Also the journey provides the opportunity to breathe fresh air and watch the rising mountains as a backdrop to the undulating, sun-kissed lush green rural landscape.

Indonesia is often described as the ‘Ring of Fire’ because of its several volcanic mountains. Some of these dot the Bali landscape and attract the nature aficionados. While heading east towards the Pura Besakih temple one can glimpse the 3142m high Guning Agung, often referred as the Mother Mountain. While traversing north west, you come across the 1717m high Gunung Batur, which with its lunar-like double caldera and a sprawling lake offer a splendid vista.

As you can realize, the appeal of Bali as a holiday destination is multi-fold and is so irresistible that when the time comes to leave, everyone feels they haven’t had enough. This creates a sense of insatiability which sows the seeds of a desire for another visit; at least it’s true for me!




Sandip Hor
Sandip Hor
Writing is a passion for this culturally enthused and historically minded globe trotting freelancer

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