“Who’s that?” – I asked the driver.
We were in a car, Ubud – bound. It was the second day of our Bali trip and we would come across such installations now and then, instead of the usual triangles / circles or statues of leaders / other monuments, that mark the traffic management at any random place on earth.
“That IS Krishna”. Said the driver. When I made a face, he added – “Umm… I think…”.
Well, it could be Krishna for all I know, because ‘he’ was tackling some huge snake variety in the middle of waves and all of us in India have grown up listening to ‘Kalia mardan’ – the deadly dance of Krishna on the hood of Kalia – the huge serpent – and its eventual destruction. But Krishna in a typical Indian’s mind would always be handsome I guess. Maybe, this is Balinese Krishna, I thought, and they do not have such image hang – ups, I concluded.Though I was not at all convinced that this was Krishna. Anyways, en route, we came across so many such statues of various mythological characters, and even roads named after these characters. In Bali, people openly seemed to flaunt their culture – and more than that , their religion. So much that I am convinced they are more devout Hindus than myself or any other random common Indian Hindu person. I am digressing. As usual.
Well, we were Ubud – bound finally. We had landed at Denpasar, with no specific plan, but visiting Ubud was always on MY agenda, thanks to the book. Its lovely description about greenery, art, rice fields and peace and quiet totally seemed to by my thing. Based on his experience at Jogja (Yogyakarta) Swapnil had googled up terms such as ‘Bali driver’ etc previous evening and had landed on a website of a driver who offered to drive for some 10 hours for a sum of 400,000 IDRs. Considering the fact that 25 minute drive to Nusa Dua from Denpasar was being charged 120,000 IDR, this was totally a bargain. So we engaged a private car.
So far, our experience in Indonesia tells us to engage private cars – despite the fact that they might seem like a luxury. This is because of the super cheap fuel prices in Indonesia (half as much as in Mumbai at the moment). The only reason for astronomical taxi fares is the fact that there is complete privatisation and cartelisation of these taxi companies such as Blue Bird, Express and such other networks. So for one day trip, instead of taking taxis at various points, it is more economical to engage a private car. Anyhow, at Bali, public transport doesn’t seem very accessible and most of the high-end Hotels have some or other form of shuttle service to a pick – up and drop point. The only taxi network that we saw in Bali was Blue Bird, which billed us around IDR 65000 up to the airport while returning. So we had paid only 10000 IDR more (INR 50) and enjoyed a spacious car on day #1. Anyways.
We were supposed to visit several places in and around Ubud. However, due to the fact that we started off a bit late and then chose to spend more time at each individual place we saw, we could see only a few places.
Ubud and surrounding
As we went further from shores, the rainy weather soon lead to coolish airs around us and by the time we reached Kintamani, we were freezing and wet from the rains. We stepped out for lunch at Kintamani, which seems to be full of hotels on cliff allowing a magnificent view of the opposite hill. At the hotel, we got asked whether we were Hindus, for probably some fiftieth time and then ushered into a dining hall that seemed to be some surreal fusion of Indian and Chinese concepts. Anyhow, we chose to first go to the terrace and take a view of the opposite hill.
and this is what we saw. The opposite hill and the smallish valley in between was fully covered with mist. It was raining and breezy. The people who had chosen to eat on the counters facing this view were now sour faced. We went inside to check the menu. Having decided on the menu, we returned. It would have definitely been under 10 minutes. All we had to do was check for vegetarian dishes on the buffet menu, which as usual were just a couple or three. This is what we saw from the same vantage point. The weather had changed within minutes. Of course, in actual, this looked lovelier. We were at cloud level :). We spent quite some time taking in the view and had our post lunch (post – salad really) coffees at the terrace counters. This is another view of this hotel.
We then proceeded to the next thing on our agenda – Coffee walk.Within this area, many small farmers have their orchards cum plantation and grow and package organic stuff. Mostly tea, coffee, coco, spices, honey, aroma oils, wax, soap – all home-made. And many drivers have tie – up with particular owner where they take you for a walk. We couldn’t complain, the walk felt good. Weather was awesome, it having drizzled just minutes before.
We started at this archway and proceeded to walk through this narrow pathway – the owner’s son was pointing out various plant / tree varieties to us. The coffee beans, coca tree. Various medicinal herbs and the likes. It was lovely small orchard and we were informed that it was just one acre of land. Where the whole extended family worked grew so many things. We were taken to a cage and an animal was sleeping. We were informed, its luwak, a rare animal that eats coffee beans and excretes them intact. Just as we were about to conclude that luwak is a menace for coffee, we were informed that it’s not. In fact its an asset. Apparently, while Luwak’s stomach is not capable of processing coffee, the enzymes from its stomach change the taste of beans altogether and when ground, it is considered one of the finest coffee varieties – the luwak coffee. I remember reading ‘Kopi Luwak’ in large neon signs outside many a coffee shops in Jakarta, but always concluded that it was the name of the outlet, possibly a chain or something. But no, it had to be the advertisement for THIS.
‘Luwak shit’ apparently sells at a substantial premium for its taste. Human beings! they will go at any length for great food / taste. (or depths in this case) – tasting the luwak shit!! No offence to anyone who loves Kopi Luwak. I am sure it must be tasting great. While we obviously werent served luwak coffee (its at premium remember? – not that i was particularly interested in tasting it), we were allowed free sampling of other organic products – Cinnamon coffee, green tea, lemon grass tea, ginger tea, coca and so on…
It was quite flavorful (and not just because was free). Eventually we got ourselves a honey lemon tea pack which was substantially overpriced, but then we thought it was okay considering the organic farming gyaan that the orchard’s owner gave us.
Anyhow, after a leisurely walk through the orchard again,
we left for Tegalalang rice terraces. Now the weather was quite pleasant and it was absolute joy to pass through the greenery on both sides. This has been a feature throughout our travels so far within Indonesia. Also reminded us of Konkan, Maharashtra, India – where my family hails from. Konkan is lush green during monsoon days exactly like this.
We passed through these routes at leisurely pace, taking in the surroundings and living in the moment. It was one of the most pleasurable parts of our trip. Suddenly our driver stopped the car and informed us that we’d reached. We looked outside. Nothing indicative. Got off and began walking. There was a lot of foreign crowd. But all we could see were some art shops lined on both the sides. We were past the last shop on our left and suddenly came in view of rice terrace. There was a railing and many people were leaning on it with their heavy cameras to take in the greenery on the opposite side. Rice terraces. Green and pleasant. But I realised, not a big deal. Not a big enough deal at all.
I have seen rice terraces even at Yogyakarta and surroundings, I think even while going to Bandung and perhaps even at Bogor. Such structures ARE mainstay of Indonesian rice farming. Perhaps we could have taken a walk through these. Though we were close enough. We had tea at a hotel on the opposite side, with a small shack peeping into these terraces. We chose that very shack to sit, and just lounged around for a while. Nice weather, lush greenery, pleasant time of the day, the setting of this small pretty shack and peace and quiet – all of that was an amazing experience together. Though by now it was quite late. Bali is already an hour ahead of Jakarta and it was close to almost four thirty – five I think; we left for the Sacred Monkey Forest. Now, I have to admit, we should have done our homework. Especially since we had Lonely Planet with us. We should have simply read why is this so important a venue. We didn’t. Our driver for the day was probably 20 – 21 or even younger. His English was totally ‘functional’ and after several attempts we had given up on engaging him to know more of the area. So we just entered the place – without much idea of how and why, bought entry passes and started walking. This forest hosts macaques which seemed quite brave and were approaching tourists boldly. It began raining suddenly – so I don’t have many pictures of monkeys – though I managed to capture an impressive moment.
The forest is not really that. It probably was a forest at one point. Now all that remains is probably an acre or two of dense trees and shrubbery. There is a sacred temple and entry inside was not allowed. A natural stream of some significance flows through the forest and the artists from past created a reservoir for the water in such a manner. I know my Mum would be smiling now, seeing Ganapati statue there…
The car took us through Ubud market place – a melange of various art shops. Paintings, craft work, metal work, jewellery, fabrics. Souvenirs… all sorts. I wish we could have stayed one night at Ubud to explore all that – but we were short of time (on driver’s account) and short of patience (on Swapnil’s account) to visit these. We decided to window shop through car windows instead of actual window shopping. Nevertheless, it was quite entertaining. We would pass by shops, and then more shops – each with varying art work. Later we passed sculptors houses, which also had their studios in their own courtyard. So numerous rows of sculptures stood outside and we passed lanes after lanes of such houses. We spent time wondering who would be buying such huge statues nowadays and what was being done to survive by these artists. Anyhow, it gets dark quite early in Bali and by six fifteen, when we reached Kuta beach, the sun had already set. Though we were treated to a medley of colours, cool ocean breeze and tidal waves making it to the shore ‘wholeheartedly’ 🙂
We spent some time walking on the beach and taking in surroundings and then headed for dinner. Kuta beach is quite popular due to the aggressive ocean waves here. For lack of better words, it could be called cleaner and upmarket cousin of Kalangut beach in Goa. Surrounded by eateries, pubs and hotels, it is a popular tourist spot where options are available for all wallet – sizes. We even found an Indian eatery of non – fine dining variety and post our dinner there, we went to check out a souvenir Shop – Rama-Krishna ‘Oleh oleh Khas Bali’ store that offers only local things for souvenirs. We didn’t buy anything significant. But here’s where I found a statue of Krishna, which supported my view that Krishna is always handsome, even in Bali. On that note, we ended our day…