Bali and the Balinese
Upon exiting the airport the first thing I heard was the Muslim Call to Prayer. It was Ramadan and the Mosque near the Bali’s principle airport was calling out to all devout Muslims. Though Indonesia is predominantly Muslim, (and is the world’s most populous Muslim country), Bali is different, with only 10% of Bali being Muslim and the 90% being Hindu.
The island is dotted with Hindu Temples and small shrines along the road. I am not exaggerating by writing that there are Temples everywhere: next to garages, on the roof of people’s homes, squashed between souvenir shops and hotels or taking up blocks and blocks of the city.
For such a small space there are different vibes to Bali. Denpasar is the hustling and bustling capital city. Kuta is a party town. Ubud is the cultural capital and the north of the island feels more remote with mountainous and lakes… and Temples!
Denpasar is the capital of Bali. Most tourists choose to bypass the city for the hotel resorts, the parties of Kuta or the culture or Ubud. But not to be missed is the Denpasar Museum; a gem of a building located in the centre of the city.
There, you can learn about the kingdoms of Bali and the island’s culture and heritage. There is a stunning room of gold and bright light that displayed the various Balinese traditional dresses. By making our way through the courtyards we could not help but take a few snaps of a newlywed couple; the bride’s train seemingly taking up a large part of the garden.
As mentioned, Bali is overwhelmingly Hindu with Temples dotted everywhere. Stopping near one Temple was an exhibition; mostly for tourists it seemed; where for a dollar, we could see a pantheon on Hindu gods. Some were truly terrifying, while others were warrior gods fighting demons. I found myself asking ‘is he good or bad?’ to which the guide indulged my questions.
The Monkey Forest
True story: While we were in the Monkey Forest, a monkey jumped on my partner’s backpack. A small crowd had gathered, watching as a tall Norwegian tolerated a monkey hanging onto his bag. The monkey took the bottle of water and drank it. As we oohed and aahed the cute monkey then opened the front zip of the backpack, reach inside and take the hand-sanitizer. It then proceeded to bite into it.
‘But it is full of chemicals’ I said becoming concerned that the monkey might be harmed. I picked up the empty water bottle and tried to goad the monkey into trading it over for the water bottle. The monkey hissed at me, which roused the attention of a larger monkey that ran up to me and confronted me by baring its teeth.
Afraid, I walked away briskly only for them to chase me. I broke into a run and so did they.
‘Stop. No! Stop!’ I said, actually speaking to the monkeys. They hissed at me, ready to pounce. I ran away as tourists watched. Eventually they stopped chasing me.
‘You did everything you shouldn’t have done’ my partner said. ‘You pointed at the monkey. You looked it in the eyes and you ran away. Plus you shouted at it! Big mistake.’
‘You’re right. I shouldn’t have shouted. It probably does not understand English.’
‘Pura’ means Temple. ‘Ulu’ means edge and ‘Watu’ means rock or cliff, so Pura Uluwatu literally means the Temple at the Edge of the Cliff. The complex of Uluwatu, located on the southern tip of the island, has a number of Temples, clusters of copses and balconies that overlook the Indian Ocean. Like the Monkey Forest there are monkeys there too, which have a tendency to snatch people’s water bottles and trendy sunglasses. It is one of the major points of interests in Bali and not to be missed.
The Rice Paddies: if you’re driving in the countryside stop when you see them, although they keep getting better and more beautiful.
Tanah Lot: a Temple by the sea. The rock, on which the Temple is built, has been eroded by the sea leading it to become an arch.
Ulun Danu Beratan Temple: located on a lake in the mountainous north of the island.
Note to Travellers
Bali is a stunning and unique place. You will find so much in such a small space and there is something that appeals to everyone; adventure tours, Temples, cultures, parties and international and local cuisine. But since there is something for everyone, everyone wants to visit Bali.
In addition to the 2.5 million Balinese on the island there are lots of tourists such as; partying Australians, French backpackers, Brits on a gap year, yoga enthusiasts always in their yoga pants, Indian families on a cultural tour, Chinese tourists getting on and off buses with their selfie-sticks, and I even spotted a party of beautiful Korean models and soap-stars who made too way much noise chatting and shouting at lunch.
Therefore since everything is so close and since everyone is there, there is traffic. Be organised with your time and plan ahead, starting early will not only allow you to avoid the crowds but see and do much more.