Special Six: Highlights of Bali

During a long weekend in November, I decided to take an impromptu trip to Bali. While I had booked a tour package, I found there were areas that I wanted to visit which were not covered by the package so I opted out of the two full day tours included in the package and I find that while writing this post, that those two days on my own private tour seemed to be the highlight for me.

The special six highlights of my 5 day trip are as follows:

(1) Pura Luhur Uluwatu:

On the first evening of the trip, our group visited Uluwatu and its famous temple for the sunset view.

It was the first time that I had visited a Hindu temple, which didn’t seem to have a shrine. Our guide said that Hinduism in Bali was different from that practiced in India and other countries and that images were not used in temples. Considered to have been built a thousand years ago by a sage who attained ‘moksha’ at this site, this temple is one of the six holiest places for Balinese Hindus in Bali. The steps led to the sunset view point and there were crowds moving to the location of the locally famous ‘kecak’ dance venue.

The temple is located on a cliff overlooking the sea and is considered one of the best spots to view the sunset in Bali.

(2) Pura Lempuyang:

I decided to opt out of the trip included in the tour package on my second day and hired a private car (guide seemed to be included with the car) to take me to Pura Lempuyang, on the east coast of Bali. Another of the six holiest places for Balinese Hindus, the temple is considered one of the oldest Hindu temples in Bali. This temple actually has a series of temples along the mountain and the main temple/ shrine is at the top.

Having seen the famous mirror photo taken at the entrance to the first temple at sunrise, I set out around 3.30am for the east coast which would enable me to arrive by around 5.30am at the temple.

IMG_1814Deciding to get the photo taken first before the crowds arrived, I waited in the short queue forming by the photographer. Basically, you give your phone or camera to the photographer who places a mirror underneath the lens and clicks a series of photos and you provide a tip for taking the photo.

While I had planned to try making it to the top of the mountain to the seventh temple, getting to the first one had turned out to be a bit difficult for me because of the steep climb, so I decided that I would only visit the first temple. Having taken some offering, I was allowed into the temple.

There were little shrine like structures but again, there were no images. I was instructed to place my offering on one of the concrete slabs in the courtyard and light my incense sticks for prayers. My guide, Suryanta, later explained that images were not used in Bali temples and that there were three types of Hindu temples: family temples, which were located within one’s home, functional temples, which were associated with one’s livelihoods (e.g. farming) and ceremonial temples.

After some peaceful moments of reflection in the temple courtyard, I decided to take a final shot of the gateway and Mount Agung from the top of the staircase of the first temple.

IMG_1959(3) Tirta Gangga: Suryanta, my guide, highly recommended us stopping at a water palace built in 1948 by the Raja of Karangasem. Since we were passing it on our way back from Pura Lempuyang, I agreed. It is now open to the public and apparently popular with families with children.

(4) Rice terraces of Bali:

Having seen beautiful photos of the Tegallalang rice terraces, I had asked Suryanta take me there as well but he basically stopped at one of the rice terraces we passed and said that the rice terraces look the same everywhere and that it was not necessary to go another hour or two out of the way simply to see the same rice terrace. Seemed like a fair point and since the rice terraces was not one of my priorities, I agreed with the alternative offered of going directly to the Bali Swings instead.

(5) Tanah Lot: This temple is part of the sea temples along the coast of Bali. One of the myths around the temple’s origin is around a powerful Hindu sage who had arrived in this area centuries ago and had caused the local priest to become jealous and retaliate against the sage. The sage then supposedly chose to separate a piece of land from the land and guarded it with snakes. This is one of the stories behind Tanah Lot.

Whatever it’s true story, it is today a pilgrimage point for many Balinese Hindus and there were many families there to pray and to obtain the water blessing.

(6) Cooking Lesson: On the day the group went to Nusa Penida, I opted out to again set off on my private adventure – this time to try a Balinese cooking class I booked through cookly.com.

Wayan, that was how the instructress at Taste of Bali introduced herself, first showed me how to make an offering for their family temple. Had I not learnt the previous day from Suriyanto, about how naming in Balinese culture worked, I would have assumed that Wayan was her name. Suryanta had explained that Hindu families in Bali gave their children two names. The first would indicate the order of birth and the second, their actual name. Wayan indicates the eldest born, Made the second, Nyoman, third and Ketut the fourth. And if there were more children in the family, this cycle would be repeated. Thus I understood my cooking instructress was the eldest born in her family.

After making the offering for the temple, she showed me how to weave rice baskets in which to cook rice.

After we had put the rice to cook, she showed me how to cook several dishes starting from making the base sauces ( a red and yellow one).

Bali was quite the relaxing holiday destination, and I would certainly consider revisiting. Next time though, I would definitely book my own accommodation and trips as it is more fun that way rather than with a package tour.

What about you? Are you more of an independent traveler or prefer package tours?