“Row row row your boat,
Gently down the stream….
Merrily merrily merrily merrily …
Life is but a dream.”
Oars in our hand we hummed the childhood melody flowing down river Ayung donning life saving jackets and safety helmets. Literally living every word of the song as splashing water kissed our face every now and then, we marveled at the eternal beauty of mother earth.
“Stop. …Hold “ yelled the Balinese instructor sitting on the rear part of our yellow raft while we approached a small rapid.
Few feet ahead of us an orange raft almost toppled, turned 180 degrees to its left and bumped a protruding rock.
Anticipating something similar, we held our ropes tightly putting our oars aside. And down went the raft bumping the same rock knocking me off unexpectedly with my feet up inside the raft and everyone including me laughed our heart out!
The time span of two hours down the stream melted into a mind-blowing experience of enjoying the white water river rafting, amidst lush green tropical forest, a number of waterfalls and some epic Ramayana relief on rock.
Bali, ranked 3rd in the top ten Asian Islands, has many such adventure sports up its sleeves. From beach sports to rafting to trekking, you will find all under one Balinese sky. And if you are not so sporty type you can still fill your days with beach bathing, turtle island tour, temple tour, Art and craft village visit or a day out meandering through the jade green paddy fields. There is something for everyone.
The moment we were welcomed by our guide Shashtra, in white shirt, green sarong, a strange looking headgear called “Udeng” and a very warm smile, at the Ngurah Rai Airport, I knew I am going to like this Island.
The melodious sound of jegong, a musical instrument made up of bamboo and a refreshing welcome drink was enough to wear off our tiredness. And in no time I found myself watching the amateur surfers trying their hand on the long sandy Kuta beach. Gazing at the striking colours of dusk against the backdrop of the magnificent Indian Ocean I spent the entire evening on beach.
Next morning layering ourselves sufficiently with sunscreen we headed towards Tanjung Benoa. And before we could make out what was happening, we were already atop a bright yellow banana boat, balancing ourselves and chuckling with adrenalin rush as the inflated plastic towed around at high speed behind a speed boat. And it was just the beginning of an absolute exciting day ahead! Snorkeling, scuba diving, Jet Ski, parasailing, water ski, rolling donut or a humble boat ride to turtle island, you just have to name it. It’s a water sport lover’s paradise. We went to the beach early at 6Am and just lost count of time.
As the evening dawned, our body ached for a relaxing Balinese traditional Spa. The calculative strokes and the aromatic herbs did wonders to my body and marked just the perfect end to a super exhilarating day.
“Om Swasti Astu “ My travel guide greeted in Sanskrit to my surprise.
Stupefied, I somehow managed a “Namastey” joining my hands and bowing as we Indians do back home.
“This is our Balinese greeting. It means May God shine grace upon you. Are you a Hindu? “ He asked after explaining. I sheepishly replied in affirmation, wondering how much of a Hindu I really was!
Being an Indian Hindu, I always felt that the practice of Hinduism in India is at its best. And the way we practice Hinduism is the only way it is to be practiced. But, my thought was completely shaken.
The island that has a population of about 90% Hindu reflected more Hinduism on its culture than India, the largest Hindu country of the world. Right from language to traditions to religions, they were modern yet deeply rooted in Hinduism. It actually made me feel at home when I found words like “Artha”, “Griha”, “Aneka”, “Dewa”, “Guru” and many more all around Bali.
“Religious ceremonies are of paramount importance in Bali (an island, don’t forget, with seven unpredictable volcanoes on it-you would pray, too)….” ,wrote Elizabeth Gilbert in her book “Eat, Pray , Love.” And truly the Island teems with temples. Even homes, Markets, Paddy fields all have one small temple in them. But you will not be able to find any idol inside them. They follow trimurti of Brahma , Vishnu and Mahesh , but they believe in imagining them in their hearts. Offerings to god are made in small baskets called Canang Sari made up of young coconut leaf and filled with rice and flowers. But the most remarkable part was that they offer everything to their God’s. I found chocolate bars, jelly toffees, biscuits and even cigarette in those neatly arranged Canang Sari.
The houses are mostly traditionally designed and no building in Bali is of more than three storeys. There is a special architectural design for entrance gates in Bali. Most temple and houses follow this particular split gate style. As if the gates have got split open after being made. But they look very stylish and grand as they are all very intricately carved. Statue of “Dwarpala” (door keeper) flank on each side of the gate to ward away all evil from entering the house.
Due to high tide, visitors were not permitted to go to the Pura Tanah Lot temple that stood on an offshore rock. The base of this large rock is home to poisonous snakes. But watching it from the shore was quite a good bargain especially during the sunset. Big waves crashed themselves on its rough sides as the sun dipped behind the beautiful temple imparting various hues to the sky and the excited sea. The entire set up was breathtaking.
But the biggest and holiest temple of Bali is the Mother temple in the village of Besakih. It is a must if you wish to see the real Bali, beyond its beaches, water sports and pubs. Situated at 950 m above sea level at the slopes of the Gunung Agung, the mother temple is the center of religious life on Bali. Wrapping a sarong around my waist I found the two km walk up hill and then 7 terraces with stairs to climb quite tiring, but oh so worth it. The panoramic view of Mount Agung from the top was just fabulous. We were extremely lucky to find a very gentle, quietly spoken monk, who took great pride in showing us all of this ancient site, a wedding ceremony in progress and pointing out parts of the temple that were the oldest.
My last day of the Magical Bali tour was scheduled for Mount Batur, an active volcano that last erupted in 2004. Sharp at 3 a.m we started and by 4:45 we were at the top of the mountain playing hide and seek with the sun. The climb was hard but the morning smell of wet earth diffused with the citrus smell of mandarin orange made it a memorable one. The sun flirted with us with the help of the fog until finally it gave us that breathtaking view of its rise against the backdrop of the beautiful lake batur. For those who do not wish to trek can get the view of the volcano from village Kintamani.
The evening was spent in feasting our eyes on the traditional Balinese art that they have kept alive so well in this fast changing world. And you don’t need to go to any special market to enjoy the Bali Art. It’s everywhere. Most walls are carved and most houses have decorative motifs on them. To Balinese, art is their second nature. Most of these artists are farmers otherwise. It is very unusual to see such a blend of art in everyday life.
From batik to wood carvings to cane works each stall in Ubud traditional market is filled with goodies that are traditional yet contemporary in style. Though bargaining is a must and fun, I gave it up to the incredible artwork that they excelled in. I bought some wooden miniature Harley, a teal blue cane bag, a wooden sandal, some aroma herbal scrubs and an amazing piece of art carved of single tree trunk. I was so smitten by their art that I wished if I could take some more of Bali.
But, though one cannot take back Bali with him as souvenir, one can take back great memories and a lesson on Ecology. Amidst maniac development all around the world that’s changing our green earth into a concrete one, this island of love, still stands as a green patch. All thanks to the Bali government and its people who take necessary effort to preserve and protect the natural expanse, showing the modern people that if wished for, we can still keep a strong connection with nature and its sublime beauty.
– Nita Bajoria