Denpasar to Munduk

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June 15th 2018
Published: June 16th 2018
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We spend three nights at Siladen doing nothing. My sister Angela would be horrified at such a waste of time as she spends her time here diving backwards off boats and taking pictures of fishes 100 feet down. But we enjoy our time of idleness!

On our last day there we take the boat back to Manado where the resort bus is waiting to take us e to the airport. Suddenly all the oncoming traffic starts to flash at our driver. He stops and checks the tyres. We have a puncture. Our chance of getting to the airport on time suddenly seems very slim. But he stops at a roadside ‘garage’ – the sort that sells petrol in bottles for motorbikes – and uses their airline to reinflate the tyre. Won’t do the job for long, but mercifully the airport is only 5 minutes away and we make it there in time, hearts still pounding. We fly to Makassar and then on to Bali Denpasar, where we have to stay overnight in the airport hotel as Garuda thoughtfully cancelled our direct flight two days before we left the UK.

Early the next morning we set off for Munduk Moding in the north of Bali. Bali is completely different to any of the other islands we have visited on this trip. It is more than the Balinese Hindu temples and shrines that seem to be every few yards. The island is much more internationalised, even when you get out of Denpasar/Sanur, lots of signage in English, and there are actually direction signs on the roads here. Suddenly we are in the paddy fields and the ubiquitous green countryside, but soon enough we are climbing again and following winding roads up and down. Away from the immediate coastal littoral Bali can seem like a series of active and extinct volcanoes with farmland and villages attached. You rarely seem to be on a straight level road. Sometimes you are below the clouds, you climb and then you are above them, watching the clouds/mist drift past, opening up vistas tantalisingly and then snatching them away again.

Our first stop is Gunung Kawi, an 11th century temple and funerary complex that is situated deep in a river valley. Before we set off our driver dresses each of us in a sarong and a silk sash. De rigueur for visiting a Balinese temple we learn and we look particularly ridiculous with this over our trekking gear. A group of Balinese schoolchildren high five us on their way past in the other direction, and very politely don’t laugh at us. We go down a series of steep steps past more rice paddies to a little valley at the bottom. There are ten ancient rock cut candi, or shrines, carved into eight metre high niches in the sheer cliff faces on both sides of the river valley. It is beautiful and largely deserted, and well worth the walk.

Balinese Hinduism seems on the surface to bear little resemblance to Hinduism as practised in India with which we are much more familiar. The style of temple architecture is much different; there are tales from the Ramayana shown on temple frescoes, and the occasional statue of Shiva or Vishnu or Ganesha, but if you expect the temple to look like an Indian one, you could on cursory inspection think it was a different religion. In fact Balinese Hinduism is much influenced by traditional beliefs. The ancient Balinese gods have been woven into the fabric of traditional Hinduism.

Back in the car, more twisting roads bring us to the Tirta Empul temple complex. The car park is full of coaches and cars, and we fear the place will be unpleasantly heaving with people. But although it’s the busiest place we’ve been all holiday, it is large enough to absorb the crowds and is a fascinating place. It dates back to 962AD and its name means ‘holy water spring’. There is a water source in the temple which visibly bubbles up into a crystal clear pool and then flows into various purification baths, pools and fish ponds. The main focal point is a long narrow pool with a series of water spouts feeding into it. Devotees are queuing in the water to reach one of the spouts, where they make an offering and douse themselves in holy water. Some wear greens sarongs but most are in their day to day clothes. All are shivering as although it’s a hot day the water is cold, and they have a long wait. There are a series of different temple buildings, all set amidst verdant greenery. Looking down over the entire scene from the top of a small but steep slope is a large 20th century villa – actually, two buildings on separate mounds, connected by a bridge. It’s the presidential palace built by President Sukarno, the first president of Indonesia from 1945 to 1967, as his wife liked to be able to bathe in the temple, and when you are a dictator you can do what you like. Power and money can buy you anything!

We drive on and stop in the village of Kintamani to admire the view of Gunung Batur, an active volcano that sits in a huge 10 x13km caldera, half of which is filled by a lake, Danau Batur. It’s the most active volcano in Bali. It last erupted in 2000 and the lava flows from that eruption are still clearly visible, black and still virtually without vegetation. There are a number of subsidiary craters on the mountain formed by various eruptions in the 20th century. Amazingly, the cone of Batur was only formed in 1917, after a massive eruption. The larger Gunung Agung sits behind it, but sadly is almost entirely covered by cloud. It was Agung that had a significant eruption in 2017.

Our final temple, the Pura Beji temple, could not be more of a contrast. It is tiny and deserted. It dates back to the 15th century. We enter through the traditional ‘gateway’ of two high sculpted pillars. There is a small building ahead of us, behind which is the main temple. Both are covered in elaborate carvings, of fierce temple guardians, dancing girls and animals of all sorts. The walls around the complex feature scenes from the great Hindu epic tales.

We drive on through the hills and eventually descend back down to sea level. We make a very short stop in Singaraja, the second largest town in Bali. The Lonely Planet book tells us there is some interesting Dutch colonial architecture by the waterfront, so we stop to take a look. This place was used by the Dutch as the administrative centre of this part of Indonesia. They had hopes it would turn into a “Dutch Singapore”, but that didn’t really work out. Sadly, most of it has been recently demolished, any remaining buildings are all rather decrepit, and all that remains on the waterfront is a single small art deco style warehouse. The place is a bit of a dump really.

Another 45 minutes takes us to our final hotel of the holiday, Munduk Moding Plantation. On the way we pass two lakes in the valley down below us. Alongside the road are gazebo type structures where you can have your picnic, and a series of ridiculous “selfie zones”, comprising things like a pathetic wooden model supposed to be the Eiffel tower, a huge teacup, various arbours etc. All full of people adopting ridiculous poses.

Munduk Moding is a beautiful hotel set in a working coffee plantation, with villas scattered on different levels, all entirely private. We’re glad there’s a golf buggy to transport us and our luggage, as the slopes are very steep indeed. Sadly, the buggy does not stay on hand to bring us back to the main building for afternoon tea. There is a stunning infinity pool, which seems to have been the main, or possibly the only, attraction for all our fellow guests, who spend the entire afternoon taking selfies and photos of each other in various poses on the rim of the pool! Apparently it’s very popular with visitors from the PRC......who as we all know are the undisputed kings of selfies. But having taken their photos they all seem to disappear, which is nice, leaving the environment peaceful once more.

In the distance, about 4000 feet below us, is the west coast. However, the rolling mists obscure the coastline for most of the time, but the mists also create an air of mystery about the place, and keep it blissfully cool compared to the lowland areas.

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