Benoa, Bali, Indonesia
We reached Bali, our first stop in Indonesia, on the morning of February 23. Indonesia is a vast country, spread over many islands with a total population that is the 4th largest in the world (after China, India & the USA). Situated on the line between two tectonic plates, Indonesia is littered with volcanoes, some still active, two of which are on Bali. Formerly the Dutch East Indies, Indonesia obtained its independence after World War II. Indonesia includes the Spice Islands, which are what Columbus was trying to reach when he discovered America (he never got anywhere close, of course). At that time spices were among the most valuable articles in Europe (whose food at that time before effective preservation was often less than appetizing by itself) because the Turks’ capture of Constantinople had largely cut off the overland trade in spices from the East.
Bali is one of the smaller populated islands in Indonesia; it is shaped like a chicken that has just laid an egg. Its population is largely Hindu & it seems that just about every family has its own temple in its courtyard surrounded by walls. We saw many shops selling carved stone, which must be a thriving business since everyone has to have some for their family temples. Bali is also known for its woodworking artisans. And the favored method of transportation seems to be by motorbike (really, this is true of all of our Indonesia stops), with crowds of them in the city & whole families of four people riding one bike in the nether regions.
We were met on the pier by a group of women performing a welcoming dance, with an indigenous band to accompany them. February 10, before we arrived, was Indonesian Victory Day (independence from the Dutch), and throughout Bali large bamboo poles with decorations hanging from them used to mark that day were still in evidence.
Our first visit in Bali was Klungkung, the site of the court of the last kingdom of Bali. This complex contains several buildings, or pavilions. In the traffic circle outside is a sculpture called Kanda Pat Sari, guarding the four directions of the compass.
Upon emerging from the bus we had our first encounter with the persistent, but not aggressive, street vendors we would see throughout Indonesia. They offer their goods for “one dollar,” but as our guide explained, it would turn out that the one dollar was just for looking and the purchase price would be much more. Often the vendors were small children. It is best to just say “no thank you” and walk on; if you engage them at all they will follow you a long way.
The Kertha Gosa Pavilion was the hall of justice, the highest forum for resolving the most intractable cases. It is notable for its intricately painted ceilings, many depicting punishments in the after life. Originally painted most likely in the mid 19th century, they have been restored several times by local artists and in the 1940’s the original paintings on cloth were so badly worn that they were replaced by copies on asbestos sheeting, made by local artists. Each panel is a beautiful painting in itself, and the combined effect is stunning.
The building itself is also quite beautiful, set in a pond of water lilies.
I am a little confused about which pictures pertain to which buildings as they were very similar, but I think this next group is of the Bale Kambung (Floating Pavilion), where the royal tooth-filing ceremonies (you read that right) were held. Our guide told us he had undergone this ceremony & it was (as you might expect) rather painful. Anyway, this building is in a lotus pond, with ceiling paintings depicting Balinese astrology & notable stories. Inside there were artists working in a traditional style that our guide said is dying out.
In 1908 the Dutch invaded Bali. It was a fair fight (the Balians had knives while the Dutch used rifles) and Bali was added to the Dutch East Indies. The king & court in Klungkung came out to face the Dutch with no hope of success. They were all slaughtered, including women & children, and the palace was burned to the ground. Only one gate to the palace remains.
There was quite a lot of interesting sculpture on the grounds & around the small museum there. A couple of men were playing on an instrument similar to a xylophone. And the water lilies were quite lovely.
Our next stop was Pura Besakih, the “mother temple” of Bali. It is really a complex of 23 related temples, made of dark lava rock. This is the largest & holiest Hindu temple in Bali. The origin of the temple is lost in the mists of prehistory, but it has been in use at least in the 13th century and probably much longer.
To enter the temple grounds one had to wear a sarong (or if you had long pants, sometimes just a sash). The inside of the temples is reserved for worshippers, so tourists are relegated to exploring the outside. But we could see into one courtyard where religious services were being held.
You might have noticed that these buildings have thatched roofs. Our guide told us that these roofs have lasted 75 years without rethatching. The pagodas, some thatched & some stone, are generally topped with gold covered capstones, as are many of the other roofs.
Besakih is located about 3000 feet up the side of Gunung Agung, at about 9000 feet the largest volcano in Bali. Its last serious eruption in 1963 killed some 1700 people and the lava flow missed the temple by only a few yards. The sparing of the temple is considered by the Balinese to be a miracle.
Looking down from the temple in clear weather you can see all the way to the sea. Our weather wasn’t all that clear, but you could still see quite a distance to some mountains many miles away.
More than 70 festivals are celebrated at this temple each year & offerings are left for the gods. Actually, Balians leave such offerings at temples all over the island quite often. Most are small trays of fruits, which are left to deteriorate in the weather. We saw quite a few while we were there.
Enough discussion; here are some miscellaneous other views of the temple complex.
After leaving Besakih we went to a town called Rendang for an Indonesian lunch in a restaurant on the side of a mountain with a breathtaking view of terraced rice paddies in the valley. Unfortunately it rained while we were there, so the pictures do not convey its real power.
In addition to some unusual flowers (& good food), the restaurant had some interesting sculptures.
One thing we noticed but didn’t understand was that many sculptures were dressed in sarongs & sometimes headdresses. Perhaps this is about a particular festival or maybe it is always this way. We saw this at Besakih as well as at our last stop, Puri Agung Karangasem
The palace at Karangasem was built in the 19th century & is said to incorporate Balinese, European & Chinese elements. In the back was a large veranda overlooking a vast valley in which was a settlement of people from Lombok. They are Muslim and there is a mosque there, but our guide explained that they practice a different kind of Islam, praying only three times a day instead of the usual five. We heard a call to prayer as we looked out on the valley.
After that there was a long bus ride back to the port. We passed what appeared to be small family rice paddies & lots of traffic. We will also include here some of the flora we saw today that hasn’t been shown above. Bali has a profusion of colorful & interesting flowers. We reached the port & then sailed on to continue our Indonesian sojourn.