Bali & Lombok: The Perfect Trip

Hindu pilgrims bathe in the temple’s sacred waters
Photographer: John Laurie

Begin your adventure with temples and theatre in Ubud, Bali, then tour the UNESCO-listed rice terraces at Jatiluwih. Head to the coast to explore Pemuteran’s glorious reefs before braving an ascent of Lombok’s mighty volcano of Rinjani, and finally relaxing on the heavenly white-sand beaches of the Gili Islands

Words OLIVER BERRY
Photos JOHN LAURIE

Your trip mapped out:

  1. Begin in the cultural centre of Ubud, where water temples and sacred dance-dramas prevail alongside surfing and coffee shops.
  1. Walk through the rice terraces of Jatiluwih and discover a farming community that has thrived on a credo of cooperation.
  1. Marvel at the conservation success stories in Pemuteran, where baby turtles are reared and reefs fully restored.
  1. Ascend the volcanic slopes of sacred Mount Rinjani and gaze down upon the tranquil beauty of its crater lake.
  1. Famed for their flawless beaches and laidback way of life, the tropical Gili Islands make an ideal final leg of your journey.

Ubud
From holy springs and sacred dances to hidden shrines, this temple-rich town is the heart of Balinese culture

THE HAZY YELLOW LIGHT OF a jungle morning drifts through the palm trees as pilgrims line up to take their bath at the Tirta Empul temple. Quietly, they dress themselves in sarongs and headscarves, as swifts flitter around the temple’s black, mossy walls, and the sound of cymbals and chanting echoes from inner courtyards. One by one, they step down into the mica-blue bathing pool, wading into the water before ducking their heads beneath fountains fed by the temple’s holy spring. Marigold and frangipani petals bob in the water, and incense smoke swirls through the muggy morning air.

Tirta Empul is Bali’s most sacred pura tirta, or water temple. Founded in 962 AD and fed by the Pakerisan River, the spring waters are believed to purify the mind, body and spirit, and every Balinese Hindu aims to bathe here at least once during their lifetime.

It’s one of many spiritually significant temples located around the ancient town of Ubud. Set among rice paddies and green ravines, Ubud is a place where the secular and sacred collide: ornate temple gateways are flanked by coffee shops and surf boutiques, and lichen-cloaked shrines teeter along the roadsides, lost in head-high grass.

Along with its temples, Ubud is also famous for its sacred dance-dramas, ancient folk tales recounted through movement, percussive music and outlandish costumes.

“Dancing is a form of devotion for us,” explains Pande Puru Supaditha, a member of Ubud’s oldest dance troupe, Gunung Sari, formed in 1926 and still performing weekly at the Peliatan Palace, a crumbling red-brick edifice arranged around a courtyard of frangipani trees. He plays Rangda, the evil witch who battles the mythical half-lion, half-dragon Barong. “We must follow the classical movements, but also know how to improvise. Sometimes, even though I am tired, I can feel the spirits taking control and telling me to continue. It is a strange feeling.”

As darkness falls and the audience filters through the temple gates, the dancers put the final touches to their make-up. The gamelan orchestra strikes up in a crash of gongs and drum-beats, and Pande pulls on the last elements of his costume: a pair of taloned gloves and a leering mask, complete with bulging eyes, curving fangs and a mane of feather-white hair. He disappears onto the stage with a swish of his claws and a shrill witch’s cackle. The spirit of Rangda has arrived and no one knows quite what kind of magic she might decide to unleash tonight.

Jatiluwih
Trek through an ancient system of rice terraces that have been cultivated for centuries, before tucking into a rice-themed farmer’s breakfast

MIST ROLLS OVER THE rice terraces, and a light rain is falling, but Wayan Sukamerta doesn’t mind: dressed in overalls, gumboots and a conical bamboo hat, he’s well protected. “Rain is good for the rice,” he explains, trudging down a muddy track towards his fields. “But it’s bad for my bones!”

Wayan sets out as early as he can for work. It’s just after 6am and a bank of cloud broods over the hilltops. In another hour, Wayan says, the sun will edge over the horizon and it will be too hot and humid to work. As he treks along the trail, rickety mopeds sputter past, coughing black smoke, piloted by fellow farmers heading for their own fields. Wayan raises a hand and shouts a greeting, a grin etched across his face: he’s a born-and-bred farmer, and a man deeply content in his chosen line of work.

Rice farming has been practised in Jatiluwih for centuries. At 700 metres above sea level, the region’s rich volcanic soil has made it Bali’s most fertile farming area. Some 500 farming families live here, cultivating terraces spread across the steep, jade-green hills. Like most, Wayan supplements his income with extra work these days, by running trekking tours for tourists and growing extra crops such as lemongrass, spices, vegetables and coffee – but it’s Jatiluwih’s famous red rice for which he retains a special passion.

“In my opinion, it is the finest rice in the world,” he says. “It has the most nutrients, it is good for your digestion and your immune system, and also helps your virility. And it tastes better than any other rice, too!” he says with a wink.

He looks across the sea of terraces curling down the valley, stacked up like the tiers of a great green wedding cake. Each terrace is supplied by a system of irrigation channels known as a subak, which are supplied from a reservoir higher up the mountain and managed collectively in order to make sure the water is distributed fairly. It’s an ancient system of cooperation that encourages the farmers to work together for the good of all, and a physical manifestation of the philosophical credo of Tri Hita Karana: the balance between the worlds of spirits, people and nature.

“There’s a tradition here that everyone works together, especially during harvest time,” Wayan explains, as he prepares a classic farmer’s breakfast: rice-flour pancakes drizzled with palm sugar and garnished with grated coconut, washed down with mugs of hot, sweet, red-rice tea, stirred with a stalk of fresh lemongrass. “It’s like being part of one big family. It’s always been that way, and I think it always will be.”

He sips his tea and watches the sun break through the clouds, lighting up the terraces below in a myriad of greens.

“Rice isn’t just a crop,” he adds. “It’s our community, our culture, our livelihood. To us, rice is everything.”

Bali & Lombok, the perfect trip planned – enjoy the culture of Ubud, terrace fields of Jatiluwih, baby turtles in Pemuteran, sacred Mount Rinjani and beaches of Gili Islands NOW, check out LPMI’s March 2019 issue. Pick up a copy from your newsstand or click to subscribe via Zinio or Magzter.