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Phespirit goes to Bali
Sanur     September 2004

AROUND BALI

Map of Bali

1 Sanur

Phespirit resided in the garden wing of the Grand Bali Beach hotel in Sanur, which is said to be the quietest of all the southern resort towns. Certainly Phespirit found it to be satisfactorily free from the twin scourges of intrusive noise and unwanted hassle.

It is good form to have a massage whilst in Bali, so Phespirit went along to the Natural Spa relaxation centre for two and a half hours of their Natural Indulgence treatment.

He enjoyed it so much that when, on his very last day, he noticed his hotel was offering a one and three-quarter hour Javanese Lulur session at a special discount price, he was powerless to resist.

Obscenely luxurious.

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2 Batubulan

Phespirit visited the Balinese traditional dance venue at Batubulan on two occasions.

The first was an evening show with three performances on the bill: the Kecak (the Ramayana monkey dance), the Sanghyang Dedari (two girls) and the Sanghyang Jaran (a man who pours flammable liquid over a large pile of coconut husks, sets light to it and jumps two footed into the flames).

The second was a morning trip to see the Barong and Kris dance, which is actually more of a mini play than a dance.

All good entertainment, taken in context.

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3 Celak

Celak is home to Bali's silversmiths. Its main road has workshops lined up one after the other on either side, complete with off-street parking and lavish showrooms.

Phespirit looked around but had no need for silverware that day.

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4 Mas

Mas is to wood carving what Celak is to metalwork. To Phespirit's taste the woodwork demonstrated a greater delicacy of touch and imagination, so if he were inclined to buy any kind of handicrafts it would have been the wood from Mas. But he wasn't. So he didn't.

Check out the signs: "Antiques made to order"

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5 Goa Gajah

The holiest of holies in this temple complex is the 'elephant cave'. So called because there is a small statue of the elephant-headed god Ganesh carved into the deepest recess of the rock.

Preparation was underway for some unspecified celebration at the site when Phespirit visited. Temple trappings, trees and rocks had all been tightly wrapped in white cloth and yellow ribbons, thereby making them more sacred.

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6 Semarapura

In bygone days when Semarapura had been known as Klungkung it was the centre of Bali's most important kingdom.

Phespirit went to modern Semarapura to see the sprawling palace complex with its Floating Pavilion, Hall of Justice, and Museum of History.

Museum items are accompanyied by explanations in English, but the quality of translation varies. For example, one narrative states: "On the 28th April 1908 A Chaotic event broke out throbbing the entire kingdom."

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7 Pura Goa Lawah

The 'bat cave' temple of Pura Goa Lawah must surely be the most bizarre place in Bali. A shrine has been built around an open cave mouth ..... the entire roof of which twitches alive with black bats.

Being almost alone in the place, Phespirit was a bit apprehensive about taking flash photographs in case all of the bats took flight at once. In reality, though, the only thing to fear was the horrendous stench of their droppings.

That, and the huge snake curled up with them in the rocks.

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8 Tenganan

This is supposedly an original Bali 'Aga' village in which traditions have been preserved against the march of time, but in reality it is a dusty enclave whose shiftless residents are bored and inert.

Everything wrong about it was encapsulated by the spectacle of a monkey tethered to a pole, aimlessly picking at the rubbery anus of an ox that was tied up next to it.

Quite depressing.

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9 Pura Besakih

This is the 'mother temple' of Bali - the largest and most important complex on the island. Duly, Phespirit spent that much more time wandering around here than at any of the other complexes.

As with all complexes, the temples have an inner courtyard that a non-believer such as Phespirit may never set foot inside.

And as with all complexes, outer courtyards may only be entered by those who cover their unholy legs. Consequently Phespirit was required to hire a sarong, despite the fact he was already wearing long denim jeans. Phespirit suspected a money-maker.

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10 Penelokan

It's all about the view.

Penelokan is an ideal vantage point for viewing the Gunung Batur volcano, which has the fine conical profile that Phespirit demands of every volcano worthy of the name. Next to it is the radiant blue lake of Danau Batur. Enclosing them both is a vast caldera crater, with Gunung Abang, Bali's highest mountain, as the backdrop.

Given a spare day, Phespirit would have liked to have gone hiking to the summit of Gunung Batur. As it was, he had a pricey buffet lunch at the Kintamani Restaurant and just admired those views.

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11 Tampaksiring

Every one of the major temples on Bali has a special angle:

  • Pura Besakih is the 'mother temple';
  • Goa Gajah has its elephant cave;
  • Pura Goa Lawah has its bat cave;
  • Pura Ulun Danu Bratan is the one on the lake;
  • Tanah Lot is the one by the sea, with the sunsets.

Pura Tirta Empul at Tampaksiring has some nice courtyards, nice fountains, and a pool of Koi carp, but it is particularly famed for its natural springs. Visitors may fully immerse themselves in the holy waters by entering the modestly segregated bathing areas.

Unfortunately - again - Phespirit had no time.

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12 Candikuning

There is a market at Candikuning which sells a few spices, a little food, a handful of flowers and a whole bunch of tourist trinkets.

Not too far away on the shore of lake Danau Bratan is the superb little temple of Pura Ulun Danu Bratan. The temple itself is dainty and immaculate; its grounds are tasteful and well-tended; its lake location is picture perfect.

It is an essential stop for every Bali visitor.

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13 Gitgit

Gitgit Waterfall is not visible from any village or roadside. To reach it one must descend 800m of concrete steps and winding footpath that has market stalls aimed at tourists lining its whole length.

It's not so bad, though. The stalls peddle quite tasteful handicrafts and there is no aggresive marketing.

The waterfall itself tumbles 40m into a cul-de-sac at the end of the footpath. There are no market stalls down here. Just peacefulness and pleasantness and - while Phespirit was there - few tourists.

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14 Lovina

This was the scene of a disagreeable exchange of words between Phespirit and a couple of local hawkers who had begun ominously circling as Phespirit took his seat at a restaurant. His pre-emptive advice that they should get hence was not best appreciated.

Having started on the wrong foot, Phespirit had no great desire to stick around. Anyway, the north coast beaches are not nearly as pleasant as those to the south.

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15 Pupuan

Pupuan, just to the west of central Bali, covers a broad area given over to agriculture, primarily for the production of rice. The natural landscape is ingeniously harnessed and engineered with terraces of rice cultivated in narrow flooded strips.

It's well worth stopping to appreciate the work.

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16 Alas Kedaton

Theoretically, a visit to Alas Kedaton should have been fun. Three quarters of an hour taking a stroll around a forest full of monkeys, occasionally tossing them peanuts. In practice it didn't quite work out that way .....

Barely had Phespirit wandered in than he was mugged. When the first monkey grabbed hold of one of his trouser legs Phespirit gave it a peanut. It took the peanut but held on; and then it bit Phespirit on the leg - mercifully without drawing blood - but it left two canine bruise marks. Phespirit gave it another peanut and it finally let go.

A little way further on, another monkey jumped out of a tree onto Phespirit's head. Bollocks to this.

Phespirit sped round in about five minutes and was out of there.

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17 Mengwi

Here is another grandiose complex of temples and gardens which in bygone days would have been heaving with visitors but which in 2004 sees just the occasional tourist drifting about the grounds.

It's a state of affairs that's terrible for Bali businesses but a gift for anyone who likes their holiday snaps to be free from the clutter of crowds. For best results follow a footpath around to the rear of the inner courtyard and stand on the little platform. Or climb a tree.

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18 Tanah Lot

Phespirit's last stop on Bali was Tanah Lot, and he found that this temple, more than anywhere else, brought to life his preconceived ideals for the place. Perversely, in fact, as this was the only place that genuinely heaved with tourists, yet it had an exotic tranquility that never quite manifested itself elsewhere.

As the sun set behind the Tanah Lot sea temple, Phespirit sat on the beach, perched on a rock, rice grains fixed on his forehead, a frangipani flower behind his ear, silent amid the silent masses, all there to savour a moment of rare quality.

Jah Wobble's Visions of You was the soundtrack in his mind.

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  1. Sanur
  2. Batubulan
  3. Celak
  4. Mas
  5. Goa Gajah
  6. Semarapura
  7. Pura Goa Lawah
  8. Tenganan
  9. Pura Besakih
  10. Penelokan
  11. Tampaksiring
  12. Candikuning
  13. Gitgit
  14. Lovina
  15. Pupuan
  16. Alas Kedaton
  17. Mengwi
  18. Tanah Lot
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Sanur Batubulan Celak Mas Goa Gajah Semarapura Pura Goa Lawah Tenganan Pura Besakih Penelokan Tampaksiring Candikuning Gitgit Lovina Pupuan Alas Kedaton Mengwi Tanah Lot