POSTCARD FROM ULUWATU
Another day in paradise
A villa by the sea in Bali affords one an entirely new perspective on the island.
All is not milk and honey though. Unscrupulous construction is eating into the charming island.
Expansive view from the villa.
You’d think a small island, an oasis surrounded by the deep blue waters of the Indian Ocean, an island that was discovered by the adventurer/lotus-eater/surfer tourist way back in 1930, has nothing more left to offer that rare specimen, the fir st-time visitor. Well, you would be oh-so-wrong.
No, Bali isn’t three-dimensional. Yes, you could cover it in a couple of days. But, and this is one big but, after all those years, Bali still has its secluded coves and serene spots.
I’ll admit I had an edge. I was part of three families who had hired a couple of spa villas in the not-too-crowded southwest tip of Uluwatu. Now this sounds posh, and it actually was, but with our rupee looking so healthy against the Indonesian Rupiah it becomes an affordable holiday in paradise.
Because Bali really is paradise. Our silky thatch-topped villas were perched on a thick bluff with the surf breaking against the base, far, far below. The colours of the deep, blue, turquoise, streaked with gold mid-morning, lashed with silver on moonlit nights, the towering white spume, surfers trying to hang 10 out there, the rippling pattern of the ceaseless waves; cotton puffs of clouds in an impossibly blue sky; emerald green turf on our front lawn; a lovely plunge pool wherein one tried to actually swim; the shrine to the Protectoress of the Sea out front… one woke up every day dreaming about actually living here for the rest of one’s life.
The tiled villas were spacious, with beamed roofs, huge ceramic urns of plants and flowers out front, open-air bathrooms and an attendant staff of cook, chauffeur with car, and two houseboys per villa, all under the captainship of Wayan, the ever-smiling maitre de. Wayan was a walking encyclopaedia of all things Balinese, be it where one can pick up a great pair of Balinese slippers or the famous woven bags and table mats, where one could tuck into great local food, to all the snippets of information regarding his island that a nosey journalist could desire. Not all Balinese people are as conversant with English as Wayan was, though, and many a time, smiles and gestures replaced language in interactions with the Balinese and Indonesian-speaking islanders.
Hiring a spa villa also entitled one to a Balinese massage on the house and indeed, that was the high point of the trip. All of us were given an hour-long massage by a set of pretty Balinese women, whose hands belied their general air of frailty, being both supple and firm in movements. Those who wanted extras or add-ons to their massage did so happily, paying for the extras. It was an indescribable experience, having a massage in the open pavilion, screened by billowing muslin curtains on three sides but open to the sea. Somewhere, the masseuse’s hands and the surging sea seemed to find a common rhythm.
Made, the cook, was another smiling man. (The Balinese are all big on smiles.) Adept as he was at turning out standard Western fare, we found, not surprisingly, that his metier lay in preparing local food and so, we left the lunch and dinner menus to him, content to gorge on spicy prawn, roast pork, lemon-drizzled fish, fried bananas and the like. One night, we ate dinner at the ingeniously-named Ku De Ta restaurant in Kuta; it was like dining out at any top-of-the-line Mediterranean restaurant, right down to the fact that locals and brown skins like us were in the distinct minority amongst the sea of white faces gathered there. The restaurant (next to the Bali Oberoi) sits on the seaside and the waves seemed to rise many feet high that night, shifting the topic of conversation from the Bali bombings to tsunamis. The next day’s newspapers reported that large waves had wreaked destruction elsewhere on the coastal lip and in some parts of Bali, too.
Plenty to do
Loath as one was to leave the divine comforts of the spa villa, taking in the Mt. Batur volcano, a temple or two (we went to the Uluwatu and Tanah Lot temples) and a walk uphill to see Balinese perform an extract from theRamayana
at the Uluwatu temple nearby, seemed mandatory and we made time for that. There was windsurfing, kayaking, snorkelling, white water rafting, cycling for the more energetic amongst us, even an 18-hole course at Nusa Dua.
The topography would be familiar to most Keralites: lush greenery, palm groves, rice fields not on flat land but in terraces here. Bali is largely Hindu, underpinned with animistic beliefs; though Hinduism shaped the island, there is nothing too Indian about Balinese Hinduism, for all its veneration of the Shiva-Vishnu-Brahma trinity. The deities are all covered with a chequered cloth at the time of consecration; visitors can wear footwear inside temple environs, even smoke if they must. Our driver Kedah’s daughter was named Christina, his son Krishna. And they are not Hindus. Go figure.
All is not milk and honey in Paradise though. Unscrupulous construction is eating into the charming island. Like India, the locals flock to the white visitor in the hope of big baksheesh. You need to bargain hard in shops. There is an indolence about the place that is, again, familiar to Indians. However, the lasting image is wind, water, flowers, a fragrant sea breeze; all euphemisms for paradise, in fact.