Usha
A month ago I was contemplating a quiet vacation at a resort near Coimbatore and my cousin was looking for an exotic vacation. Somewhere during our conversations, the plans converged and we ended up booking tickets to Bali, Indonesia. (That should tell you a lot about me – starting toward Coimbatore and ending in Bali.) The travel agent proposed a package that included local sight-seeing which is always a sensible option to get a flavor of any new place but we decided against it. Because I don’t much care for running all over the place trying to see the important tourist destinations and my cousin is more of the lonelyplanet -type traveler. So we were on our own to find a place to stay and we decided to go with le Meridien’s Nirwana Golf & Spa resort based on some rave reviews on the net. And that wasn’t a decision I regretted.
I strongly recommend the place for two reasons : 1)It is right next to one of the must-see spots of Bali, the Tanah-Lot temple. You can simply sit in the lobby of the Hotel and watch the famous sunset that tourists to Bali travel all the way to see.
It is just a few minutes’ walk if you want to join them on the beach and watch the temples of Tanah-lot and Batu Bolong during a glorious sunset. Thereafter you could just walk around the place for a Kecak or Barong performance or shop in the local market or eat local food in one of the restaurants which is more authentic and way cheaper than eating at the resort.
2) The resort is very beautifully constructed – the buildings blend well into the natural background, every room has a beautiful view of the greenery all around and every spot is done up with great taste. Whichever spot you are, it offers a lovely view either of the sea or the trees or the pools or rocky ponds or the golf course. It is a perfect get-away for those who want to spend some quiet time alone with nature watching the sea change color from morning till night.
It boasts of one of the country’s best 18 hole golf courses and has won quite a few awards for the same. The restaurants are good, staff are very friendly and helpful. It is expensive even at the off-season rate of $105 per night (incl. taxes but excl. breakfast) but that is probably the price you need to pay for all the beauty it offers.. And if you can get your company to pay for this it is a win-win all the way! As the name indicates, it also has a well appointed Spa with professional services.

The first thing you notice on arriving at the Ngurah Rai international airport is the long queue at the immigration and the fact that the officials don’t seem too worried about it. There are just 4 officials on duty although there are 16 counters. (Of course if you are like me the first thing you would notice would be the name of the airport and how you pronounce ng at the beginning of a word.) For an island that thrives on tourism you would expect a little more enthusiasm about welcoming tourists. Or perhaps this is a typical Hindu approach to life as 93% of the people in Bali are Hindus.
Visa is on arrival (for most countries) and the fee for 7 days’ stay is 10 dollars. We handed in a hundred dollar bill and received a balance of 7,20,000 rupiahs. Yes the exchange rate is about 9100 rp to the dollar and I instantly knew I was going to have trouble handling this money for the next few days. And I was right. More about that later.
It was a long ride from Denpasar to Tanah-lot which gave us the opportunity to get used to the island. On the way we saw a few large sculptures depicting scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharatha and many Hindu temples blending Hindu and Buddhist styles of temple architecture. The pillars looked very Hindu while the roofs in many places were like the Pagodas in Buddhist temples. Bali has many skilled sculptors and along the way we saw shops with huge statues of Buddha, Ganesha, Shiva, Brahma, wishnu and Saraswati. They believe in the trimurtis but the variety of Hinduism practiced in Bali is quite different from its Indian parent as it is a mixture of myths, rituals, ancestor worship and belief in black magic. Native animism is interwoven with Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. You must wear a sarong and sash while visiting a temple although you are permitted to go in with footwear, Mensturating women are not allowed inside and you cannot enter the temple when you are 'Impure' (?)
Every house has an ornate pillar called Padmasan with a niche for offerings which are done three times a day. Daily offering consists of flowers, cooked rice and meat on hand made coconut leaf trays On special days the offerings are more elaborate. Additionally they also a have a temple within the family compound with several Padmasans each with a designated purpose – one for storing the ashes of ancestors, one for offering to gods, one for offering grains after harvest and so on. Birth, death and marriages have special rituals as do special festivals like the new year and harvest festival. Galungan is an important festival which celebrates the triumph of Good over Evil. This seems the theme of much of their culture as their various dance forms like Barong and Kecak are also based on the same theme. These folk dances are very beautiful and performed in the temple complexes. The stories are a bit difficult to comprehend with their symbolism and mysticism but the performances are very elegant and captivating.The hotel runs shuttles two times a day to Kuta, Ubud and Semanyak from where one could take private or public transport to other places of interest. We tried to look for the government tourism office in Kuta and many sounded like they heard the name for the first time and ended up directing us to private tourist operators. It is a good idea to ask for directions at the polis (police) stations and when they say traffic signal it could just be a junction with no signals. Most people speak a form of broken English which is easy to follow once you use common sense to fill up the gaps. After a relentless struggle of about 45 minutes in the hot mid day sun we did manage to find the tourism office. They gave us maps and some information on important places to see but there are no government operated tours. All tours are organized by private operators or you could hire taxis on an hourly or daily basis.
The hotel charges 84 dollars for 8 hours for an air-conditioned car with driver. If you need a guide that would be charged separately. If you are lucky you might have a driver who can double up as a sort of guide. This is why it might be a good idea to sign up for a package which might work out cheaper and would cover the important places of tourist interest.
Alternatively you could choose to visit the important temples, the botanical garden, volcano Batur and Batur lake, Agung mountain, the monkey forest or the terraced rice fields at Tegallalang.
Wherever you go you are assured of a great view of the lush greenery either from the rice fields or the tall dense trees that line the roads all the way to the destination. Completely free, no extra charge!!There are plenty of options for water sporting activities. After all of which, you could relax with a nice body massage or foot reflexiology; Or you could just sit quietly on the beach and communicate with the sea if you do not want to go anywhere.

Markets are best avoided as you could get lured to see some of their wares and end up getting terribly overcharged. Handling prices with so many zeros is a huge problem for me and I realized that I had paid 70 dollars for stuff that I could have got at an equivalent of 1000 rupees. The story repeated every time I tried to buy something. And there were times I was happily handing over a 100000 rupiah note where I was required to pay 10000.

A note on private money changers. You find them all over the markets offering you higher rates of exchange than Banks and the likes of Western Union. At one place in Kuta the guy managed to swindle 200000 (20 dollars) from the payment due to me by cleverly distracting me. Luckily I noticed it and when I returned to confront him he gave me the money without denying too much saying “ It is a mistake uh Sorry uh. You Hindu. Me Hindu. I don’t cheat you uh.”
Ok, whatever… as long as I get my money back.
They are very good at selling things, these people. Women will tell you “just look. I make good price for you” and quote you a price 5 times the value of the item. Or they will say “Morning price for good luck. Very cheap”. Small kids will sweetly ask you “will buy something from me?” Make sure that you never buy anything without bargaining and usually they will come down to about 1/5th of the price originally quoted. That is wisdom for you from a shopper who lost about 60 dollars in stupid shopping for unwanted stuff. There are many artists around Ubud practising sculpting, wood carving, painting, batik printing, jewelry making etc. They are exquisite and expensive.
Food is good and cheap in the smaller restaurants but choice is limited if you are vegetarian. Nasi campur vegetarian and Gado gado are good. Try the Balinese Bumba vegetarian platter if you get a chance. They have a great variety of tropical fruits which I tasted for the first time – Salat, dragon fruit, passion fruit , Rambutan, mangosteen and Cocoa fruit. Food at the resort is good but very expensive. It is a more sensible option to have the buffet breakfast at the resort and have lunch and dinner at the restaurants in town.

The weather was hot and humid with temperatures hovering in the early 30s and a humidity level of 55%. It might have been beautiful had it rained but rains are not expected this year until December. Island rains are just beautiful exposing you to the full fury of the elements.
Houses have elaborate carvings on the outer walls, wooden doors and pillars. There are several wings within the same compound with a common courtyard. Each couple have a separate wing for their beds and belongings with the common kitchen and dining space forming one wing. There is a common family temple within the compound with several pillars designated for different purposes. Agricultural families also have a granary called Lumbung within the compound.

Balinese Hindus have a caste system with 4 groups : Brahmana, Satrias, Wesiya and Sudra but there are no social discriminations and intermarriages are common. But there are different temples for each caste group. Local communities have a lot of power in social and religious matters. Partha, one of the bearers at the resort restaurant had a red thread around his waist. When we asked him what it was for he said that someone had stolen something from their local temple. The community believes that the Gods have been angered by this and so all members have a red thread tied around their wrists for their protection. They have many such superstitions. The Padmasans in the houses and temples are dressed in sarongs with black and whiye checks as a protection from black magic or evil. Holy water is used for protection and purification. The temple performances of Kecak and Barong which we watched started with prayer and ended with the priest appearing and splashing holy water on all the dancers.

Strong religious beliefs and superstitions keep the people in smaller towns tied to traditional ways of life while cities like Denpasar are more drab and dull wearing the commercial look of modern cities.We noticed the same kind of lethargy and lassitude in the airport procedures on the way back. The airport facilities are rather basic reminding us of some of our own airports. There is a departure fee of 150000 rp. per person which interestingly is more than the visa fee of 10 dollars.
There is a lot that you do not understand in Bali but if you don’t try to, it can be a very beautiful and relaxing experience.
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23 Responses
  1. hillgrandmom Says:

    Usha, you sound like you ha d a rip-roaring time. Beautiful pictures too--guaranteed to turn many of your readers green (me certainly).


  2. maami Says:

    Lucky you! Happy holiday it seems.


  3. kc Says:

    Great article on your trip to Bali! Now, I definitely want to go! Are you based in Bangalore, and if you are, then, could you please give me the name of your travel agent? Thanks.


  4. Sraboney Says:

    We are planning to go next year...

    I'm glad you had a great time - I bet it was better than Coimbatore...

    Great writing and pictures...


  5. G Says:

    Usha, we went there in April for our honeymoon and ever since I have been wanting to write about it.
    I think what I will do now is make a link to your post. :)
    You have written it beautifully. Did you see the Bratan lake too? It is beautiful na? :)


  6. Sri Says:

    Lucky you...We too are planning to go next year :0


  7. Looks like you had an awesome time in Bali Usha...lovely pics as well:-)...another destination added to the list of places to visit before I die ;-)


  8. Hip Grandma Says:
    This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Hip Grandma Says:

    Caste system in Bali? Okay I suppose,as long as it does not discriminate. But why are there separate temples for different castes? Anyway, your account made an interesting read and as Susan says the photographs were beautiful.And I disagree with Sraboney. Coimbatore is in no way less tourable. There are several places of tourist interest in and around Coimbatore.


  10. diya Says:

    WOW, Usha, your trip sounds great..it will be a useful guide for those who go there. The land sounds magical, similar to ours yet different. Thanks for the post!


  11. Praveen Says:

    That was one great trip!
    I should do one with friends.

    @hillgrandmom: Vaalpaarai, Top Slip and Yercaud near Coimbatore make excellent holiday spots isn't it?


  12. Would you tell me that easiest route for to reach the bolu temple and many other places that you have described in your blog. the places that you described are able to attract the foreign visitors towards the india...


  13. Ramya S Says:

    Ushaji,
    As always well written and urges me to send this link to hubby so that he considers Bali for our next trip. If you can disclose, which package tour did you opt for? For newbeeis like me, who havent had a vacation outside India, recommendations will be useful.
    Thanks,
    Have a Good Holidaying season!


  14. Usha Says:

    Sue: yes, I had a good time. The place is very beautiful.

    Maami: Hehehe ya

    kc:
    Akshaya India Tours & Travels
    Pvt Ltd.
    D-4 Devatha Plaza , 131 / 132 Residency Road.
    Bangalore 5600025 , Karnataka,India
    Landline : + 91 80 22106317 / 18
    Facsimile: + 91 80 41711417
    You can mention me and talk to Partha Sen (manager-Operations)

    Sraboney:The resort I was planning to go also promises great natural beauty but of course this was a whole new experience.

    G:Thanks. I did not see the Bratan lake. May be next time?

    Sri: Come back and share your experience.

    Priyanka: Absolutely!

    Hipgran:As I mentioned community groups have a lot of power in religious and social matters. May be it is for administrative reasons. My next destination of course is coimbatore!

    Diya: It is a land of mystic experiences as some say.

    Praveen:Ya ya you should.

    CFW:These are not in India. Bali is in Indonesia.

    Ramya: We did not opt for the package. But the one that my travel agent was proposing was:
    BALI PACKAGE 5D4N @ DISCOVERY KARTIKA PLAZA 5*
    INR 17500/person & Air fare INR 26500/- PP
    # 04 nights accommodation at Superior Room
    # Daily Breakfast
    # Return airport transfer
    # FD Barong Kintamani Tour
    # HD Mengwi Alas Kedaton Tanah Lot Tour
    # HD Uluwatu Kecak dinner at Jimbaran Tour
    # All transfers & tours based on private car.
    # Return Economy class Air fare by Thai Airways .


  15. Art Says:

    this is an inspiration to visit Bali


  16. 2 B's mommy Says:

    wow ! great write up about your vacation in Bali. Enjoyed the pics.


  17. justaroundme Says:

    I am not sure if you have read the book "eat,pray,love" by Elizabeth Gilbert - in that she describes Bali and from then on its on my "to visit" wish list...now your post is even more tempting..good to know you enjoyed..
    And i am a new blogger and have blog rolled you..hope you don't mind.


  18. Saumya Says:

    Very well written travelogue. You have a good narrative style that sustains interest.


  19. Very well written travelogue. You have a good narrative style that sustains interest.


  20. Chitra Says:

    I like the platter full of food photo! Zimply delicious !


  21. Hey,

    I am latha's friend and on her suggestion read up this blog on Bali... Just by reading what you wrote i feel like making a summer plan to Bali :) Nice writing!


  22. David Says:

    Other than Tanah Lot, you also can visit Jati Luih. Jati Luih have a great rice field view


  23. fery Says:

    nice blog