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Gold, orange, scarlet, purple and every hue between languidly spread themselves across the sky in a blaze of colour as the sun painted its farewell to the day and created the striking setting for the sacred temple of Tanah Lot.
It was the close of another fine day in Bali, that shining jewel in the Indonesian crown, where the monkeys had rattled the branches to catch our attention and the gentle and welcoming Balinese people had performed the Kecak dance dressed in black and white chequered sarongs, chanting and swaying from side to side and back and forth as one amid the pungent aromas of the frangipani flowers and Balinese cooking.
As the harmonious gongs of the Gamelan band died away and the last rays of the sun were swallowed by the darkness I felt peaceful and relaxed and curiously at home in a country where I had stayed for only a few short days but where I had felt universally welcomed by the people of Bali.
Getting to Bali
Okay, now that your appetite is whetted let's get the details out of the way to make room for more flavour. There are no direct flights to Bali because it is too far even for long range aircraft, which would run out of fuel and have to land in the ocean.
Return flights from Heathrow to Denpasar, Bali's capital, are usually via Singapore, Bangkok or Hong Kong. Flights with Singapore Air, Royal Brunei Airlines and Cathay Pacific can be found online at www.opodo.com and www.lastminute.com between £400 and £600. It pays to book well in advance if you want to keep costs down.
The flight takes around 17 hours depending on stop-overs and our choice is Singapore Air because the staff are friendly, the food is okay, the seats are reasonably comfortable, unless you're exceptionally tall, but the clincher is the superb in-seat entertainment system. There is a screen in the back of each seat and a choice of over 20 films, popular television shows, music ranging from pop or rock through jazz or blues to classical and video games, strategy games and quizzes. Plenty to keep most ages amused during the long flight!
the Flavour …
My wife and I were holidaying briefly in Bali and the day had begun with the traditional Balinese breakfast consisting of a medley of the freshest, juiciest pineapple, mango, melon and jackfruit followed by crunchy toast and sweet mango jam and washed down with steaming mugs of characteristic Balinese coffee. It's different from the coffee that we drink in the west because it's stronger, thicker and less bitter but just as satisfying and more-ish when you get used to it after the first cup or two. But be sure to leave the inch or so of grounds at the bottom of the cup untouched!
We were staying in Candi Dasa on the south eastern coast of Bali at the Palanganan Bungalows guesthouse, which is a collection of pleasant bamboo huts with thatched roofs and lattice-work doors and windows and cost twenty five pounds for four nights bed and breakfast. The lattice-work allows air to circulate and keeps the hut just cool enough to sleep in and the thatching is home to an interesting array of wildlife that ignores the occupants.
The Palanganan is set in an expanse of emerald green paddy fields and the only route to it is a narrow track on the raised earth between the paddy fields so returning after dark without a torch is tricky. As I found out by promptly falling into a paddy field after sampling some of the rather fine local beer.
Meeting the Fauna
Our hut came complete with its own wasp nest that was the base for a colony of two inch long red wasps, which was unsettling until the owner showed us that the wasps were harmless by grasping a liberal handful and throwing them outside; the wasps made no fuss at all and carried on unconcerned. They silently came and went all night and were no bother at all.
Buses don't arrive regularly or often enough for getting about if your stay is short so we hired a Bemo and driver for the day for about five pounds. The Bemo was a shiny, black, modern, air-conditioned Suzuki four-by-four driven by Rua who had brought his brother along for company. Rua had a passion for 60's rock music so we were entertained by the Stones, Led Zep, Cream, the Kinks , The Yardbirds and King Crimson for the day played at maximum volume on a very cheap stereo.
The tinny sound system became a little wearing eventually but Rua and his brother were taken with the music and continued to jiggle away and chat all day. For a fiver it seemed rude to complain!
The traffic in Bali comprises two continual road races, one in each direction, where all vehicles are participants, either side of any road is fair game and the only rule is that the larger vehicle has the right of way in any situation. It's a bit hairy until you get used to it and learn to deliberately look elsewhere at opportune moments, especially when a bus is bearing down on you as you're overtaking the vehicle in front and there's only half a vehicle width available. I expected the road carnage to be grisly and all-too-evident but actually there are few accidents so the system appears to work. Rua claimed that most of the accidents were caused by tourists. Presumably ones that were deliberately looking the other way.
Rua and his brother jiggled and chatted while we snorkled and lunched near Amed and visited the monkey forest near Ubud and in the late afternoon we took the 90-minute journey west to Tanah Lot to catch the setting sun.
The Tanah Lot Experience
The entrance to Tanah Lot is besieged with colourful market stalls aggressively selling trinkets, souvenirs and nick-nacks to anyone who ventures close enough to become ensnared. "Special price for you today!" they cry, "Cheapest deal in Bali!", "For you today only!", "You buy now!!" And if you dare to try to pay the 'special price for you today' they cry "You bargain, you bargain!" So you offer half the asking price and the response from the wisened woman is to roll her eyes and shout "Family of ten to feed, baby sick. You pay more!" It's an eternal game and they're only satisfied when you've agreed to pay 90 percent of the "bargain" price, which is three times what they're selling the same item for at another stall. It's a pittance either way so everyone's happy. When you've run the market stall gauntlet you take the 5 minute walk down to the sea to be greeted by the impressive sight of the temple of Tanah Lot.
The temple of Tanah Lot is reputed to have been built on a rocky outcrop 50 metres offshore in the 16th century by a Javanese priest Danghyang Nirartha for its peaceful setting. Tanah Lot translates to "earth and sea" and the temple can be reached on foot at low tide. The temple comprises an open central courtyard twenty metres in diameter surrounded by buildings with clusters of multiple, square, ridged roofs.
The best vantage point to view the temple at sunset is from the cliffs where there are a number of cafes and restaurants with outdoor tables. They cater to both local and foreign tastes and it is common, for example, to find rump steak and nasi goreng sharing the same menu; and it's fruitless to ruminate that you haven't seen a cow while you've been in Bali. Typically the food and drinks prices are high and the quality low, but no worse than you'd expect to find at most other popular tourist spots.
As the sun sets behind the temple its roofs are brought into stark silhouette against the vibrant colours. A rapt hush settles over the thousands of onlookers as the colours change gradually from gold to orange to scarlet to purple to indigo and finally to black. The effect is transfixing and instantly worth the effort of being there. I was awestruck by the intensity of the colours, the tranquility of the scene, the residue of the harmonious Gamelan music and pungent but pleasant aromas that combined to coax long-forgotten but pleasant thoughts and images into my mind from the deepest recesses of my brain.
The memories - did you know there is a balinese saying that if you visit Tanah Lot with a lady your not married to it wont last - my boyfriend and l were there in June - so far so good! I had a wee giggle when l thought of the transport - families on motorcycles it is manic!! Lovely country extremely lovely people and a fantastic memory envoking review for me! Heather
MagicMoments 26.09.2005 22:15
Excellent review, it sounds amazing! MM x
Writing321 22.09.2005 15:54
Beautiful pictuure you create here.... hopefully i will put myself into this picture in time to come...... wonderful words... thank you