Today morning I had a panic attack. I was done with packing for the last leg of the journey, and suddenly realized that my id-card (in this case, the PAN card), was not where it should be, that is, with the return ticket. I looked around trying to rack my brain as to where it could be hidden That is the one problem with people who are well organised (like me, of course). You are so much in the habit of putting things away exactly where they ought to be that when anything goes missing you are baffled and clueless as to where to look for the missing object.
My first impulse was to walk over to my gracious hostess, who is also a much admired fellow blogger, and share my panic with her. But I rightly realized that would do no good at all. How would she know where my PAN card could be?! So instead, I racked my brain some more, when it came upon me in a flash. Of course it would be with the ticket that started this whole journey. Sure enough it was.
Now, wait a minute!
Why am I talking about the ‘last leg’ of the trip and ‘return’ tickets? That’s not how travel stories go, or blogs about them for that matter. They usually start right at the beginning and move towards the end. But then let me ask the question I am
famous notorious for. “Says who??” I mean, why the heck should everything start at the beginning and move towards the end? Catch Shail doing what everybody else does anyways. So, as of now, the end is what you get first with the beginning coming later or wherever.
Today morning, I bid adieu to my gracious hostess cum blogger friend, and her wonderful children, after having spent a lovely week with them. Can you guess who this blogger friend is? Many of you already know who I am talking about. If not, this picture of myself with Gabbar Singh and Miss Mutt should reveal all.
Here is one of Sher Khan all by himself; he refused to pose with me. Now, that I must say is a cat with an attitude!
Thank you dear blogger friend for the warmth with which I was received and looked after, the fine food and the affection showered. I enjoyed every minute of my stay with you, your children and of course your cho chweet pets! It made my day (or should that be week?) to have met you and spent time with you.
I have now flown back home achoo-ing all the way. Yup, I have a severe cold and infected throat. But what does that matter when Luci received me thus?!
So see you all on the other side of the achoo-s and sore throat (and also a mild temperature) which is when I shall relate the rest of the story of a bloggers meet with a difference.
The earlier parts in the Bali Journal:
If you have been in Bali for even a few days and have been asking people their names, there is something curious you will notice. The names Wayang, Made, Nyoman and Ketut seem to be repeating themselves endlessly. The mystery was cleared up when someone was kind enough to explain to us the intricacies of Balinese naming. Well it is quite simple actually: all Balinese name their first child Wayang, the second as Made (pronounced Ma-dey), the third as Nyoman and the fourth as Ketut.
Smart people, I say. With their unique way they have simplified the issue of naming children. Imagine the hours parents of newborns spend trying to decide on a name for their offspring. With grandparents, friends and sundry relatives, sometimes strangers too, trying to be unhelpful with suggestions, homing in on a single accepted name turns into a totally difficult proposition. MILs use the opportunity for power games, wanting to show DILs who the real boss is. But no such calamity arises in a Balinese household. The accident of birth order decides what a child’s name will be. (Read about what else plays a role in Balinese naming here)
Now that naturally brought up the question of what happens when there is a fifth child, and a sixth, a seventh…. It seems the Balinese simply start all over again. So the fifth child becomes Wayan, the sixth Made and so on. Imagine a huge family of a dozen or so children?! There will be up to three children with the same name in that household, not to mention Uncles, Aunts, Father, Mother, Grandparents, neighbours, friends who will all be, a Wayan, a Made, a Nyoman or a Ketut too. Cool, huh? Oh, by the way, according to the Balinese way of naming I am Wayan. What about you all? What’s YOUR Balinese name? Do tell me in your comments.
The last day of our holiday started as usual with a sumptuous breakfast at Batu Kali. Our destination for the day was Tanjung (Cape) Benoa. Before tourism took over, Benoa used to be just a fishing village. Now it is a place for all sorts of water sports: water-skiing, banana-boat rides, fishing, snorkeling paragliding, scuba diving, you name it, they have it. None of us oldies were fit enough for the water sports. So we gave it all a go by and decided on a boat trip to the nearby Turtle Island.
Waiting for the BIL and sis to make an appearance after keeping away valuables in a locker, strike me pink if I did not hear someone humming, “Tum paas aaye” from the Shahrukh Khan-starrer Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. It was the supervisor in charge of the place. Of course, he said in answer to my query, who in Bali does not know the song?! In the hours to come this was once again brought home to us pretty forcefully.
Anyways, off we went in a glass bottom boat to the Turtle Island. There weren’t too many fish to see. And frankly, the Turtle Farm was nothing to write home about either. They had a few turtles in a pen which the tourists could feed and hold for pictures. There were a few other animals and birds, not too happy ones at that I felt. But what made up for all this was the young man who acted as our guide. He was an authority on, you guessed it, Bollywood movies and, especially the blockbuster, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.
“Kajol!” he called out to me, walking ahead. “Come here, Kajol!” Excuse me. WHAT was that? Surely he was not addressing me, was he? “Yes, you, Kajol, come here. Hold this turtle!” he ordered with a straight face. Cheeky, if you please and funny, and also a chatterbox to boot, that’s what our guide was. For the duration of our visit, he insisted on addressing me as Kajol and my sis as Preity Zinta. Not that we resembled the actors in any way. It was just his way of having some fun at our expense. He made us laugh quite a lot with his cheeky humor the whole time we were on the island.
He tried to persuade me to hold a turtle. I had watched my sis and BIL hold one in turns and even clicked their pictures. That was enough for me. But now all of them insisted that I hold a turtle as well. Can you believe it, when I took the very same one in my hands, it started flapping its legs and beating me! I almost expected it to turn around and bite me, so annoyed did it seem as it frantically waved its legs. Why me? What did I do? I wanted to wail to the turtle. After having a good laugh at my expense, Wayan (yeah, he being a first born and all) came and rescued the turtle before I dropped it on the ground and posed for a photo.
There was iguana, snake, bat etc at the place that tourists could handle if they so wished. Catch me going anywhere near an iguana or snake. The brave BIL held an iguana and the sis a bat. All I chose to do was to go into the hornbill’s enclosure and say hello from a reasonably safe distance. That was it. There were some sad looking lovebirds. There was nothing more to Turtle Farm. But the view of the sea and sky on your ride to and from Benoa and the beach itself made up for all else.
We had given ourselves over to Arjun, our driver, to decide where to go. We found ourselves next in a place where there were two churches (Catholic and Protestant), a mosque, Buddhist and Hindu temples in a row. Five places of worship of different faiths. It seemed incredible. I know there are a lot of places where temple and mosque or church exist cheek by jowl and that is probably by accident. But here all the places of worship seem to have been built with the objective of having them together, side by side, in a row. The architecture was also interesting, especially that of the mosque, so different from what you normally expect.
Here are the pictures of the day made into a video on youtube.
It was a really warm day. The sun was too bright and hot. We longed to get back indoors. Since it was lunch time, we made for Sri Gangga restaurant near Jimbaran bay, famous for its seafood, the place we had given the go by the first day of our visit because we weren’t hungry enough. In the video posted above, you will find pictures of the drinks we had, the soup even, but none of the main course. It was too yummy that it made its way into our tummies before thoughts of clicking it could enter the head.
Just as we finished our lunch, the three men band arrived and sang a song for us. Then they asked us where we were from. Oh India? Yeah, yeah! India! And guess what followed? They started singing the all time Bali favourite, Tum paas aaye from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Thankfully, I remembered my camera then and recorded it. That’s my sister you will see dancing and if you hear someone singing off-key towards the end that would be yours truly.
Our evening was spent walking the streets and soaking up the feel of the place for the last time. We also watched a fire dance performance at a restaurant and had dinner at a small place nearby. All good things have to come to an end. So did our holiday. The next morning we took the Air Asia flight out of Bali.
Do I wish to go back to Bali? The answer is an emphatic YES. It is a beautiful place. There is much more to see and enjoy. I’d definitely like to go back some day and soak in more of its ambiance.
The earlier parts in the Bali Journal.
The sky had cleared up a bit when we left the farm behind and continued our drive. I must put in a word here about the roads in Bali. They are really in excellent condition. I am not sure if it has something to do with being tourist routes, but whatever, it is a smooth ride.
“Where to now, Arjun?” we asked our driver.
“Kintamani, Kintamani!” he replied in his singsong way. “We see Batur. Mountaaain! Volcanooo!”
“Ahh! Volcanooo!” we echoed excited, at least I was, never having met seen one so far in my uneventful life, the regret of having left the farm behind mitigated somewhat.
“Yaaaah! Yaaaah! We have lunch, we see volcanooo! Yeaaah?”
“Yeaaah!” we chorused.
We were now slowly climbing higher and higher from sea level. On either side of the road was lush greenery. The grey mist was swirling in, obliterating everything below on one side. That gave the awesome feeling of travelling on a road hanging in the sky. The sense of isolation becomes complete whenever yours is the only car racing along the road.
Kintamani, where we were headed, sits on the rim of the huge Batur caldera about 1500m above sea level, and offers dramatic views of the now dormant volcano Mount Batur and also the serene Lake Batur, (Wiki). It seems the volcano was last active in 1964. Not that far back, huh? What if it chose to become active again on the very day we reached? Ooooh! I let my imagination run wild, thinking up all sorts of Hollywood movie type scenarios. I wondered if all my matters (what matters anyway?!) were reasonably well settled in case I never made it back home. Was there something left unsaid/undone? Any regrets? Sheesh, why hadn’t I called up the sons just before I set out for Bali? I wondered idly if that could be the start to the world ending. I mean if it could be 2012, it could be 2013 too, right? Maybe it had been just biding its time for me to visit the Mount Batur viewing area.
The car stopped and thankfully, so did my wild imaginations. We had reached our destination and as luck would have it, it had begun drizzling again. My camera was put safely back in the bag. I then slung it over my shoulders and walked up the steps of the Grand Puncak Sari with the sis and BIL.
I have since found mentions on tripadvisor.com that it is nothing but a tourist trap, that the food is not all that good and all that. But who is worried about food when the view from the restaurant is SIMPLY AWESOME!
This is Lake Batur veiled by mist, alluring and mysterious.
I couldn’t stop clicking. Food was the last thing on my mind though it was pretty late for lunch.
I clicked pictures to my heart’s content before I sat down to eat something. Yeah, the reviews are right, the food was nothing great. But the view definitely compensates. In fact if it had been a clearer day, I could have got even better shots. That day rain and mist obscured the view of Mount Batur. But then there is a different charm and a certain mystery in a volcanic mountain, as also the countryside, that is lightly shrouded in mist. Isn’t it so?
By the time we got up to leave, Mount Batur was totally hidden from view. So there was no last click or a final look. It had started raining too as we drove away from Kintamani. Not so good. Looked like we might not be able to see the famous terraced rice fields. But when I inquired of Arjun, he brushed it aside with a,
“Rain only here. We go down, no rain, only clear sky!”
“You mean its going to be a clear day when we reach the plains?”
“Yeaaah! Yeaaah!” came his singsong reply.
I settled back pleased. And true enough within a short distance we were driving along in bright sunshine.
On the way we saw women and girl children decked up and carrying flowers and fruits on their heads making their way to nearby temple. It was some festival day.
The traffic slowed down near the temple due to the crowds. There were so many devotees spread out on either side dressed in their colorful best. I looked at the colorful dress of the women and noticed something.
Many, I should say most all of the women from young to old, wore sheer, transparent tops, with their cleavages showing. No, this was not the city, nor were these women fashion divas. They were ordinary folk out to celebrate their festival at the local temple. I cannot imagine such a thing in our much revered country which supposedly has an ancient and superior culture. Superior? Pray, tell me in what way? Is it in the way men blame their own lack of control on what women wear/show? Yes, I agree, in that matter we definitely might be. If you’d say that I felt bitterness and anger against the people of my own country at that time you will be right. The battle we wage here on a daily basis for what women should or should not wear, and the blame heaped on them for ‘provoking’ men by their attire is a national shame.
Anyways that is something our people should “grow up” to understand, their 5,ooo year old superior culture notwithstanding. Getting back, once we edged past the crowds, we were free to roar ahead and reach the next stop, the terraced rice fields.
They were a bit of a disappointment for me as I somehow expected a more vast area of them. Perhaps this place was for the tourists? Did they have more terraced fields elsewhere? I wouldn’t know. But still, it was nice to see the fields.
By then it was time to go back to our resort, rest for some time and go out and have dinner at a local restaurant. The next day was going to be our last day in Bali. Yeah, that’s for another day.
The earlier parts in The Bali Journal
The sky was darkening. Rain seemed imminent. Maybe it would not be a bad idea to stop for coffee and let the rain have its way. Not that I am a coffee drinker. My concerns were more about my camera not getting wet. But what was this? Arjun turned off the main road and pulled the car to a stop amid a lot of greenery, but there was no cafe in sight. A man was by our side leading the way. And this beautiful winding path lay before us.
It seemed rather a quiet place for a cafe, I thought. Perhaps the restaurant was at the other end of this green tunnel? But where was the hustle and bustle associated with a coffee shop for tourists? As we walked down the path the man pointed out the various plants, the fruits on trees. There was Torch Ginger (it had edible petals), Arabica coffee, Tamarillos, Eggplant….
Wah wah! This cafe had people to show customers around the garden as well?! Cool. Okay, now I know what at least some of you are thinking. She is rather slow on the uptake. Yup, I agree. Sometimes I am like tube-light, I take time to light up. But then (keep this in mind) there ARE times (if I say so myself) when I am faster than Chacha Coudhary on the uptake. Since I had the picture of a modern cafe fixed firmly in my mind, I had not yet cottoned on to the fact that when he said ‘Let’s go, coffee!’ Arjun (the driver) had meant a farm. We were at a goddamn coffee plantation and I had all along been expecting to see waiters bustling around with coffee, tea and snacks.
But then I wasn’t way too off the mark. There were seats to sit and a fantastic view that no regular cafe could give.
Tea and coffee were also served, but just to taste. There was coconut coffee (which was totally yum), lemon grass tea, ginger tea, ginseng tea and a few more whose names I fail to recall now.
Here is my brother in law tasting one of the items served.
He also had a cup of Kopi Luwak. At around $500 or more for a pound it is the world’s most expensive coffee. I bet many of you already know that. But it was news to me though. It was even bigger news to me that it is made from coffee beans pooped by the Asian Palm Civet. It seems nobody knows how exactly it came about that humans started collecting coffee beans from the faeces of an animal. Was it some lazy man of yore who found it easier to collect the beans from the ground rather than from the coffee plant? Whoever it was then discovered that coffee made from the beans pooped by the civet had a superior, distinctive taste.
Well, this is how it is done. First they let the animal gorge on ripe coffee berries. Smart buggers that these civets are, they choose only the best quality berries and eat them bean and all. That is exactly what the humans count on, I bet. Now, the civets that have gorged themselves silly on berries, inevitably have to ’evacuate’ few hours down the line. And guess what, the consumed beans supposedly undergoes some chemical reactions/fermentation in the digestive system of the civet before their exit, which is what gives them their uniqueness. The otherwise intact beans pooped are then collected by humans from forest floors, cleaned, roasted and ground, just like any other coffee beans. The resulting coffee is said to be like no other, with a syrupy body and smooth, whatever that is. Yeah, I told you I am no coffee drinker. But those who do go ga-ga over coffee, use words like earthy, musty, exotic, rich, heavy flavour, hint of chocolate/caramel etc to describe kopi luwak.
The man in charge there told us how he and his men go to the surrounding forest area to collect the pooped coffee beans. Here are two women hard at work. One is roasting the beans and the other pounding them the old fashioned way. We were invited to try our hand and sis and I did. It is really hard work.
Next of course was the store where we could buy the different coffee/tea concoctions.
Yup, I ended up buying the coconut coffee, thinking the L & M would love it. As luck would have it, I had made a wrong choice, he didn’t . He said it tasted like payasam (Many Mallu payasams have coconut milk in them) on account of the coconut-ty taste. So now it is mine to finish at my leisure.
We were actually quite reluctant to leave the farm. So enamored were we of the sylvan surroundings. But we were not quite done for the day. There was more to see. That of course is for another day.
The earlier parts in the Bali Journal
Our second day in Bali started off as a rainy day too. By now I knew the skies were merely mocking us with the grey sombre look and splatter of rain with no intention of raining on our parade. Sure enough, by the time we were done with our breakfast (and I must say Bistro Batu Kali gives you of its best) and were ready to leave, the clouds were slowly moving out in search of other patches of sky to occupy and new sets of people to threaten (or bring joy, as the case may be).
When Arjun (our charioteer) stopped the
chariot car at our first destination, we could see buses emptying loads of people. They were all making way to an entrance where this beautiful damsel waited to receive us.
We were to watch the Barong Play (also called Barong & Kris (sword) Dance. The paper handed out to us at the ticket counter told the tale but seemed all garbled. No English teacher if they were to grade it was going to give pass marks to the writer. I had to google about the play to make some sense out of it all. But that further confused me because there seems to be more than one version or way for this dance to be presented. On one point things were very clear: The Barong dance is about the eternal fight between good and evil. Barong is a mythical animal that represents good and Rangda the monster is the mythical evil one. The masks of Barong and Rangda are considered sacred items in Bali, and before they are brought out, it is a must that a priest be present to offer blessings.
The musicians were already seated (as were many viewers) and playing on their instruments while we entered.
Now to the Barong dance itself: The dance starts with a tiger making an appearance. He looks so cute, with a shaggy coat and snapping jaws, as he stares at the audience with his wide mask eyes.
Then comes the monkey. He plays around with the tiger, fools him into believing he has thrown him something while in reality the monkey hides it behind his back. Much the same as we do with our dogs sometimes: Hey there, catch! And when the dog runs and looks for it, you take out whatever it is that is still is in your hand and wave it, saying, Fooled ya! I should know, I do that a lot to Luci.
Getting away from the topic of Luci (There is the danger that I may go off at a tangent) and back to the play, while the monkey and the tiger are at their games, three masked dancers appear. According to the literature provided, the three men are angry with the tiger because it killed a child of one among them. They attack the tiger. The monkey helps the tiger.
Now don’t ask me how this is connected to the story that follows. I am actually clueless. May be it is just a prelude. By the way, there is some crass humor too in this act, when the men catch the monkey and pull something out from between its legs that looks exactly like a you-know-what (If I name it I will get more spammers wanting to sell their ware to me). After some suggestive moves, these men then pull it further and it is revealed to be the tail after all.
Anyway, in the next act, and actually the first, appear two female dancers. They are servants of Rangda the evil witch, who rules over the spirits of darkness. These servants are looking for the servants of Dewi Kunti (yes the same from the epic Mahabharata) who on their part are on their way to meet the Patih (Prime Minister).
Now comes the second act: One of the servants (obviously a witch herself) of the evil Rangda, enters both the servants of Dewi Kunti. When these demon-infested servants meet the Patih (Prime Minister) his body too is invaded successfully by the servant witch. So all three of them are now possessed (this is conveyed to the audience by them sporting on ears or having leaves in their hands), and make way towards Dewi Kunti.
In the third act, Kunti makes her appearance,
followed by Sedewa (Sahadeva)
No prizes for guessing that by now the witch manages to enter and posses Kunti too. For some reason which is really unclear (and not explained) Kunti has promised the evil Rangda that she would sacrifice her son. She orders the Prime Minister to bring Sedewa to the forest.
Poor Sedewa, no amount of asking his Mom elicits a satisfactory answer as to why he is being sacrificed. Everyone on stage at that point, other than Sedewa, have gone bonkers under the influence of Rangda. So, Sedewa is taken prisoner and tied to a tree, awaiting beheading.
In the fourth act, Lord Shiva comes unknown to anyone and grants immortality to Sedewa. Rangda enters all eager to victoriously kill Sedewa. But worse luck, poor evil witch fails to take into account boons from Gods. She fails in her attempts. Better sense prevails and she surrenders to Sedewa requesting redemption. Magnanimous Sedewa agrees, kills her and she goes to heaven.
Hmmm…. I must say things are easy for the bad guys always. Look at the many instances in our epics where the bad guys end up with an easy route to heaven. I don’t mean the medium bad guys, but the really, really bad and cruel ones. They have it real good. They are bad all their life, torture people, indulge in the most atrocious activities. Then along comes their nemesis, the extra good one who they fight and inevitably get killed by. Voila, the doors of Heaven are now wide open for them. So tell me again, WHY exactly are we asked to be good? Methinks being evil is rewarded rather than being even medium-good! I can’t think what sort of message we send to people through these “bad guys go to heaven” stories. That its good to be bad (excuse the choice of words) do all the wrong things, terrorize people and then get yourself a one-way ticket to heaven by getting killed by someone really great? Maybe that is why we have demons amongst us too, terrorizing us in daily life like the rapists of Nirbhaya in Delhi.
Anyways, Rangda goes to heaven. Now, naturally so, Kalika, the witch’s servant also wants to go to heaven. I mean, you can’t blame her, can you? She has been a loyal follower of Rangda, right? So her desire is understandable. She humbly requests Sedewa to kill and give her redemption too.
Sedewa says, no go! Kalika is infuriated and thus in the place of the evil just mitigated, another is born in the form of an angry Kalika. She turns herself into a boar and fights Sedewa. When she is about to be defeated she changes herself into a bird and fights him again.
Once again on the verge of defeat, she changes herself into Rangda. Is there a lesson in this for us? Rangdas are created from the injustice and unfairness of the world. At least it seems so to me, it is NOT something the play conveys but my own view.
In Kalika’s avatar as Rangda, Sedewa is not able to defeat her. Don’t ask me why, since Sedewa already defeated one other Rangda, the one who was even then watching proceedings from heaven. How come this Rangda is too powerful for him to defeat? Is the answer that the good and evil balance each other out and only when the balance tilts does someone step in to maintain it? (But why?) Is that why a new Rangda was allowed to grow by Sedewa himself, much like politicians all over the world who create things for short term goals and later end up fighting it?
Getting back, now that Sedewa realizes he is unable to kill this new Rangda, he meditates and turns himself into a Barong. Yup, the same huge (but cute) tiger/lion we saw in the first intro.The fight is still not easy. Barong is powerfu, but the Rangda is equally powerful. It is a face off.
So the dance ends with the message, the fight between good and evil does not ever end… it goes on forever, even to this day, everywhere in the world.
Our charioteer Arjun was waiting for us as we came out of the dance arena. We had more things to see that day: batik painting, wood carving, etc. We saw many temples also as we drove through. By now we were slowly climbing to a higher level. It had started to drizzle too. Where to next, Arjun? the BIL asked. “Let’s have coffee,” was the reply from the charioteer. So let’s meet for coffee next time, shall we?
(To see a small clip of the Barong dancing, click here)