Rice paddies, temples and waterfalls
First big thing I did that fresh morning was chasing a huge black butterfly through the garden in front of my bungalow. I saw it from the terrace as I was just out of bed and I ran down the stairs in pyjamas. But he was not into photos, apparently, and made my mission an epic fail. After a short hide and seek among the banana trees, he left me for the frangipani flowers up in the trees. The rain shower the night before was a bliss for the lush vegetation around. The scent of frangipani was now spicing the morning. I picked up a white flower and placed it between my fingers, like a ring. I raised my hand up and took a photo with the blue pool in the background, surrounded by the green of the paradisiac Balinese garden. Ahhh… mornings in Bali!
Then, back to life with another spicy breakfast: fried rice, fruits, black tea. The one the day before, with black rice was the only non spicy exception I had in all my trip to Asia. My bungalow neighbour came along the alley. With his frizzy hair and loose clothes he looked like an artist looking for the meaning of life. He asked something in French, I answered back. Hmm… French people, funny how some presume everybody speaks French in Indonesia. Then a voice interrupted my thought:
– Good morning, your driver is here, waiting for you. For that day I had big plans so I arranged this the day before with my host. I abandoned my hot fried rice and ran to meet him.
He was in his late 20s, maybe, though with Balinese people looking so serene, age is quite a riddle. With beautiful Balinese traits reigned my a happy smile and kind eyes. I immediately complimented the sarong he was wearing and he liked that.
– Well, we are going to the temple, soo…. And so I met Wayan.
I insisted he joined me at my table for breakfast, so we can talk more about the plans that day, he did pleased for only 2 minutes, then excused himself and left to wait for me at the entrance. This was inappropriate for him, as he was not a guest, so I let it like this.
The huge Toyota Land Cruiser outside, with beige leather seats and Wayan opening the door for me as my host was waving to us at the gate made me wander again: why would I spent any more cents on holidays in Europe when I can have this for 30$ the whole day??? Asia is definitely perspective changing…
Wander: Tegalalang Rice Terrace
As the first rays of sun were caressing the rice paddies, Wayan and I were already walking on the tiny alleys built between them. Small terraces filled with water, where the rice was growing, were drawing the landscape in perfect lines in tones of green. All shades of green. In some parts the crops were young, like sparse green lines raising from the muddy water, in others thick as hair, completely covering the surface. It’s no wander Tegalalang Rice Paddies is one of the most iconic places in Bali: photographed, posted, Instagrammable and so liked and shared. Wooden cottages in the front and green rice paddies as far as you can see on each side, delimited by coconut trees where the jungle seemed to have taken back what was hers. We went up following the narrow path, while I was taking tens of photos and constantly stopping to take in all that spellbinding beauty and fill my eyes with it… And so we reached the top, where the views all around were spectacular. Such views deserve… a swing, to make the photos look even more spectacular. Sure, someone with initiative thought to give a hand for more Instagram likes, install the swing and start a business asking for a fee. And, boy, that fee was pricey! Wayan tried to negotiate for me. It didn’t worked out, the owner of the swing kept his price. I also tried, with no success. So I used my last negotiation weapon: the leaving technique. The owner didn’t even glimpse.
– God damn it, I can’t make peace at all with this guy!!! I told Wayan, half amused and half pissed off.
– I thought you really don’t want to pay and you want to leave….
– Sure I don’t want to pay but I want that damn expensive swing! Let’s go back, I’ll pay, whatever! It’s not like I do a swing over the rice paddies every day.
With my deepest philosophy of life when it comes to high prices, we went back. I payed the price but told the owner he’s a stubborn guy and he’d better not drop me down there, tens of meters down, cause for sure I’ll be back and haunt him for the rest of his life. We all laughed, after all, this was Bali, all here is about truly living. I was being prepared to be launched up high in the air, into the rice paddies abyss. Wayan got my phone, he was in charge of the photos. The first swing blocked my breath: it was sooo up high! But the views conquered all fears. The next one was even higher and my hands turned grey as they clenched around the ropes of the swing. From the third, I finally enjoyed it: the wind in my hair, the air above my feet, the speed, the fresh scent and the top views of Tegalalang Rice Paddies. And so, Bali swing was checked out of my to do experiences and the photos Wayan took were fab!
Now other tourists were starting to wander around and the feeling that the place was ours entirely vanished. The magic left, the beauty stayed. Two women came to the swing, they made a long face hearing the price and started a shy negotiation attempt. No success. I slowly whispered one of them: “I tried too, he’s stubborn as a mule.” And so they payed.
As we followed the path back, I asked Wayan a few practical questions, like how much rice can you get from a 3m long parcel, how many crops you can have in a year, what processes are needed, what happens when the rice is mature enough to be harvested. An interesting fact: the land belongs to the state and it’s being rented to people so they can use it to grow rice.
Believe: Pura Tirta Empul – the holy springs and the ritual of purification
Besides beauty, the next feeling that is omnipresent in Bali is the spirituality. For a thousand years, Balinese Hindu worshipers and people from all over the world and of all religions have been drawn to Pura Tirta Empul (Holy Water Temple) where the sacred springs, said to be created by The God Indra, are believed to possess healing and magical powers.
The temple from the outside looks as it’s trying to keep the secret of what’s inside. As we passed the entrance, the story unfolds. The beautiful architecture brings back the old times into the present, with Hindu Gods carved into the dark grey stones, the decorations and most of all the silence around impose a deep sense of respect for traditions, history and spirituality. First think was changing my dress with a green sarong surrounded by a red sash. This was provided at the entrance, for 10k, only for those wishing to perform the water purification ritual, which of course I was going to and which includes offerings, meditation, prayers, bathing process, water drinking directly from the springs and in the end taking the time to figure out how all these made you feel. Here’s how it goes melukat, the purification ritual:
Purification Ritual at Tirta Empul Temple
- To do it properly, meaning do as the locals do. Start with an offering to the gods in the first section of the temple, called Jaba Pura. The small square plate made of dry palm leaves contains rice, leaves, even sweets, colourful flowers, stick of incense and can be bought as it is. Or, you can prepare it yourself and get more involved in the process.
- Next, in the section Jaba Tengah, there are 3 pools with 22 water spouts in total. The first and biggest has 13, next 3 and 6. Start with the first, from the left, from the second spout, skip no1 as it is for children under 10 (though many use no1 also) and no 11 and 12, which are destined for rituals performed for the dead, which are cleansed immediately after they pass away, as an essential part of their preparation for the after life. In front of every spout repeat this ritual: join hands, recite 3 times the mantra “Ooom”, rinse your head and face with water 3 times for body and soul cleansing then drink 3 times and spit out that water (eliminate the negative). Then again drink 3 times and this time swallow, it is said to be for healing. It’s all related to no 3: the 3 gods: Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva. In the end put your forehead under the water, for protection. This will be repeated to all the other spouts, 2-10 and 13.
- Go to the second pool, which is about karma, repeat from left to right in front of every of the 3 spouts, just as before.
- Go to the 3rd pool, which is believed to cleanse the body of any illness. This time start from the end, from right to the left. The last spout, the one in the left here, is believed to be the most powerful, The Tirta Empul, which gave the name to the temple. here some say the ritual should be done 7 times. And that’s it. Relax after.
Truth is, I found so many contradicting information about how the ritual should be done correctly, like weather to drink or not the water or that women should tie the hair or even about which spouts should be used and how…. The best is to ask a local there who seem knowledgeable and willing to help in change for a tip. Even so, probably some parts will be “adapted” on the way.
In conclusion: I did drink the water. More then 2 years have passed since and I’m alive. Thinking about the fish in the pool where the springs come from the ground, not to mention the ritual involving the dead….this might sound crazy. Still, at that moment, I was somehow absorbed into the energy of the place and thought more about karma then the bacteria in the water. I don’t know if the feel I got in the end was due to the water, a bit cold and so refreshing. Or was due to the good night sleep or the vitamins in the breakfast, etc…. but I felt different: lighter, as if my bodyweight had suddenly reduce, my mind was free from all concerns and a positivity had wrapped my spirit. I don’t know what, but there’s something about that place. Although the purification ritual I have performed was far from what’s called right, I left Tirta Empul filling truly and deeply purified, body and spirit.
Indulge: the waterfalls – Tibumana and Tukad Cepung
The sight of a guy that had just suffered a scooter fall brought me back to reality. He was literally skinned on a large portion of his hip, his bum and hand. He was with 3 other friends, just parking their scooters, walking in his underwear while with a hand he was holding up the material of his underwear, revealing his completely skinned butt cheek. It was indeed a hard core view that stayed in my mind, related to all past and future scooter rides.
We followed a path through the jungle. Gosh how green it was! The first waterfall we stopped to was smaller but the landscape around made it look as if we were on a deserted island, somewhere in the promised paradise. I have a thing for waterfalls and Bali is the place to go for people with “my obsession”. There’s something in their power and how nature looks untouched in their surroundings as if waterfalls are ancient guardians of its beauty. Besides all the rice paddies, the temples, the beaches… the OMG factor in Bali are its waterfalls. We took a few photos as I was sitting 2m away from that little one and in a few seconds I was soaking wet under that natural shower.
Next was Tibumana waterfall. We walked deeper into the jungle, passing by durian trees with thorny fruits hanging down the branches, banana trees carrying their huge red flowers and cocoa trees. We followed the stairs and the curtain of vegetation soon revealed a nature’s wonder: the Tibumana waterfall. Words are powerless. It was an irresistible invitation for a memorable swim.
As I was completely charmed by the place, Wayan left me and went a bit further to talk to a friend of his he met there. I later joined them. The place by the river was fill with zen stones, I noticed them immediately and approached a few which needed a closer look.
– Hi does all these, you see, Wayan told me.
– You mean all those zen stones sticked together with I don’t know what king of glue? It’s impossible otherwise, I joked.
It seemed indeed impossible but yet those zen stones by the Tibumana waterfall in Bali that day of September were mocking all Physics lows we know. I checked them one by one from each angle. My conclusion:
– I got not idea how you do it! We all laugh.
– You know except a few, they resisted even the earthquake two weeks ago.
He meant the earthquake that killed nearly 500 people in Lombok that year, the island close to Bali, and was seriously felt in Bali too.
We left, him with me convinced he’s some sort of Hindu magician 🙂
The wonder: Tukad Cepung
If I only knew what was next….The photos that led me to this waterfall showed maybe 1% of it’s true beauty. That 1% made me really wanting to see it, so I was prepared to see another beautiful place in Bali, but not the best waterfall I ever saw. I few minutes of not so easy trekking through the jungle… The vegetation got wilder and thicker, the path steeper, in some parts very slippery. It seemed this one was hidden well, deep into the jungle. High trees carrying large lianas pouring down the walls. It was like a corridor left once by a large powerful river that in time got smaller, a long narrow passage with straight walls meters high, on top of which the lush vegetation was exploding, sending bits of it down to us through the lianas.
It got darker, the sky was now just a small blue line above our heads, sending little light down there. It was unbelievable, nature couldn’t get more exotic then this, I told Wayan. Water was pouring down those walls like curtains of small, almost invisible waterfalls. It was extremely humid, which very well explains the vegetation so dense inside the passage. I climbed a huge rock for a photo. Got a few scratches, totally worth the sight from the top. We arrived to a cave, passed through it and got out in the light again when I felt small particles of water touching my face like a wind. We followed the river and entered another cave, bigger, and behind its walls, we heard the echo of some voices. A few steps further the waterfall revealed its wonder.
A straight curtain of water was pouring down, from the green of the jungle and the blue of the sky to the dark of the cave. One more problem: it was packed with people, Instagrammers like, turning the place into a never-ending photoshoot. But as patience is always rewarded, I somehow felt the right moment might come. And it did. As by magic, at one point everybody left, one by one. I quickly went back again, inside the cave, walked closer, paying attention to the slippery rocks in the water. I got drenched even at many meters away from the fall. It was now all mine… No other sound but the water falling. I raised my hands to the sky, closed my eyes and let thousands of water drops fall on my face, covering me like I was part of it. It left like I was flying in another world. A few seconds later I opened my eyes again, preparing to leave and I saw Wayan was not the only one saving my moment into a photo for later. A few guys with real cameras were taking a few shots too. One said to me to wait a bit more there as he did a few more. I didn’t mind, it wasn’t me the subject, I just addend a touch of yellow to an already perfect place.
Feel: my first Balinesse massage
After such a day of wonders Wayan and I went back to Ubud, planning the next day and talking about his family, about the famous healers and the Balinese food. I was too happy to be tired. I had one more thing to try: a Balinese massage. I picked one place randomly on a street in Ubud. Light music, candles, petals… A lady came and offered me a tea while she prepared the place. So after a day where every cell of my soul was moved, it was time for my body to feel the same process. Fists, fingers, elbows, she took care of every muscle and bone. That pain was good. Made me feel I was alive and happy in Ubud.
“Was just another day for only me in Paradise”… if I can reinterpret Phil Collins song.
Next: last 2 days in Ubud