DAWN is just about to break when the bus finally grinds to a halt at the spacious open air car park. The driver turns on the light to arouse those who have fallen asleep during the two-hour journey from Legian, Bali. One after another, I watch the passengers sitting in the first few rows get up drowsily and amble down the steps unsteadily.
“Hurry up, please. We must reach the temple before dawn or else we will not get a view of the mountain,” our guide says, warning those who are still finding it hard to get on their feet. “And do not forget to put on your sarung as a mark of respect,” he adds.
His last comment prompts me to reach for my sarung which I bought from the night market near the hotel last night. It is still dark outside. Fortunately the bus’ headlights provide enough illumination for me to tie the floral orange batik cloth decently around my waist.
I join a trio of Japanese tourists in a waiting four-wheel drive vehicle. We reach the temple after a quick five-minute drive up the steep slopes of Mount Lempuyang, considered one of the most scared natural elevated points in Bali.
the six holiest places of worship on Bali, I alight and join my fellow tourists in a silent single file walk towards the lookout point framed by a magnificently carved gateway. There we wait with bated breath for the first rays of the sun to appear.
According to Hindu belief, the temple’s high elevation coupled with serene surroundings and crisp fresh air make it one of the island’s pivotal points that provide spiritual balance to Bali. This area that represents the easterly direction is closely associated with the domain of the Balinese god, Iswara.
Suddenly, someone lets out an audible gasp. All of us gaze out into the distance and see the first sunrays light up the almost perfectly symmetrical slopes of Mount Agung. The great mountain looks so peaceful, almost like sleeping giant.
This highest peak in Bali is a far cry from its former raging self that threw the island into chaos just months ago. With things back to normal now, it is not surprising that tourists are once again making a beeline for Bali in even greater numbers than before.
We spend the next hour walking around the grounds of the temple, climbing countless steps and taking even more photographs from every angle our creativity can conjure. I am sure everyone wants to make each moment worthwhile after having to get up so early this morning to make this long journey.
Finally, a bell rings in the distance signalling the beginning of prayers for devotees. For us, it is the cue to leave. This time we realise there is so much to see during the short trip downhill, things we missed during our ascent in the dark. All along the way we catch glimpses of women dressed in colourful fabrics, making offerings at little wayside shrines.
WEST, EAST AND BACK
Next, we travel westwards to another place of reverence in the Karangasem Regency area — Tirta Gangga Water Palace. With the 10km route dotted with many picturesque rice terraces and quaint villages, we arrive at our destination even before we realise it.
We are lucky in the sense that our visit to this beautiful Indonesian touristy island coincides with the peak of the fruit season. Stalls laden with a wide variety fresh fruit like mangosteen, salak and passion fruit provide a pleasant distraction as we make our way along the narrow pathway towards the water complexes.
Along the way, we learn that the Balinese word “tirta” means “holy water” while “gangga” is the name adopted from the famous river Ganges in India. I find it very relaxing just walking among the lovely maze of pools, fountains and gurgling brooks. The other attractions to look out for are the lush gardens filled with fruiting trees and intricately carved stone statues.
It was the crystal clear water here that first attracted the attention of the last King of Karangasem to this fertile valley. Intending to turn the place into a sanctuary for his family, the monarch set about building a sprawling water palace in 1948. Sadly, almost everything was levelled to the ground when Mount Agung erupted in 1963.
Fortunately, the authorities quickly set the restoration process in motion while ensuring that the royal magnificence of the place is maintained. The focal point for visitors today is the 11-tiered fountain and its surrounding pond filled with colourful gigantic freshwater carp.
I leave Tirta Gangga slightly dejected after having left my swimming trunks behind in my hotel room. This forgetful act puts paid to my plans to swim in the special pool which was once reserved for Balinese royalty. All I can do is to look on jealously as my other group members have the time of their lives.
Leaving the former Water Palace, the bus continues moving westwards as it traces Bali’s scenic southern coastline. With our stomachs already starting to rumble incessantly, all of us are glad that the next stop will be for lunch at the popular Rama Candidasa Resort and Spa.
With hunger pangs spurring us on, we arrive at Garpu Restaurant’s buffet line in no time at all. Apart from the superbly prepared food which includes fresh seafood and traditional local cuisine, I especially like the restaurant’s beachside location which give unparalleled views of the nearby fishing villages and colourful fishing vessels moored nearby. I am quite convinced that the more than generous helping of baked snapper fillet on my plate was brought in by one of those boats earlier this morning.
With still some time to spare before we head back to our hotel in Legian, we decide to do a bit of exploring of our own. After all, this resort is a popular base for tourists intending to experience the underwater magnificence of nearby dive sites at Padang Bai, Tulamben and Blue Lagoon.
Before leaving, I catch a glimpse of the resort’s rooms artistically furnished with contemporary Balinese décor. Guests get to choose rooms with secluded balconies offering views of either the ocean, pool or the tropical lush garden.
I arrive back at the Swiss-Belinn Hotel fully charged after managing to sleep during most of the journey back. After a shower, I quickly get my things in order. Fortunately, I do not have to do much packing to do as I always make it a point to travel as light as possible.
IN 14 HOURS
Conscious that there is only a little more than 14 hours left before I head to the Ngurah Rai Airport to catch the morning flight back to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow morning, I decide to make a quick visit to Legian beach before dinner.
The beach, a four-minute walk from the hotel, is popular among locals as well tourists. Apart from those taking quiet strolls alone, I also notice quite a number of families spending quality time together. The section fringing the road, which runs parallel to the beach, is filled with stalls offering souvenirs as well as freshly prepared snacks and beverages.
I quickly head back to the hotel after realising that it is nearly time to catch the shuttle that will take me to Seminyak for dinner. To make it more interesting, I decide to take a different route just to see what other surprises Legian has in store. I am not disappointed. Apart from more shops selling reasonably priced items that appeal to tourists, I also manage to see a ravenous squirrel bound for a wayside shrine and has its fill of the offerings there!
It is Friday night and the themed market styled interactive buffet at The Trans Resort Bali features the best cuisine from all corners of the Indonesian archipelago. Priced at 250,000 rupiah (RM70), guests get to savour different cooking styles from Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi and many more.
The buffet at this five-star rated establishment starts at 6pm and food is constantly replenished until 9.30pm. Among my favourites here are satay lilit (skewered barbeque meat) and gado gado (Indonesian salad served in thick peanut sauce).
Among the sate choices which include beef, chicken and fish, the fish sate is the clear frontrunner in terms of popularity. The well-marinated minced fish is wrapped around fresh lemongrass sticks before being grilled to perfection. Lemongrass gives the fish more flavour as opposed to the wooden skewers used in the preparation of the chicken and beef satay.
After a hearty breakfast the next morning, I head off to the airport. After experiencing the amazing sights and delicious Balinese food, I feel rather sad to leave this tropical paradise. One thing for sure, I will be taking home many wonderful memories of this amazing place.
Succumbing to my insatiable craving for Malaysian food, I decide to order one of AirAsia’s popular hot meals — Uncle Chin’s Chicken Rice. The tender roast chicken slices taste so good when dipped in the accompanying chilli, ginger and garlic sauce. This comfort food that comes together with warm fluffy seasoned rice is just the thing to lull me to sleep once I have had my fill.
Halfway through the flight I am gently awoken by sounds of applause. Looking to the end of the galley, I am pleasantly surprised to see the chief steward confidently belting out one of Ed Sheeran’s popular hits with his guitar. His female colleague stands beside him holding the public announcement phone receiver close to amplify his melodious serenade throughout the plane.
This unexpected performance provides the perfect ending to my Bali adventure. This is a trip that I will surely cherish for many, many years to come.
How to get there
AirAsia flies direct to Bali eight times daily on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. This frequency increases to nine flights a day on the remaining days of the week. For details, contact www.airasia.com.
Pictures by Alan Teh Leam Seng