“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…
Its 11.12 pm in my system tray and I am sitting in my balcony, waiting for Swapnil to come home. He had been travelling to Manila and is expected any time now.I missed him more this time than all his earlier trips and am wondering why this should be. Its his 6th trip at least and I should have gotten used to it by now. I had no trouble living alone for all those trips, but this time, I did. I didn’t sleep before 3 am on any of the nights that he wasn’t here and yesterday, I didn’t sleep the whole night..!. I am….not scared actually. Not scared at all in fact living alone, whenever he travels. This is one of the safest cities, and the area where I live is well protected. Probably safer than Mumbai. Not probably; certainly it is safer… so I am hard pressed to provide any answer why this ‘staying up late at night’ happened….anyways, now that he’ll be at home, I don’t need to explore this thought any more. At least for now. So I set it aside.
I look around. Very few houses in the towers surrounding me are lit at this hour. Indonesia is the country of early risers. They certainly are early to bed too. But then, its 11.20 pm already. Not really early. Most of the houses with light on, have shut their windows and pulled the curtains. Its time to sleep. Only a solitary balcony in the adjoining tower has light on and I see someone seated in a chair and reading a book. He has overgrown plants around him. I have seen this guy several times reading in his balcony at night. Maybe he has no company presently like me, and has to turn outside for his amusement. Though his mini-garden is not flattering. All those potted plants have overgrown. Those plants would better suit a park now, not a balcony… well, that reminds me of my own plants….
I got these plants in July I think, mid – July when Swapnil was in Hanoi for a week. Living in a house with a balcony and potting plants there had always been part of my ‘domestic-life’ dream 🙂 . Back home in India, my parents’ house had a balcony initially, though ill utilised. Eventually we broke down the wall separating the drawing-room and balcony, to make a bigger space to entertain guests. So the imagery that I had of sipping hot chai while reading newspapers in the morning, in my balcony, was never fulfilled there. Here however, I have the luxury of a balcony. Now, even the potted plants. We immediately had taken couple of our dining table chairs in the balcony after we set up this mini garden and now mostly DO have our morning chai here. Sometimes we chat, the other times we watch Indian serials on YouTube, or we observe kids playing in the swimming pool on podium. Like I said, this is the country of early risers and even the babies and kids are no exceptions. It is bright at 6 am in the morning and by 6.30, the podium and pool area is full of parents carrying their kids for a morning swim and nannies with babies on strollers. Those kids sure love water. It is probably the most entertaining thing to watch in the mornings… those smiling kids 🙂 . We have spotted our regular ones by now 🙂 and when some of the days those particular kids are not on the podium, we wonder if they are away or are sick ….
Coming back to my plants… a periwinkle, a rose, 2 chrysanthemums and a variety of jasmine. All flowering plants. Somehow, I don’t exactly appreciate the show plants. I bought the ‘sayali’ (which I discovered on the net, also belongs to Jasmine family) hoping that I would smell its scent on breezy nights such as today…but it has never flowered so far. The chrysanthemums are sick by now. Just yesterday, I sprayed a homemade pesticide on them hoping to cure the mildew that has now spread on them. Fingers crossed. I don’t know much of gardening and am discovering a lot. Its like tending babies only… quite lesser responsibility, but then you don’t know whats bothering them and you can just guess. I had taken a picture of my plants within a week of getting them, and I will insert that in this post – but now it pains me to see them and realise that they’ve lost their bloom. Excepting rose and periwinkle, everyone else is sick. Yes everyone. Arent plants too living beings? I used to talk to my plants when I was a child. Now I am not as poetic, but I definitely believe they have feelings… of course I know that the science has already proved this…
Its 11.38 pm. Swapnil’s still on the way. Must be stuck in airport traffic. Though whatever he requested for dinner is ready since a while and I might have to reheat it. Just plain simple moong khichadi. Ever since my friend Aarti threw down the gauntlet – of attempting to follow a healthier lifestyle, I have been trying to incorporate fruits and milk in my diet and for all these days, I have successfully done so. Add in today’s methi-paratha for a good measure ( it evens out the cheese pizza that I had for lunch today with friends). So far so good. I now look up.Its 11.50 pm and very few windows are lit. When will Swapnil arrive already??. Though I love sitting in my balcony. Its dry season and fortunately we have some breeze this week….if this balcony was any bigger, we’d have probably slept here…
The bell rang. Bye for now.