MORE ABOUT BALI
WELCOME TO BALI, a tropical island where the soil is so rich and fertile that the land is constantly carpeted in a wild sea of green. Welcome to a place where the people are closely connected to this land and to the spirits which have shaped it. A colourful culture which revolves around the care of this land in a natural and rhythmic way, where the people regularly offer grand mounds of flowers and fruits at stone temples, swathed in bright woven golds, pinks and purples.
You have arrived on an island where there is the space for exploring wide sandy palm-edged beaches, or for simply drawing in the sun and the sea. Here there is the opportunity for trekking through jungles and paddies, or for wading in springs and soaking in mountain views… and an abundance of time to do it all in.
Bali is an island paradise which has, for generations now, been the favourite destination of a range of discerning travellers. People have come here for the culture, for the tropical environment, for the beaches. For the diving, the food, the surfing, the shopping. People come here to unwind, become inspired, or experience the ultimate adventure. Bali is the island which has it all.
Bali is, in fact, the centre of a string of of islands that make up the Indonesian archipelago, from Sumatra through to Irian Jaya. Wedged in between Java, the most highly populated and influential of the islands, and Lombok, one of the quieter and more slow paced states, Bali has developed as a world of its own. In one sense, Bali captures so much of what is special about Indonesia, and yet in another it is also unique.
Amongst the 13,700 Indonesian islands (900 of which are inhabited), Bali is the only Hindu state, and the rich blend of tradition and culture has had an incredible impact. Also, Bali is the last island running east to have a distinctly tropical Asian environment. Any islands east of Bali lie east of the Wallace line, and life forms show signs of having a greater Australian and New Guinean influence. Strangely enough, it is also, considered to be the most western of the Lesser Sunda Islands, which stretch as far as New Guinea.
Geographically, Bali is the ideal location for such a colourful and deeply spiritual culture. In fact the rich geography of the island has, most probably, actually been responsible for the extensive and fascinating cultural development.
Even though it is relatively small, approximately 5,000 square kilometres in all, Bali boasts a whole range of different environments. This compact landscape centres around a line of active volcanoes with alluvial slopes which spill down to coastal plains. Tropical rainforests fringe the mountains, eventually giving way to carefully cultivated rice fields and crop growth. Further down on the plains, water-logged mangrove swamps lead to the ocean. A number of different rivers and streams, in turn, wind their way through a cross section of these environments and down to the coast, carving deep chasms as they go.
Bali enjoys a consistently warm climate, which is particularly mild in the dry season, and the mountains ensure there is a steady rainfall to periodically cool the island down through the rainy season. The mountainous regions maintain a refreshing temperature all year round, and can provide a great break from the greater heat and humidity of the plains.
The people of Bali, as diverse as the geography of the different regions and yet united by their strong religious beliefs, draw their strength and their meaning from this wonderful environment.
The mountains are the focus of all daily activities, with holy Mount Agung as the great heavenward inspiration. All villages, temples, family compounds, houses and furniture arrangements are designed to face “kaja”, or towards the mountains. The seaward direction “kelod”, on the other hand, is considered to be less sacred and at times impure, although the sea itself is not considered to be profane.
Mountain slopes provide the ideal setting for the luminous terraced rice paddies, which then transform to become vast paddied fields. The Balinese have an ingenious irrigation system which keeps these paddies well watered, and the rich nutrients from the volcanic ash ensure these fields are also well fertilised.
Rice is the staple food for all Balinese people, and sampling the steamed rice (nasi putih), red rice (nasi merah), or even coloured yellow rice (nasi kuning) is a must. Or try a mixed rice dish served with different condiments (nasi campur) or fried rice (nasi goreng), even some sticky rice patties. Rice also has sacred significance, and it is offered back to the gods in the form of brightly coloured cakes, or even simply as a few grains sprinkled on a banana leaf. Dewi Sri, the Balinese rice goddess, features strongly in local mythology and religious observance, and she often appears as a “cili” figure cut and bound from rice stalks.
The rivers are a focus for rural village life, as they are a source of water for both work and domestic activities. You’ll often find whole villages bathing in the rivers, washing their clothes, washing their cars, fishing from them, or simply splashing around and having a great time. Further down the river path, many of the mud flats near the sea continue to be used by small family groups for making salt, an essential condiment in Bali.
At the edges of the land, the oceans are a source of holy water and the channel for preparing the dead for their afterlife. But there is still a great fear of the sea as the unknown, so even though fishing and seaweed farming are reasonably widespread and many activities revolve around the surrounding ocean, it is treated with great respect.
As a visitor, it’s difficult not to be drawn in to the inherent magic of a place where the people and the land interact so closely, where the people draw so much meaning from the land and its spirits. You can see this magic in the long processions of flower and fruit laden villagers on their way to the temples, or in the glittering dancers acting out an ancient Hindu story. You can hear it in the lively clashes and clangs of the gamelan orchestra, or the quiet whispers of continually offered prayers. It’s easy to sense the magic in the tastes of an island with an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, and the aromas of sweet incense. And, naturally, the magical feeling is palpable.
While in Bali, you may choose to participate in this magic by visiting one of the large number of temples, with ancient Hindu symbols carved in huge slabs of stone. Or you may be lucky enough to have the opportunity to observe a temple festival or public cremation. You will, most likely, also want to at least see one of Bali’s famous dances.
Grab the opportunity if you can to see the graceful welcoming dance, in which young girls tilt their heads and move rhythmically to the gamelan beat, sharing their flower offerings with all. Another must see is the kecak dance, a hypnotic chant performed by scores of men circled around a fire, where scenes from the Ramayana are re-enacted. Or the legong dance, which includes a series of different dance scenes and styles, is always worthwhile.
For the more adventurous, there’s always the opportunity to go trekking, four-wheel driving, white water rafting, and ride elephants or camels! There’s nothing quite as exhilerating and spectacular as rushing down a river canyon or trekking through thick matted forests. It’s always possible to feel some of that tribal Balinese magic when you venture out into the more wilderness areas of Bali.
Or you may just be content to enjoy the beautiful beaches and countryside, knowing the spirits are with you. How can you not know, when there are constant reminders of their presence?
Wherever you are, and whatever you choose to do, enjoy the warm smiles and open embrace of a people who appreciate their whole way of life and would love to share some of its magic with you. The traditional prayer position of the hands and bow from the heart are welcoming gestures designed to recognise and honour your soul, and they are a true indication of your important sataus as a visitor to Bali. “Selamat datang”, you are always very welcome in Bali!
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