A vibrant culture, unique arts and ceremonies, a friendly people and scenic beauty make Bali an island almost unreal in today's changing world and is therefore the main destination for pleasure tourists to Indonesia. Bali's international airport, Ngurah Rai, is the nation's eastern gateway, served by numerous international airlines and charter flights.
Sanur and Kuta are located on the eastern and western coasts of the southern part of the island. The Nusa Dua peninsula on the southern tip is still growing as a tourist resort.
Bali's culture is based on its unique form of Hinduism called "Hindu Darma" which has been retained after the Islamization of Java, since then developed through the centuries. Though the caste system is observed, it is notas rigid as in India. Religion is the source of traditional customs in family and community life. Its influence is also strongly felt in the arts. With a completely different lifestyle from the rest of Indonesia, the Balinese have managed to preserve their culture despite the overwhelming foreign influences brought by the increasing number of visitors.
Bali's "rajas" and princes were deprived of their kingdoms by the colonial government in the early part of this century, but many of them still own their palaces and are respected as patrons of the arts. The classical dance drama is based on the old Hindu epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabarata, or on local folklore (such as Barong dance).
The island of Bali is mountainous in the center with a cluster of volcanoes of which one is the active Mount Agung and considered sacred. Terraced rice-fields dominate the landscape, with small streams bringing water for irrigation.
The attraction of Bali is its unique art and culture. It almost seems that every person is an artist in some form, whether it is painting, weaving, carving, basketry, etc., or even in decorations which are done at many shrines in public areas, on roads, paddy fields or in homes. Villagers spend their free time in these arts which are taught from a very young age.
The soul of the Balinese is in his religion, so it finds its expression in the arts.
A friendly people, the Balinese who are more exposed to international tourists, generally speak more English than people in other parts of Indonesia. Keeping pace with the number of visitors and the need for their accommodation, more hotels have been built, from small bungalow types for the budget traveler to the luxurious Nusa Dua tourist resort area. Water sports have gained in popularity : surfing on Kuta, wind surfing at Sanur, sailing and scuba diving at several other tourist parts.
The capital city of Bali, Denpasar has many community temples called "Pura". One is the Museum called Pura jagatnatha which is dedicated to the Supreme God, Sang Hyang Widi Wasa. The statue of a turtle and two dragons (prevalent in all temples) signify the foundation of the world.
The Museum offers a fine variety of prehistoric and modern art, whereas its architectural design resembles that of a palace. The government supervised "Sanggraha Kriya Asta" has a wide variety of handicraft and works of art. The "Werdi Budaya" presents a yearly art festival between June and July, with performances, exhibitions, art contest and so on.
Sanur beach has long been a popular recreation site for people from Denpasar. The palm-lined beach curves from the Bali Beach Hotel toward the south, facing the Indian Ocean towards the east. Sanur offers many good hotels, restaurants, shops and other tourist facilities. It is only a short distance from Denpasar. Public transportation to and from the city are easily available until well into the night. Offshore reefs protect the beach against the waves to make it popular for wind surfing, boating and other water sports.
Once a lonely village on the road from Denpasar toward the Bukit Peninsula, Kuta is now a thriving tourist resort, popular mainly among the young. It is a beach for surfing although currents make it less suitable for swimming. Coast guards, however, are on constant duty during the day. Kuta faces toward the west offering beautiful sunsets.
Accommodation ranges from international hotels to home stays. The village abounds with restaurants, shops, discotheques and other tourist facilities. It is easier to find regular performances of Balinese music and dance in Kuta, staged specially for tourists, than anywhere else in Bali. Some performances are staged nightly. The village is ideal for meeting and mixing with other people, locals as well as visitors from abroad.
The Nusa Dua tourist resort is part of the Bukit Peninsula in southern Bali. Some of the most beautiful and luxurious hotels are found here. The resort is known for its clean white beaches and clear waters. The surf is gentle along the northern side of the peninsula, bigger along the south. The most convenient form of transportation to and from Nusa Dua is by taxi.
Driving northeast from Denpasar, stone figures on the roadside mark the village of Batubulan. Divinities and demons are carved from sandstone for ornaments of houses and temples. Workshops can be visited to watch artists at work.
An old and famous center of the arts, it is now known for its dancing, wood panel carving and paintings.
Northeast of Denpasar, the village of Celuk is noted for its silver and gold works of jewelry in various styles.
The village of woodcarvers, many of Bali's old masters still live here. Art galleries exhibit some of their best works. Visitors can wander through the Balinese style houses to view the carved wooden pillars and the artists at work or instructing apprentices who work in groups.
The center of Balinese painting, Ubud's Museum "Puri Lukisan" has a permanent collection of modern works of Balinese art dating from the turn of the century. There are also several art galleries and homes of famous artists here, including that of Dutch-born Hans Snel and the American Antonio Blanco. The "young artist" style now popular in Balinese painting was introduced by the Dutch painter Arie Smith. In the past, other foreign painters inspired Balinese artists to adopt western techniques but traditional Balinese paintings are still made and sold. Another museum called "Neka Museum" has a wide collection of paintings both by Indonesian as well as foreign artists who used to live in Bali.
Ubud has several small hotels. Located on a higher altitude with a pleasant climate.
Peliatan is located between Ubud and Mas. It has been known as the center of traditional music, and dances. The fine art of local woodcarvers started a new style of wood carving producing such things as fruits, flowers and trees in their real shapes and colorings.
Goa Gajah, dates back to the 11 Th. century and is believed to have been built as a monastery. Carvings on the wall show a demon's head over the entrance, flanked by two statues. The cave contains a statue of Ganesha. Escavations have uncovered a bathing place with six statues of nymphs holding water- spouts.
The temple of Pura Tirta Empul is built around the sacred spring at Tampaksiring. Over 1000 years old, the temple and its two bathing places have been used by the people for good health and prosperity because of the spring water's curative powers. Regular ceremonies are held for purification. Specialties of the area are bone and ivory carvings, and seashell ornaments.
The villages of Kintamani and Penelokan give a view of the active Mount Batur and Lake. The caldera of Batur is impressive: 7 miles in diameter and 60 feet deep. From Penelokan, a road leads to Kedisan on the shores of the lake where boats can be hired to cross over to Trunyan. This ancient village is inhabited by people who call themselves "Bali Aga" or original Balinese who have maintained many of their old ways. The Puser Jagat temple has an unusual architecture and stands under a massive Banyan tree.
Pura Kehen is situated in Bangli, Bali's second largest temple. Three terraced courtyards are connected by steps, and their balustrades are decorated with carvings and statues. A large Banyan tree with a tower shades the lowest and second courtyard, while in the third courtyard several shrines for the gods and ancestors are found.
The former seat of the Javanese Hindu Kingdom in Bali from where Balinese royalty draws its blood line, Klungkung was the oldest kingdom on the island and its "Raja" the most exalted. The Kerta Gosa or Royal Court of justice built in the 18th century, is specially known for its ceiling murals painted in the traditional wayang style, portraying punishment in hell and the rewards in heaven and other aspects of moralities. The floating pavilion, garden and lotus ponds in this walled-in complex, located on the main intersection of town are a reminder of the former glory of this kingdom.
Nine km from Klungkung is Goa Lawah or bat cave. The roof is covered with thousands of bats and its entrance is guarded by a temple believed to be founded by a sage nine centuries ago.
Known as the "Mother Temple of Bali", the sanctuary of Besakih on the slopes of Mt. Agung is the biggest and holiest of all Balinese temples. Over a thousand years old, steps ascend through split gates to the main courtyard where the Trinity shrines are wrapped in cloth and decorated with flower offerings.
Around the three main temples dedicated to the Trinity: Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu, are 18 separate sanctuaries belonging to different regencies and caste groups.
To the Balinese, a visit to the temples sanctuaries is a special pilgrimage. Each has its own anniversary celebration or "Odalan". The sight of the temple against the background of the mountain is impressive and during festivals, colored banners add a touch of gaiety.
This little island off Bali's west coast is known for its beautiful coral reefs found nearby and the wealth of tropical fish inhabiting the waters around it.
The island itself including Terima Bay, are by themselves worth a visit because of the beautiful sceneries they offer.
Ten hectares of nutmeg trees in the Sangeh forest abounds with monkeys. The forest is considered sacred, so no wood is allowed to be chopped here. Two temples stand in the middle of the forest and another at the edge. As they live in this sacred forest, the monkeys are also held sacred and are rather tame, but it is advisable not to play with them.
One of Bali's most important sea temples, Tanah Lot is built a top a huge rock which is surrounded by the sea. Built by one of the last priests to come to Bali from Java in the 16th century, its rituals include the paying of homage to the guardian spirits of the sea. Poisonous sea snakes found at the base of the rocky island are believed to guard the temple from evil spirits and intruder.
The best time to see Tanah Lot is in the late afternoon when the temple is in silhouette.
The mountain resort of Bedugul, 18 km north of Denpasar, is known for its excellent golf course. Located besides Lake Bratan, it is surrounded by forested hills. A beautiful sight is the "Ulun Danu" temple which seems to rise out of the lake. The area offers good-walks. Boats are available for hire. Water skiing, and parasailing is done as well.
The Bali Handara country club has bungalows for rent and a restaurant.
The most important institutions in Bali, temples reflect the important role religion plays in the life of the Balinese. A temple is a place for communicating with the divine spirits through offerings and prayers. On holy days, when the deities and ancestral spirits descend from heaven to visit earth, the temples become centers of activity.
Temple festivals are guided by purification of the sprinkling of holy water. Whole communities take part in these festivals, bringing baskets of food and flowers for offerings. While pura means temple, a puri is the residence of the local prince, which may function as a cultural center.
Music, dances, food, flowers, and fruits sacrificed began as part of temple rituals to please the gods and to placate evil spirit. Following the caste system of Hindu and some of its other rites and beliefs like reincarnation, one of the greatest ceremonies are cremations, meant to liberate the souls ready for rebirth. Burial is only temporary to give the family time to prepare or wait for others to arrange for a common cremation within the community.
Protected for centuries from the outside world by its surrounding walls, the village of Tenganan has maintained its ancient pre-Hindu customs through a strong code of non-fraternization with outsiders. Here unique rituals offering dances and gladiator-like battles between youths take place. Tenganan is famous for its "double ikat" woven material called gringseng, which is supposed to protect the wearer by magic powers.
A little further east on the coastal road is Yeh Saneh, an idyllic spot few people know of. Only a few meters from the splash of the surf is a cool freshwater spring, around which has been built a large pool and gardens for bathers and picnickers.
The Werdhi Budaya Art Center was started in 1973 and finished in 1976: the largest and most complete in a series of cultural centers built throughout the archipelago by the Indonesian Government over the last decade.
Designed by Bali's foremost architect, Ida Bagus Tugur, (also architect for Indonesia's new National Art Gallery) the vast complex is, apart from its very real cultural function, a showplace for Balinese Temple and Palace Architecture at its most opulent. The open stage Arda Candra with its towering candi gate and the almost rococo main Art Museum, a sprawling park, Balinese pavilions and follies, have become a regular architectural attraction. Built on one of the few remaining coconut groves in central Denpasar, the center has quickly become a busy forum for the performing and fine arts. With three Art Galleries and a host of stages, the Center is only rivaled by Jakarta's Taman Ismail Marzuki as a venue for diverse and rapidly changing cultural programs. Since 1975 the Center has been home to the island's Dance Academy (ASTI), a tertiary level Conservatorium, Dance and Drama School for traditional Balinese Performing arts. With the island's Art School situated next door, the center's seminar halls and exhibition space are devoted to the encouragement and education of local art students.
Fine paintings, hand carved wooden statues and screens, silver work, hand-woven and painted cottons and silks, batiks, embroidery and garments for casual wear, leather and cotton bags, bone carvings, shell ornaments, masks, pottery, ceramics, basketry, sandstone statues, bamboo furniture are all available.