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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Indonesia.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Indonesia.
For those in search of spiritual secrets, the hour-long clockwise hike to the top of the massive pyramid-shaped Buddhist monument of Borobudur represents the timeless journey of man. Ideally, the journey ends with complete detachment from the here and now – a concept that’s not hard to grasp when you’re suspended in space and hit with the powerful 360-degree panorama of Borobudur’s four surrounding volcanoes.
(Indonesia has more than a hundred active peaks, with sixty on the island of Java alone.) Built around A.D. 800, Borobudur was abandoned only 200 years later, possibly as a result of its being partially buried in ash from the eruption of nearby Mount Merapi in 1006. The well-preserved site was “discovered” by the British in the early 19th century. Over the course of a $25-million, ten-year international collaboration under the direction of UNESCO that was completed in 1983, Borobudur was painstakingly dismantled and reassembled.
More than 3 miles of hand-carved reliefs representing the Buddhist universe of worldly, spiritual, and heavenly spheres wrap around its ten terraces. Gradually decreasing in size, the higher levels are studded with 72 bell-shaped stupas and more than 400 Buddhas, which give Borobudur its prickly-porcupine silhouette. This is the world’s largest Buddhist monument; it’s ironic that it’s located in a predominantly Muslim country.
Five minutes by car from Borobudur, the Amanjiwo resort echoes the circular layout of the monument, which is visible from most of the lushly landscaped grounds. There is no mistaking the Javanese spirit of Amanjiwo: It is as sensitive to the sacred setting as possible, yet it is also innovative and contemporary. Thirty-five freestanding domed suites – all with terraces and sunken tubs, many with private plunge pools – are arranged in half-moon terraces around the central stupalike main building.
Such indigenous materials as teak, coconut wood, and local textiles have been reinterpreted with flair but in a restrained palette that keeps your attention on the setting. One of Amanjiwo’s greatest draws is the chance it offers to visit Borobudur at dawn. Watching the mist rise off the rice fields and densely packed coconut plantations, revealing the silhouettes of distant volcanoes in the distance, is sheer magic.
Irian Jaya is Indonesia’s most distant province, and we’re not just talking geographically. Adjectives like “tribal,” “primitive,” and “primeval” best describe the “lost world” of the former Dutch West New Guinea, just west of Papua New Guinea, with which it shares a disputed border.
This journey explores trading paths that link local villages to the cool, green highlands or the vast lowland home of the Asmat people, known for their artistic wooden carvings and cultural rituals. There’s even feasting and dancing around a roaring fire with aboriginal Dani tribesmen, best known to the outside world as the warriors of the Baliem Valley.
They wear only their ornamental headdresses, war paint, and penis sheaths fashioned from dried-out gourds, which come in different sizes and lengths according to the occasion. These materially poor but culturally rich, gentle people teeter between the Stone Age and the 21st century.
You’ll witness the former by leaving the valley’s main town of Wamena, accessible only by air, and its fascinating marketplace to strike out on foot for some of the remote Dani villages. You’ll know the local folk by the pig tusks the men wear through their noses.
The Balinese have always believed that the gods live in the mountains, one reason to leave the teeming beach area of Kuta or Sanur behind and head north into the hills. For years Ubud has been known as the harborer of Bali’s artistic heritage – a significant distinction on an island where art is everywhere and everyone lives to create and embellish as a means of “making merit” and honoring the gods.
It is useless to dwell on what Ubud was like before today’s streams of tourists and foreign artists. The off-road town still possesses much of the allure that first drew European painters and sculptors in the 1920s, and their spirit lives on in the programs and schools for young artists they founded. Jump onto a ramshackle bemo packed with locals and chickens, and get off somewhere beyond the reach of Ubud’s motorbike- and four-by- four congested main strip to find yourself among its fabled rice fields. Under the cone of an extinct volcano, farmers still cultivate these terraced paddies by hand, using a complex irrigation system dating back to the 9th century.
You may see those same farmers perform in tonight’s temple dance, and this morning’s waiters from your hotel may show up as members of the local gamelan orchestra.
Sitting serenely among these terraced rice paddies, the Amandari resort (a name that roughly translates as “peaceful angel”) is more retreat than hotel, a luxurious, idealized adaptation of a traditional walled Balinese village, built with native materials by local craftsmen. It is one of Asia’s loveliest destinations. The reception area, an open thatched-roof building, recalls a wantilan, the meeting hall of all Balinese villages, while its pool hugs the contours of the surrounding emerald-green rice paddy terraces, overlooking the Ayung River and the valley beyond.
With the gracious and ever-smiling Amandari staff (four to each guest), who come from the nearby village of Kedewatan, visitors needn’t go beyond the hotel’s lush, temple-like, frangipani-scented grounds to immerse themselves in the magic of the Balinese spirit. For those who do venture out, the staff will share their knowledge about festivals, celebrations, and dance and music performances on the island.
It doesn’t get any more romantic than this award-winning resort, disguised as a traditional Balinese banjar, or village. Breezy, bougainvillea-covered guest pavilions are strewn like so many frangipani petals across the resort’s terraced hillside, leading down to a private 4-mile crescent of white-sand beach and turquoise waters.
Privacy is paramount in these sprawling three-roomed pavilions, despite their open-air showers and sliding partitions that broach the boundaries between indoor and outdoor. Each has a secluded, garden-surrounded plunge pool, and if you arrange a lulur treatment – an exotic combination of Javanese beauty ritual and age-old Balinese ceremonial preparations – sarong-wrapped goddesses will come to your pavilion to massage and exfoliate you with sandalwood and spices from head to toe, splash you with cold yogurt, and soak you in masses of fragrant rose petals.
With an introduction like that, you’ll likely not resist any of the other intoxicating spa treatments, which – along with the resort’s myriad water sports and nightly moonlit banquet – will be your rationale for never leaving this enchanting 35-acre oasis, your own little Balinese village.
The Jimbaran’s younger sister, the Four Seasons Resort at Sayan, is located about 22 miles north in the lush hills near Ubud, on 18 lovely acres on the banks of the sacred Ayung River.
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.