Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bali - Day 2

After an amazing intercontinental breakfast, we set out to explore Bali as per the schedule. While Bali may be a small island, the traffic, the humidity and narrow streets do make the journey look really long. However, the fact that people do not honk on the streets was the most surprising discovery I made (somehow, I always thought entire Asia is like India, in term of driving on the roads). Our trip today included a Balinese mythological dance called Barong Dance followed by the view of active volcano at Mount Kintamani and visiting the holy temple called Tirtha Empul. (Notice how the words are very similar to Hindi and other Sanskrit based languages), while visiting local handicraft factories in Bali in between!

Barong Dance shows a lion, leader of good spirits, protecting a kidnapped prince. (I do not unfortunately remember the whole story, but a plenty is available in the internet, to read about!). The highlights of this dance sequence are the elaborate costumes, make up and amazing background music using drums, chimes and high pitched vocals. Ubud (a region in Bali) has the best shows of Barong dance for the cultural enthusiasts.

The next big stop for us was the Mount Kintamani, located in the Eastern Bali. Mount Kintamani hosts an active volcano, which last erupted in 1960s. Viewers actually stop at Gunung Batur, from where the the hill and the lake can be seen in its wholesome beauty. There are some restaurants too, offering the same view while having a meal. Kintamani region is also famous for its beautiful coffee plantations. Balinese people are avid coffee drinkers and their coffee is unusually strong! However, there is a light hint of tangy flavor in their coffee as well as tea. When you order coffee or tea for sampling, the platter usually arrives with 5 varieties of coffee and 1 tea sample. We ended up buying the tea sample (lemongrass flavored) for ourselves.

In the evening, while witnessing many processions on our way, we went to the temple, named Tirtha Empul. Bali, like I explained earlier, is an essentially Hindu place, with loads of temples and holy cultural activities. It is believed that Lord Indra, created a spring of fresh water to win against a black magician causing havoc in Bali. The water from this spring is believed to cure any illness and forgive any sins. People in Bali celebrate the defeat of this black magician by taking processions on the road.

We completed our trip for the day, might have spent more time traveling and absorbing the culture from the roads, however, it only left us asking for more.


Balinese Lord Ganesha, The gathering area at the temple, Barong (Lion) and the dancer from the Barong Dance

The view of Mount Kintamani. The black portion indicates the solidified lava flown from the crater above it. 
 The coffee plantations offer lush green views for the tourists, with some truly strong coffee and tea

The temple of Tirtha Empul, Lord Indra and the gathering area for the celebrations

 People taking a dip in the holy water to offer prayers
 The holy spring water in Tirtha Empul
The reflections in the holy spring water in Tirtha Empul

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Bali - for that perfect honeymoon!

It was not an easy choice to begin with, for as Shah Rukh would say, we get married only once (remember that dialog from Dil To Pagal hai) and hence implied we only have one FIRST Honeymoon! So where to go? South America - we live so close by, that it is the only option when we want to take vacation. Europe - Yah, it is always there.. but whats more exciting? Think Think Think... Wait, from US, we always end up going to India, but when will we ever go beyond to the other countries in Asia? And this is how we ended up in Bali. Bali is simply heaven on earth (I do think there should be more than one, and not only Kashmir!). Stay anywhere in Bali, its okay, in the end you will have seen all of the island anyways. 
The first thing to keep in mind is to get the real flavors of your trip to Bali, do not fall prey to the schemes of travel agents who mix up Bali with other countries. The reason being, Bali in itself is a self sufficient island which has something for everyone. There is culture, history, there are water sports, there is relaxation, cuisine, wild life, distinct flora, volcanoes and what not! Traveling across Bali completely shall take definitely more than 4 5 days. We were there for 5 days and boy, I am not done yet, the next time I go there, I will be there for 10 days or more, but not less!
View of Bali from the airplane

The moments when we checked in the hotel were not the best ones, with me having a Delhi-Belly all through the flight journey! So, all we did was stay in the hotel and relax! The first thing that I had to check was the ocean view from my room and I knew from that moment on, the trip was going to extremely beautiful! The sea, sun, sky and the greenery were more than what my eyes were ready for..
My balcony and the view from there - green garden, blue sky and loads of water!

Tip for the honeymooners - Stay at Nusa Dua, the southern part of Bali. Tip for vacationers (looking for some action) - Do not stay in Nusa Dua, for you will surely miss out loads of action admist lazy long beaches! Other places like Ubud and Kuta have better action packed beaches unlike Nusa Dua which truly caters to honeymooners!
The hotels at Nusa Dua (like Grand Mirage, the one where we stayed or others) are huge, beautiful, conscious of their diverse audience and cater well to all age groups. Swimming pools, Yoga, Spa, water sports, library, internet room, indoor sports are common and well taken care of.

View from the hotel swimming pool

The other common feature is the awesome beaches and the beach side beds and chairs. Beach side beds were something I was never aware of, till I saw here. Its romantic and how.. A romantic candle light dinner for two, with the best food, wine and desserts and a bed to relax on it, all at the beach side. They play the music YOU want to hear and will arrange the musicians if requested (in exchange of some money though :)) Not sure what more one can ask for!

Bali is a hindu island, unlike any other place in Indonesia. Hence, the display of Hindu gods is no surprise. What comes as surprise is their elaborate non Indian forms. We only know of Rama and Sita as a holy divine couple who stand next to each other with Lakshmana and Hanuman, with their hands blessing us! However, in our hotel, I found out Rama and Sita dancing with each other (reminding me the fact that they were a couple first!). In my following blogs, one can see more Hindu gods in their Balinese versions.

Balinese Rama and Sinta (or Sita) in the hotel

We waited for the next morning with all the energy, for we were going to explore this tiny island and all the beauty it had. It started with the amazing sunrise on the beach. Bali is known for its sunsets, but the sunrise was no less that what a painter can only imagine!
Sunrise in Bali, around 6 00 AM. 

With this, I almost entered in to the vacation mode and the explorer in me was just waiting to be unleashed, which will be covered in my upcoming blogs.