Heart of Bali

23:22 Alyson Tart 1 Comments

On our first night in Ubud, I was worried based on my first impression that our time would be less than the exciting cultural experience I had expected. We walked past restaurant after restaurant of Western foods, streets filled with tourists, and I thought - we flew all the way from London for this?

My scepticism remained when we struck out on day two - we had no plans and no real must see sites on our list (very very poor planning), so we wandered the markets.  The knick knacks were all too familiar, coasters, mugs, t-shirts, artwork, but the more we wandered, the more I found that the people were different. Yes, of course there were the usual aggressive sellers, but L also attracted lots of friendly locals giving smiles and giggles - I was warming ever so slightly.

As the strolling continued, I realised there were two faces to Ubud. One was the first I had seen - what Ubud has become for the tourists who flock there.  The second face is the one that attracted people in the first place - the warm people and the culture. The two faces are so intertwined it's almost easy to miss; the mini mart next to the temple, the kitschy Balinese restaurant overlooking a temple surrounded by lotus blossoms. In that sense, there's something for every one, although my realisation was that we just needed to look a little harder for what we were wanting out of our trip.

The next day, we moved our explorations outside the Ubud centre to the rice paddies with a trek in the village just past our hotel. One of the things that had attracted me to Bali was the beautiful scenery of these paddies, so I couldn't wait to explore them up close. The most popular way is to travel by bike, but with the baby, we decided an easy hike would be best for us.

Besides the beautiful backdrop, the tour gave us a better idea of the history of the rice production and it's importance in Bali. Each paddy is operated by a family and provides rice for their consumption throughout the year (according to the guide, no rice is exported from Bali). There are four different cycles in the rice production, but they don't follow a specific time throughout the year, so you may see some fields flooded in early stages of growth, right next to others with rice stalks peeping out. I was amazed to see the fresh rice grains and how different they look fresh from the dried grains we are used to getting from the store. As you watch families toiling out on their plots, it's crazy to think of how much time and work goes into that £0.99 bag of rice you get from the store.

The next day we enjoyed some time poolside in the morning and decided to break for some culture  in the afternoon. After an hour walk to the far side of town, past the Monkey Forest (one of the top attractions which we avoided due to the extra aggressive monkeys who reside there), we ventured into the Agung Rai Museum featuring Balinese art. There were some fantastic paintings, but I especially loved the Batuan style paintings. Often black and white, they were so intricate and left you discovering something new every time you looked at them.

Our last full day in Ubud, we realised how much we had left to do and so our day was packed as we tried to squeeze every last minute out of our time in Bali.

First item of the day was the Campuhan Ridge Walk - we were recommended an early walk time to avoid the heat of the day which we were thankful for on the walk back. This walk gives you a different view of Balinese nature as you walk through the forests. Starting from the city, it's an uphill trek, especially fun when you're carrying a 10kg baby around.  It's a short walk to the end of the path (about 3km) where there are plenty of options to reward your walk with coconut water and snacks. We didn't have time to relax long before we continued our day's agenda.

We had hired a driver for the day - after days of being hustled by taxi drivers in the city, we finally had a reason to need one! We negotiated with a couple before finding one that had a reasonable fare (negotiation was key as well, although we had already talked with our hotel about what to expect as a fare).  Our first stop was Mount Batur for the natural hot springs. There are two main locations for the springs right next to each other; we visited Batur Hot Springs as it's where our driver suggested, although looking next door at Toya Devasya, they had a better view of the mount and seems as if perhaps the facilities were a bit better - both are the same price though and the springs are the same.

We floated around, slowly introducing L to the water as she seems to have developed an aversion somewhere around the age of 9 months. The afternoon was spent between checking out the sprays and then venturing back to the views of the mount (which is actually an active volcano whose most recent eruption was in 2000!). Our time was short though as we were off to check out some of the more cultural sites on our way back to Ubud.

The first stop was Tirta Empul, a temple known for the holy water on site.  As you walk in (making sure you wear a sarong and waist wrap), the first entrance are the pools. Dragon heads line the long side, allowing the holy water to enter the pools. Many visitors, both locals and tourists, dip in the water and do a self-cleansing, just make sure you check-out the rules laid out.

We simply watched, then wandered the rest of the complex that was open to the public.  L's favourite part was the giant koi pond where she excitedly watched fish pop up to the surface to snatch whatever food was being tossed their way. The pool was scenic, set against a wall of the temple and a perfect family photo opp as we had been a bit lax in our family photos so far on the trip. Something for us to work on!

Our last stop of the day was at Gunung Kawi - not much is known for certain about the temple, although there are lots of legends and speculations. As best as I got, each of the 10 carvings was dedicated to a Balinese ruler from the time it was carved (around the 11th century). When I walked in, I was struck by the resemblance to the Lycian tombs in Turkey. Not so much as the carvings themselves look alike, but because of the incredible will power behind the act of carving something like this out of stone.

The grounds were beautiful, surrounded by rice paddies and flowing water (carrying the same water that flows to the Tirta Empul temple). The river made everything lush and overgrown.  A week or so after we left was Bali's biggest religious holiday of the year - meaning there were lots of preparations going on, and it was interesting to hear about the rituals that would happen over a few days of the festive season.  The offerings were already piling up, and although the flies were not so appealing around some of the food offerings, it was incredible to see the amount and variety, each with a different purpose.

We'd been warned of the many steps of this temple, which hadn't seemed so bad as we entered.  As we left, I realised it had seemed as breeze as everything was downhill. But on the way out, hot and tired from a long day, the 270 steps seemed more like 500. I was my usual stubborn self and refused assistance in baby wearing, but felt oh so accomplished as we made it to the top; followed by a quick demand of water and air conditioning at full blast!

And that was the end of our time in Bali - it left me realising how much more there was to see and the hopes that we may find ourselves there sometime again in the future! 

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1 comment:

  1. I have had great experiences. The food is great in all the countries you have mentioned. I live in Paris,France. If you need any help on choosing places to visit, don't hesitate.

    Planning a trip to europe