On to the next island, this one uniquely Hindu, on our “Java & Bali: Indonesia’s Mystical Islands”, tour by Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT). An hour flight from Java, Bali welcomes tourists with a thoroughly modern airport in the capital city of Denpasar, yet sits very close to villages, rice paddies, and dense forests rich in cultural traditions, like gamelan orchestras, intricate costuming and make-up, dramatically choreographed dance, and shadow puppet theatre. The locals are quick to draw you into their practices.
Ubud, in the Central Highlands is famous as an arts and crafts hub with many workshops and galleries in town and nearby villages designed to teach the details of these beautiful arts. On a luxury tour during very high heat, we appreciated our boutique hotel with outdoor swimming pools for cooling off!
Early in the morning we crossed the very calm lake Batur in small boats arriving 1/2 hour later at the remote and isolated traditional Bali village of Trunyan. Squeezed tightly between the lake and the outer rim of Batur, an almighty ancient Kintamani volcano, the views were outstanding in every direction. The Trunyanese lead a conservative, pre-Hindu way of life with ancient, neolithic customs and a very definite avoidance of outside influences (photo below is credited to Lee Makela).
Later, our boats took us further up the shore to the local cemetery where the Trunyanese custom is to lay out the deceased in bamboo cages to decompose; strangely there is no stench. A macabre collection of skulls and bones were on the stone platform and in the surrounding areas. Perhaps the strong perfumed scents from a nearby enormous Taru Menyan tree was masking the scent of decomposing bodies?
Walking distance from our Ubud hotel is the famed Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, a world of shadow and dense forest with hundreds of cheeky monkeys. Keep hold of your dark glasses! (Long-Tailed Macaque – above roaming wild and free). The magnificent forest also contains many temples sacred to the Balinese and essential to maintaining a spiritual connection between nature and people. Below is a colossal Banyon Tree attempting to engulf the ancient Dragon Bridge and even tourists crossing the gorge.
On the northwestern coast we stayed at a cozy beach hotel that gave us an opportunity to experience small village life the following day; up the hill at the Tiga Wasa Village set on lush hilly farmland, we visited the local village school where many young children were actively learning; there we participated in a class with giggly children learning math. It was quite refreshing to see the local government and the OAT’s charity arm, Grand Circle Foundation, working together to enhance the students’ quality of life with the installation of a new fresh water system and a new library to ensure healthy and intellectually challenging futures for these bright young scholars.
Our final hotel stay was in Sanur, located by a beach near Denpasar in southeast Bali. The Balinese revere water as a symbol of life and purification; we visited a famous holy water temple, Tirta Sudamala, deep in grove of upland trees in the center of Bebalang Village, to tickle our spiritual side and purify mind, body and soul.
I must admit that I felt somewhat enlightened as I walked inside, surrounded by the greens of the jungle and the growing moss on the temple stones. Chants and prayers were echoing all around me, mixing with the sound of water trickling from the walls (photo below). Wading into these cleansing holy waters was a soothing and cleansing ritual regardless of your religious or spiritual leaning. The water then proceeds down to the village to become the primary source of drinking water, providing internal spiritual cleansing as well.
Our last OAT stop was the Uluwatu Temple, a Balinese sea temple, one of six key temples believed to be Bali’s spiritual pillars; it is renowned for its magnificent location, perched on top of a steep cliff 200 feet above sea level.