Written by Karishma Upadhyay
Discover the breathtaking beauty of the classic Indonesian Islands with its lush green hills and pristine white sands that has everyone wanting to return
On my first morning in Bali, I see a slender feminine figure, dressed in a bright batik sarong. She lays a basket brimming with frangipani blossoms, a few grains of rice and a coin in a carved niche by the entrance to her home. The small palm-leaf basket, or the canang sari as it’s called, also contains a gambier, a betel nut and lime to represent the Holy Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, respectively; a few seconds of intricate hand gestures before she lights an incense stick and glides away. The Balinese make canang sari offerings on a daily basis, very often multiple times in a day. It’s not uncommon to see canang sari on street intersections, in front of homes and shops.
For many, Bali is all about kaleidoscopic sunsets, verdant rice terraces, monster waves and a rollicking nightlife, especially the strip along Kuta beach where beer-swilling gap-year backpackers rule. Bali is all this and a lot more. Religion is not just an integral part of Balinese life; it is life itself. Bali is the only Hindu enclave in the predominantly Muslim Indonesian archipelago of over 17,000 islands and she wears this identity prominently and proudly. Beginning from the airport in Denpasar, there are statues, draped with black and white checked material, at every street corner.
It’s often said that there are more temples per square kilometre in Bali than anywhere else in the world, and it could well be true. “Every home has a temple and then there are family and village temples. Each village has three temples dedicated to the holy trinity,” explains my guide Made. There’s a good reason why Bali is called the Island of a Thousand Temples.
Rock-cut temples set against exotic backdrops, embedded with soft green mosses with carved Garuda statues and ornamental gates and the sounds of gamelan ensembles wafting through multiple courtyards—Balinese temples have little in common with Indian temples. Their legends and epics, on the other hand, Vishnu’s mount Garuda, Ramayana’s Rama and Ravana and Bhimav and Arjuna from Mahabharata are what most Indians have grown up listening to.
On an island where every view is postcard-perfect, Bali’s temples are her most iconic landmarks—the dramatic sunset and silhouettes of Uluwatu and Tanah Lot, the mist covered peaks of Mount Agung at Besakih the ‘mother temple’, the Pura Taman Ayun that translates to Garden Temple in the Water, the mysterious ruins of Goa Gajah or the beautifully carved Batuan Temple complex that’s over 1,000 years old. The sunset at Uluwatu is just as spectacular as the guidebooks promise. Perched at the end of a cliff, nearly 70 metres over the crashing waves of the Indian Ocean, Uluwatu is overrun by tourists at all hours but more so around sunset. Even as the sun begins its daily descent, I’m ushered into an open-air arena, with the temple and the sea as the perfect backdrop to watch the hypnotic kecak dance.