Other photos of Bali & Java



BALI: Kuta, Denpasar, Ubud, Kuta ; JAVA: Yogyakarta, Borobodur; BALI: Kuta

June-July 2000


Magical names, magical places. These Indonesian islands were great places to relax after the jungles of Irian Jaya - even if they did seem a bit tame by comparison.

Indonesia has been in the news a lot in recent years, especially since the Soeharto regime collapsed under the weight of massive corruption in 1998. Since then, there have been riots in Jakarta, the nation's capital, and more in oil-rich Acheh which struggled for separation. There was war in Timor where the Indonesian military was defeated, as well as ethnic, religious, and/or political strife in Sulawesi, Lombok, Borneo and the Maluku Islands. Even in peaceful Bali, a terrorist's bomb claimed the lives of tourists. The history of social unrest isn't surprising because Indonesia is a very long archipelago (it would stretch from Seattle to Atlanta) with the world's highest population density (on the island of Java), and the nation is filled with a diversity of races and religious beliefs. The December 2004 tsunami hit Acheh hard; it was the closest land to the epicenter of the underwater earthquake that set off the tidal wave. It may be a long time before that area recovers. (The orange island below is Java, where Jogjakarta and the temples of Prambanan and Borobudur are located; the tiny speck to the right of it - well out of the tsunami area - is Bali.)


However, tourists shouldn't let the political turmoil or tsunami dissuade them from visiting Bali, which - at the time of this writing in early 2005 - is a peaceful, beautiful and fascinating place to visit. To check the current political situation: www.travel.state.gov

Religious beliefs pervade Indonesian life and have a fascinating complexity. The original people arrived about 6,000 years ago from Malaysia. (The Java Man of some million years ago apparently was from a branch of the human family that died out and isn't related to the present population.) These first inhabitants were "animists" who believed that everything has an individual soul - including trees and stones.


This belief is still visible today in the checkerboard sarongs wrapped on sacred trees, the flowers placed on religious figures and the food offerings left in front of sacred rocks. Most of Indonesia is Muslim, but the people are not nearly as ascetic as those in the Arab World. When the Muslims pushed the Buddhists and Hindus out of Java in the 16th century, the aristocrats, musicians and artists of Jogjakarta fled to Bali - now Indonesia's only Hindu-dominated island and a major cultural center.


Joan came out of the jungles of Irian Jaya with a heavy cold (later diagnosed as a sinus infection), so we decided to rest in Bali for awhile. We spent three weeks in upcountry Ubud, a town with relatively cool weather that's a center for traditional Balinese arts, including handicrafts and performance art. We really enjoyed Ubud. Just walking through the town we could appreciate how Balinese religious beliefs are colorfully interwoven in daily life. Each home, shop and taxi, has a fresh daily offering to the gods: a tiny basket woven of coconut fronds filled with flowers, bits of rice on banana leaves, a stick of glowing incense. It's difficult to walk down the street without stepping on these colorful baskets - or on the rotting remains of the offerings of the last few weeks.

We stayed at Oka Wati Hotel, a charming small hotel set in a lush tropical garden with swimming pool. The plumeria, hibiscus, ti, ferns, crotons and palms in the garden reminded us of Hawaii. Each morning, turbaned and saronged Nyoman (below) brought the ubiquitous but delicious gringos' breakfast of banana/coconut pancakes, fresh tropical fruit and coffee to our balcony.

While we ate, we watched fat ducks digging for snails in the rice fields below. One day we hired a taxi and rode into the hills around Ubud, where flooded rice paddies shimmer in mirrored terraces.

Back in town, we went on a mini-shopping spree, buying locally-crafter silver jewelry, ikat and batik textiles, puppets and masks. We went out nightly to one of the many dance, shadow puppet or dramatic performances. While these are aimed at the tourist market, they are said to be quite authentic - although trimmed from several hours to one hour in length. Performances usually are held in beautiful temple courtyards, and tickets were only $2.50.

We ate well at the many charming restaurants in Ubud. One night we celebrated our 39th anniversary by dining in a private pavilion in the garden of one of the town's best restaurants. We splurged on the most expensive "taster's menu" - 1) cold spinach soup with peanut brittle crumbled on top; 2) king prawn & lemongrass sate with spicy green papaya salad; 3) sweet potato and pumpkin agnelotti in spiced roroban sauce; 4) roasted gindara fish in jackfruit and bell pepper salsa; 5) clay-baked smoked duck with lemongrass/coconut spinach, creamy potatoes and apple saffron chutney; and 6) sorbet and ice cream in chilled melon broth. The meal, cold beer, service and delightful garden setting were all excellent, as was the total bill: $37.



A hotel staff member invited us to a temple festival in his village of Pejeng. Unlike the tourist-oriented performances we'd seen, this was the real deal. There was only one other Westerner at this festival, which was attended by the entire village of some 3,000 people. Riding down a dark lane, we passed under fifty-foot bamboo poles covered with decorations that curved high in the night sky over the temple grounds, then entered the temple gates and were immediately plunged into an incredible, lantern-lit scene. 

The ancient temple compound, with its lichen-covered carved stone shrines, gates and enclosures, was draped with colorful fabrics, tasseled umbrellas, towering offerings of food and flowers. One altar held an elegant, 15-foot tiered bamboo construction that closer inspection revealed to be hung with pig entrails, swarming with white maggots!

Food stalls lined the path to the temple, and villagers clustered in front of the various shrines to pray amidst clouds of incense, be blessed with water sprinkled by a priest and make their flower and fruit offerings. A healer sold herbs and aphrodisiacs, while nearby a fortune teller threw huge dice for small children. Small groups of smoking men gathered around game boards on the ground, where large dice were thrown or roulette balls rolled while bets were placed.

At the rear of the temple compound was a ritual cock fighting area. Amidst gambling, squawking and blood the defeated cock's spirit was released as an offering to heaven. Meanwhile, in a corner of the compound chanting went on throughout the evening - calling down to the festival the three manifestations of the Supreme God: Brahma, Visnu and Shiwa.


The main performance was the ritual enactment of a principal story from the great Hindu epic, The Ramayana. The Balinese have layered Indian Hinduism onto their ancestral animism with mystical overtones and take their religion very seriously. They believe that God, in his various manifestations, can be called down to earth to inhabit the bodies of the performers, whose elaborately painted, gilded and tousle-haired temple masks and costumes are considered sacred. The villagers crowded around to watch the 3-1/2 hour performance with rapt attention and awe. (Hiding behind the wall next to us was a group of young women peering longingly at the festivities. Menstruating women are considered unclean and cannot enter the temple compound.)

Suddenly the Barong appeared in the main gateway to the upper temple - accompanied by much gonging and chiming from the Gamelan orchestra. A huge monster, the Barong is enacted by two men inside a long body that looks something like a hairy Chinese dragon. The Barong's tail stands up tall, while ten feet or so away his shaggy head is energized by a fantastic wooden mask with bulging eyes, flapping ears and a huge, clacking mouth filled with sharp teeth. The Barong tentatively peered one way and the other from the top of the temple steps, delicately lifting his bare feet and darting his head from side to side. He stepped forward a bit, then pulled coyly back, peering and posturing while the Gamelan musicians took their cues from his movements. It took fully 15 minutes for him to descend the ten steps!

We followed the action as best we could over the next few hours. In brief, this was a ritual enactment of the balance between good and evil in the universe. The Black Magic of the evil witch, Rangda (below) was neutralized by the power of the good Jauk, who transformed himself at the end into Celuluk.

Finally, white-robed priests rushed Jauk-Celuluk back up the temple steps and off to heaven. The captivated villagers roared their approval, prayed again, then walked or rode spluttering motorbikes off into the dark.


We traveled to the island of Java for five days - mainly to see the great ancient Buddhist temple of Borobudur and the Hindu temple of Prambanan. While in the city of Jogjakarta, we stayed with a friendly Javanese family. Lou asked them: "Is it possible to make a comparison between the 300+ years of Dutch rule and the four years of Japanese occupation during World War II? Did one country have higher motives, leave a richer institutional legacy, employ less brutal methods than the other?" Our hostess Flory, who had been a student of history in college, answered that the Dutch came to colonize while the Japanese came to occupy militarily, but there was actually little difference between them. Both countries exploited Indonesian resources, and used military might to beat down the people and take everything from them."

One night we sat under the stars to watch a dazzling ballet performance of The Ramayana, performed twice-monthly in the open-air theatre at the magnificent Hindu temple Prambanan (below.)


On a sweltering hot day we visited the fabled temple of Borobudur, and Joan - dehydrated and suffering from a sinus infection - suddenly fainted near the top of the temple. She was placed (but not strapped) onto a stretcher by a quartet of small Indonesians, and carted at a precipitous tilt down the steep stone steps, put into an ambulance and whisked back to the hotel. Lou continues to tease her that she only made it as far as the Second Heaven - not quite all the way to Nirvana!


Lou left the hotel early the next morning while Joan rested, and raced to the top of the temple to experience it before the crowds arrived. The dark valley of palm and savannah-like trees below the temple was laced with ribbons of mist. Alone at the temple, Lou watched as the dawn grew lighter behind two volcanoes - transforming them from flat silhouettes into rounded cones. A few minutes later, the sun peeked over the saddle halfway between Gunung Merbabu and smoking Gungung Merapi. The sun at the bottom of the saddle threw two beams of light up the slopes of the volcanoes and shot them beyond the conical peaks creating a "V" of radiant light above the shadowy valley and across the sky. It was as if two arms of hallowed light were lifted in praise of the Borobudur Buddha!

Other photos of Bali & Java

We returned to Jogjakarta for a few days, to tour batik factories and purchase hand-waxed and -dyed fabrics. See SHOPPING - then flew back to Bali for a flight to Bangkok, THAILAND



GUIDEBOOKS:  Guide to Southeast Asia; Indonesia (both by Lonely Planet); First Time Asia (Rough Guides)

BACKGROUND READING:  The Year of Living Dangerously, Christopher J. Koch

FILM: The Year of Living Dangerously

(2000 Prices)

SANUR, BALI:  Diwangkara Hotel, comfortable hotel near beach; $40/double with bath, breakfast.

UBUD, BALI: Oka Wati Hotel, charming small hotel in a tropical garden with swimming pool.  $30/night for a large double with bath and private balcony, breakfast included. (In 2000, the rate on this room was $70. Due to the lack of tourists in Bali at the time, Lou was able to bargain for a three-week stay at $30/night.) Ph: (062) 361 97 3386

Ubud restaurants: Especially good - Ary's Warung and Cafe Wayan, as well as the humble little Wes Wes vegetarian cafe

KUTA, BALI:  Ida Beach Inn, $32/double with bath, breakfast (near beach, airport)

BOROBUDUR, JAVA:  Manohara Hotel, on the monument grounds. $41/double, with bath, breakfast, t.v. and unlimited entry to Borobudur temple. Ph: 88-131

JOGJAKARTA, JAVA:  Wisma Gajah Guest House on Jalan Prawirotaman. $16/double, with bath and breakfast

PRAMBANAN OPEN-AIR THEATRE, JAVA:  Performances $2-12, including entrance fees and transport. Tickets through Kresna Tours: 02 74 37 5502




Joan and Lou Rose     joanandlou@ramblingroses.net