t2oS takes time out to eat, pray, lounge on the Indonesian island
Direct flight: Air Asia Calcutta-Bali
Tourist visa: On arrival (free)
Exchange rate: Rs 1 = Rp 210 (Indonesian Rupiah)
Best time to visit: April to October
Bali. Where Julia Roberts’s journey culminates in the film Eat, Pray, Love. Where Yuvaj Singh got engaged to his now-wife Hazel Keech. Where I found myself spending a three-day holiday, taking in the sights and sounds.
Of all the compliments I’ve received in my life, this one had me grinning the widest: lancar. Pronounced “lanchar” in Indonesian, the word means “fluent” and was heaped upon me by almost every person I met during my recent trip to Bali.
I grew up in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, and so Bahasa Indonesia is the language of my childhood. I was visiting the country after 19 years and was immensely pleased to realise that I have forgotten nothing — not the vocabulary, not the accent, not even the slang!
I zapped waiters, vendors and airport authorities with my fluency and ended up chatting for 20 minutes with each of them.
And that is the other thing I’ve missed about the country — the people. One really doesn’t know the meaning of the word “friendly” till she has visited Indonesia. You know that scowl everyone wears in India? Indonesians are incapable of that expression. I’m yet to come across an Indonesian face that isn’t smiling at me.
Indians are put on an even higher pedestal, given that Bali is a Hindu island. People wanted to know if I live near the holy Ganges, if I had been on the tirth yatra and said that they loved watching the dubbed version of Devon Ke Dev... Mahadev that is aired on their telly.
The land is paradise, and not just because it looks the part. Indonesia — the most populous Muslim country in the world — whole-heartedly embraces and, in fact, celebrates the Hindu culture of Bali.
I’m truly grateful to have grown up in such harmony and so, today, if anyone tries to give me hogwash against either religion, I simply smile and ask them to visit Indonesia.
50 shades of blue
The most popular destination in Bali is Kuta Beach, where you can swim and surf, but you cannot miss Kelingking Beach, better known as the “dinosaur beach”. This is a beach with a cliff shaped like the T-Rex! You can walk down the edge of the cliff too, while enjoying the beauty.
Who knew blue came in so many shades? Try snorkelling at the serene Crystal Bay. A boat will take you to the spot where you would dive in, dressed in the gear. And in that azure water you will find Nemo, Dora and many other ornamental fish. There will be star, finger and mushroom-shaped corals, pink or orange, some swaying with the current and others fixed like rocks. And don’t worry, even non-swimmers can ace this!
Remember the coffee Jack Nicholson kept raving about in The Bucket List? Kopi Luwak, one of the most expensive coffees in the world, is processed in Bali. Here’s how it’s made. It sounds icky, but if you gross out, you miss out! The civet cat, locally called “luwak”, lives in the forests that grow Arabica coffee trees. The animal has the ability to select the most delicious coffee beans. However, it cannot digest them and so the beans come out with its droppings. The enzymes in the luwak’s stomach, however, have by then enhanced their flavour. The beans are collected, cleaned (thoroughly!) and processed further to give you the perfect cuppa.
Braid & Spa goals
You cannot leave Bali without getting these awesome Bali braids. Girls will come and braid your hair in this signature style as you sunbathe on the beach.
Nothing relaxes you like an authentic Balinese spa. Maybe a red wine body rub, Balinese massage and, finally, a dip into a rose petal bath. Try your hand — or foot — at the fish spa where tiny fish will nibble your feet clean.
TALLEST STATUE IN THE MAKING
The world’s tallest Vishnu statue is coming up in Bali. Standing at 120m, the copper-and-brass structure will be nearly 30m taller than the Statue of Liberty and is expected to be ready this year. The statue is being built in parts to be assembled later and the torso of Vishnu and the head of his mount Garuda (left) are already on display. Garuda Wisnu Kencana, the complex that will house the statue, is 263m above sea level and so offers a bird’s-eye view of the city.
The culture of Bali is unique as Hinduism had spread to the island centuries ago. The island is full of people named Kartika, Dewi and Rama. Balinese dances narrate the Ramayana, their temples house idols of Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva; they greet you with “Om Swastiastu”, a Sanskrit prayer for happiness and prosperity. Why, even the country’s national airline is called Garuda Indonesia, named after Lord Vishnu’s mount.
Choose an area of interest and Bali will have — not a shop but — a whole village full of artisans making it. Each village in Bali pursues a chosen profession. So there are villages renowned for gold and silver jewellery, woodwork, handicraft and batik. The batik style of dyeing originated in Indonesia, so you’ll get it everywhere. Pick up some nice batik sarongs from the flea market and dresses from big brands like Batik Keris. Ubud is the shopping district where you’ll get high-end clothes and art as well as ‘I love Bali’ fridge magnets.
You’ve watched Ramlila and you’ve watched jatra; now watch the Ramayana in kecak style. Nearly 100 people perform this dance as well as provide the music in an a cappella-like version. More than real lyrics, they create the ambience of a scene with sounds — joyful when Sita describes the golden deer, horrific when Ravana abducts her and inspiring when Rama vanquishes the villain. The open-air dance takes place against the backdrop of the setting sun at Uluwatu, a temple for lord Rudra.
TEMPLE IN THE SEA
Tanah Lot is a temple in the sea. Dedicated to the lord of the sea, Varuna, it is stationed on a rock formation. Try to be there at sunset when it looks like the sun sets in the temple itself.
— Brinda Sarkar