We sat impatiently through lunch waiting for the veil of mist that shrouded the volcano to lift. A faint hint of sunlight and we finally caught a glimpse of Mt. Batur with its perforated peak surrounded by the lush valley floor and dark blue lake.
Views like this are commonplace in Bali. Picture green terraced hillsides, temples great and small, fascinating roadside craft shops, and a choice of beaches. These are just a few of the reasons why visitors are returning to the island after the tragic bombings in 2002 that killed so many people. In Kuta where the horrifying explosions occurred, a Hindu shrine stands unscathed while the area next to it has been razed to the ground. Rather than be angry for the desecration of their peaceful island, the Balinese gathered in prayer for those who perished.
Prayer is intrinsic in Balinese culture which is deeply rooted in the Hindu religion. The pura or temple is an important institution in the daily life of the people. This is where they worship, celebrate life and send their dead to the afterlife. Every village has at least three temples, each dedicated to one of the Hindu Trinity – Vishnu, the Preserver of Life, Brahma who is the Creator and Shiva, the Destroyer.
With hundreds of temples in Bali, it is difficult to decide which ones to visit during a short stay. But Pura Tanah Lot has arguably the most dramatic setting. It is well positioned on top of a rocky promontory in southwestern Bali. At high tide, it is practically floating in ocean waters. Tanah Lot means earth and sea, quite apropos given its location. When it is low tide, it is possible to walk to the islet and climb up to the temple. Also at Tanah Lot is Batu Bolong, a rocky outcrop straddling land and sea, like a protective arm cradling a cozy beach. It has an arched opening carved by the ocean over time. Several shrines sit on the edge of the rock.
We happened to visit during their New Year festival. This celebration takes place more frequently when the Pawukon Balinese calendar system is employed. (A Pawukon year has 210 days.) It was a lively scene with colorful streamers moving gently in the breeze. Men garbed in white shirts and pants and white turban called “udeng” were praying under one of the tents. Women arrived with their offerings balanced on their head. They wore a sarong tied with a sash, required for all women (including visitors) who enter the temple. A whiff of incense burning and gamelan music playing in the background further heightened the heady and exotic ambience.
There are many deities in the Hindu religion. The Pura Ulun Danu in Bratan is a temple dedicated to Dewi Danu, the goddess of the waters and source of fertility. It has a lakeside setting with Mt. Batur in the distance as its backdrop. It is often cloaked in mist lending it an ethereal appearance. Within the temple grounds are fine examples of meru, a multi-tiered black thatched pagoda. Merus have an odd number of roofs up to a maximum of eleven. The royal temple of Taman Ayun in Mengwi has an impressive line up of merus in its inner courtyard. Together they constitute the “skyscrapers” of the village.
Everyday we discovered offerings to the gods in palm leaf trays in the most unexpected places. Some contained flowers and betel, others fruit and rice flour cookies, and during the festival, we saw more elaborate offerings, all of them attractively arranged. The contents notwithstanding, the Balinese are always trying to please their gods and ancestors. This must be the reason why Bali and its people are blessed with beauty and serenity.
Currency exchange: Be careful with money changers. A money changer in Nusa Dua insisted on changing my $100 with small bills then placed his hand on top of the stack of bills he handed to me and pilfered several bills this way. (The hotel staff accompanied me to the money changer after I complained and helped me recover the amount of money taken from me.) Although the sign clearly states “Authorized Money Changer”, this does not mean they are above board. It’s best to change your money in the bank even if the exchange rate may be lower. Local currency is Indonesian rupiah. (By Rosario Charie Albar).
Photos by Rosario Charie Albar.