Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Ubud, Bali, day 1; birds in Petulu, cremation, Tegalalang rice terraces, lotus pond, monkey chant, & a fire walker
February 1st, 2008
It was just over two years since my first visit to Bali, and it felt almost like coming home (if home were a mythical fantasy...). The town of Ubud, surrounded by stunning rice fields and a variety of artist communities is a place I often long for.
I went back to Gusti's Garden Bungalows, where I'd spent my previous visit and feel in love with the place. Tucked down below Gusti's house complex, by a creek, with a small restaurant and outdoor swimming pool. Every morning I ate crepes with papaya, banana, and pineapple, with a slide of lime to squeeze over it. It was a treat to eat there again, surrounded by a tropical grove.
My last trip was a series of long walks, each day in a different direction, this time a rented a bicycle and headed north.
What I love about Ubud is that in a two hour bike ride, you can see half a lifetime's worth of mind blowing, hmm, life. The first place I came to was a spot I'd gotten lost trying to find on my first trip, but this time, after staring at the map until it finally clicked, I was able to find the tiny village of Petulu, locally famous for the hundreds of heron that nest in the trees along the road.
From there, I intended to go straight to Tegalalang, but instead came across a cremation in progress on the side of the road. One of the local men encouraged me to come get a closer look and filled me in on all the details about the woman being cremated and pointed out her teenaged daughter across the flames. A light rain began to fall which seemed to match the general atmosphere. I did notice, though, that people weren't outwardly crying, even the daughter. People were standing around, watching, chatting quietly. There seemed to be a greater acceptance of death that what I'm accustomed to. At least that's the impression I had, anyway.
Eventually, I did make it to Tegalalang and returned to the rice terraces shown for a few moments in Baraka. There's something about the view here that affects me deeply. A balanced harmony of people and earth working together, resulting in a spectacular stretch of scenery.
After coasting back into Ubud, and dropping the bike off, I walked down to the Lotus Café, a beautiful restaurant terrace that circles the lotus pond in front of Pura Taman Saraswati, the Water Palace, and had Smoked duck, stuffed with herbs and wrapped in banana leaves, then cooked underground for 24 hours. It didn't do anything for my weak aspiration to someday become a vegetarian...
To end the day, I walked a few more minutes down the road to an outdoor stage to see a Kechak performance, known in English as the Monkey Chant, it tells the scene of the Ramayana where the monkey army, lead by Hanuman, do battle with Rāvaṇa's army to rescue Rama's wife, Sita. The Monkey Chant's origin is actually a 1930's German artist's adaptation of a traditional trance ritual. The repetitive chants still retain a trance-like quality, and after the performance, a pile of coconut husks is lit and a fire walker, in an apparent trance, goes stomping through it repeatedly, until there is little left to stomp. It really is a fascinating spectacle.