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In Love – Visiting Bali – Part I

A couple of weeks ago, Vipul’s team announced that they were going to get two days off for hitting an internal milestone. As soon as Vipul announced that we decided to take a couple of days off and go somewhere.

It’s been a hectic year so far to say the least – from deciding to move, interviewing, actual logistics of the move, selling both our cars and the house, to landing here and starting all over almost immediately. We needed a break. As soon as our managers confirmed that we could take 4 days off in total, Vipul and I began wondering where to go. Northern India, Bhutan,Sikkim, Malaysia and Bali were our shortlisted candidates – limiting to places that won’t be impacted by early onset of monsoon or have very high temperatures.

Northern India, Bhutan and Sikkim were eliminated due to really expensive last-minute flights as well as long drives to visit the destination. Malaysia requires a visa and Bali had via on arrival. So Bali it was even though our heart was really set on Bhutan.

Hyderbad, similar to Seattle, does not have direct flights to anywhere fun. So we flew Malaysian Airlines to Kaula Lumpur and connected to Bali. Most Indians visiting Bali, stopover en-route in KL for a couple of days. We wanted it to be a relaxing vacation so we flew to Bali and stayed in Ubud, central mountainous area of Bali, for 6 days.

This was an impromptu trip so other than making flight reservations and deciding a place to stay (on Expedia), we didn’t plan on anything. We had a rough idea of things to do and places to visit – but with free Wifi access at the resort, we didn’t fret too much over the lack of planning.

Day 1

An overnight flight from Hyderabad, found us in Bali by 11:00 am local time. $25 later, we had our visa and were quickly out of the airport.  We had pre-arranged for the resort to pick us up. An hour and half later , weaving in and out of Denpasar lunch time traffic and passing through the artistic villages of Celuk and Mas, we were at the Pandawas Villas in Ubud, the artistic capital of Bali.

The Pandawas villas is an 4-villa property, about 10 mins from Ubud town center, overlooking the forest and the rice paddy fields and truly representing the Balinese indoor-outdoor living lifestyle. We simply loved the oversized villa rooms, the large patio outside the villa overlooking the fabulous pool and the outdoor shower and copper bath tub. A quick-lunch on the patio,Varun was running  around the patio and splash water in the pool while we lounged around.

Late evening, Varun was tired and fell asleep. Trying to take advantage of his long nap, Vipul and I decided to catch a traditional Balinese dance performance. As this was Friday night, the Ubud Royal Palace had the traditional Barong and Legong dance. We had no idea what to expect and the performance blew our mind. The open paved courtyard of the Ubud Royal Palace, the cool mountainous breeze, smallish earthen lights flickering in the night and a magnificent dance performance of the Balinese women to the live gamelan music. Varun slept through most of the Legong performance – the Balinese nymphs trained to entertain royalty. And woke up in time for the light-hearted Barong routine– masked dragon and monkey dance. It was magical to sit under the starry night and swaying trees.

After the performance, we walked to Lotus café for dinner. We sat in the Balinese style huts with low tables and had typical Balinese 3-course meal while Varun played around. A quick cab back ride back to the villa later, we climbed into the king bed and snuggled under the white net canopy. I don’t recall when Varun slept, by I am sure, I slept almost instantaneously.

Day 2

Sometime before buying tickets for the performance and actual performance, Vipul and I wandered around to find an ATM and find a cab for day trip. We actually asked rates to a couple of cab drivers. They seemed close, so we randomly picked one – Mr  Yogi, who asked for about $45 for the day. We had told him that we would call him in the morning to based on when we woke up and then we would go out for the day.

The day started with breakfast overlooking the rice fields. A quintessential Balinese experience – it was so cool we could experience it right away without having to leave the resort.

Mr. Yogi planned the day for us, starting with the 11th century meditation caves – Goa Gajah. Outside the caves are the traditional Balinese temple baths to cleanse before heading for the meditation.Inside the caves are the statues of Ganesh and Shiva – who are both worshiped amongst other Hindu deities.

We borrowed the temple sarong as Balinese are modest traditional lot and don’t like exposed knees (signifies disrespect to the Gods).

Next, we drove north to Tirtha Empul. This is another temple complex where worshippers come to take bath in its holy waters to purify and get rid of bad dreams, past etc – similar to taking a bath in Ganga in Haridwar.Here, again, we borrowed some sarongs before went in.

It so happened to be an auspicious day and all the temples we visited were thronged by worshippers dressed in white performing puja’s, reciting hymns and carrying offerings to the Gods.

Next we drove further north to Kintamani and Lake Batur – a beautiful volcanic mountain overlooking a serene lake. The route passes through Bali’s agro district – with several coffee and spice plantations. We stopped for a coffee break, where we sampled a variety of coffee’s , including the famous Luwak coffee – coffee beans digested by Luwak ( a small raccoon type animal), and then collected, cleaned, roasted for an incredibly smooth coffee. Re-energised with coffee and hot chocolate, we continued on our drive north admiring the rolling hills and the spice plantations.

Varun, still a bit jet lagged and tired, slept through the drive. We had lunch at one of the many restaurants lining the Kintamani viewpoint. It was a buffet lunch – its virtually impossible to find a non buffet/ ala carte place during lunch time at any tourist location. For $15/pp , it wasn’t a bad lunch although it was a bit pricey by Balinese standards. The best part of the lunch – chicken sate and black rice pudding which we loved so much that we got black rice to make at home.

As Varun was still asleep, we decided to drive east and visit Besakih, the biggest temple complex in Bali. Varun woke up just as we reached the complex. Instead of borrowing a sarong again, I decided to buy one. Vipul exercised his bargaining skills and a few minutes later, I was a proud owner of a beautiful red batik sarong J . We spend some time wandering the temple complex. Varun simply wanted to run around and we had a hard time chasing him and controlling him on the unevenly paved courtyard, steep staircases etc We left as rain clouds loomed overhead.

We headed back to Ubud and stopped enroute at Tellagang for another coffee break. We had Tellagang to ourselves as all day trippers from the south had left for the day.The café overlooked rice paddy fields. As we sat in the café, we marveled quietly at the lush greenery, coconut trees and the terraced fields. Varun was playing with our driver, letting us put our feet up and relax.

Luckily, Tellagang was only 20 mins from our hotel and we reached hotel before dusk. Once back, Varun and Vipul took a quick dip in the pool, while I filled the bath tub. The oversized bath tub took a while to fill, but once it did, Vipul, Varun and I had a ball relaxing in it. The open air, the light frangipani fragrance and chirping insects outside added to the magic of the evening.

Refreshed, We headed out for dinner to Bridges. After two not so good Balinese food experience, we carved for something familiar – so Italian it was. The good part of travelling in off-season is that you don’t need reservations and we walked in and were promptly seated. A little girl from an adjoining table entertained Varun while we enjoyed an awesome meal in peace.

To top it off, Varun slept on the ride home, letting us turn in early as well.

 Day 3

We had always decided to take one day at a time in Bali, based on how Varun handled the travel. As Varun has fun on previous day, we decided to take him to Bali Zoo and Marine Park. Anyways, it was raining in Ubud and we headed South. Varun is in love with animals and fishu (as he calls fish) and so it was a perfect after a day of temples. We took our stroller with us and spent most of the day at the park.

For about $50 / pp, we got to take a bus ride through the zoo, visit the aquarium , water park and see a well –orchestrated Balinese show about Balinese history depicted through all popular Balinese performances  (Legong, Barong, Puppets, Gamelan music etc). Varun especially loved the animals – calling out them to ‘stand’ and not ‘sleep’ in the mid-day heat and the fishes!

After the park, we planned to go to Uluwantu – a beautiful temple at the southern tip of Bali. The sunset from here is supposed to be truly spectacular. But given the clouds over the horizon, the peak traffic crossing through to Denpasar, we decided to go instead to Jimbaran, a beautiful beach on western coast of Bali. It is famous for its BBQ seafood dinner on the beach. A quick stop at Dunkin Donuts  for coffee and donuts later, we were at the beach. Varun was quickly covered in sand and even chased a dog around while we sat with Bintangs , watching the boats and planes bob into the sunset.

The dinner on the beach was a tad overcooked, but the ambience more than made up for it. Very likely, the restaurant we chose was not the best but we just walked into a place that was not overrun by big bus tours.

Also, as the beach does not have outdoor showers, as we are used to in US, I had to clean Varun in the bathroom using a hand shower. The cold water had Varun screaming, but it was better than have sand on him everywhere. A bottle of ‘su su’ or cold sterile baby milk later, Varun was asleep in the car while we drove back to Ubud.

To be continued…

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