The moment I landed on the island of Bali in Indonesia, I sensed a peaceful energy take over me. As I made my way out of Denpasar airport late in the night, tropical heat and humidity awakened my senses. People were out and about, waiting for family members, snacking on satay and carrying grocery bags on motorcycles. Even at 1 am, everything around me felt alive.
As I drove into Ubud, the center of Bali, I noticed a plethora of temples. Practically every corner had an architecturally intriguing Hindu temple that called out for a peek inside. There were temples outside hotels and restaurants, at palaces, in gardens, next to construction sites, between marketplaces and at courtyards of homes. After a few hours of strolling around, getting lost taking photos, I found out that there were over 50,000 temples on a mere 2,232 square miles of the island. It would, therefore, be mind-boggling to stop at each one.
Hinduism is the main religion in Bali and said to have come to Indonesia from India in the 5th century. The Balinese Hindus have a harmonies perspective of life, with strong beliefs in cause and effect of one’s deeds (karma), attainment of salvation (nirvana), and continuation of the human spirit (rebirth). They immerse themselves in colorful ceremonies, festivals and rituals that can be observed by spectators throughout the year. The Balinese people are very religious and it is not uncommon to see processions of worshippers dressed in traditional white garb carrying baskets of fruits and flowers or kids playing the gamelan and marching a Barong (mystical beast) from door to door.
Doing daily yoga, meditation, prayers and holistic healing are part of everyday Balinese lifestyle. At sunrise, locals gather on the beaches to practice yoga, often times led by instructors for free. There is also a large concentration of yoga schools, detox centers and retreats in Bali that are open to both natives and tourists. Many different styles of yoga classes can be found in Bali, including Hatha, Vinyasa Flow, Yin, Laughter, Power, Anusara, Ashtanga, Silat, Capoeira, Poi, Qi Gong and Juggling.
I woke up every morning to the sound of roosters outside my hotel room and effortlessly went to the Yoga Barn for a yoga and meditation class. For an hour and a half, I renewed my spirits practicing “flow” overlooking a panoramic view of lotus ponds and rice paddies. Only after a couple of days, I recognized more controlled composure, less stress and a stronger ability to concentrate. I was sleeping fewer hours but feeling more energetic. Perhaps it is the spiritual sanctity of the land of a thousand temples that makes people more receptive and heightens their senses.
While spiritual retreats are in progress throughout the year, annually held Bali Spirit Festival is the largest one attracting 6,000 visitors from over 50 countries. The festival celebrates Balinese Hindu concept of Tri Hita Karana; living in harmony with our spiritual, social, and natural environments through a gathering of world-renowned musicians, yogis, and dancers. Yoga teachers training, cleansing detox and meditation retreats are offered to international visitors before and after the festival.
In order to enhance physical, mental and spiritual well-being, the Balinese people visit spas on a regular basis. Because of this strong spa culture, foot rituals, body scrubs, facial masks, flower baths and Balinese massages can be found at hotels, resorts, day and health spas. The Aniniraka Resort and Spa where I stayed offered a free foot ritual upon arrival to the guests. I also tried a Balinese back and shoulder massage to get rid of the kinks from my 21-hour long flight. Most spas in Bali have a relaxed unpretentious atmosphere with a friendly staff. Aromatic oils, lotions and scrubs are commonly used during the procedures. While some of the higher-end spa resorts can charge as much as $70 for a treatment catering to foreign visitors, an authentic experience can be enjoyed at spas frequented by locals for $20-30.
Being an island rich in tropical fruits, vegetables and seafood, food in Bali is fresh, delicious and cheap. Most Balinese families visit the farmers market early morning to pick up their produce for the day. Hardly anything is refrigerated and there is no concept of leftovers. Dishes are made to order and most ingredients are organic and locally sourced. Therefore, you need to wait for at least an hour to get your meal when you go to any restaurant. It is very likely that the chicken you are eating was the one you met on your way into the eatery.
While traditional Balinese food includes pork, chicken and fish, there are several cafes and restaurants in Ubud that serve vegetarian and vegan food. Keeping with the demand for health and well-being, organic juice elixirs, smoothies, herbal teas, and naturally sweetened desserts are commonly found. I enjoyed several meals consisting of tempeh, a soy-based product that is a rich source of protein, fiber and vitamins.
One of the best ways to learn about Balinese cuisine is by taking a cooking class at the Paon Bali cooking school. The class includes a tour of the market and rice paddies led by Mr. Wayan, followed by a hands-on experience at his home conducted by his wife Puspa. Aunty Puspa taught us how to make coconut oil from whole coconuts and a total of 11 dishes including Gado Gado (green beans), tune in banana leaves, chicken in coconut curry, vegetables with peanut sauce and the famous Indonesian chicken satay.
Bali is not only a place of aesthetic and physical beauty but also an ancient land with a deeply spiritual and unique culture. It is hard not to feel transformed after the body is nourished with healthy natural food and a few spa visits, the spirit is rekindled from yoga/ meditation classes, and a connection with a higher being is established through the presence of thousands of historic temples.
For more information and to plan your trip to Bali, visit the website.
Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal