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INDONESIA – Bali

1 May

Bali is a mountainous island of volcanic origin. Flying in, it felt like our airplane was hovering extremely low over beautiful, turquoise waters with no land in sight. But then suddenly, we landed and had arrived on a slice of paradise.

Bali – ISLAND OF THE GODS

We instantly felt the “spirit” and “energy” of this heavenly place. Profoundly bound to tradition, the Balinese population is devoutly religious. Approximately 93% of the Balinese are Hindus, and there are still strong traces of what must have been the oldest and most primitive form of religion in Bali – animism, which is based on the respect for all things and all creatures.

In the name of religion, walking the streets of Bali required some attention. The sidewalks are lined with these colourful, shallow woven baskets containing rice, fruit and flowers. Three times a day, they are faithfully placed around family homes, in temples and on the pavements, outside of every business establishment. A truly beautiful sight!

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Canang sari or small offering baskets made out of coconut leaves

These small baskets or canang sari are offerings the Balinese make to their Gods (Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu). Offerings are a very important part of daily life in Bali and these little baskets are seen as a way of giving back what has been given to you, bringing prosperity and good health to the family and maintaining a good relationship between people and spirits.

We also saw larger baskets full of rice in boats…I assume it was an offering for a healthy catch of fish!

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Daily offerings at village & family temples, home or business entrances, or any spot that the Balinese hold sacred (special tree, statue, etc.) 

And talking about boats, the traditional fishing boats that we saw in Jimbaran Bay, known as jukung, are graceful vessels that only use on main cloth sail. These boats venture out into the coastal waters in the evening with their catch before sunrise to sell at local seafood markets. Although we were not so impressed with the seafood at Jimbaran Bay, we did have some delicious fish in Bali.

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Bali – ISLAND OF TEMPLES

But I prefer to talk about the temples, as they don’t call Bali the Island of a Thousand Temples for nothing. We hired a driver and went exploring…..Temples can be found everywhere in Bali, but we quickly learned that most of them are private property! Each Hindu family has its own sacred temple (usually taking up much of their personal yard or terrace space). It’s called a Sanggah or Pamerajan.

The first sacred temple, we visited was The Royal Temple of Mengwi (Pura Taman Ayun). This temple is one of the most important ones in Bali. Built by a King of the Mengwi Dynasty, this impressive complex stands on an island in a river. Its inner temple is surrounded by a moat. Pura Taman Ayun literally means “Garden Temple in the Water” in Balinese.

To protect Bali from evil spirits, this temple was built as a series of garden terraces with courtyards on different levels. An eleven-tiered meru is dedicated to the rice goddess Dewi Sri. We just made a quick tour around this beautiful complex as we were there in the morning at a lovely 40 degrees Celsius or so!

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The Royal Temple of Mengwi (Pura Taman Ayun) – with its 11 tiered meru

But my favorite Balinese temple, without a doubt, was Pura Ulun Dan Bratan. This water temple complex is located in the mountains, on the shores of this gorgeous lake called Lake Bratan. We arrived there at around 5 pm, and could take a breezy, leisurely stroll observing the amazing sights.

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At the Pura Ulun Dan Bratan Temple on Lake Bratan

We learned that, built in 1663, this temple is used for offering ceremonies to the Balinese water, lake and river goddess, Dewi Danu, due to the importance of Lake Bratan as a main source of irrigation in central Bali. This lake, located 1200 m above sea level, is known as the Lake of Holy Mountain due to the fertility of the area.

Pura Bratan, with Lake Bratan and the mountains as a backdrop, was a scene that walked away out of a photography magazine. Just unreal! Anthony and I really enjoyed walking around the complex but more so, discovering what was beyond its gates.

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A row of fishermen was sitting along the shoreline (young and old combined) catching tiny, silver fish. A sort of misty glow that came from the lake surrounded them.

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Locals fishing at Lake Bratan or the Lake of the Holy Mountain

Just beyond their location was a local man burning something by a small temple, his wife making offerings. He was proud for us to take his picture…but then quickly sent us on our way, as I think this was a paradise type scene; only privy to locals perhaps?

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Other nature scenes that take your breath away in Bali are the rice terraces. Vegetation is thick and luxurious and the landscape extremely green.

Agriculture is still very traditionally based. The most important product is of course, rice which has been cultivated in Bali for over a millennium. It is considered a gift from the gods and has inspired many legends and mythological tales.

Vast rice fields occupy the southern planes and the carved sides of hills and mountains, creating these characteristic rice terraces. We visited the Jatiluwih rice terraces (UNESCO World Heritage Site), with Mount Batukara as a backdrop. They have breathtaking panoramas and are so exotic looking. We even got to take a scroll in the high grass (and bought a painting to etch this beautiful scenery in our minds for eternity)!

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At the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces (UNESCO World Heritage Site)

The finale of our day was a stop at Bali’s Twin Lakes. These two lakes – Lake Buyan and Lake Tamblingan are the result of Balinese volcano activity. From a viewpoint, along the road, we took a moment to connect, and observe the magnificent, lush rainforest landscape and peaceful water scene.

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At Twin Lakes – Lake Buyan and Lake Tamblingan

The other days on the island, we enjoyed the small beach town of Sanur, biking along the beach, and indulging in early morning or late night swims. Our gorgeous Ellora villa had 2 sweet breakfast chefs & a private pool – what a treat! (http://www.elloravillasbali.com).

Well, this is Bali for you….but there are other sides too. Such as the yogi, artsy and picturesque town of Ubud. We visited this magnificent little town in the centre of Bali for two reasons. We wanted to get a glimpse of the very avant-garde and greenest school on earth, called the Green School Bali (http://www.greenschool.org), and catch up with some wonderful travelling friends. Aaron Eeden, recently hired by this innovative institution gave us an insightful tour of this wonderful bamboo, open-air school structure with its forward-thinking, sustainable surroundings.

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Green School Bali

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With forward-thinking education specialist Aaron Eeden at the Green School

Then we met up again with Brie & Bjorn & family (our 3rd. world encounter after Peru and Thailand!) for a raw food lunch. Yes, that’s what you do when you are in Ubud and it was surprisingly delicious…even the desserts!

We then proceeded to take in the rural countryside of Ubud with a walk along the top of a ridge, with stunning scenery on either side called the Campuhan Ridge Walk. What a pleasant way to spend hiking for a couple of hours with these wonderful people, surrounded by stunning nature…and incredible art work!

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On the Campuhan Ridge Walk, Ubud with Brie, Björn, Luka & Zora

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So that was Bali, stunning nature scenes, beautiful temples… I almost forgot the scrumptious food (that Nasi & Bami Goreng and those satés from the local night market in Sanur are hard to forget!)….. and the SERENITY….. the SERENITY!!!

There is something truly special about this place…It’s hard to describe, a special feeling. I guess you got to GO to experience it!

We certainly will be back, but for now we say farewell to this spiritual, beautiful place with its wonderful kind and smiley people!

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INDONESIA – Wayang Museum Jakarta

23 Apr

INDONESIA – WAYANG MUSEUM JAKARTA

Growing up a Dutchie, I loved eating Saté Ayam, Nasi Goreng, Babi Pangang, Krupuk (Kroepoek) etc. and enjoyed listening to history tales of the V.O.C. For this reason, I was quite excited to visit the former Dutch colony of Indonesia. Our first stop was Jakarta, formerly known as Batavia and the capital of the Dutch East Indies.

With one available day of sightseeing, I opted for Fatahillah Square. This square used to be the centerpiece of Batavia, the town built by Dutch colonizers in the image of their cities back in the Netherlands. The square still houses graceful townhouses, several colonial looking museums and even a canal with a drawbridge. The area is really bustling, especially at night!

In the late hours of the day, street performers, food stalls and live music acts (being enjoyed by youngsters sitting on large plastic mats), give the square a real special vibe. We observed this scene, while sipping a delicious “White Koffie” at Café Batavia (http://www.cafebatavia.com). This gorgeous, 19th century café is a real step back into the colonial era. Such grandeur! The many pictures on the wall (including those of Indonesian and Dutch royalty), tell its tales.

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Café Batavia & Fatahillah Square, Jakarta at night

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During the day, I was drawn to visit the square’s intriguing Wayang Museum.

This museum, dedicated to Javanese puppetry, keeps collections of Wayang and dolls from various territories in Indonesia and countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Suriname, China, Vietnam, France, India and Cambodia.

The building that houses this collection was constructed at “De Oude Hollandsche Kerk”, a former, old, Dutch church location.

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The Wayang Museum, housed in a former Dutch Church

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A couple of giant puppets at the entrance of the Wayang Museum

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Wayang (or “shadow” in Javanese) refers to traditional theatre in Indonesia. To be more precise, Wayang is nowadays most often associated with the puppet theatre performance or the puppet itself.

In 2003, UNESCO designated the Indonesian shadow puppet theatre; Wayang Kulit, as a “Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage to Humanity”. In return for the acknowledgment, UNESCO required Indonesians to preserve their heritage.

There is no evidence that Wayang existed before Hinduism and Buddishm were brought to Southeast Asia. This leads to the belief that the art was imported from either India or China, both of which have a long tradition of shadow puppetry and theatre in general. However today, Wayang is both the most ancient and most popular form of puppet theatre in the world.

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After guiding me through the Wayang Museum, my capable guide Aldy took me to his humble, private workshop. Here, he told me that his Dad was a skilled and well-known puppet maker in the region. When I asked him if his he had passed on his shadow-puppet making skills, he honestly admitted, that he had tried….but failed. Aldy did not have it in him, and his father did not want to go bankrupt!

Such an art. Wayan Kulit or shadow puppets are carefully chiseled with very fine tools from dried buffalo leather, and mounted onto bamboo sticks or supported by carefully shaped buffalo horn handles.

Master models, typically on paper, are traced onto the buffalo skin or parchment, providing the figures with an outline and with indications of any holes that will need to be carefully cut (such as the mouth or eyes).

One small Wayang puppet could take up to a month to make and requires the finest precision. One tiniest mistake and the puppet maker would start all over again. The detail of these puppets is truly incredible!

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Shadow puppets, carefully chiseled with very fine tools from dried buffalo leather

Instead of passing on the art of making Wayang, Aldy’s father taught him the performance skill, at which he became very good (pictures of him presenting to international dignitaries graced his walls). I was fortunate to receive a private shadow puppet performance from this well-known dalang (the genius behind the screen who narrates the story). Usually these theatre acts take about 8-9 hours, but I was already pleased with the shorter 10-minute version.

The plays are typically based on romantic tales (the story of Ramayana – an epic tale from India which is more then 2000 years old), or local stories/happenings. It’s the dalan or master puppeteer that decides the direction of the play.

Wayang kulit is a form of theatre that employs light and shadow. Historically, the performance consisted of shadows cast on a cotton screen and an oil lamp. Today, the source of light used in Wayang performances is most often a halogen electric light.

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Wayang Kulit – shadow puppet performance

The Gunungan (or Tree of Life) is the most important in Wayang theatre. It is used to signal the beginning and the end of a performance, or to evoke strong emotions, scene changes and the elements of fire, earth, air and water.

The Kayon is decorated with a Tree of Life on one side and the face of the demon Kala (time) on the other. The Tree of Life (see below) represents the Universe and all of the creatures that inhabit it, from the demon giants located at the base of the tree to the birds that perch on its peak, the latter symbolizing the human soul.

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The Gunungan or Kayon – the “Tree of Life”

The demon Kala (below) is surrounded by a halo of flames. His presence represents the evil forces that exist in the universe.

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The enflamed demon Kala, who is believed to send evil spirits away

Because of the intricate artwork and the blessing it provides to the seller’s family, it’s near to impossible not to pick up one of these pieces of theatre art. And so with 2 puppets, a Tree of Life to bring me good fortunate, and some wonderful memories, I said goodbye to dalang Aldy and the Indonesian Wayang.

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For a shadow puppet show, workshop or to buy Wayang, visit:

Note: Twenty percent of all sales from this studio go to support the training of young, Indonesian, Wayang makers. In order to keep this traditional form of Indonesian art alive (which unfortunately is slowly diminishing), Aldy’s dad regularly teaches youngsters his craft.

Ki Edan Aldy Sanjoyo (aka Aldy) @ The Puppet Studio

(around the corner from the Wayang Museum)

Kalivesar Timur No. 3, Kota Tue – Jakarta Barat

Tel. 081-8922489

Email: Aldy_lio99@yahoo.com, FB: aldysanjaya