Pure and Au­then­tic Bali

Indonesia Expat - - Content Page - BY STEPHANIE BROOKES

Is­tood poised at the top of the Kin­ta­mani vol­canic rim with my trusty two-wheeled moun­tain bike ready to take on the thirty-five kilo­me­tre down­hill ride, from the top of the vol­cano down to Ubud. The sweep­ing views over­look­ing Mt Batur with its shim­mer­ing crater lake cra­dled at its base, gave me all the mo­ti­va­tion I needed to embrace this ex­cit­ing chal­lenge.

I fol­lowed my cy­cling guide at a steady pace and weaved my way through small vil­lages shar­ing the scenic quiet roads with the vil­lagers. Along the way the ru­ral scenes made my heart smile. I passed by duck farm­ers with their long bam­boo poles point­ing the way with a white flag on top, their gang of ducks trail­ing be­hind. I cy­cled through vil­lage after vil­lage of rich green rice fields framed by groups of in­dus­tri­ous women, thresh­ing rice by hand and sift­ing the grains with gi­ant bam­boo bas­kets. I hardly passed through any towns, which made me feel con­nected to tra­di­tional vil­lage life and the seren­ity and slow pace of ru­ral Bali life. Beau­ti­ful women dressed in bright cer­e­mo­nial fin­ery with lace white tops and brightly coloured sashes mak­ing their way to the tem­ple passed by me. They walked in pro­ces­sion, sin­gle file, car­ry­ing tall fruit tow­ers on their heads, which made for ex­tra­or­di­nary photo op­por­tu­ni­ties. By trav­el­ling at 10 km per hour, I felt like I was mak­ing in­ti­mate con­tact with what I could see, feel and hear. The tem­ple bells call­ing in the dis­tance and small quaint lanes made me feel like I was dis­cov­er­ing the au­then­tic Bali, and open to im­promptu mo­ments that came along.

I stopped in a small vil­lage and talked with a young Ba­li­nese man named Kadek, who was clang­ing away on some an­cient look­ing cym­bals. “It’s called a game­lan,” Kadek ex­plained, “It’s very com­plex and is made up of a so­phis­ti­cated ensem­ble set of in­stru­ments. These gongs and drums have been played at our tem­ple cer­e­monies for many cen­turies. They date back to the very be­gin­ning of Bali.”

Kadek ex­plained that the game­lan is played at wed­dings, fu­ner­als and rites of pas­sage as well as other cer­e­monies. Game­lan is mas­tered by mem­ory, by heart. Kadek in­vited me to come back the next day to join in his fam­ily tem­ple birth­day cel­e­bra­tion. Not only would I hear the game­lan played, but I could also meet the shadow pup­pet master and watch the Wayan Kulit, the an­cient In­done­sian art of shadow play.

“No need to bring any­thing, we have pre­pared plenty of food, and we wel­come guests. In fact, it is our great hon­our to share our cus­toms with a for­eign guest.” He quickly gave me his Face­book name, added me in his phone and I made a prom­ise to re­turn.

I found that ev­ery­where I went in Bali, from the ho­tel concierge to the lo­cal fruit seller at the mar­ket, the con­ver­sa­tions which I engaged in al­ways seemed to come back to cul­ture and tra­di­tion. Ba­li­nese tra­di­tional life is what you ex­pe­ri­ence out­side of the main tourist ar­eas of Kuta, Nusa Dua and Seminyak. From what I ex­pe­ri­enced, Bali life is very rit­u­al­is­tic and steeped in Hindu re­li­gious prac­tices. For me, every day seemed to be another his­tory les­son, which would slowly un­ravel in a nat­u­ral way. Bali is, in all essence, a liv­ing cul­ture.

The is­land has over 20,000 tem­ples and shrines. For such a small is­land (153 km x 112 km), one is bound to run into a cer­e­mony of some de­scrip­tion. All you need to at­tend a cer­e­mony is a sarong, a long sash and a top that cov­ers your shoul­ders. Men wear an udeng – the Ba­li­nese male head­dress. If you choose to travel around Bali with a car and a driver, these are pretty much a given item, tucked away neatly in the back of the car, at the ready for an im­promptu mo­ment. When you catch sight of a line of women walk­ing down the road, with of­fer­ings on their heads, all you need to do is join the pro­ces­sion at the back, and you will likely end up at a tem­ple where you can join in the cel­e­bra­tions and ex­pe­ri­ence the cul­ture. As a for­eigner you are wel­come to join a tem­ple prayer ses­sion. If you are lucky, and the tim­ing is right, you can catch tem­ple danc­ing and plays be­ing acted out. These cer­e­monies often go late into the night, many past mid­night.

My cy­cle tour fin­ished with lunch, in­clud­ing a tra­di­tional Ba­li­nese salad with green beans and sprout ( urab), tempe with del­i­cate spices, tan­ta­liz­ing spicy shred­ded steamed chicken, sa­tay on bam­boo skew­ers with peanut sauce, and steamed veg­eta­bles cooked in co­conut. This was served on a pile of steam­ing or­ganic red rice. Our bev­er­age was my favourite, fresh young co­conut wa­ter served in the shell, a nat­u­ral en­ergy drink and elec­trolyte re­place­ment. We all hailed a co­conut wa­ter ‘cheers’ to cel­e­brate our ac­com­plish­ment of com­plet­ing the ride.

My next mis­sion was yoga. It seems on every street cor­ner in Ubud, a yoga stu­dio is of­fer­ing the lat­est trendy classes like power yoga, fly­ing yoga, war­rior yoga, pranayama and kun­dalini tantra yoga. I found my­self walk­ing to­wards ‘ The Sari Or­ganic Path­way,’ which is well sign­posted from the centre of town, wend­ing my way to the Yoga House, a yurt shaped build­ing si­t­u­ated in the rice fields.

Sheila, the owner, of­fers classes five days a week and refers to them as yo­gaforevery­one. In­deed, it was. This easy-flow yoga class catered for ev­ery­one’s anatomy and abil­ity, and be­cause we started our class with a short self-in­tro­duc­tion, Sheila knew our lev­els and ad­justed for this.

Our small group of yo­gis was com­prised of peo­ple from Ja­pan, Swe­den, Ger­many, Aus­tralia, New Zealand and the Nether­lands. As I eased into my gen­tle flow yoga class, my view was framed by three stun­ning vol­canic peaks fan­ning out from the yoga plat­form and the ter­raced lush rice fields spread be­fore me like a liv­ing green car­pet. By be­ing amongst na­ture, in the out­doors in this idyl­lic set­ting I felt deeply con­nected to the mind, body, spirit essence of the mo­ment.

As I prac­ticed my yoga poses, I was ac­com­pa­nied by the soft rhyth­mic sounds of the jun­gle that sur­rounds Ubud, which seemed to keep time with the mantras we re­cited through­out the class. In the late af­ter­noon I headed off for another jun­gle ex­pe­ri­ence and as the sun set across the rice fields of Pe­jeng Kan­gin Vil­lage, on the out­skirts of Ubud, I was wel­comed into the home of Putu, who is an Ubud Vil­lage

Plate host. This is a new con­cept in din­ing, con­nect­ing trav­ellers who share lunch or din­ner at the home of a lo­cal fam­ily. A beau­ti­ful cul­tural con­nec­tion over food.

On ar­rival I had a tour through Putu’s or­chard and met her two enor­mous pigs and lone brown cow. Din­ner was a suc­cu­lent af­fair with siz­zling chicken sate on bam­boo sticks and steamed tuna baked in ba­nana leaves, ac­com­pa­nied with a pile of fresh or­ganic veg­eta­bles from Putu’s gar­den and fin­ished off with tra­di­tional black rice pud­ding and fresh co­conut cream.

I spent the next morn­ing walk­ing in the shad­ows of Gu­nung Kawi, an an­cient tem­ple com­plex 20 min­utes North of Ubud amongst seven-me­ter high tem­ple tombs known as the Queens Tombs. My ami­able guide, Wayan was ex­cel­lent com­pany, and took me to a med­i­ta­tion cave. He waited out­side. He gave me just the right amount of in­for­ma­tion about the tem­ple his­tory and then gave me plenty of space to feel alone to soak in the mys­tic vibe of the tem­ple com­plex.

I found Ba­li­nese peo­ple to be very gen­tle and in­tu­itive with every en­counter I had. Whether that be by chance meeting with a game­lan player or spend­ing time in an an­cient med­i­ta­tion cave. The famed is­land­oftheGods breathes with an even rhythm and wel­comes the cu­rios­ity of a stranger to ex­plore a very pure and au­then­tic Bali.

Things to do/see

Ubud Vil­lage Plate Have din­ner with a Ba­li­nese fam­ily in their home. A link to a cul­tural cui­sine ex­pe­ri­ence with a lo­cal fam­ily and you, the trav­eller al­lows you to ex­pe­ri­ence Ba­li­nese cul­ture and hospi­tal­ity in a home set­ting. You can have lunch or din­ner, add a cook­ing class or the mar­ket tour ex­ten­sion.

Web­site: www.ubudvil­lage­plate.com

Guide and Driver Ke­tut San­tosa (San Bali Trans­port) Email: kt­san­tosa@gmail.com Face­book: Brader San­tosa

IM­AGE BY DAVID MET­CALF ( WWW.DAVIDMETCALFPHOTOGRAPHY.COM)

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