Discovering Love in off-season in Bali
Books are the unique portable magic, which transport you to lands unknown and unexplored.
The magic which transports you into a new world that is so different from yours, and yet somehow you identify with it. Some books lead you on a fascinating journey that might change your life and open up your mind. And, in the process instill a burning desire in you to explore the place visualized in the book.
One such book was Eat, Pray, Love. Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey firmly put Bali on my travel list. After roaming around the world for years, finally Bali happened in February 2016. Supposedly the off-season in Bali when it pours like cats and dogs. A season when tourists are advised to stay away from the island. But for a person like me who is a sucker for challenges off-season is actually the best season to explore a place. So in-spite of all negative feedback Bali trip was booked. Without much planning I landed on the island on February 23rd 2016.
I’m not the only one fascinated by Gilbert’s description of the lush green generous island that heals everyone. Many tourists come to Bali seeking sunshine, spirituality and sweetheart. So, yes I too was in Bali to heal myself and find love. Love not from someone else but from within. In a life full of deadlines I had forgotten to love myself. I had forgotten to smile. I had forgotten to appreciate smaller things. Basically I needed to connect to the nature to reconnect with myself. So unknowingly I was in Bali to heal myself. Unknowingly because I had not planned anything.
I wanted to go with the flow and explore new things. I went empty handed to Bali but Bali had so much to offer. If there is one place I would recommend anyone to go to rejuvenate or to heal oneself it would be Bali (after Ladakh). It’s one of the best places to relax and unwind, aided by beautifully cheerful people and strikingly vivid landscapes in an environment that is fast-paced yet laid-back.
So without much ado let me share my first impressions of Bali where I discovered love in off season:
Commercialized but you’ll find your SWEET SPOT
When I first arrived in Bali, I was actually confused if it was the peak season or the lean season. Seminyak, Kuta, Nusa Dua and other parts of South Bali were buzzing with crowd. However, I soon realized Bali gives you back what you ask for. I asked for peace and I was suitably rewarded. In no time, I was experiencing the mighty waterfalls roaring at thunderous sound, rice paddies cascading down rolling hills, crystal clear water kissing the white and black sand beaches, volcanoes piercing the clouds, landscapes dotted with temple ruins, lush green valleys veiled with monsoon clouds, mist covered lakes playing hide n seek with clouds, tropical forests buzzing with wildlife and exotic fruits of Bali.
Most of the times I was the lone traveler. I was relishing the dreamlike views. One such view was the Lake Batur view from the Lakeview hotel at Kintamani Volcano. The hotel that would normally refuse guests had no guests except me. The only sound I could hear was either of the hushing trees, chirping birds or perhaps the sound in my mind. Listening to such sounds is probably the best time to talk to oneself. Solitude in the company of nature answers questions which you wouldn’t have found answers before.
HAVEN for Vegan
I must confess I am not a foodie and being a Vegetarian comes with its own challenges. Most of the times my bags have more food packets than anything else. So either I depend on packaged food or on fruits. But Bali is the best place one can ask for when it comes to exotic organic food worth to die for. I didn’t have a single bad meal in Bali until I tried an Indian restaurant in Kuta. Indonesian cuisine is loaded with a multitude of vegetarian and vegan dishes, making it easy for the vegan travelers. Even hard core meat serving restaurants had an extensive vegetarian menu. And the best part was the presentation - droolicious. The new organic cafes experiment a lot with food.
There was one particular place, Cemara Guest House, that I completely fell in love with. While coming back from Tamblingan Lake it started to rain and the temperature dropped drastically. My driver stopped at a home based small restaurant run by a husband and wife. I was the only guest there. Till date I have not had a tea better than Bali Jahe (Ginger Tea). I had a soup and a Balinese dish called Cap Cay and Balinese Urab. I must say I still miss that taste.
I tried lot of cuisines from Mexican food to Mediterranean food to Thai Food to American food to fresh-from-farm Organic food, Vietnamese food and local Balinese food like Tempeh, Nasi Campur. And everything tasted fresh and juicy with distinct flavours. Probably I’ll go back to Bali just for food.
WALKS to refresh your body and soul
Bali being a tropical island is usually hot and humid throughout the year, which makes exploring Bali on foot a bit taxing. However, during monsoon it’s a different scene altogether. If you love rain then there’s nothing like walking through the paddy fields for hours being entertained by the rain dance. I was cranky when I started walking through Ubud to eat at the much famed Sari Organik Café, 2 kms from the main road situated amongst the lush green paddy fields. Sun was playing the spoilsport. And suddenly the rain gods smiled on me. I started enjoying the walk like a dancing peacock. I was absorbing everything and appreciating the beauty around me.
This was followed by the Campuhan ridge walk, an unusually romantic short trek through rice fields, bejeweled with quaint Indonesian huts and a gurgling river giving you company alongside. It was a walk to remember. And that’s not it, if you get tired walking then there is Karsa Kafe and Spa to rejuvenate you.
MELTING POT of artistic and spiritual cultures
Bali is like one big art gallery which offers the most unique shopping experiences, where you can discover a treasure trove of artworks and handicrafts by talented local craftsmen, all at bargain prices! The Balinese are born with a talent to absorb different cultures, blending them with their own, to produce dynamic new artistic hybrids. Across the years, Bali has soaked up Chinese, Buddhist, Indian, Hindu, Javanese and Western influences, which can be seen in their art.
There are dedicated Handicraft Villages where Bali's talented artisans live. Some of the artistic villages worth exploring are Batubulan for stone carving, Celuk for silver and gold jewellery, Mas for wood carving, and Pengosekan for painting. If you are an art lover then don’t forget to visit these markets to get a glimpse into the wonderful artistry and creativity of the island’s craftsmen – Ubud Art Market, Sukawati Art Market, Guwang Art Market, Kumbasari Art Market and Kuta Art Market.
A JOY VORTEX where Love is the only currency
One striking feature about Bali is its people and their ever smiling faces. Ever after uber commercialization love is still the universal currency in Bali. Where people still go out of their way to help you. Had it not been the staff of Villa Bunga or my driver Kumang I would have probably never seen the soul of Bali.
All the people I met in Bali are now friends for life. Balinese are simple god fearing and peace loving people. Everyone you meet will greet you with a smile. People are happy, for no apparent reason. They are content with themselves. They are joyful. Their minds are peaceful and they are grateful to be able to work every day. They are proud of their traditions but at the same time are not closed to embrace the good elements from other cultures. It is really interesting to know their folk stories and a peek into their lives.
These were just few off-the-mind First Impressions of Bali, Indonesia. There’s a lot that I experienced first-hand which is worth sharing. I would be happy to share that. Do keep looking for more Bali stories coming your way.
In the meantime, do let me know if this post helped you put Bali, Indonesia on your travel list?