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Bali, Island of Gods

Bali, island of the gods

iFly magazine is constantly seeking out the world’s most wonderful hidden treasures. For this edition of iFly Magazine, photographer/journalist Mike Raanhuis travelled to Bali to uncover some of this spiritual island’s best kept secrets. He returned chilled out to the max thanks to the phenomenal nature and the friendly Balinese people.

Discover the hidden treasures
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Mike Raanhuis

Proper preparation is essential for an enjoyable trip, and this applies especially to Bali. You could rent a car, but it is more fun to find a chauffeur who will take you wherever you want to go. During my stay I rely entirely on my English speaking Balinese driver and guide Daniel. He knows immediately what I mean when I say I want to see places where tourists rarely venture.

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Day 1

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Ultimate relaxation: Alila Ubud

The first night in hotel Alila Ubud gives me ample energy to rise and shine early. Its central location in Gianyar makes Alila Ubud the ideal starting point to discover the island. The hotel is a discovery in itself. Situated among the rice fields, with a luxurious spa, an infinity pool (one of the 20 coolest in the world according to Forbes) and an amazing kitchen with 27 staff, Alila Ubud is a place where you could dwell for eternity.

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Spring temple

Daniel is waiting for me on the dot, which I soon understand is not to be taken for granted. The Balinese are known to be casual about punctuality, hence the so-called ‘Bali time’. Although it’s the rainy season, it's dry when we arrive at the Spring Temple in Tampak Sering. Surrounded by deep green flora, this is one of Bali’s most holy places. Did you know that 93% of the Balinese people are Hindu? The spring is said to have healing powers, and I get to watch a ritual as believers bathe in the water.

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A major part of the life of Balinese people is sacrifices, costing them almost a quarter of their income. The offerings are everywhere, in the street, cars, shops and temples. A sacrifice, or ‘canang sari’, is a folded banana leaf filled with cookies, rice and flowers that aims to appease the gods. Each family and each village has its own temple. It is even said that Bali has more temples than houses!

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Rice fields

I cannot wait to see an authentic Balinese terraced rice field. Tip: Don’t visit the fields in the travel guides where you will surely wait in line. Daniel takes me to the rice fields of Tegallalang where I enjoy the huge difference in altitude all by myself. The way they are built causes the water to flow from one terrace to the next. As an exception, I am allowed to walk between the fields. There are thankfully no snakes around during the day as they hunt their prey at night, although I am pleased that I have a good sense of balance!

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Most exclusive coffee

After a Balinese lunch with rice, vegetables and meat at Café Dewi, I want to try a local speciality. Kopi luwak is seen as the most exclusive coffee in the world, and ten minutes down the road in Ceking is a plantation where I can taste it. Kopi luwak is made from the droppings of a type of civet, the luwak. This ‘toddy cat’ eats berries with a bean at its core that ferments in the intestines. The bean keeps its shape when defecated and the resulting coffee has a deep and full flavour. Is it worth six euros? Decide for yourself!

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Day 2

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Another must-see on Bali is the colourful barong dance, for example in Batu Bulan. In this dance, costumed actors depict the eternal battle between good and evil of people and the world. Remember to visit one of the markets as well. Daniel recommends the Sukawati market, which unlike the one in Ubud is not well known among tourists and mainly attracts Balinese and Indonesian shoppers. There is plenty for sale, from clothing to vegetables, fruit, meat and fish.

Authentic Bali

I again decide to start exploring the island at the crack of dawn. Although the distances aren’t long, the roads are bumpy and narrow, so 40 kilometres can easily take 1.5 hours. Along the road I see woodcarvers and people selling clothes and fruit. Another beautiful temple, 500 steps down, is the Pura Dalem Pingit in Sebatu. Hidden between the trees, I don’t meet a living soul and enjoy the stunning temple in peace, a unique experience.

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Penglipuran

My new travel goal is the car-free town of Penglipuran, which archaeologists say dates back to the 11th century. The locals are called ‘Bali Aga’ – original Balinese. They live in an elongated village consisting of a single street with houses on both sides. Their lifestyle is in accordance with the old traditions that date back before the emergence of Hindu tribes, and for a long time marrying someone outside of the community was unthinkable. Discover an isolated world that even most Balinese have never visited.

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I have the privilege of being guided around the house of the family from nr. 30. Like the rest of the village, everything is remarkably tidy. Where other Balinese aren’t much for cleaning up or keeping the streets free of rubbish, in Penglipuran all blades of grass point in the same direction, and there is a clear sense of order and regularity.

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Guest at the consecretion

My next highlight (of many!) is as unique as it is touching. Daniel invites me to the consecration of his new home, something that is essential in the Hindu community. The whole family is present, and Daniel introduces me to his parents, wife and children. During the ceremony, in which a priest blesses the family with holy water, I am allowed to take photographs. The son plays an especially important role within Balinese families, as he will take care (financially) for the parents until their deaths.

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Asking around I discovered how rare it is for a ‘foreigner’ to experience this ceremony, so accepting the invitation was the natural thing to do. Following tradition I join the family on the floor for an evening meal, one of the most personal experiences I have known in all my travels.

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Last but not least ...

The tip was a good one. Close your eyes to the many tour buses on the site and enjoy this magical place. The temple, built on a high cliff, can be reached after a short climb and offers phenomenal views. A great place for a sunset, although unfortunately my schedule does not agree. Watch out for the kleptomaniac monkeys who are eager to grab your glasses, hats and wallets! For me this was a fabulous ending to a spiritual and educational journey which gave me a valuable insight into Hinduism. I recommend the island to everyone, especially with a private guide and/or chauffeur!

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Uluwatu

The end of my trip to Bali is fast approaching, but Pedang Pedang and Uluwatu Beach – in the southern tip of Bali – are still on my to-see list. ‘Surfers paradise’ is another name for these beaches. Unfortunately during my visit the sea is too wild and dangerous, so I make do with gorgeous views over the Indian Ocean. I am recommended to visit the Luhur Uluwatu Temple, a very busy place but with light so beautiful that it is certainly worth your while.

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About Bali

The Indonesian island of Bali is situated east of Java and has over three million inhabitants. Its capital is Denpasar and the average temperature is 30 degrees Celsius. The rainy season is from November to April, with most rain in January and February. But we were lucky, and so could you be...

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