Cen­ter Field

An­cient cus­toms, a rich artis­tic her­itage, and warm hos­pi­tal­ity con­verge in the sym­bolic heart of the is­land, cen­tered on Ubud.


Ever since Ger­man artist Wal­ter Spies took up res­i­dence in 1927, which marked the be­gin­ning of his 11-year stint doc­u­ment­ing Ba­li­nese art and cul­ture, Ubud has drawn cre­ative types from over­seas who seek in­spi­ra­tion from the lo­cal tra­di­tions and the beauty of cen­tral Bali’s bu­colic land­scapes. While the town can get es­pe­cially busy on week­ends (and dur­ing peak sea­son) with throngs of day-trip­pers from the south, a respite from the crowds is never far away. The scenic coun­try­side here con­sists of gen­tly slop­ing hills and pic­turesque rice pad­dies, which of­fer great walk­ing and cy­cling trails. Take a tour and dis­cover the smaller vil­lages around cen­tral Ubud that still con­tain groups of ar­ti­san fam­i­lies—an ex­cit­ing way to see Ba­li­nese art in the mak­ing. Ubud is also the ideal place to watch Ba­li­nese danc­ing. The legong and ke­cak are per­formed nightly in and around the Ubud area, in­clud­ing at the Puri Saren Agung (Ubud Palace) in cen­tral Ubud. His­tory buffs who make the ef­fort to ven­ture be­yond Goa Ga­jah, the pop­u­lar ninth-cen­tury sanc­tu­ary whose name trans­lates to “Ele­phant Cave,” will be re­warded with near-empty an­cient sites. Head­ing east from Ubud, sev­eral points of in­ter­est await en route

to the UNESCO-in­scribed wa­ter tem­ple of Pura Tirta Em­pul in the Tam­pak­sir­ing val­ley. Yeh Pulu is a lesser-known spot that’s hid­den among paddy fields, with an im­pres­sive lime­stone re­lief some 25 me­ters long and two me­ters high that de­picts daily life in 14th- and 15th-cen­tury Bali. Just a short drive north from Yeh Pulu, in Pe­jeng vil­lage, the tem­ple of Pe­nataran Sasih houses the largest sin­gle-cast bronze ket­tle drum in the world—a 2,000-yearold ar­ti­fact that is closely re­lated to the elab­o­rate drums cre­ated by the Dong Son cul­ture in north­ern Viet­nam. Not to be missed is Tam­pak­sir­ing’s Gu­nung Kawi tem­ple, whose mon­u­men­tal shrines in niches mea­sur­ing seven me­ters high are hewn from a lush, steep-sided ravine carved out by the sa­cred Pak­erisan River. His­to­ri­ans have dated the com­plex to 1080 AD, when lo­cal monarch Anak Wungsu com­mis­sioned the tem­ple as a se­ries of fu­ner­ary mon­u­ments ded­i­cated to his fa­ther, Udayana. An es­sen­tial part of Ubud’s al­lure is the leisurely pace of life that seems to per­me­ate daily ac­tiv­ity. For vis­i­tors look­ing to re­lax, there are a num­ber of spas in the area that pro­vide tra­di­tional heal­ing and well-be­ing treat­ments. In fact, Ubud de­rives its name from the Ba­li­nese word ubad, mean­ing “medicine”—a nod to the many lo­cal medicinal plants and herbs now widely used in­ter­na­tion­ally—and a pam­per­ing day at their source prom­ises a spe­cial treat. Many of the prod­ucts used dur­ing th­ese ther­a­pies are made from the nat­u­ral in­gre­di­ents found in indige­nous plants, herbs, and flow­ers. For the more ac­tive trav­eler, Ubud also of­fers a range of out­ward­bound pur­suits, such as a day spent white-wa­ter raft­ing on the Ayung River. For wildlife lovers, must-sees in­clude the Bali Bird Park and Rep­tile Park in south­ern Ubud, the Bali Zoo, and the Ele­phant Sa­fari Park far­ther to the north. Nes­tled amid the thick forests of Taro, about a 30-minute drive from town, the lat­ter main­tains an idyl­lic en­vi­ron­ment for its res­i­dents. The 27 res­cued Su­ma­tran ele­phants that call the park home—along with the herd’s four Bali-born ba­bies—are doted upon by their han­dlers, not to men­tion by Aus­tralian owner Nigel Ma­son, who has grown the prop­erty from a few rice fields 20 years ago into a ver­dant re­sort com­plete with a 27-room sa­fari-style lodge. Guests who are sleep­ing over can par­take in a night sa­fari, with pachy­derm pick-up from your lodge fol­lowed by a 30-minute jun­gle trek and a din­ner un­der the stars. Day-trip­pers can also en­joy ele­phant rides, along with feed­ing ses­sions and a visit to the well-cu­rated dis­cov­ery cen­ter. And if you have time to visit only one of Bali’s mu­se­ums, make it the Agung Rai Mu­seum of Art. Com­pris­ing a trio of tile-roofed build­ings on the out­skirts of Ubud, the prop­erty is en­veloped by lush, land­scaped gar­dens, best viewed from the open-air café that dou­bles as a theater for Ba­li­nese clas­si­cal dance and mu­sic. In­side, the art on dis­play presents a re­mark­able sur­vey of Ba­li­nese and Ja­vanese works from past and liv­ing mas­ters, along­side pieces by for­eign artists who have lived on the is­land.

The coun­try­side near Ubud is known for its rice ter­races, such as those of Te­gal­lalang.

A pu­ri­fy­ing dip in the wa­ter tem­ple of Pura Tirta Em­pul.

Fam­ily-friendly an­i­mal en­coun­ters at the Bali Zoo.

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