Over the last few days, I have experienced both adventure and a sense of spiritual ease here on this small, tourist-infested but still tranquil island. Indeed, the Balinese are humble and dedicated people; still religiously attuned to ancient Hindu practices and beliefs, dating back to kings and kingdoms that also once ruled Java. Eminently gracious, hospitable and accommodating, their equanimity and optimistic philosophical outlooks are to be admired. Since I arrived, I have appreciated the opportunity to be shown places of special significance and learn more about Balinese culture… quite apart from the ‘enak’ (delicious) food, tropical climate, sensual pleasures, (such as shopping, reflexology and massage), and the international melting pot of places such as Ubud.
Yesterday, I visited artistic places of interest such as a silver-smith and gallery, a wood-carving centre where artists were at work and a stone-carver creating traditional Hindu statues. Though art is ubiquitous in Bali, my tour guide took me to the highest quality businesses in the area, as well as teaching me about Balinese history and culture along the way. Dressed in traditional Balinese garments, his expert guidance and warm manner made the tour all the more enjoyable. He never seemed to tire of my many questions and was easy-going about helping me practice Bahasa Indonesia; as I had no hope of speaking enough Bahasa Bali.
Suitably amazed by the grandeur and intricacy of these Hindu marvels of religious devotion and aesthetic workmanship, it was easy to tune out to other visitors climbing grand staircases or watching huge koi fish in the temple pool at Tampaksaring; easy to surrender to the tranquility – imagining Hindu monks giving offerings to their gods or huge community celebrations that still take place.
Bali is a place of stark contrasts and the juxtaposition of old and new can seem quite bewildering at times. For instance, near the Justice Hall at Klungkung is a huge Hindu statue from one of the Mahabarata stories; it stands on a roundabout, while speedy new Japanese motor cycles and four-wheel drives whiz by. In the distance, from my view in the Justice Hall complex, I catch a glimpse of a satellite dish and the top of a mosque; inside the Justice Hall and Museum, I am amazed at the complexity of ceiling friezes and intricately carved gold objects while I also witness a teacher putting her young pupils through their paces, as they learnt a traditional Legong Dance.
As I reflect on my experiences in Bali, I remember the Barong and Kris performance that I saw on my first day – with spectacular costumes and all the joy, panache and drama of a great story, well told. The gamelan performers added an integral dimension to the show and I was left feeling enriched by the spectacle. I also think about the trip up to Mount Batur; the cool air and the amazing scope of the crater of the volcano; inside it, a huge lake, with villages along part of the shore. I think about all the market stalls, roadside hawkers, sarong-clad women with baskets of fruit on their heads, Hindu flags, beautiful cows, crazy roosters and smiling school-children in brightly distinctive uniforms coming home at midday on their pushbikes or just ambling along the road.
I reminisce about a night out hearing a Balinese jazz band with an unsual eastern-European singer, who also played her violin with gusto. I think about eating nasi goreng, fried pisang (bananas) and a special dessert called ‘dadar gulung’, which my cousin introduced me to in Yogyakarta. In the Balinese version, the pancakes are greener and the taste of the palm sugar is perhaps a little sweeter.
I know that life will never be the same again after Bali; I’m sure I’ll have withdrawal symptoms when I get back home. I know I’ll miss the Balinese hospitality, the art, the food, the temples and swimming every day. Maybe, rather than get too depressed, I’ll just have to work on finding my way back.
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© Written by Kathryn Pentecost 6 May 2011
© Photographs by Kathryn Pentecost and Tim O’Callaghan of Indo Discovery Travel