Beyond the Beaches on the Island of the Gods
Package-deal tourists to Bali seem happy to stay in the Fort Lauderdale-like area of Kuta or to cocoon themselves in Sanur’s toney hotels, but it’s in the countryside – where Bali is vibrant with the theater of dance, prayer, and mystery – that you’ll really be able to absorb the island’s magic. Here it is still possible to imagine that the October 2002 bombing – which shook Asia as the earlier September 11 attacks did America – never happened.
Serendipity will lead you to the haunting rhythms of a practicing village gamelan orchestra, past a procession of lithe women carrying impossibly high baskets of fruit offerings on their heads to the local temple, to preparations for a celebration that turns out to be a cremation.
Bali’s people are gracious and beautiful, a mix of Malay, Polynesian, Indian, and Chinese, and believe they are the chosen guardians of the Palau Dewata, the Island of the Gods, whose hilly terrain is peppered with temples (Ulu Danu, beside Lake Bratan, is the most picturesque) and punctuated by constant temple festivals. Locals will direct you to tonight’s tooth-filling ritual or tomorrow’s performance of the kecak monkey dance.
Visit the mist-shrouded Mount Agung, at the island’s heart, considered by the Balinese to be the navel of the world. Rent a jeep (or better, bicycles) to explore the rest of the island, an abstract jigsaw of towns and stepped rice terraces still cultivated by water buffalo, with occasional harvest houses built on stilts.
Many of the towns specialize in age-old crafts – to really understand Balinese silver works, you must visit Celuk; for umbrellas, Sukawati and Mengwi; for wood carvings, Mas and Tegallalang; for stone carving, Batubulan; for traditional Ikat fabric, Tenganan.