“If you haven’t been to Ubud, then you haven’t been to Bali,” says the bespectacled middle-aged woman sitting next to me on the flight from Jakarta. She’s my aunt. Half- awake, I watch Mount Merapi poke its nose through the clouds, snorting steam at the rising sun. “Ubud is to Bali what Yogyakarta is to Java, the cultural heart of the island,” she says.
As I catch a taxi, I call up my cross-cultural expert in Jakarta, Ali Syarief. He gives me a number and tells me Ubud might look like a town, but it is really 14 villages, each run by its own committee. “If it’s party time you want, Ubud is strictly a no-go zone,” he says.
Instead, we might chance on a Barong ritual, a dance-drama with tales of battles between the mythical witch Rangda (representing evil) and Barong the lion or dragon (representing good).
“The performers fall into a trance, and attempt to stab themselves with sharp knives,” he tells me.
The billboards, advertising rafting, Safari World and fine silver never really fade during the hour and a half it takes to drive the 25 kilometers from Ngurah Rai airport to Ubud. The driver points out where we can buy batik, silver and even where to turn off to the volcano. We jump out of the taxi when we see eco-shops.
The manager of our family-run homestay makes us Balinese coffee and proudly shows us his fighting cocks.
A Balinese temple is a pura, and unlike the towering indoor Indian Hindu temples, the Hindu temples of Bali are designed as open-air places of worship within enclosed walls, compounds connected with intricately decorated gates. Some temples are associated with the family house compound (also called banjar in Bali), others are associated with rice fields and still others with key geographical sites.
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