SOUTHEAST ASIA We take the road to contentment in the Indonesian island, discovering that life there is centred on family, spirituality and general well-being
I finally took the plunge this year and booked the trip that was eight years in planning. What should have been my original honeymoon became a vacation and the destination which was exotic just eight years ago is now done to death. And yet, there is an allure about Bali that still allows it to be categorised as exotic. Strewn with temples with exquisite artistry, vertigo inducing cliffs that drop right into the ocean, ethereal rice paddies dotting the central mountains, surfing beaches to the south and a volcano to the east – Bali has something for everyone. In petite Bali nothing is more than a couple of hours’ drive away. Bali’s image is definitely maligned today, since the heavy onslaught of tourism following the phenomenon called ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. There are plenty of Ketuts and Wayans lining the streets to help hapless single women snatch their own Felipe.
Having already secured my own Indian Felipe, I categorically ignored all of those and tread a light path through Bali via Ubud. A gorgeous town set in the central hills and the centre of cultural tourism in Bali. Every temple and house is an artistic masterpiece here – intricate, functional and yet full of the simplicity that epitomizes the Balinese people. Life is centered on family, spirituality and general well-being. They build temples in their homes and prayers are a communal act. There is a singular and wholesome devotion to this very act of praying, irrespective of weather or occasion. Piety is a priority. I cannot say it is this act that assures the Balinese of their general contentment, but I do know that they are content. In my many conversations with my chauffeur I had asked him where he goes on vacation, he replied, “Why I go somewhere? Bali is beautiful. I have everything”.
Every person in a household is trained in some form of the arts. Some make a living out of it and some continue to pursue it as a hobby. Our chauffeur was a painter and sculptor, who sold his works whenever he needed extra cash or when he was out of space to store them. Art is something to be marveled at especially when it is so intricate and indicative.
Born to a culture similar to ours, the Balinese embrace art in every form. Every night at Pura Saraswati in Ubud there is a rousing performance, under the stars, of stories from Hindu mythology. Dancers in elaborate costumes, undergo years of training in a dance form that is akin to our kathakali. For an Indian, it is never too difficult to understand what the story is about; but their take on things we share in common are amazing. For instance there are no idols in any sanctum sanctorum, just thrones where gods can sit! Cremations and full moon days are grand celebrations. There is nothing morbid about death to the Balinese - they congregate at the temple, pray to god for the departed soul, and then go on to host a large party where everyone is invited! In some villages in Bali, they have prayer calls three to five times a day and there are no shlokas being chanted loudly – there is a meditative silence all through the temple and no priests. I made it a point to visit Tanah Lot – one of the seven important sea temples. I needed to witness the iconic sunset from this locale to appease the photographer in me. The temple is a tourist trap of sorts, with its entrance alley running through a market. As you ascend the adjoining hills for a vantage point, the crowds dissipate and there is a stunning silence, broken only by the sound of waves, marking a beautiful communion with nature.
On our last day in Bali, we cycled the Campuan Ridge, something that no one ever does for a reason. In fact, when we asked for a map of the 8km stretch and asked for bikes our concierge had a certain look on his face. Let’s just call it astonished for now! For a large part of the stretch I ended up carrying the bike, my camera and my bag just to avoid slipping down the ridge. The sight that awaits you is everything you dream Bali to be – lush green terraced rice fields, a gorgeous gurgling river flowing through the ravines and little thatched roofs hanging impossibly off the side of the cliff. As we got off the ridge our limbs gave up on us. It was god’s way of asking us to unwind by the pool with a Bintang and get a Balinese massage instead. As I lay feeling the deft fingers of my masseuse ease away the aches and pains, I think I finally felt what contentment, could feel like.
Getting there: There are no direct flights from India to Denpasar, Bali. Stopover in either Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore
Visa: Visa on arrival. Only USD or Rupiah accepted
Where to sleep: There are hotels for everyone – from backpackers to luxury seekers. The only tip is all hotels can negotiate to include either breakfast or airport transfers or guided tours, but book early
Getting around: There are plenty of taxis, but my personal preference would be to hire a two-wheeler for the day. If you do plan on doing that please ensure you get your International Drivers License and a personal Insurance policy
Eating: There are plenty of options in Bali when it comes to restaurants, but if you are a vegetarian, ask the waiter about the ingredients as sometimes they do tend to add fish sauce to vegetarian dishes
Not to miss: If you love to surf, head to Padang Padang near the famous Uluwatu Temple. If you are looking to get away for some quiet time on the beach, don't head south to Kuta where the milling crowds are. Instead, head north to Lovina