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Top 25 Experiences in Bali and Lombok (Part I)


BY LONELYPLANET.COM 
The mere mention of 'Bali' evokes thoughts of a paradise. It’s more than a place: it’s a mood, an aspiration, a tropical state of mind.Yes, Bali has beaches, surfing, diving, and resorts great and small, but it’s the essence of Bali – and the Balinese – that makes it so much more than just a fun-in-the-sun retreat.

It is possible to take the cliché of the smiling Balinese too far, but in reality, the inhabitants of this small island are indeed a generous, genuinely warm people. And there’s an awful lot to do in paradise:
1. A festival of festivals
There you are sipping a coffee at a cafe in, say, Seminyak or Ubud, when there’s a crash of the gamelan and traffic screeches to a halt as a mob of elegantly dressed people comes flying by bearing pyramids of fruit, tasselled parasols and a furred, masked Barong or two. It’s a temple procession disappearing as suddenly as it appeared, with no more than the fleeting sparkle of gold and white silk and hibiscus petals in its wake. Dozens occur daily across Bali.
2. Aaah, a spa
Whether it’s a total fix for the mind, body and spirit, or simply the desire for a bit of serenity, visitors to Bali spend many happy hours (sometimes days) being massaged, scrubbed, perfumed, pampered, bathed and blissed out. Sometimes all this attention to your wellbeing happens on the beach or in a garden; other times it’s in stylish, even lavish surroundings. As the Balinese massage techniques of stretching, long strokes, skin rolling and palm-and-thumb pressure result in an all-over feeling of calm, it’s the perfect holiday prescription. Aaah…
3. Sybaritic stays
On an island that honours art and serenity, is it any wonder you’ll find some of the world’s finest hotels and resorts? From blissful retreats on south Bali’s beautiful beach in Canggu or Seminyak to perches on cliff s above the dazzling white sands that dot the Bukit Peninsula, these stylish hotels are as lovely outside as they are luxurious inside. Further resorts by vaunted architects can be found in Ubud’s river valleys and in remote idyllic coastal locations.
4. Homestays
Off with his head! You won’t hear it but you might think it as another chicken is prepared for a meal in a traditional family compound. It’s but one of many moments within the daily rhythms of life as three or more generations make offerings, prepare food, come and go from the rice fields or perhaps create a spot of music. Many families have a couple of simple rooms they let out to visitors, so for the price of a night’s sleep you can witness this tableau.
5. Bali’s food
‘Oh goody!’ It’s virtually impossible not to say this when you step into a classic warung for lunch to find dozens of freshly made dishes on the counter awaiting you. It shouldn’t surprise that this fertile island provides a profusion of ingredients that combine to create fresh and aromatic dishes. Local specialities such as babi guling, roast suckling pig that’s been marinated for hours in spices, will have you lining up again and again. Try lunch at one of the excellent Balinese cafes in Denpasar.
6. Offerings
A wisp of smoke rises from an incense stick perched in an exquisite array of orange flower petals on a banana leaf no bigger than a deck of cards. You’ll quickly realise these Balinese offerings are everywhere – outside your hotel room door, a tiny shrine on the beach, even at the end of the bar. They come in all shapes and sizes and are made throughout the day and night. Some are grand assemblages of fruit and food but most are tiny, appearing as if by magic.
7. Crafts of the islands
Using a simple knife others might use to cut an apple, a Balinese craftsman sits in the shade of his family compound’s frangipani tree and carves a masterpiece. Yes, schlock is sold here in profusion, as it is everywhere, but true local crafts draw on experience handed down for generations and nurtured through the years. Wood carvings are used for temple ceremonies and traditional performances such as the Barong, where colourful, animated wooden masks are integral to the story, while in Batubulan stone carvers create art from rocks.
8. Balinese dance
The antithesis of Balinese mellow is Balinese dance. It’s amazing how people who relish lounging in bales (open-sided pavilions) can also produce art that demands complete methodical precision. A performer of the Legong, the most beautiful dance, spends years learning minutely choreographed movements from her eyeballs to her toes. Each movement has a meaning and the language flows with a grace that is hypnotic. Clad in silk and ikat, the dancers tell stories rich with the very essence of Balinese Hindu beliefs and lore.
9. Ubud
Famous in books and movies, the artistic heart of Bali exudes a compelling spiritual appeal. The streets are lined with galleries where artists, both humble and great, create. Beautiful performances showcasing the island’s rich culture grace a dozen stages nightly. Museums honour the works of those inspired here through the years, while people walk the rice fields to find the perfect spot to sit in lotus position and ponder life’s endless possibilities. Ubud is a state of mind and a beautiful state of being.
10. Echoes of the gamelan
Is there anything more stirring than hearing across rice fields the haunting tones of a lone musician practising on the gamelan on a quiet Ubud night? Bali’s village orchestras play any of 25 different gamelans, from a solitary bronze gong to long rows of split bamboo that are virtual organs of sound spanning the musical scales. The music is everything from vital and percussive to more intimate syncopations. No dance performance, temple ceremony or procession is complete without this melodic magic. [to be continued…]

Top 25 Experiences in Bali and Lombok (Part I) Top 25 Experiences in Bali and Lombok (Part I) Reviewed by Nurdin Hasan on August 24, 2012 Rating: 5

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