A Travellerspoint blog

Bali Hi – Almost Heaven

sunny 30 °C

High in the hills of northern Bali the tympanic rhythms of gamelan echo across the paddy terraces from dawn to dusk and are accompanied by a natural choir of contralto cockerels, tenor crickets and baritone dogs. And then, following the evening’s raucous frog concerto, the nocturnal stillness is broken by the haunting wails of the recently bereaved. The superstitious Balinese are devoutly religious and the celebrants of sacred and spiritual ceremonies vie for our attention day and night. Hindu temples are ten a penny, so canned music and hollow words from their tinny speakers compete with each other, and with nature’s chorus, for the airwaves and turn this seemingly serene nirvana into a noisome battleground. If only this photo had sound it would paint an entirely different picture...
A plethora of religious ceremonies and feast days gobbles up some thirty-five percent of the average income and turns the making and selling of offerings into a lucrative career. But the temples and shrines are often scruffy affairs, and the twice daily hand-outs of food are viewed as easy meat by dogs, rats, monkeys and ants. This is just one of the dozens of ‘offering’ shops in Singaraja…
Here are some typical garden shrines…
And this is Juny the maid making ceremonial offerings on behalf of us disbelieving heathens...
It is Pagerwesi - the 16th of January.
Pagerwesi is celebrated every six months – but don’t get attached to the date. There are precisely 35 days in each month of the Balinese calendar so the next Pagerwesi will be on July 14th. Confused? So are the Balinese, because they also use two other calendars and all three have differing dates. However, the moon is constant and the most significant annual event of Nyepi is celebrated on the new moon of the ninth month. Nyepi begins with purification and sacrificial rites designed to drive all evil spirits out to sea. Once the spirits have been shown the door the following day is a day of enforced silence, (though how they gag the dogs, frogs and cocks is beyond us). Anyone leaving their home or hotel; anyone singing, whistling or even whispering aloud; anyone driving, riding, fishing or working, is summarily punished. The airport is closed for twenty four hours and no lights or fires lit, or sounds of any kind made, in the hope that the spirits will believe that the island is deserted and never return.
This is our Bali home at sunset...
It is common for writers to enthuse lyrically about this picturesque landscape and the seemingly simplistic lifestyle of the Balinese, but maybe we have stayed too long and delved too deep. We’ve seen the garbage filled streams and littered beaches, and driven the crumbling roads clogged with thousands of fume-spewing motorbikes; we have heard sinister tales of revenge resulting from envy, greed or perceived injury; and we are fully aware that there is bribery and corruption at all levels. However, far from the southern tourist Meccas of Kuta and Sanur, there is still a land where naked natives bathe in mountain streams and peasant farmers work their photogenic paddies with oxen. But this ‘travel brochure’ paradise is fast disappearing. A new airport is to be built in northern Bali and the remaining National Geographic landscape is being usurped and destroyed by the very people who profess to value its beauty. Foreign investors are building mega-villas in the paddies and permanently driving land prices beyond the reach of the locals. Many hereditary farmers have already squandered the family’s silver on a motorbike, a BlackBerry and a satellite television, and the next generation is facing a life of servitude when once they might have been masters of their own destiny. How long will this pastoral beauty survive against an onslaught of westernization?
The beaches and tourist towns of southern Bali have already sunk under the ugly weight of rampant tourism and there is a real danger that northern Bali will follow suit. We would encourage you to visit this beautiful land and glimpse paradise with your own eyes – But wait! Won’t that make you part of the problem too? Maybe you should just sit back and dream of heaven while we do the heavy lifting!

Posted by Hawkson 04:31 Archived in Indonesia

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Good to see you back in cyberspace again. Spring is showing signs of arriving early here--crocuses and snowdrops up. No problem following your sit back and dream advice--no airports, no customs, no eight hour flights, and minimal roadside garbage.

by R and B

An unflinching look at what most of us would have though of as Paradise. Travel does remove the scales from the eyes...looking forward to your return home.
hugs, Sharron

by Sharron

Have missed hearing from you. I think I would rather have both the beauty and reality of a place I visited. It makes for a more in depth experience. I have seen cherry blossoms in Vancouver and lots of birds in False Creek chirping away.

by Sue Fitzwilson

a most poetic beginning to this post ending with a prophetic warning to us all. Have been missing your posts lately.

by Janet

Lovely pictures - seems paradise - how we envy you both
Lots of love and best wishes
Jean and David

by Jean and David

A beautiful end to your Bali period. We look forward to the next chapter. Hope you have a great trip home. We are still loving Mexico.

by keith and helen

It has been so interesting to hear all your stories and see the great pictures of your adventures . Look forward to your return .Eileen

by Eileen Wilson

Nice to have you back blogging. Fabulous photos. 35% to the gods! I see you can be beggared pleasing the gods as well as the banks! I wonder if there is an accepted percentage of your income to the gods. An odd debt to income ratio. Interesting to consider the impact of secularization on economic development with capital flows redirected.

by Tom Whalley

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