By Aatika H Jain
Julia Roberts, as Liz Gilbert, in the movie Eat, Pray, Love, is told, “Everyone has a little love affair in Bali.” She is on a journey to find her true self and struggling with the emptiness she feels. She comes to discover inner peace and the balance that love grants to live in Bali.
Famously known as the Island of Gods, this Indonesian island is often referred to as paradise, and not for nothing. Part of the Coral Triangle, the area of the largest marine biodiversity, Bali boasts more than 500 reef-building coral species. As you explore the craggy coastlines, dive in to witness the breathtaking pristine underwater world. The soft, white, sandy beaches with clear, blue waters in the south give way to beautiful, black volcanic sand beaches as we move up north and towards the west.
Indulge your adventurous side with the several thrilling water sports and trekking and jogging activities on offer. Called surfer’s heaven, the waves here seem to accommodate both beginners and pros. The luxuriant verdure of the terraced rice paddies is set against the natural tropical lushness, with contrasting volcanoes towering in the background. It is truly a sight for sore eyes. Trudge through the dense forests to discover intricately carved ancient stone temples. Get enchanted by the rich ancient Balinese culture while watching the colorful and dramatic dance performances and events. Don’t forget to explore the many art museums. The lush tropical island is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are bound to leave you speechless with wonder. Bali has been a hotspot for world tourists in the past few decades.
Consequently, the popular tourist spots have become overcrowded places with the natural beauty taken over by unchecked development. If you only visit the usual tourist places such as Seminyak, Kuta, Nusa Dua, Sanur, Canggu, Jimbaran, and Ubud, and come back, you will miss out on the real warm enthralling paradise that is Bali. Put away that itinerary of popular sites, and take out the map to explore the road less traveled.
Blue Lagoon is one of the hidden gems of Padang Bai, the main seaport in east Bali, as its white sandy beach stretches for just 60m, enclosed by palm trees and rocky volcanic cliffs. The trees provide a welcoming shade to sit and daydream away. You can dive and snorkel too to explore the stunning corals almost touching the beach.
One of Bali’s seven sea temples is the splendid Rambut Siwi. The beach just below is magical with black volcanic sand stretching as far as the eyes can see, starting from the cave in the headland below the temple to several miles along the sea. When the sun kisses the horizon in the evening, the view from the temple across the beach, with paddy fields along its edges, is spectacular. Swimming is not possible due to strong undercurrents but the deserted beach is ideal for easy quiet strolls, and dark and moody photography.
It is a breathtakingly wild beach where you can spot idling monitor lizards, black monkeys chattering in the trees at the edge of the sandy beach and Menjangan deer paddling in the water! Surrounded by coral reefs, this beach is situated at West Bali National Park’s Teluk Brumbun ranger station. The coral reefs around the little island are supposed to be the best snorkeling site in Bali, allegedly even better than the Great Barrier Reef.
You must be appropriately dressed in a sarong and a sash to enter the temple premises. These are available for rent at the big tourist attractions but it’s better to buy a pair and use them throughout your trip.
Luhur Batukaru Temple
It is one of the main temples of Bali and is situated at the base of Mount Batukaru. The forests surrounding the temple are a lure for nature lovers. It is only 2km away from the island’s famous rice fields, Jatiluwih. Mount Batukaru has considered a sacred place and the mist-covered dense forests on its slope lend the place a mystic quality. Tourists aren’t allowed in the inner sanctum of the temple.
Pura Tirta Empul
It is believed that the sacred springs of the Pura Tirta Empul were made by Lord Indra and has healing powers. For thousands of years, Hindu worshippers have visited the place on pilgrimage. Tourists frequent the temple to bathe in the invigorating water. It is situated in Manukaya village near the Tampaksiring town in the Gianyar Regency.
Tanah Lot Temple
Tanah Lot Temple is Bali’s famed offshore sea temple, offering exquisite sunset views. The ancient Hindu temple is set on top of an outcrop with waves continuously crashing at its feet. It is located in the Beraban village of the Tabanan regency. During high tide, it becomes inaccessible. At low tide, one can cross over to the place at the rocky base where, according to legend, guardian sea snakes live in the fissures around the Tirta Pabersihan fountain. The water of the fountain is considered holy and caters to all the temples in the area.
UNESCO Heritage Sites
Jatiluwih Green Land
Jatiluwih rice terraces present the untouched splendor of traditional iconic Balinese rice fields. These serene lush terraces are not easily accessible but you will never regret the efforts you take to get there. The tranquil green landscape hides the fact that it is one of the oldest and most complex agricultural systems. Some are said to be as old as 500 years. Take a calming walk around the place or get a horse to ride around.
Located in the Gianyar Regency, it is a spiritual river valley sheltering the prehistoric and pre-Majaphahit archaeological sites. Surrounded by rice paddies, the gorge houses the stunning stone-carved shrines from the 11th century, Gunung Kawi, dedicated to royal families of that period.
The Indonesian archipelago comprises thousands of islands. Is it any wonder then that the Balinese cuisine is just as varied? Balinese cuisine uses a lot of local herbs and spices and is a mix of fresh vegetables, fish and meat. Along with local traditions, it also shows influences from other Indonesian regional cuisine, Indian and Chinese. The scrumptious Balinese cuisine offers an amazing variety of local delicacies. Being a popular tourist destination, it also boasts western food chains in the famous southern tourist areas.
The famous Indonesian spice paste called sambal is a spicy blend of red chili, spices and shrimp paste. Don’t miss Babi Guling/suckling pig, a mouth-watering roasted pig stuffed with base gede or spice paste; Bebek betutu/slow-cooked duck, a duck stuffed with eggs, cassava leaves and a spice mix prepared specially for the dish called bumbu raging, wrapped in betel nut husks or banana leaves and slowly cooked; Nasi Goreng, Indonesian fried rice with scrambled eggs, mixed meat and spices; Tahu and Tempe/ tofu dish, a kind of savory snacks. Balinese cuisine would be incomplete without its diverse offering of seafood including shrimps, crabs, lobsters, clams, calamari and a wide range of fish. Freshly caught, it is mostly grilled with sambal.
The tropical paradise Bali is like a picture-postcard come alive with its dreamy untouched, innumerable beaches, green luxuriant rice paddies, dense forests with mystical shrines, looming volcanoes and delectable cuisine. What makes it stand out from other tropical destinations is its deeply spiritual heritage which lends a special quality to everything on the island. The warm hospitality of the Balinese culture will leave you yearning to come back for more.