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Indonesia: Bali: Bali
Bali, Indonesia: One amongst 17508
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
I won't be much off the mark if I rank Bali to be the first amongst equals of the 17508 islands that add up to make Indonesia. It's a long country. Tip to tip the distance is almost the same as going from London to Moscow. Blue waters, green forests, black volcanic ash, red fertile soil, fiery Balinese cuisine and warm people makes Bali a great destination. Whilst Indonesia is an Islamic country with over 90% of its population following Islam, Bali is just the opposite. More than 90% of its 3 million population are Hindus. Since I am a Hindu from India, I could quickly relate to the history and legends of Bali. Sanskrit language is a major influencer on Bhasa Indonesia - country's official language.
Residents of many countries can get a visa on arrival by paying a fee of US $10. However, be prepared for long lines. Fortunately, my business associate Jimmy Akhili from Smailing Bali (that's how they spell Smiling!) organized for a VIP checkout. The local authorities have granted permission to few travel agents to escort arriving passengers quickly pass through visa and immigration queues. There's a fee for this service, but I am not sure about the amount. For the next 3 days I was in the very able hands of Jimmy and his tour team. Suyoga was my guide. We had a comfortable van at our disposal.
Though Bali is a small island, private transportation is of essence. There are many taxi companies but I would recommend using the light blue coloured taxis from the Blue Bird Company. The taxis run on meter and drivers are good. Flag down is Indonesia Rupiah 8000 and then Rp2000 for every km. By the way, it's easy to feel and spend like a millionaire in Bali. At the time of writing US $1 got me Rp9600. With just $100, you are a millionaire with Indonesian money! Self drives are extremely popular. Motorcycles and cars are available from Rp30000 per day and from Rp100000 per day respectively. They drive on the right side of the road and signs are in English. You wouldn't get lost.
I was hosted at The Haven, a business hotel in Kuta. Newly built and conveniently located, The Haven should be a good choice for business & leisure traveler. The property has villas and rooms. The beach is a 15-minute walk way. From Kuta you would be within 90 minutes of driving distance from Bali's major attractions… essentially its various beaches and mountains… earmarked for sun sets & sun rises; surfing & diving; eating & drinking.
Sanur is another popular area to stay. It's equally happening with its boutique stores and night life. Sanur (its beach has a scenic sunrise) is quite popular with tourists from European destinations. The location was a favourite during the Dutch occupation. Probably the trend continues. Since we are on the subject, the country was liberated and declared independent in 1945. Ngurah Rai, a national hero, played a major role and was killed during the liberation of Indonesia. The airport at Denpasar (Bali's Capital) is named after Ngurah Rai.
I had two business meetings. One was scheduled on the day of arrival over dinner on the Jambaran beach and the other over breakfast the next morning on the Seminyak beach. Hundreds of shacks line up on the shores Jambaran beach (40 minute drive from Kuta) each selling grilled sea food. Fresh fish, prawns, mussels, crabs, lobsters… are grilled to perfection and served with a variety of sauces and are washed down with Bantang - a local beer! Entertaining the diners are troupes performing local dances. I would strongly suggest enjoying dinner as the sun sets on Jambaran beach. $25 per head should suffice.
The next morning, we drove for about 25 minutes to Kude Ta restaurant on the Seminyak beach for a breakfast meeting. A morning well spent talking shop on the white sandy beach. Post meeting I had 48 hours on hand to explore the treasures of Bali.
Back to the hotel and after exploring Kuta beach for some time, I headed to Tanah Lot where a stone temple makes for an excellent foreground for the sun setting on the horizon. Tanah Lot is a 60 minute drive from Kuta. Just before Tanah Lot, we took a detour towards Canggu Beach to inspect Hotel Tugu Bali. This charming property whispers romantic tales of Balinese spirits, ancient kingdoms and love stories. Labyrinth-like walkways inside gardens take you to the property's various suites and a spa. Suites are available at a nightly rate up from $300. I was amazed to see innumerous antiques - private collection of the owner. I was told he is Indonesia's largest antique collector.
It was 5 PM.I had to move out quick to reach Tanah Lot. The sunset that evening was at 6:10. I was there at 5:45 giving me enough room to glance through various curio shops with artisans at work. Well laid out garden on the edge of a small cliff gave a spectacular view of the stone temple that's also called the floating temple. During high tide, the temple appears to float on foamy sea water. We walked to the western side of the garden that has many restaurants lined up that offer tourists seats to witness the setting sun. It's a good gesture to buy a few drinks in exchange for prime seats. Next 20 minutes was orange magic. The sun majestically sank in. Since I had adventurous plan for the next morning, I decided to head back to the hotel, grab a quick bite and roll off. My day would begin at 1AM.
The sun rise atop Mount Batur, I was told, is awe inspiring. I decided to climb the 1717 meter Mount Batur which is also an active volcano. Geologists believe that about 30,000 years ago, the eruption at Mount Batur was earth's largest and fiercest ever. One side of the mount is frozen lava ash and on the other side is lush green pine & eucalyptus forest! Base of Mount Batur is a 90 minute drive (there's hardly any traffic at 1AM) from Kuta. We reached the base at about 3. After some rest and breakfast of buttered bread, began our climb. It was 4 AM. The clear sky above was studded with millions of stars. Every group must hire the services of a climber guide who must be a member of the Mount Batur Association. The base was at 700 meters. The climb to the top was about 3 kms. We were given flash lights to negotiate the pathway through the forest, stones and ash. It was a comfortable climb except for a few stretches that were really steep and slippery. Unfortunately, since this journey was not planned for, I didn't have with me hiking shoes or appropriate clothing. A sweater or a jacket would have been more than welcome.
Sunrise was scheduled at 6:10 AM. All was well up until 5:50. And then, in just a span of few minutes the entire range was covered in thick fog. The visibility was less than 2 meters. Gone was the sunrise. And the sunlight with it. Atop Mount Batur there's small hut that doubles up as a resting place and a canteen. The tour operators offer the climbers a sandwich and cup of hot beverage. After a 15 minute rest I was ready to walk up to the edge of the crater. The base was not visible due to the fog. However, one could scream and witness the echo. I also walked past a small opening that had steam coming out. With an hour gone atop Mount Batur, we began to descend. We came down from a different route that went right through pine and eucalyptus forests. The aroma was indeed energizing. At about 9 we touched base and thoroughly ready to soak in hot springs at Toya Devesya. The dip was soothing and more than welcome. A typical Mount Batur package comes with ground transportation, pre-climb snack, guide, snack atop the mount, dip in the natural hot springs and breakfast.
We drove up the hill to Kintamani to have breakfast at Lake View Hotel. The location of the restaurant couldn't have been better. After the fog was gone, Mount Batur, Lake Batur below and Mount Agung beyond were clearly visible. I could only imagine the glory if this all from Mount Batur. Unlucky me! On our return journey, we made a stop at Ubud. This district is well known for its creative art. Painters, wood workers, weavers display and sell their works of art in shops in Ubud. I also had the opportunity to visit Ubud's upscale Pita Maha Resort & Spa. This amazing property is a cluster of villas each with a private pool and carved on the edge of the mountain. Elevators take you to the base that opens up to lush gardens and a river that's ideal for rafting. A mighty waterfall is part of the property. Villas come at a nightly rate of $450 and more. Sleep is what I desired the most. I had been awake for over 30 hours now. I crashed as soon as I reached the hotel at 3PM.
Jimmy suggested that after the tiring day, I deserved to be pampered at Theta Spa located at Ramada Bintang a 60 minute drive from Kuta. I woke up at 6PM and was on the spa bed at 7:15. Theta has scores of treatments all executed with professional therapists. I was recommended the soothing Island Inspired Massage that lasted for 60 minutes. Rejuvenated, I was ready for dinner, as you might have rightly guessed, at the Jimbaran beach. That night I slept really well.
My flight was at 4 in the afternoon the next day. I checked out from The Haven after breakfast and headed towards GWK Park - 40 minutes from Kuta. Atop an elevation, spread across acres and acres of land is Garuda Wishnu Kanchana Park. The highlight of the park is the statue of Lord Wishnu sitting on Garuda (eagle). The statue is of massive proportion and when complete (work commenced 9 years ago and may take many more years to finish) would be the largest of its kind in the world. The height of the statue would be 150 meters and the width, the wing span of the eagle would be 60 meters. Carved in solid rock, the statue is being built in parts. Head of Wishnu and the eagle is already carved. When all parts would be completed, the statue would be cemented together to make it rank amongst the many wonders of the world. Given the paucity of funds, completion date has not been announced yet.
From the park we drove to Dreamland beach which was just 15 minutes away. You won't find this beach on general tourist maps but if you have the time or if you are a surfer, you would love the white sands, aqua marine waters and the nice waves. For me it was 60 minutes under the beach umbrella and a can of chilled Diet Coke. I reached the airport at 2 PM well in time to catch my flight back home. Denpasar collects Rp150,000 as tax from every departing international passenger.
Though I am not a shopper, I must mention that Bali is home to fine brands and art studios. Every street in Bali has more than fair share of space taken away by these shops. What remains is taken away by massage parlours, restaurants and pubs. Spenders delight.
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