One of my first blog posts, almost exactly one year ago, was about a weekend in Bali. I spend a lot of weekends in Bali, as Bali is a good hub point to access more remote parts of the Indonesian archipelago such as West Sumba where I have just returned from. Bali means many different things to many different people. The experienced traveller will often proclaim they avoid Bali. And for good reason, the tourist “traps” of Kuta, Legian, Tuban and Seminyak with row after row of pushy vendors (usually from other parts of Indonesia) selling the same old crap. Street after street of loud, drunken, obnoxious, (often) Australian tourists with the obligatory Bintang Singlet and a bottle of Bintang in their hand. Terrorist attacks on Kuta’s nightclub strip in 2002 and 2005 didn’t do the area’s reputation much good either. But a real traveller knows there much more to Bali then just Kuta and it’s dirty beaches and drunken night life. There is much more making up the rest of Bali that's worth exploring and the natural friendly helpful nature of the Balinese people only adds to the whole experience.
The memorial to the lives lost during the 2002 Terrorist bombings in Bali
The natural light combined from the glowing charcoal and the gas lantern caught my eye on this BBQ Corn vendors cart on Jalan Legian in downtown Kuta, for a photo without using a flash
Denpasar as the capital of Bali and the centre of commerce and industry falls outside of the general visitors path. Apart from maybe transiting through en route to Sanur or possibly Ubud the average western visitor spends little time in Denpasar. But there are hidden gems to be found for the astute traveller in Denpasar. One of them is the annual Denpasar Arts Festival, in it’s 33rd year this year in 2011. I was fortunate to attend the opening street parade. Very few other non-locals were there. The majority of cultural groups in the parade were from various parts of Bali. Their Hindu culture, a legacy of the days when Bali was part of the Majapahit-Hindu Kingdom from 1293 to the early 1500’s, dominated the parade. It’s interesting how the Indonesian Archipelago took on the later Islamic and Christian faiths whilst Bali remained true to their Hindu roots even to this day. Many of the Balinese groups were acting out or representing parts of traditional Hindu stories such as the Ramayana. There were also groups from elsewhere in Indonesia, two groups from Kalimantan on the island of Borneo were popular with the crowds.
Indonesian Police Women (POLDA-Bali) undertake crowd control during the parade in central Denpasar
the majority of cultural groups in the parade were from regions of Bali itself
Balinese culture groups “perform” for the crowd
Several culture groups from Kalimantan on the island of Borneo were present
Typical traditional headdress of a Balinese woman. Stunning.
Some of the younger participants didn’t seem so impressed…..
Many of the Balinese “characters” represent parts of the traditional Hindu writings
The former Dutch colonialists are often parodied in modern Indonesia as having particularly big noses! Even the large nosed Proboscis Monkey is known as the Dutch Monkey in Indonesia.
Balinese culture has always had a strong theatrical element, religious stories even today are acted out by theatrical troupes, often numbering into the hundreds, in elaborate costumes. More often than not today these events are staged for tourists. One of the most popular groups to appear in the parade was a team of two Balinese theatrical comedians. The crowd literally went wild as they made their way down the parade route. Hundreds took their turn to get their picture taken with them and get autographs from the pair.
Probably the most popular appearance during the parade were two famous Balinese comedians who were totally swamped by the crowd as they passed
The highlight for me was the Bali Brass Band, although I believe they use the name G.C.K. MBudayana, as in Marching Band Udayana, from the Udayana University. These guys were awesome. Musically they were competent and their Balinese hybrid costumes just added to the whole experience. Their brass instruments have forward facing bells to project the sound, an American style so much more practical for street parades then the old fashioned upwards facing bells found in the average “behind-the-times” Australian Brass Bands. Another adoption from the US Brass Band style was a significant drum line and tonal bass drums. The old traditional brass bands had a single bass drummer, playing with one stick on one side of the drum only producing a dull thud. American Brass Bands several decades ago introduced a whole line up of different sized bass drums with the opposing sides tuned at different pitches so each bass drummer can produce two different sounds. A line up of say four bass drums can therefore produce eight different melodic sounds. It was great to see such a quality band from Bali, decades ahead of the average Australian Brass Band drearily marching is some Australian street parade.
The Bali Brass Band was a highlight for me. Not only were they musically competent, they knew how to put on a show, complemented by traditional Balinese costumes and an awesome drum line.
MBudayana in the Denpasar Arts Festival Parade
The MBudayana (Marching Band Udayana) use American style forward facing bells on their brass instruments
MBudayana had an awesome drum line with an effective tonal bass drum set up
At one point in the parade the band dropped their instruments and started singing!
You don’t have to travel too far from the Kuta tourist strip to start finding the real Bali. The areas surrounding Denpasar and Kuta are filled with traditional villages, hundreds of Hindu temples and multitudes of rice fields. This trip I found myself in Bangli, central east Bali, really not that far from Denpasar and Kuta. There are none of the traditional tourist types attraction here, but for the smart traveller there is so much to see and do here. My niece just happened to be in Bali this weekend so we grabbed some mountain bikes and some local Bangli guides and went for a spin around. Lucky most of it was downhill, some of the uphills nearly killed me. I also learnt that taking photos with a DSLR while flying downhill at high speed on a bitumen road was not a good idea. Much to the combined amusement and concern of numerous villagers and passing truck and bus drivers, I fell off. Taking a significant chunk of flesh out of my leg in the process. Despite the momentary pain it was a great ride, with some of the best scenery in Bali.
In the Kuta strip you see police carrying automatic weapons to counter the terrorist threat. Yet a short distance away villagers carry rifles to hunt for their dinner!
Ploughing the rice fields, as seen while zooming past on my mountain bike…
Great reflections in the rice fields while cycling past
A giant effigy of Hanuman in a small shelter beside a rice field near Bangli
the ubiquitous Balinese Rice Field
My niece and a local guide cycling through Bangli
the end result of taking photos whilst riding down hill at high speeds….
So don’t let anyone tell you Bali is just for drunken Australian yobos. There’s so much more to Bali, you just need to be smart enough to look beyond the tourist strip to find it…….
So you want to go to Bali?
- Compared to most places I write about you will have no problems getting to Bali. The main airport, Ngurah Rai, is serviced by multiple airlines direct from numerous international ports or via Jakarta. From Bali dozens of carriers service other parts of Indonesia.
- To then make the most of Bali you need to get away from the Kuta/Seminyak beach scene and discover the real Bali………