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Getting Acquainted With The Marvelous Bali

By Joba Aguilos Botana

There is always a place in Bali for various kinds of travelers. For nightlife- lovers, Bali’s provincial capital Denpasar, is the go-to. However, if one wants to immerse in the Balinese way of life, the upland town of Ubud in Greater Denpasar is its cultural center. This province of Indonesia located in the western most part of the Lesser Sunda Islands and the easternmost of the Sunda Shelf is the country’s main tourist destination, wherein tourism-related business makes up 80% of the economy.

I spent a week on this paradise island, and while I think it wasn’t enough to see all its beautiful must-visits, it was enough to get to know some of its people and culture and bask in its beauty. One remarkable thing I noticed upon setting foot in Bali was the warm and friendly locals. My host and guide Kadek explained to me that Balinese people are generally nice, welcoming, and peace-loving. It is no wonder that Bali is among the top destinations preferred by tourists and retirees from all over the world.

The first thing that you, a visitor, must understand about the Balinese people is that they are religious and deeply spiritual. Know that many of the places you see especially the numerous temples are sacred to them. Thus, it is common to see flower offerings on the streets and altars outside of their homes.

I wanted to get acquainted with its culture, so I chose to stay in Ubud. For first-time visitors, finding a place to stay in Ubud is not a cause of worry as there are plenty of options to choose from. A quick Google or Airbnb search and you will be presented with a lot of choices. All you have to do is filter out and narrow your choices to ones that suit your needs and budget.

The traditional Balinese house

Traditional houses in Bali, known by the locals as Rumah Gapura Candi Bentar, are still found in Bali. They are both a tourist attraction as well as a part of the community and these are sacred to them. As a first-time visitor, I was enchanted by their beauty and details. Within the aesthetically pleasing architecture of Balinese traditional houses, dwells a rich philosophy that the Balinese refer to as Asta Kosala Kosali, which can be likened to “Feng Shui”in Chinese culture. Traditional Balinese buildings seek to be in harmony with the environment and are built almost entirely of organic materials such as thatch roofing, bamboo poles, woven bamboo, coconut wood, teak wood, brick, and stone. From the outside, a traditional Balinese house looks like a small castle surrounded by red brick walls.

Asta Kosala Kosali usually consists of: Angkul-angkul, the entrance to the house area, usually shaped like an enormous gate with a roof; Aling-aling, which functions as a barrier and distraction so that people from the outside cannot look straight into the house area and is also believed to prevent any negative aura from coming into the house; Sanggah (family shrine), a sacred building that is usually located next to the northeast end of the house and

functions as a worship place; Bale Dauh, a room specifically designed for the boys or male bachelors living in the traditional house, and sometimes functions as a place for meetings and organizing daily activities such as weaving, carving, painting, and sculpting; Bale Gede, a building that functions as a traditional ceremony place, usually has 12 poles with two chambers on the right and left side; Bale Manten, a chamber that serves as a bed for the head of the family or for the girl who has not married, has a rectangular shape and is located north of the main building; Pawaregen (Pawon), or the kitchen has two areas, namely cooking areas and storage areas of kitchen appliances; and Jineng, the storage for the grain that has been dried.

Amazing temples

Perhaps one of the first things you will notice in Bali is the presence of temples almost everywhere. It is, after all, dubbed as a Thousand Temple Island. Kadek told me that “there is one for every household, one for the community, and one that is open for everyone.” These are sacred sites to the Balinese and to them, sharing these places with the rest of the world means that they are also inviting you to get to know them on a deeper level- their beliefs, traditions, and culture. If you are looking into visiting some of its impressive temples, consider the following:

1. Tanah Lot Temple, perched on a rock in Tabanan facing the ocean with waves crashing relentlessly, is one of those you should not forego. This site dates to the 16th century and is one of the most popular temples to visit in Bali.

2. Ulun Danu Beratan Temple, situated in the highlands of Northern Bali, lies a majestic temple within Lake Beratan, offering a blissful and calm atmosphere.

3. Tirta Empul Temple, also known as Pura Tirta Empul or the Holy Water Temple, is another must-visit Balinese site with beautiful sacred springs. People worldwide visit Tirta Empul Temple to marvel at its beauty and bathe in its blessed water. It is said that this temple was created by the God Indra and possesses curative properties.

4. Goa Gajah is an ancient cave in Gianyar that serves as an archaeological place with a relic-filled courtyard. You can view the large wantilan or a traditional Balinese meeting hall inside the courtyard, complete with old stone carvings. This traditional architecture was constructed during the 11th century, in the Warmadewa Era.

5. Taman Ayun Temple located Northwest of Denpasar lies this stunning traditional architecture, a significant temple and landmark in the Mengwi Village. It is a well-known complex, showcasing an expansive garden with lotus-filled ponds -- a site with marvelous nature sightseeing.

Authentic Bali teas and coffee

Coffee- lovers like me will also enjoy coffee shop hopping in Bali or going on an immersive coffee-tasting experience. This is in fact, one of the first things I did upon arrival. My guide brought me to Satria Agrowisata, a lush plantation in Gianyar, for an authentic taste of Bali teas and coffees. The place is best known for its kopi luwak or civet coffee, which is produced when coffee beans are eaten, partially digested, and then excreted by Asia palm civets. Although kopi luwak is among the most expensive coffees, it is worth a try if one is into coffee drinks.

Bali Swing

This is perhaps one of the attractions you will often see on social media, the popular giant Bali Swing. A bit pricey, if you are to ask me, but people do it for the experience or the ‘gram. If not for the experience itself, go for the spectacular mountain and rice terraces view, similar to our very own Banaue Rice Terraces. I will save you from the comparison, and you be the one to judge.

A place for all

Bali is filled with awe-inspiring places to visit aside from its wonderful temples surrounded by the island’s tropical beauty. And no matter your reason for traveling whether you are curious about Bali or just taking a break from the hectic city life, Bali has a place for everyone. For water lovers, their beaches and waterfalls are something, too. If you want to veer away from the crowd head on to the white sand Virgin Beach in Karangasem, Bali. Though this beach has become popular among tourists visiting the eastern part of the island of Bali it is still not as crowded compared with the ones frequented by tourists in other parts of Bali. The Bayumala Twin Waterfalls located in North Bali is a popular spot for photographers and nature lovers, with its split waterfalls dropping over giant flat rocks into cool and crystal clear water.

What I will remember most from my Bali trip aside from the places I explored was my experience with the Balinese people. They know how to enjoy and appreciate the littlest blessings in life. Often, they pause to quiet their mind and take time to be grateful. Perhaps, this is also one of the reasons why they have some of the best yoga teachers and practitioners, as quieting the mind and learning to be still, are fundamentals in yoga practice.

I was taken by the beauty of the places I visited— the temples, beaches, marketplaces, cafes in the middle of a rice field, and waterfalls at the foot of verdant mountains. And I was in awe at how the Balinese were able to preserve their culture and pass it on from generation to generation.

“We do our best to preserve our culture and traditions. At home and in school, children are taught at a young age our ways and how we ought to live our lives, and in time, they will pass it on to the next generation,” Kadek told me.

There are many things to love in Bali apart from what I have mentioned. As is often said, it is best to see it for yourself. Visit Bali and you will be able to absorb its heritage and history.

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