When you visit Bali now, forgo the touristy spots — the beaches, the surfing, the spas. Instead, seek out the traditions, culture, and of course the splendid temple architecture of the Indonesian island
It is nearly impossible to overstate the ubiquity of the delicate white-tipped Frangipani flower with its pastel navel and slender stem in the lives of the Balinese.
Little baskets brimming with the yellow flower wait in offering at the thresholds of the many temples that line the winding roads.
Indeed, all things in nature enjoy aesthetic and ritual roles, is what you will come to realise on a trip to the volcanic Indonesian archipelago. Choose to forgo the customary sun-surf-beach holiday for one marked by dense, exotic vegetation and paddy fields farther than the eye could see, and a tryst with the uniquely Balinese Hinduism.
A traveller’s heaven
The local market, buzzing and chaotic, is a veritable treasure trove of craft and textiles (perfect to hone one’s bargaining skills), lined with shops that sell baskets and colourful wooden masks traditionally thought to house ancestral spirits, among other things. Ubud, it seems, is the embodiment of hipster culture, a case in point being the array of organic and vegan.
It is Ubud’s natural landscape, however, that truly takes one’s breath away. Long trails are dotted with ancient little mossy-walled temples with their customary guardian stone sculptures. The Campuhan Ridge walk offers views of undulating rice fields and the majestic Pura Gunung Lebah Temple complex, the long trek punctuated by sudden magical-looking lily ponds and delightful cafes that offer panoramic views of unending fields. The Tegalalang rice terraces, famous for the ancient traditional Balinese irrigation system of intricately-linked canals, are breathtakingly green and lush, offering the perfect photo-op for yoga enthusiasts who pose for the camera in the most complicated asanas.
The festival of Galungan
Galungan is an important festival for the Balinese, a time in which the island really comes alive with festivity and colour. A religious event that marks the victory of good over evil, Galungan is considered a time in which families pray to the spirits of ancestors who visit them. Roads are lined with penjor, tall bamboo poles from which offerings are suspended, and the thresholds of homes and family temples sport canang sari, intricately woven palm leaf trays carrying banknotes flowers, food offerings, incense, and even cigarettes, all of which the wandering tourist has to be particularly careful to sidestep, and the contents of which often become a snack for a passing dog or monkey. Larger baskets, woven in colour, are piled high with poultry, livestock, and other offerings, and an incense stick with a peculiar heady smell carries the essence of the offering up to the heavens.
As you drive through Ubud, you can watch families sitting together outside their homes, stitching, skewering and cutting, getting their ceremonial paraphernalia ready. Most enchanting perhaps was the lamak, sophisticated pieces of art in themselves, long narrow strips made of palm leaves hung from altars and shrines, and decorated with elaborate motifs of symbolic significance in Balinese culture. Though ephemeral and temporary, these pieces of ritual art form a vital part of the island’s cultural and artistic landscape. Some of the more intricate lamaks are even woven by master craftsmen.
What would a trip to Bali be without a visit to a temple? On the way to the temple, you will dodge several large street processions headed by a yak-like creature, red-masked, fanged and large, galloping along playfully. The barong, is what it’s called was the personification of the good that battled the evil. One will enter the large temple premises, in the customary split gate welcoming with two palms pressed together in a namaste.