Feature

Pure and Authentic Bali

06 Jan 2017

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Bali can deliver an inner journey for those wanting to discover the rich culture of a world that lies behind luxury hotels, extravagant restaurants and spa retreats.

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Palms silhouetted against mountain at sunrise
Photo: David Metcalf

With my camera in hand, I set out on a journey to capture some insights into Bali’s beautiful, deep-seated traditions. My discovery started with a 5.00am hotel pickup by local Balinese photographer, Nyoman, who explained that I would be starting the day watching a volcano wake up and capturing some unique light in the rice fields inside an ancient temple. I was excited.

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Traditional Balinese procession with fruit baskets carried on heads
Photo: David Metcalf

After catching the dramatic golden sunrise over Mt Agung we caught sight of a line of women walking down the road with high fruit towers on their heads. 

“We can join,” Nyoman said, “All we need to do is follow the line, join the procession at the back and we will end up at a temple where we can be a part of the celebrations.”

He passed me a sash and sarong and I got to experience my first Balinese temple ceremony. Bali is a living culture in essence, and by spending my day with a local Balinese I caught a glimpse into the heart of their culture.

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Ladies play traditional instruments at Balinese temple ceremony
Photo: David Metcalf

My Balinese lunch, which was served back at Nyoman’s house, consisted of urab, a Balinese salad with green beans and sprouts, tempe with Balinese spices, tantalizing shredded steamed chicken with spices, bamboo satay skewers with peanut sauce, and steamed vegetables cooked in coconut, which was served on a pile of steaming hot rice.

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Balinese temple dancer poses in garden
Photo: David Metcalf

Next, two temple dancers appeared in Nyoman’s garden and I sat entranced by a graceful performance by the dancers, aged five and seven years old.

“They dance at the local temple,” said Nyoman, “and to have the opportunity to perform here for you is a great honour, and good practice too.”

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Balinese rice paddies with mountain in background
Photo: David Metcalf

After lunch we headed to Gunung Kawi, located only 20 minutes out of Ubud.  This ancient temple complex includes 10 huge towering carved tombs in the cliff face. First, I was shown a side path to a waterfall and a hidden temple and as I entered deeper into the jungle, a series of World-Heritage-listed terraced rice fields opened up in front of me.  As the steamy misty jungle clung to the edges of these steeply terraced rice fields, I was able to capture the magic of this in the soft light and got some great photos. The path led to a series of open doorways, chiseled from the rock. These caves stood in a straight line symbolically representing an open door. 

“A door to the other world,” Nyoman said.

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Sunshine through the trees in Balinese jungle
Photo: David Metcalf

Next, I spent time walking in the shadows of the seven-meter high tombs of Gunung Kawi known as the Queens Tombs.  We stopped and bought a fresh coconut from a very happy seller, who fashioned a drinking spout from the top of the young coconut and showed me how to drink it without a straw.

What I enjoyed more than anything on my photo tour was getting off the tourist path and travelling for a day with a local, who showed me another Bali – a traditional and authentic Bali. Discovering small villages and greeting life as a local, with a local, made for a unique cultural exchange and made me appreciate a different side of Bali.

Bali breathes with its own rhythm and welcomes the curiosity of a stranger to explore a very pure and authentic Bali. 

Stephanie Brookes

Stephanie Brookes is a freelance travel writer based in Bali, Indonesia. She is the author of "Indonesia's Hidden Heritage - Cultural Journeys of Discovery" and has over 50 articles published on traveling in Asia, Australia and New Zealand, USA and beyond. Stephanie's writing career was launched ten years ago in Jakarta where her writing passion was inspired by the beauty of the Indonesian landscape, the ethnic diversity and gentleness of the local people.