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Published: September 6th 2006
Bali Sojourn - Part III (Various touristy spots)
We, i.e. Indian Hindus get special privileges in Balinese temples. Most of the Bali temples are open to the foreign tourists, but some are open only to Hindus, whether Balinese or Indian. Tanha Lot is one such temple, which is situated on the top of a rock in the sea and separated from the coast by a narrow channel, which is submerged under the sea water at high tide.
However, one more condition should be satisfied before the devotees, whether Indian or Balinese Hindus, can enter the shrine of the Tanha Lot. There should be a low tide when you visit the temple. At the high tide, maybe you can still enter the temple, but you will have to swim to it, and then again, you may still be denied the entry because, in a swimsuit, you will not be “properly dressed.” This again is possible if you reach the temple without getting bitten by one of the poisonous sea snakes that come out of their lairs -which are at the base of the rocky island on which Tanha Lot stands -when the high tide fills these lairs with seawater. Those sea snakes are supposed to guard the temple.
It is not advisable to visit the temple at high tide.
However, we were lucky. When we visited, it was low tide and so we could walk right up the rock to the shrine. Tanha Lot is dedicated to the sea gods.
There is a sweet water spring at the base of that rock in the midst of the sea. This, in itself, is a miracle of the nature. No wonder the Balinese regard it as ‘Holy water” a.k.a. ‘Tirth’. The priests sprinkled the holy water on us and then we went up.
Like all Balinese temples, it is an enclosed, open, sacred space with a “Meru”, the seven or nine-tiered pillar, which somewhat looks like a huge juke box. The temple’s location, on a rock isolated from the shore by a narrow channel, ensures scenic views. This whole coastline is composed of crumbling rocks sculpted into weird formations by the effects of the elements. There is even one sea arch nearby.
Can you believe it? The lairs, in which the sea snakes sleep during low tide, have been claimed and monopolized by some Balinese chaps and for a trifle sum, they will take you a little way inside the lair and actually show you a sleeping snake. They even urge you to touch it, but we were not adventurous enough to do it.
People can make a living out of ANYTHING.
The sunset at Tanha Lot is as spectacular as it is reported on the Net.
Taman Ayun temple at Mengwi
Taman Ayun is another large temple in the town of Mengwi. Bali has thousands of temples, so I thought there would not be anything new in this temple. After all, ALL the temples of Bali follow a simple basic plan. The ‘building blocks’ of a Bali temple - the Bale, the Meru, the Kul Kul and the shrines start looking familiar after you have seen two or three temples.
But no, Taman Ayun is different. Like all Balinese temples, it is in “layers”. I mean, the Inner shrine is enclosed in an Outer compound, which is again enclosed in another Outer compound and so on, resulting in generally in 3 or 5 or 7 compounds totally. The unique thing about Taman Ayun is that the alternate layers of the temple are water. The Inner shrine is surrounded by a moat, which is again surrounded by Outer compound, again surrounded by a moat and so on. This is what makes Taman Ayun a very beautiful temple. The moats have lotus flowers floating it them.
It reminds you of some water gardens in Kashmir or in Italy, though there are no fountains. The water is mostly static like a pond, not ‘flowing’ through the temple.
The water in the moats is static, NOT stagnant. The lotuses and fishes take care of that.
The link above gives the author’s opinion about Kintamani, that the view is amazing, but the ‘street taunts’ are difficult to avoid. This is more or less true but, if you are going to Bali, or for that matter, ANY tourist spot in Asia, you should be mentally prepared for the ‘street taunts’. They certainly are an annoyance, but if you learn to ignore them, you will enjoy the view more.
Mount Batur is a ‘volcano within a volcano’ and a live one at that. Its summit is always ‘smoking’ so to say. This mountain rises from a ‘crater lake’ (3km X 7km and 65 meters deep) and when you visit Kintamani, you are actually looking at Mount Batur and the crater lake from the rim of the caldera, which is 10 km in diameter.
I personally think, the view of Lake Batur and Mount Batur from Kintamani is as beautiful as the view of Wizard Island from the rim of Crater Lake.
Ubud is the Artists’ Village and cultural center of Balinese society, and needless to say, it is a very artistically arranged around a central square. There are various Art galleries selling wonderful wooden carvings and lovely paintings. The Art Galleries are actually spacious bungalows.
I had heard and read a lot about Bali’s dances and Bali’s puppet theater. The very first “welcome” dance performed at the Batubulan by two girls was simply out of this world. The girls were very cute and graceful, and it was a pleasure to watch them as they went through the dance steps.
The three most attractive elements of the Balinese dances that appeal to me are the young, graceful girls clad in their glittery clothes and dazzling finery, The Gamelan music and the masks - ferocious Barong and Rangda and lovely white monkey Hanuman.
The Batubulan has not only a performing troupe of expert artists but also novice student dancers being trained by the masters. It is a regular dance school, and sometimes the amateur students are allowed to perform before the tourists.
Kechak dance, which was invented in 1930, by a Westerner, has no masks and does away with the gamelan also, so the only single attractive element it is left with is Sita, and it was performed by those ‘understudies’, without much preparation and also without much coordination. The appearance and disappearance of Ram and Sita in various acts, which those ‘monkeys’ are supposed to mask by forming a phalanx, was clearly visible. All in all, the ‘Kechak’ dance was very unsatisfactory.
Most comic was the ‘Barong’ dance. I do not suppose it was meant to be comic.
The ‘Barong’ is composed of two men. One man is under the mask of the head of ‘Barong’ and the other is under the tail, thus making a four-legged mythological animal representing a beast like the lion. The two men are covered by a cloth ‘body’.
I had seen a similar dance in one of the Jacky Chan’s movies, and the synchronization between the two men was amazingly perfect, so much so that you almost forget that it is not a real animal. Synchronization is the key to a performance of the Barong dance.
In the Barong dance that we were subjected to, the synchronization was totally missing. I suspect that the two novices that were performing the dance were rivals and each wanted to be the ‘front’ part of the Barong. After all, you can get much mileage out of being a ferocious Barong under the mask and play to the gallery by moving the head from side to side or lowering it and attacking the evil Rangda, thus generating a lot of applause.
So, in the performance that we witnessed, it looked as if the ‘hind’ part of the Barong had suddenly developed an intelligence of its own and finding itself being eclipsed by the ‘front’ part, had decided to rebel against it. It too shook the hind part from side to side and tried to attack Rangda. Poor Rangda, totally confused by this turn of the events, fled.
I hope the two boys playing the ‘Barong’ were thoroughly thrashed and disciplined by their teachers.
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