Denpasar airport, in Bali, the exotic Hindu island on the southern tip of the Indonesian archipelago, is a gateway to the lost world of charm, grace and the sheer opulence of an environment lush with rain, paddy and forest. There is nothing artificial about the welcome in the Balinese smile, which begins in the eyes and spreads gently across the face. The airport is designed like a home, airy, free, spacious, sunlit.
It is an illusion of course but you get the sense that there are no walls in Bali. The architecture of wood breathes with the quiet harmony of nature. The doors are exquisitely carved, but they seem designed to remain open rather than slam shut. Stone comes to life in brilliant statuary, as deities and demons from a rich and vibrant belief system that ill-deserves the nomenclature of mythology.
Tourism flows through the sinews of the Bali economy. The street is lined with countless shops churning out Buddhas and gods that will seem fashionably antique in some western drawing room. The West begins next door, in Australia. The printed advice we receive at the hotel is frank. Never buy anything without haggling. All prices should come down by thirty to forty per cent. But such candour destroys the charm of haggling. There is no sense of victory when you know that prices have been marked up already to account for the haggle. A shopkeeper must look as dejected and defeated as a Lebanese trader who has sold a magic carpet at a plastic price. The Balinese look too happy.
Full article by M.J. Akbar
* M.J. Akbar is a celebrated Indian author and journalist.