A Nice Day Trip - ('04)

    * Mengwi and Pura Taman Ayun,

    * Marga and the Margarana Memorial,

    * Pacung and the views back towards the coast,

    * a real Balinese market at Baturiti,

    * the winding mountain road,

    * Bedugul including the market and the temple on Lake Bratan,

    * Jatiluwih and the rice fields,

    * Wanasari and the Butterfly Park,

    * Tabanan and the forests and 'sawah',

    * The subak museum - ancient water controls and the life-giving rice,

    * Tanah Lot for the sunset.

Hit Counter

I must confess that I have never actually put this trip into practise as a single day's outing from the southern tourist areas but I was prompted to offer it as a response to an e-mail enquiry for a day tour that would show newcomers to Bali a view of a common tourist track as well as some of the less well known cultural, social and historical sights that I could recommend.

I always like the drive out of the south and up the central north-going ( or 'kaja' - 'towards the mountains') road, particularly if you can make an early start and beat the first onslaught of morning traffic coming towards you, bringing the daily workers and supplies into Denpasar and the Kuta environs. Just out of the bustle of Seminyak and onto Jalan Raya Kerobokan you quickly come to some beautiful but small, green flat-land rice 'sawah'. To me it just seems that you are speedily transported back to an earlier Bali and you can begin to relax and adjust to 'jam karet' - 'Bali time'. A jarring note that we discovered in '04 was the security guards armed with machine guns outside the little school on the left as you go through Kerobokan. Just avert your gaze to the other side of the road, to the stone carver's yards and the fields and forest beyond and your thoughts return to Bali again.

The little villages along the road seem to join arms with each other as you head north towards Mengwi, a busy but little town with a big history as the site of the Royal Palace of the Mengwi Kingdom which existed until the late 18th century when it was snuffed out in a war with it's present neighbours Tabanan and Badung. The large state temple is Pura Taman Ayun, surrounded by a wide moat, itself surrounded by well tended grass and lily ponds.




 The temple itself dates from only the mid 16th century (recent in Balinese history) and was refurbished in the mid 19th century to present a well crafted and maintained spectacle. It is a large temple with  a fresh and wide open appearance, unlike many similar places. The inner temple contained by the moat is entered, on festival days only, through a tall and magnificently carved 'candi bentar' or split gate common to all temples. Although the visitor will not be allowed inside the surrounding wall there is a path all around the outside which allows for uninterrupted views over the wall and into the compound. There are many 'bales', roofed but otherwise open platforms above ground level, where worshipers can gather and where the daily work of the temple can be done. There are several 'merus', the black thatched, tiered roof buildings that are the houses for the gods when they visit at times of ceremonies. The tiers are always an odd number and here the largest meru has 11 tiers which signifies that it is one of the holiest places in Bali. A similar meru will be seen later floating on the still waters of Lake Bretan.

Continuing north along the road there is a small village of Belayu where 'songket' cloth with interwoven gold threads is made. Songket is much favoured for ceremonial sarongs, not for the everyday. As such it is always seen in the most striking of situations and can hardly ever be forgotten.

At this point we are barely 20 kilometres from Kuta but it is easy to imagine that the time difference is measurable in hundreds of years.

A sudden jolt back to more recent history comes with our arrival at the village of Marga and the memorial of Margarana.
Bali's most revered war hero of recent times must be I Gusti Ngurah Rai, an officer of the independence wars against the Dutch occupiers after the defeat of the Japanese following World War II and the man after whom the international airport on Bali is named. All over Bali one can come across remembrances of Ngurah Rai but here is the official memorial. Beyond the huge banyan tree at the entrance to the large car park is a long wall naming each of the soldiers who died with Ngurah Rai.



Even given the Balinese penchant for large statues and other official markers (have a look at the bronze statues in the GWK Cultural Park on the foothills of the Bukit Peninsula just south of Jimbaran if you want to see the daddy of them all) this wall is a striking object -but there is still the inside of the memorial to see! There is a little ticket booth at the end of the wall where a small entry contribution is made. While you are here let the attendant know that you would like to see into the museum that is within the memorial walls and he will race off to get the keys and unlock for you.




Just inside the gate you will be confronted by one of those impossible to ignore, heroic, carved stone statues and, striking as it might be, It paled into insignificance almost when you walk a little further in and find yourself confronted by ranks and rows of individual memorials, one for each and every dead soldier, engraved with name and rank, date of death and village of origin. Here, in the still and the silence, the feelings that are generated can not be ignored. Amongst the rows you can find little personal tributes recently placed, to show that these heroes are not forgotten. A flag, a flower, a small photo, each a tie between that past and the lives which were left behind which continue today.
The hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

An early peek through the windows of the small museum on our first visit (before I found the secret of getting the doors opened) had given me a glimpse of racks of rifles, presumably from the Independence conflicts. I had recognised British Lee Enfield 303's that the army wanted me to take to bed in my younger days, and I thought that I recognised American carbines also. Others I presumed were Japanese from WWII and I wanted to look more closely. When I picked one up to handle it I nearly threw it over my shoulder it was so light. A closed inspection that followed when my pulse rate settled showed that these rifles were of a very special construction that I had never come across before. I won't tell you the secret. You'll have to go to this place to find out for yourself, but be warned, they must be at least rare if not unique so handle them with care.
Of interest in the museum also are dioramas of the battles and original equipment and fading signals, all there exposed to the withering elements and interlopers such as me who can't keep their hands to themselves.

From Marga it's a kilometer back to the main north road and the slow but unrelieved climb up the flank of the central mountains towards Pacung. Pacung (Pron. 'Pa-choong') is a small village that marks the beginning of the fruits and  vegetable fields that begin to replace the rice of the lower slopes. There are two hotel/resorts here where you can take morning tea if you got a really early start. From the windows of either dining room there are spectacular views down the long and deep valleys towards the beginnings of your trip on the south coast. We have sat on our verandas here and watched the evening clouds and the mists roll and roil up these valleys under the  stars shining in the sky, eventually to win the battle and cloud the whole place in mystery and wonder with the faintest of glows both above and below.



Just beyond Pacung on the edge of the road as it passes through Baturiti is  the most Balinese of Balinese markets. The fruits and especially the mounds of vegetables are to be expected, the white, black and red rices are really not too surprising, nor the peppers and other spices or the coffee, nor the stalls selling temple offerings, not even the hardware shop where you can buy a kris, a kitchen knife, a sickle or a set of copy Sidchrome spanners.



What really rocks you here are the couple of goldsmiths manufacturing some exquisite jewellery. Don't be too tempted to buy unless you're totally confident in either your own bargaining skills and ability to value the object of your fancy or you have a really trustworthy driver to do the job for you. Still, it's a wonder to watch them work with really primitive tools and equipment and then marvel at the results.

The next stop is at another market, quite sanitised by comparison with that at Baturiti, to be found on the left of the road just as you enter Bedugul. To get here though you have to surmount the steepest part of the climb up the final valley between the slope of mounts Tapak, Pohen and Mangu. The road twists and writhes almost in an attempt to defy the tourist entry to the seat of the gods. At the same time along the way it lures you further with those god-like views down the slopes and across some almost derelict modern 'temples' created by the recent rajahs of Indonesia, the presently disgraced Suharto family.



At the Bedugul markets eat strawberries if they are in season, buy plums, bags of all sorts of local nuts to feast on later, collect spices in sealed plastic bags that Customs will let you bring back into your home country if you declare them for inspection. Don't be afraid of the bags of Bali Kopi, look for the rabbits in their cages (don't ask if they are pets), try to ignore the watch sellers but do look at the plants on wild display at the back of the market.




Try tamarillo, those dark and shiny red fruits that look a bit like long plums. (I must make a confession here. I always take a folding pocket knife or two to Bali just to open up the fruits. From somewhere I always seem to be able to acquire a teaspoon with which to scoop out the flesh. So far I have always managed to return the teaspoons to their owners but it is a worry that sometime I will forget.) Admire the sheen and colour of the vegetables. Sit down and talk to the sellers and give their children candy. Enjoy.

From the market it is a short ride down the hill to the lake and the temple area shared by both Balinese Hindu and Muslim. Try to bypass the snakes, birds and animals that you could be photographed with and head across the manicured gardens and lawns to the edge of the lake. Take in the looming vista of the rising caldera edge of Mangu across the other side, appreciate the steepness by the earth slips that will doubtless mark the forested slopes. Ignore the noise of the camp at the distant right edge and the motor boats and imagine a cold and still dawn light reflecting off the hills to the left and slowly lighting the merus of the temple complex on the little islands that almost join the shore in front of you.



This is a deep and brooding, dark-water lake but it is life to the Balinese who live down-spring from it's life-giving waters. Each spring that seeps through under your feet to emerge from the southern flanks heads an ever accumulating flow of irrigation water that feeds the great rice and vegetable terraces down almost to the ocean's edge.

By now it is getting late in the day and I have suggested that you ignore, on this occasion, the delights to be found further up towards the highest peaks; the coffee plantations around the now divided Lakes Tamblingan and Buyan; save for another time the Git Git Falls (Pronounced with a hard 'g' as in 'gate'.  'Jit jit' means bottoms and will result is polite titters from a Balinese audience.) and the nicer but less popular Munduk waterfalls and the additional spectacular views through the forests or down the on farmlands towards Seririt on the north coast.

Turn back and retrace your pathways towards Pacung until the time comes to turn right, towards the west, through the surprising rice terraces and forest plantations around Jatiluwih, some of the most beautiful and spectacular anywhere. Along this elementary and tortuous road you might come across simple brick kilns at the roadside where suitable clays can be found or timber mills running surprisingly large machinery in alarmingly dangerous situations.




Your pathway will lead you 'kelod', or downwards away from the mountains, towards the Tabanan 'Kabuputan' or district, the old kingdom and regency and to its capital also called Tabanan. You will be passing through the richest rice basket in all of Bali and perhaps the most efficient rice farms to be found anywhere in the world, certainly anywhere in a third world country.

Along the way you will pass close to the village of Wanasari where you will find the Butterfly Park just off the road to your right. It is not a large place but there is a fascination I think in the shapes and colours of butterflies and to walk amongst them in a large enclosed area is certainly an experience.



If you want to touch on the dramatic dance history of Bali, Tabanan is the birth place of 'Mario', I Ketut Marya, a most famous Balinese dancer and dance innovator who captivated the populace in the 1930's. Tabanan town itself is a surprising with wide roads and an open feel. If it ever develops as a tourist centre there will already be in place much of the required infrastructure. Although the maps and guide books infrequently mention a 'Subak' or rice growers museum it is very well developed and maintained, not too difficult to find and, if you are just a bit interested in the role and activities of the powerful subak movement in Bali's life and society, and/or the incredible engineering feat of running water courses through mountains and/or the true fruitfulness of a simple rice paddi, perhaps it's best to come back to it another time when you have more time to be enraptured.

From Tabanan it's only about 15Km to the coast and Tanah Lot temple. 15Km is only a short ride to most western visitors, perhaps a drive to the local shops for a morning's indulgence but in Bali 15Km can easily be over half and hour of travelling time. If you have time up your sleeve there are still things to see along the way. Kerambitan town is now small but it was once the seat of the old kingdom and is still home to a branch of the royal family. There seems to be a palace on almost every corner, some recently renovated to recapture the old gloss and style. Some offer rooms for the tourist who wants to linger. Kerambitan is a bit off the direct route from Tabanan to Tanah Lot and a reverse turn will be needed to get back onto the more well travelled road to the famous temple in the sea.

Pura Tanah Lot is one of the most famed temples in Bali as far as tourists are concerned. Sitting atop a rock island in the surf just off the beach and cliffs to which it was joined by a land bridge before an earthquake collapsed it. It is best known for the spectacular sunset views which silhouette the complex against the golden ball. This of course only happens if it is one of 'those' sunsets which unfortunately do not occur every night. On our first visit over 20 years ago the view was so dismal that I was forced to buy a postcard so that I could see in the picture what we'd hoped to see in reality. Even the postcard was not too memorable though.



The old ambience that once pervaded the place has been significantly lost. The Balinese themselves fought a losing action to prevent a tourist hotel from being built overlooking the site but at the same time seem to accept the creeping disease of their own dusty car and bus parks, rough warungs and tourist traps that litter the site. Don't look too far to left or right and hope the gods of the night turn on an unforgettable spectacle for you. Above all don't get there late and find that all of the best vantage points have been taken by the bus-loads of 'foreign devils' and there are none left for the view you hope to admire.



From Tanah Lot it is about 25Km back to your Kuta hotel and a latish shower and evening meal. After a few Bintangs the long day will take its toll and you will sleep well.

I hope you have enjoyed the diversity of your day.


Back to the list of contents on our Home Page?

- fan8 - new4