Bali: The Isle of the Gods
The Dutch first came to Bali in the 1830’s, but after negotiations to take over the island failed, they sent in the military three times between 1846 and 1849, causing heavy casualties among the troops of the Balinese ‘rajas’ (kings)
As the outgoing tide releases the mangrove forest from its salty embrace, Siti Manoppo prepares for her next dawn foraging trip. From the entrance to her coral-walled home, she collects a sharp knife, a plastic bucket and thick-soled men’s shoes to protect her feet from sea urchins and razor clams. She smears her face with thick plant extract to shield her skin from the harsh sun and sets off on the long walk across the pristine foreshore.
Life for the people of Bali follows nature’s timetable. They get up with the ebbing tide and return home with the flow. The seafood the women gather each day is sufficient to sustain each village. The men, in their brightly-coloured ‘jukung’ fishing boats, venture farther afield, bringing back fish and octopus to sell in the local market.
Not without reason is the beautiful Indonesian island of Bali called ‘The Isle of the Gods’. Described by so many as ‘magical’, its spectacular landscape of lakes and fast flowing rivers is scattered with banyans and palm groves and adorned with exquisite artistry of a tapestry of rice paddies. Sweeping bays indenting Bali’s coast are filled with white sandy beaches and backed by the blossoms of a tropical Eden, scented with subtle fragrances of frangipani and oleander. Intricate and beautiful tier-roofed temples, pagodas and frequent cultural festivals abound in a display of oriental and spiritual magnificence.
Bali is a small island located 8 degrees south of the Equator, one of more than 17,500 islands that make up the Republic of Indonesia. At only 140km (87 miles) in length east to west and 80km (50 miles) north to south, it has a total area of just 5,632sq km (2,175sq miles). Most of the 3.1 million people on Bali live in the southern, eastern and northern districts, while volcanoes dominate much of the centre and Bali’s only national park takes up much of the far western area.
As part of the ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’, some of Bali’s most enduring geographical features are the six volcanoes over 2,000m (6,500 ft) high that range across the island from east to west. The largest,
Gunung (Mount) Agung is 3,142m (10,308 ft) high; the Balinese consider it the home of the deities, who may show their displeasure by causing a volcanic eruption, as happened in 1963, with devastating results. And yet for all their danger, the volcanoes are also gifts from the gods; their lava and ash have provided the lush and fertile soil that allows the Balinese to grow their crops, and their height attracts the rain clouds that fill the massive lakes at their feet – such as Danau (Lake) Batur - and provide the large amounts of water used for irrigation.
The colonial past of Bali began with spices. Until the 16th century, Arab and Indian traders had dominated the trade routes between Southeast Asia and Europe, shipping large and extremely valuable quantities of pepper, nutmeg and clove to the west and bringing Islam to Indonesia. The Portuguese were the first to venture out to India and Indonesia in the 16th century to take over some of the trade, but they later concentrated on other areas, leaving Indonesia to the Dutch. Over a period of three centuries, the Dutch East India Company (arguably the first ever multinational enterprise) gradually took control of Indonesia, using local trade alliances rather than military force to gain access. In 1816, the Dutch government took over the colony, now named the Dutch East Indies, focusing on plantations, mining and oil.
The Dutch first came to Bali in the 1830’s, but after negotiations to take over the island failed, they sent in the military three times between 1846 and 1849, causing heavy casualties among the troops of the Balinese ‘rajas’ (kings). It was during these skirmishes that the’raja’ of Karangasem committed ‘puputan’, a suicidal fight to the death, together with his family. In July 1849 most local ‘rajas’ agreed to Dutch rule in exchange for remaining in charge of their own territories. Dutch control over South Bali was completed in 1909, but not until after more horrific ‘puputan’ in 1906 and 1908. The subsequent colonial period saw the beginnings of tourism on Bali and the settlement of many foreign artists.
The Balinese people are friendly and their traditions will surely charm and captivate you. Each area of the country has a unique style and charm which would take a lifetime to explore fully. Ubud, in central Bali, is the cultural and artistic centre of the country, surrounded by picturesque mountains and lush green countryside while Kuta, Legian and Seminyak are the places to go surfing, swimming, dining and shopping.
Nusa Dua and Tanjung Benoa are located on the Bukit Peninsula, just 30 minutes south of Kuta. Many of the resorts in this area have world-class facilities, clubs and activities for children and are therefore perfect for a family holiday. The beautiful beach has gentle waves lapping at the shore for those that wish to relax or for the more active there is golf, horse riding and cycling, to name but a few. This dedicated resort area is manicured in a way that still allows the mystical culture of the island to shine through.
The charming fishing village of Sanur is another popular spot for tourists and is located on the south east coast of Bali. The pristine beach is sheltered by a coral reef and so makes this an ideal location for watersports of all kinds; snorkelling, scuba diving, windsurfing and outrigger sailing. The shops are full of bargains and the dining is exquisite, thanks to the delicious local cuisine such as ‘babi guling’ (spit-roasted suckling pig), ‘nasi goreng’ (chicken or seafood with fried rice) and ‘mie goreng’ (with fried noodles) and various kinds of ‘saté’ (skewers of grilled meat, usually served with peanut sauce).
Ubud is Bali’s mountain region and this natural highlight is just an hour north of Denpasar, the island’s vibrant capital. Famous for painters and sculptors the township and nearby villages have attracted celebrities from around the world. Ubud features some of the finest Balinese culture with amazing artisans working in wood, stone and silver. It is also renowned for its festivals and ceremonies and is known as the main centre for adventure excursions into Bali’s highlands.
The main tourist area of Kuta (including its immediate neighbours Legian and Seminyak) sprawls along the western coast of South Bali, just 3km (1 3/4 miles) north of Ngurah Rai International Airport. Kuta is brash and is known as the “Costa Fosters” given its popularity with partying Australians. Denpasar, Bali’s largest city has a population of over 400,000 and a sprawling network of streets bustling with motorbikes and other traffic, centred around a peaceful, grassy square that commemorates one of Bali’s bloodiest historical events ... the terrorist bombings of 12 October 2002. Life has moved on and tourists have begun to return, but for Bali, the dream of paradise had been forever altered.
Bali’s beaches are great for action or plain relaxation. The fishing boats, which line Jimbaran Bay, offer the perfect waterfront setting. Enjoy freshly caught seafood from the beachfront markets at this Balinese paradise lined with soft white sand and boasting magnificent sweeping views and is the perfect location to see the most stunning sunsets.
Besides sun, sand and sea, Bali is probably best known for its vibrant, multifarious artistic culture. Javanese influences from the 14th century Majapahit kingdom played an early role, but new styles have developed over time, especially in the past century and often from exposure to expatriate Western artists. Gold and silversmiths once supplied the jewellery for Balinese royalty, but now the tourist trade is their main market. Many forms of dance, drama and puppetry were developed for religious ceremonies, although in recent years secular forms have evolved for tourist performances.
Bali is a wonderful tropical island, where the culture is instant. Noel Coward put it simply “It appears that each Balinese native from womb to tomb is creative” – a statement that becomes even more profound as you travel around. Fantastically designed luxury hotels such as The Legian and The St. Regis Bali Resort, diverse scenery and probably the most spontaneous, widest smiles in the world. Bali is the yardstick by which other resorts must be judged.
- Peter Holthusen
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