Or why these uplands in Bali, Indonesia won’t ever let you forget where you are
She lifted the hem of her sarong worn over a pair of jeans, as she mounted a motorcycle. In one hand, she held a bouquet of small, intricately decorated, woodcarved geckos, a Balinese symbol for regeneration. This was at Pasar Peliatan, the marketplace in the small village of Peliatan in Ubud in Bali, Indonesia, where the past and present find common ground in the every day.
It’s not uncommon to see the people of Ubud in traditional clothes, mainly kebaya, sarong or kamden, batik, even the selendang or the cotton, silk, or velvet fabric with intricate, colorful, floral patterns that the Balinese wear tied around their waists, and the udeng, a headdress similar to the Turkish fez, with a special knot in the center.
You might think these articles of clothing are just daily wear, but they might be more special or even sacred than you think. In Hinduism, the predominant religion in Bali, there are many occasions, from birth to funeral, from wedding to cremation, even tooth-filling.
Traditionally, the Balinese also follow not one but three calendars—the Pakwon or Balinese calendar, the Saka or Hindu calendar, and the Gregorian calendar, each of which has its own set of festivities to observe.
The Pakwon, for instance, has the equivalent of the Gregorian New Year’s Day, the Kuningan, which is celebrated every 210th day of the year. Prior to Kuningan, there is the 10-day Galungan festival running up to the day the universe was created through the triumph of Drahma (good) over Adrahma (evil).
In the Hindu or lunar calendar, on the other hand, New Year’s Day is the Day of the Nyepi, which typically falls in March, or great Shivaratri, the night the god Shiva performed the divine dance Tandava, observed on the night of the waning moon or the 13th night and the 14th day of the lunar month of Phalguna, which either falls in February or March in the Gregorian calendar.
Red-letter days aside, rituals are a huge part of everyday life for the Balinese, for whom even the simple act of praying is a ceremony. Wearing traditional clothing to them is also an expression of respect for their elders, for Balinese customs, for the Hindu gods, and for Bali itself.
Have you ever been in a country other than your own in which you feel the need to remind yourself that you are elsewhere? Not in Bali, especially not in Ubud, where despite rapid modernization, traces of old Bali stand firm in every corner, in every nook and cranny, every 100 meters or so on a stretch of alley or road or highway, at the entrance of every temple, house, or building, practically everywhere you turn.
First stop in Bali was at the Plataran Ubud Hotel and Spa, something different because it is designed around lush rice paddies and a century-old temple. It’s a hidden gem just off Jalan Hamonan Road, a foodie destination lined with quaint cafés, happening bars, and modern restaurants like Nusantara by Locavore, with such Indonesian regional treats like ricefield snails and aromat-seasoned soft shell crab.
While it is walking distance from all the action of Jalan Hamonan Road or all the adventures at the Mandala Suci Wenara Wana or the Ubud Monkey Forest, Plataran is a world of its own, quiet and peaceful, with its own set of modern-day comforts and luxuries, such as two infinity pools, two gourmet restaurants, and an outdoor gym. It has a collection of 51 stylish rooms and suites, some of which are fitted with canopy beds, and a two-story, three-bedroom private residence called the Founder’s Home, with a pool of its own and enough space for a party.
Yet, it too is unmistakably Bali, especially when a welcome dinner was set up for us al fresco among the ricefields and we, all decked out in batik as the dress code suggested, were ushered in to our table in a procession once observed for royalty at dinner time, replete with gongs sounding as we made our way, our food, including a babi guling, the Balinese version of the roast suckling pig, served in decorative platters made of bamboo and palm by a parade of waitresses in lace kebaya and sarong, and with young dancers in full costumes and makeup performing ritual dances I found exquisitely angular and intensely expressive, almost hypnotic.
There’s no mistaking Ubud. The streets are lined with shrines, temples or temple ruins, walled compounds, pagoda-like towers, split gates or roofed gates, garden pavilions, stone and wood carvers’ workshops, souvenir stores, and rice paddies. Most entrances have guardian statues in the form of demons or characters from the Mahabharata. Even along the most nondescript alleys stand guard stone frogs, stone monkeys, stone dragons, and the elephant god Ganesh, as well as delicate carvings of Brahma, Shiva, Garuda, and other Hindu deities and demons. Where you least expect, such as on a balustrade or a doorstep or on the sidewalk, you are likely to see a canang sari, a small palm-leaf basket or tray containing leaves, flowers, fruit, grains, or nuts offered to create a balance among God, man, and the universe, a Balinese Hindu practice.
In carved wood or moss-covered stone, in palm weaves, in the floral motif of a ceremonial lace kebaya or the fish patterns on an everyday batik, even amid aggressive globalization, the past, rooted in place, is very present, very much in Ubud. In Ubud, Bali won’t let you forget where you are, even for a moment.
Book a trip to Bali, Indonesia through Travel Warehouse Inc. Cebu Pacific flies to Bali from Manila and back twice weekly. www.twi.com.ph | www.cebupacificair.com
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