My wife Tannie and I have never had a better holiday than the ten days we spent in Bali. Although exotically foreign, Bali offers a feeling of human warmth. And, for Indians, a deep river of an ancient common culture is also seductively alluring
Do not however expect a tropical paradise. Other countries have better beaches, more fun and greater variety of food. The Indonesian Rupiah is also initially very scary. There are so many zeroes in the 50,000 Rupiahs one needs to spend on a taxi ride until one realises it is just 4 US dollars! With that understanding, the cost of hotels, food, shopping and excursions suddenly become very affordable. Being near the equator also makes the climate pleasant throughout the year. There is a great deal to see and do in the island that is about 150 kms from east to west and 100 kms from north to south. The beaches are beautiful and the lush green fields and thick forests covering the hilly terrain are a delight.
Bali is predominantly Hindu, with numerous beautiful red and gold Hindu temples every few kilometres. Hinduism came to Indonesia about 1500 years ago when the great Hindu kingdoms of the Srivijayan and Shailendra kings were established in Sumatra, mainly influenced by the cultures of ancient Orissa and Tamil Nadu. Brahmin priests with magnificent rites of kingship were eagerly sought by every local chieftain.Though Buddhism followed, many great Hindu temples still survive. Islam was then brought to Indonesia by Arab traders about 600 years ago but the island of Bali remained staunchly Hindu, evolving a form of Hinduism that is a bit different from that followed in different parts of India
The world’s only temple of Varuna, the `purvi devta’ or pre Vedic divinity of water, is just off the coast at Tanah Lot in the south west. This beautiful temple, built on a rocky spur lapped by the surging waves of the ocean is truly spectacular. At Ubud, in the centre of the island is a 9th century Goa Gajah temple devoted to Ganesh, carved inside a cave. Outside this temple there are sacred tanks fed by a spring. In the ancient Puranic Indian tradition, all the water of the world came from Ganga, the sacred cosmic river that came to earth through the matted locks of the god Shiva and then splashed out to create all the springs of the world that were channeled through the mouths of cows (gaomukh) or water vessels held by celestial nymphs. At Goa Gajah, the waters of the spring pour out of little vessels carried lovingly by six celestial maids.
We went to Bali on a well organised and affordable six day package tour. We first stayed at an excellent 4-star hotel at Legian on the west coast that is full of bars, spas and discos. The package provided us a good small car to take us around and included a Barong Kris dance based on the Ramayana with a long haired two-man tiger and a mischievous Hanuman. Huge and very colourful silk kites filled the skies everywhere in the constant breeze.We drove through terraced paddy fields to Kintamani where there was a great view of a dormant volcano and lake Batur. We also visited several very interesting temples and workshops making the most delicate gold and silver jewellery. Needless to say, we swam in the sea and spent a day doing water sports. The package included a short cruise around the harbour. At the end of the planned trip we spent three extra days at a lovely 5-star hotel at Sanaur on the east coast. This was a quieter beach on an extended lagoon behind a long coral reef that broke the great waves of the Pacific Ocean. Balinese food was very good but lacked the huge variety that Thailand offers.
We were also very fortunate to meet a lovely Balinese couple who showed us many aspects of Bali culture that a normal tourist would never see including an amazing cultural festival in which over a thousand amateur musicians and dancers enthusiastically participated. Bali is also the one foreign place that treats Indians as highly honoured guests.
Mr Murad Ali Baig is an internationally renowned automobile journalist and is the former editor of The Auto Magazine. His columns on automobiles, travel, history etc. are published by a host of newspapers and magazines.