Window to the world: Ubud, Bali
Out of the thousands of islands that make up the Indonesian Archipelago, Bali has captivated the hearts of global travellers for decades, being a highly popular tourist destination for Australians and European Backpackers in particular. However, behind the souvenir markets, spas, and hotels aimed at the holidaymakers is a culture that is not always understood, but one we can learn a lot from…
Lush and tropical with pristine beaches and enchanting scenery, Bali offers an intense combination of natural wonders, great shopping, and ancient rituals. What most tourists don’t get to learn about or experience is the real, authentic Balinese way of life which is infused with the importance of family, spirituality, and hospitality. On the outside, the locals seem to be graceful and gentle, but with a slightly sassy, playful humour which they are happy to share with you once they realise you’re open to it. To the Balinese, their island is their entire world and they see it as a bountiful provider that can offer them everything they need to fulfil their physical and spiritual needs. Daily life in Bali revolves around offerings to the gods, family rituals, and frangipani incense which hangs in the air wherever you go.
Each morning across the island, Canang Sari offerings are made to thank and honour the gods, which can be found everywhere; from temples and family shrines to shop and restaurant doorways. Many a well-meaning Bali visitor has been guilty of stepping over an unseen offering on the floor but it’s a good idea to avoid disturbing them. What most tourists don’t realise is that these small, square baskets are woven out of coconut leaves by the women of the family, who would have been taught the techniques by their mothers before them.
The contents of the baskets all have their meanings, with white lime, red betel-nut and a green plant called Sirih. Four different coloured flowers are placed on top to represent different elements of the island, along with a handful of sweets or crackers. Canang Sari offerings take an enormous amount of time, effort, and money to make, but by putting something of themselves into their creations, their creators, in turn, offer their life-energy. These daily offerings represent a selfless act, a kind of self-sacrifice and gratitude.
The land of a thousand temples…
Bali is often referred to as “the land of a thousand temples”, with rice fields dotted with small shrines as far as the eye can see and magnificent towering temples being in the heart of the local communities. For a truly special experience, visit the Tampak Siring Temple and immerse yourself in a most humbling spiritual ritual by cleansing your body and soul in the waters of a sacred spring. Believed to have healing and cleansing powers in Hindu society, it’s thought that dipping your head under the water can heal various diseases and purify your sins.
The temple features spectacular architectural structures such as the Colossus Yoni, Arca Lion, Tempasana and Tirta Empul Pool. The holy springs here bubble up into the large, crystal-clear pool, gushing out through 30 waterspouts into the two sacred purification pools. Worshippers stand in long lines in the pools, waiting to dip their heads under the water spouts in a ritual known as ‘melukat’, starting on the left side and continuing along until they have cleansed themselves under each waterspout. However, two spouts are meant only for cleansing the dead and are prohibited for use by the living for the ‘melukat’ ritual.
You might also like to visit Ulun Danu Temple which is a short journey away from Denpasar. Here you can marvel at the beautiful architecture and idyllic surroundings while learning about the goddess of the lake, who is worshipped here. Pura Tanah Lot Temple has multi-tiered pergolas and is perched on a rocky outcropping out to sea, and is shrouded in local history and legend.
Exploring Ubud, an artist’s haven…
Ubud is located an hour’s drive to the north of Bali’s capital city, Denpasar. Known for its exceptional arts and crafts culture, Ubud combines culture, religion, and art to result in an irresistible charm that attracts many artistic figures from all over the world. It’s also the place to go if you want to get a taste of authentic Indonesian food, with world-class restaurants, cafes, and local eateries among the spas, galleries, palaces, and temples clustered close together.
Understanding the local culture…
Take advantage of the legions of artists who have made their mark in Ubud by exploring the unique boutiques and shops packed with exquisite crafts, wall hangings, artwork, carvings, jewellery, and gifts. Be sure to get stuck into the practice of bargaining – if you let the locals know that you mean business, they’ll enjoy ‘arguing’ with you until you reach a price you are both happy with and will be surprisingly generous and accommodating once the battle is over and you’ve agreed on your purchase! It’s not uncommon to see neighbouring shop owners joking with each other in a friendly way, trying to get your attention first.
You’ll notice that the Balinese are extremely sociable and will start up a conversation with a stranger without hesitation, and for them, a simple smile goes a long way. In the north and the less touristy areas, you could find yourself in an hour-long conversation with a local followed by an invitation for dinner.
In the centre of the city, you can visit the main theatre which holds nightly traditional dance performances. Take your time to learn about the different types of dances, each with their rich history and hidden religious meanings. Balinese music is very loud and the costumes are spectacularly flamboyant but it is still fascinating to watch and be a part of, nonetheless.
Enjoy the best of Balinese hospitality…
Suspended high above the mangroves with a spectacular floating bridge sits the Four Seasons Resort at Sayan, Ubud. This opulent hotel allows you to feel truly connected to the surrounding forests, river, and wildlife. Travel & Leisure 2018 voted it as the number 1 World’s Best Hotel; and it truly is an architectural marvel, with tiered rice paddies and gardens that enclose around 60 high-end suites and villas. Visit their website for booking information and availability.