Touring Balinese Tradition
After a relaxing few days in Candi Dasa, we decided to venture outside of our private paradise and into the world of organized tours. We set off on two different day trips – the first was a tour of the area surrounding Candi Dasa.
Before our trip began, Mom spotted a brave solo traveler at breakfast, and asked if she wanted to join us on our guided tour. Ludmila, from the Ukraine, had never traveled by herself before and she was happy to come along!
The first spot our driver took us to was a traditional Balinese village – apparently the oldest in Bali. It was called Tenganan. The village operates in its own little bubble, where crafts are made by hand, baths are taken in the local spring and young men fight each other for sport with spiky palm-like leaves.
It was fascinating to see and hear about life in the village from a village ambassador, but the first place he took us made me a bit suspicious. The woman was making scarves, sarongs and traditional clothing on a large foot-pedal loom, and she was selling her handiwork in her little shop. However, some of the scarves were exactly identical to those we had seen in craft shops in Candi Dasa the day before. According to the weaver, she didn’t sell her products anywhere except in the village, and she made all of the beautiful textiles on her loom. She also happened to be selling these scarves for at least double what they were on sale for in town…
She did also have handmade palm leaf books with beautiful illustrations. Some told the story of Rama and Sita, others had depictions of Hindu gods.
The process of making these books looked painstaking. First, she etched the design in the dried palm leaf using a small knife.
Then, she made her own ink by burning macadamia nuts and smashing the oil and the charred nut into a paste.
Finally, she rubbed the ink onto the palm leaf, ensuring that it filled the etched grooves, and then wiped the leaf clean, so all that remained was the ink in the design. We thanked her for showing us her talents, and then made our way through the village to look at the temples and other shops.
During the walk through the village, we ran into a man and his son on their way to the holy spring to bathe themselves. Men and women are required to bathe at separate times.
We also saw a very old and sacred tree that reminded me of the tree of life in Disney’s Animal Kingdom!
Cock-fighting is a big part of the culture in all of Bali, and Tenganan was no exception. Luckily, we didn’t see any actual fighting, just the woven coops where the birds are kept.
Just down the road, a wedding party was in full swing, and the outside of the house was elaborately adorned with hand-woven palm leaf decorations.
After leaving the village, it was just a short drive to a traditional market in Amlapura. This market had almost as many offensive smells as Jakarta. Perhaps the most alarming was the smell of sun-soaked raw fish that drifted through the stalls.
The fruit and vegetable selection was diverse, with some items I had never seen or heard of before. Mom bought some delicious rambutans from a woman who didn’t speak English. The seller communicated the asking price by holding up the corresponding rupiah bills.
And the market wouldn’t be complete without the traditional Hindu offerings that are hand made with palm leaves and are then placed in almost every place imaginable to bring good luck and good spirits – and to say goodbye to the evil spirits.
As interesting as the marketplace was, I was glad to be back on the road to fresher smelling air. The next destination was flooded with tourists, but luckily, that didn’t ruin the atmosphere of the Tirtagangga floating palace.
The grounds were beautiful and peaceful. Sunken stepping-stones were scattered around the pond (which was filled with Asian carp) and towering fountains sparkled when the wind blew the water into mist. Words don’t do it justice.
As we left the palace, a local Balinese man called us over to look at his pet boa constrictor and python. He casually fondled the giant reptile, insisting that it wouldn’t hurt anyone…True to character, Mom wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole.
Before a quick stop off to do some snorkeling in the ocean at Amed, we snapped some photos of surreally green rice terraces at an overlook on the side of the road. Our driver explained that working in the rice paddies was backbreaking labor for a tragically small payoff – a kilo of rice sells for just 10,000 rupiah (less than 1 US dollar).
The final stop on our tour was Ujung water palace, another site with amazing architecture and lovely vistas. Ludmila and I enjoyed looking out over the grounds from a pagoda at the top of a hill.
My absolute favorite photo that I’ve taken on the trip so far is this shot of a priest leaving the king’s bedroom to place the daily offerings around the palace. I love the contrast of the light.
The day trip had its ups and downs. It was a bit of a tourist trap, but as tourist traps go, it wasn’t TOO bad. At least we didn’t have to deal with what one guidebook warned about: a driver for a minibus tour apparently yelled “Back on the bus, pilgrims!” to his group of travelers. Even if our it wasn’t the most authentic look at Bali, there was no lack of beauty, tradition and culture.
Thanks again for reading, and stay tuned for the city of Ubud – where Elizabeth Gilbert stayed during her Balinese adventure! Sampai jumpa!
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