Sunday, 27 December 2009

Island of the Gods

Bali Temple
The similarities were unmistakeable..the swaying palms, the small shacks all along the streets, the rented scooters and motorbikes thronging the roads, the many sea-food places advertising the best food in town and the swarms of European and American tourists everywhere..Bali was a larger version of Goa, India's most famous sea-side resort.


Bali has a very strong Hindu culture, in fact it has its own version of Hinduism-Balinese Hinduism. Hinduism is not a stranger to many different sects and streams, all with their own Gods and Godesses gathering under its umbrella. It's probably the most diverse religion in the world, and Balinese Hinduism, with its presiding deity, Acintya, is one of these many forms.

Bali TempleThanks to this religious influence, Bali has a multitude of temples, with their own unique architecture, motifs and ornamentation. The dwarapalas or the temple guardians at the gates here are some of the best I've seen. With their fierce faces and fangs, they reminded me of Chinese dragons and the ornate statuary of South India at the same time.

Here's a closer look at one of the Balinese temples, bang in the centre of Kuta, the town close to the Ngurah Rai International Airport. All around the temple, which formed a largish traffic circle, the evening traffic screamed and honked and fumed, and shops buzzed with people. And yet, right in the centre was this calm little temple that looked strangely out of place.

Bali TempleOther Balinese temples are located in much more spectacular locales than traffic islands.The temple at Tanah Lot for instance is built right into the sea, on a giant monolithic piece of rock jutting out of the sea a few hundred yards from the coast. It can be reached on foot during low tide, but during high tide it is guarded by fierce waves and a frothing churning sea.

BaliBali TempleI also happened to witness this evening prayer ceremony taking place at one of the shrines on the mainland near the Tanah Lot temple. A prayer is beautiful by itself, but a setting like this makes it seem as if the prayer itself has come alive in the sky,the clouds and the sea.

Bali's traditions and customs are as beautiful as its scenery. Its a pity we did not have time to watch any traditional Balinese dance performances, but they're quite beautiful watch, with splendid traditional costumes and finery. And equally splendid is Balinese food, with it's liberal use of spices, seafood and rice. Seafood lovers, its your paradise; vegetarians, its a golden chance to convert.

Bali is famous for is its coffee. We did manage to go to a coffee plantation located on the higher slopes of Bali's hills.As we reached there at around 4ish in the afternoon, it was coffee time already and the aroma of freshly roasted coffee was very welcome in the cool mountain air. We were ready for a steaming hot cup of coffee, or hot chocolate or herbal tea, and we tried all of that. We also tried a very unique Balinese coffee that makes for very intersting coffee time conversations, if not anything else.

The Asian Palm Civet, a small cat-sized animal, produces this highly sought after and expensive coffee. It's called Kopi Luwak ( Kopi = Coffee, and Luwak = Civet), and believe it or not, its made out of coffee beans defecated by this blighter, the Luwak. Some explanation is in order. The Palm Civets love eating coffee berries. They tend to pick the ripest and the sweetest berries, and thereby the ripest coffee beans. Moreover, the digestive system of the civet breaks down the protiens that give the coffee bean it's bitterness. The enzymes also 'add' to the flavour. The rest of the bean, stripped of its bitterness, passes out undigested. The beans are then lightly roasted to produce this coffee. We tried it out. It was a bit anticlimactic though, it seemed quite unremarkable to me at least. ( The coffee beans in the picture above are the regular ones.)

Batik is Indonesia's gift to the world of textiles. We  had a look at this traditional process of block printing, at a handloom centre. This is the stuff that interior designers are probably looking for all the time, to get that 'ethnic' look and feel. The cotton fabrics were indeed quite handsome, and we saw exactly how the painstaking process of handweaving them was.


As the sun set on the last day of our visit to Bali, I was thinking about our short 3 day trip. Bali has something to offer everyone. Whitewater rafting, paragliding, parasailing, scuba diving, spas and massages, shopping, great food, traditional performing arts, a national park for nature lovers, temples with some eye-catching architecture, plenty of opportunities for the photography buff and nightlife for the party lover (HardRock Cafe, Kuta, has a mean rock band). Of course its a paradise  for honeymooners, but that is equally true for families, friends and casual vacationers. Whoever you are, the Island of the Gods has something for you.

3 comments:

  1. the pictures from the various figurines and idols are awesome...

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  2. Mihir.. Enjoyed reading your blog. You write beautifully!! I had no idea, I had a fantastic writer for a friend! very impressed.

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