Ubud, Bali’s capital of culture, still weaves an exotic, artistic charm over this beautiful island. Despite mass tourism, traditional ways still hold and Balinese building designs dictate the style of accommodation available to tourists who can stay in beautifully manicured resorts in bungalows influenced by the design and structure of traditional Balinese homes. Central to this is the bale, an open sided pavilion with a pitched roof made of thatch.
Ubud made its name as a village of artists and there are a vast array of paintings available to purchase from its many galleries; both traditional works and the modern influenced by western artists who came here in the middle of the last century.
At the Agung Rai Museum of Art its possible to see work by Walter Spies the German artist who more than any other influenced local painters and Gusti Nyoman Lempad, the most famous of local artists. Away from the peaceful surroundings of museums like Agung Rai,cUbud nowadays is increasingly overrun with tourists and traffic jams. Day and night, a long procession of cars and bikes weaves its way through narrow streets lined with tourist outlets that were designed for another time.
Head north into the body of the island and the town of Tampaksiring to a Bali that used to be. This is a land of palm trees, brilliant green and rice terraces, all overlooked by the volcanic peak of Gunung Agung in the distance.
Bali’s intricately carved rice terraces with their unique irrigation systems have won Unesco world heritage status. Everywhere you will find flocks of ducks that are used by farmers to clear seeds from harvested rice fields in advance of the planting of a new crop.
There are three rice crops a year in Bali but other crops like pepper, papaya, corn and cacao for chocolate are also grown. The beans are harvested from the pod before being processed into chocolate.
Nearby is one of Bali’s many coffee plantations. Coffee is a traditonal drink for the Balinese and farmers still use old methods to roast the beans. As you continue north to Tampaksiring, you pass through whole villages devoted to servicing Bali’s massive tourist souvenir industry. Most in this small village are woodcarvers. Raw timber lies on the roadway waiting to be molded into a souvenir to be sold in the boutiques of Ubud and beyond.
Tampaksiring is best known for its water temple, Tirka Empel, established back in 962 AD. The Balinese are Hindus and they believe the waters here are holy and have magical powers. This is one of Bali’s most important temples, and in advance of festivals and special holy days, villagers from the surrounding districts gather and prepare offerings which are placed in intricately woven containers before being presented to the gods.
One traveller’s tip: exit through the gift shop has added meaning here. There are dozens of them!
Nearby, the final stop on our day trip, a visit to a museum devoted to Indonesia’s first leader, Sukarno. Sukarno’s mother was Balinese and he held a special affection for the island. There are some fantastic photographs of Indonesia’s first Head of State after independence in 1949. Sukarno was a flamboyant, charismatic man who had five wives. There are some brilliant photographs here of Sukarno with many world leaders, including then US President Kennedy, with Chinese leaders, Mao Tse Tung and Chou En Lai, with Russia’s Kruschev, Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh, and Cuba’s Che Cuevara. There’s even one of Sukarno with Marilyn Monroe. Despite a flamboyant lifestyle, Sukarno leaned left and took
Indonesia into the non aligned movement, before being toppled in a military coup in 1965. As a nationalist and Indonesia’s first president, he retains a special place in the nations heart. His office is preserved as he left it 50 years ago.
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