An early start today, off on another tour. The bus arrived at 8am without, I am sad to say, our jovial guide Tana. His replacement was very friendly and helpful, and apologised that he had a dose of the 'flu, which gave him a hoarse voice. It was a little like being taken on a guided tour of the Balinese countryside by Louis Armstrong. "Hello Ketut" instead of "Hello Dolly".
First stop Santika where the banker and music teacher joined us. It was like meeting up with old friends again and we were soon engaged in animated exchanges of information about the places we had been and the experiences we had had since the Kintamani tour. Next stop the Oberoi in Seminyak. Very posh indeed, by the look of it. The couple who joined us there, I am glad to say, were great fun and we all hit it off straight away. They had arrived in Bali from other parts of Southeast Asia and, unlike Tom and Kylie, had no apparent problems with their digestive organs or the Balinese traffic.
The five of us chattered away on the drive to Tabanan, towards our ultimate destination of Mt Batukau. This was probably just as well as the guide protected his tonsils as much as possible by only giving us the shortest of accounts of where we were "We are now coming to Tabanan." "We are now leaving Tabanan." And nothing much between.
First stop, Yeh Panes, a spectacularly beautiful place on the banks of a raging mountain stream. We visited a shrine that the guide told us was 16th century. There was no way of verifying that, but it looked very old indeed. Inside the walls of the shrine there was a hot spring, muddy and steaming, and behind that a holy banyan tree before which was a worn stone altar covered with tree ferns. A long chequered cloth was wrapped around the base of the banyan tree. Apparently the black and white squares represent good and evil, ying and yang, in a kind of constant equilibrium. One of the most important purposes of Balinese ceremonial activity is to maintain the balance between these opposing forces or, rather, to ensure that the forces of good are always slightly in front. Left to its own devices, the world would soon descend into a chaotic mixture of the two or, even worse, the triumph of evil over good. Hence the lot of (Balinese) humans is constantly to intervene, ritually, to ensure that the cosmos is balanced and the forces of good have their noses in front.
We add some rupiah to an offering plate and move from the sacred to the secular. Further up the hill we come to the Yeh Panes Resort, a group of bungalows perched above the shrine. The bungalows overlook a huge, tranquil swimming pool surrounded by shaded areas and statuary. From a point further up the hillside, a series of hot springs stretches down to the river below. Each spring is fenced and comes complete with large umbrella and benches. The water is steamy and warm, a very bearable temperature. A couple cavorts in the springs, working their way down them from the top. This is a magical place. I can imagine that a week or so here would be a wonderfully peaceful experience, deeply conducive to contemplation and recuperation.
After a quiet time, sipping a drink and enjoying the visual spectacle, we resume our journey toward the centre of the island. The roads here are noticeably narrower and less traffic-bound. We go on tracks where no tourist coach could go. As we climb up we pass from rice fields through to plantations, enormous stands of bamboo and thick forest. The road twists and winds it way to Batukau, site of the second most holy temple, after Besakih, in the whole of Bali.
The guide had warned us that our views might be spoilt today by low cloud, and they were. By the time we arrived the mists had descended on Mt Batukau so that we could only imagine how it might look towering over the temple.
As a holy place, Batukau demanded appropriate dress and conduct. For a small sum we hired sarongs and sashes at the entrance and had our attention directed towards a notice which stipulated the categories of person who could not gain admittance. I satisfied myself that I was not disqualified by the first 5 categories, which were:
"(1) Ladies who are pregnant
(2) Ladies whose children have not got the first teeth
(3) Children whose first teeth not fallen out yet
(4) Ladies during their period, and
(5) Dvotees (sic) getting impure due to death."
I hesitated briefly over the applicability of the 6th category
"(6) Mad Ladies/Gentlemen"
which I felt certain did not apply to me, but might, for all I knew, apply to my fellow travellers. Ah well, if a lightning bolt appeared from the mists above I would know that I had chosen my companions unwisely.
I assumed from the approving glances of the guide that I had repaired any potential deficiencies in respect of the last category:
"(7) Those not properly dressed."
I hitched up my sarong and silently vowed that I would observe the codicil to the notice - "All dvotees entering the temple should maintain cleanliness and environmental conservation" - before
striding on into the temple precincts.
This is not as spectacular as Besakih, but it is an imposing place nonetheless. The
fact of the mountain being hidden in cloud probably deprived it of some of its character, but it had a certain presence which invited whispered conversation. We were restricted to the front, public area of the complex beyond which only priests and indigenous devotees (or, in the vernacular, "dvotees") could go. Looking in to this area we could see a
pedanda in earnest exchange with a devout couple, finely dressed in white vestures. Our guide opined that they were probably local business people seeking divine guidance in matters of mercantile conduct. The
pedanda's advice was no doubt to the effect that if they followed a pious, righteous and altruistic path they would gain their rewards in this life and the next. Whatever he was saying, they were very attentive and nodded a lot to his suggestions.
I photographed the meru and other bits of the complex and rejoined the bus for our homeward journey. This was quite a different sort of tour, so far, to the "Highlights of Bali" tour we did the other day. We took a long time to drive to where we were and, having come and looked, we were about to return. The guide croaked that our next stop was the scenic village of Jatiluwih.
From the map we could see that the road we took hugged the side of Batukau, although we still couldn't see the peak itself. On the southern, downhill side, however, the weather was clear and we were treated to some of the most breathtakingly beautiful scenery in Bali. We wound our way along narrow mountain roads, snaking in and out of forest and ricefield, bursting out of the trees into cleared areas where the paddies stretched many kilometres in front of us to the sea. Noone talked. We just pressed our faces to the windows and soaked it in. When we reached the outskirts or Jatiluwih we stopped for
to take photographs.
From this point we could see the pattern of the fields, each separated from the other by an irrigation channel. We were told that the way to distinguish farms was to find the shrines, each plot having its own small stone shrine to the rice goddess Dewi Sri. We lingered here for what seemed like an hour, undaunted by the misty rain that began to fall. It was as if, to use that old cliche, time had stood still. I watched a woman gently sway through the fields. Despite the load balanced on her head, she negotiated a steep downhill path with incredible poise. I had the sense that she had always been here, that the woman, the fields and the shrines were elements in an eternal script. I did not want to leave this place. I wanted to run after her, to roll down through the lush, intensely green crops and tell her that I had decided to remain here for ever. This was a divine place, a nucleus, a numinous essence.
In gravelly tones, the guide told us we had to move on, and broke the spell. He brought us all back to present reality by reminding us that it was lunchtime. We all immediately became hungry.
Lunch was had at a restaurant perched on a hillside at Pacung, a village at the intersection of the Jatiluwih road and the main road across the island to Singaraja. There was just enough time to enjoy the view from the open side of the restaurant when the clouds rolled in from the west. By the time we began our first course, we were sitting in the middle of a cloud, treated to our very own thunderstorm. Thunder rolled across the valley and flashes of lightning lit up the room while we ate. The meal was concluded with a black rice pudding, no doubt from the same fields we had just
seen (at least, we wanted it to be so because it gave the meal a certain
geographical immediacy). With body and senses filled, we raced back to the parked van under a kind of honour guard of umbrellas held up by the restaurant staff.
The heavens opened as we drove back to the coast. I had nothing but admiration for the skill of our driver who managed not only to stay on the road, but hit no cars, trucks or pedestrians on the return journey.
The day had gone, much of it in getting there and getting back. But it was as satisfying, in its own way, as the Kintamani tour had been. We dropped the others at their hotels, but not before we arranged to meet again for dinner the following evening.
After a quick change of clothes I set off to get my trousers from the tailor. The omnipresent Wayansu waved me down and asked me if I would like to see another bed cover.
I declined and she, somewhat surprisingly, accepted my refusal with good grace. She told me that it didn't matter as she had had a good day in the shop and none of her contacts could get their hands on a plain bedspread anyway.
That made me feel much better. I bought a drink at Dini's stall and the three of us sat awhile to go over the events of the day. I excused myself and went down to the tailor to collect my trousers. There was now not enough time for them to make me any others. With great sadness I realised that I only had one more full day in this addictive place. Tommy and Forrest would have to wait for a return visit, of which, no doubt, there would be several.