Adios Bali

Our conversations after the morning excursion revolved only around whales and dolphins, much to R's delight. He was certainly seeing a role reversal and was happy to see the adults share the enthusiasm and regard he always had for them:-p

Our next stop was for breakfast that also doubled up as a vantage point to view the twin lakes, Tamblingan and Buyan. We ordered a sumptuous breakfast, almost a brunch, and savoured it while admiring the panoramic view of the beautiful clear lakes.

We headed next to Ulun Danu, a temple by the lake Bratan. Of all the temples we visited in Bali, I found this to be the most beautiful. By the time we reached Taman Ayun, our last point for the day, it was well past noon. The sun was bright and fierce outside. Inside the cool interiors, the kids had dozed off. It had already been a long day. For them as well as for us. M and N decided to give the last bit a miss. Resisting the temptation to follow the majority and stay in the cool confines, C and I decided to make a quick stopover. Despite the heat wearing us down, we were able to appreciate the nuances of yet another well-maintained and picturesque temple.

We joined the rest and headed straight to our hotel in Ubud. Tired and weary, all we could think of was sleep. Shopping was on our list too and I had planned accordingly; to wrap up the sightseeing by afternoon and have the second half of the day free to relax and roam about in the streets of the Ubud market. So, after some rest and refreshments, we set out once again.

Shopping in Bali is fascinating. The streets are replete with colourful clothes, attractive trinkets, and beautiful masks. It took me quite a while to get used to the currency. They round off the thousands to write it as 100.000 which means you pay 100 thousand. All the calculations and the conversions whirred my mind into a tizzy each time. I was advised to follow the golden rule of bargaining. Depending on your negotiation skills you can get an item for half or even less than half the original rate quoted.

Shopping for artifacts and knick-knacks always delight me and we spent a good deal of time roaming about the pretty corners and picking up a few lovely pieces. I savoured the remnant moments trying to string together the lovely memories from our long trip. Always a bittersweet moment when holidays end and I wonder about when and where would I go next :-)

Some pictures from Ulun Danu and Taman Ayun for you.

Ulun Danu

Taman Ayun

We bade farewell to our friendly and warm driver-guide, D, the next morning after he dropped us to the airport. It was indeed nice to meet you, Mr. D!

Adios Bali!

A fitting finale

"We need to start tomorrow by 3:30 a.m. for Lovina Beach," said D, our guide, signing off for day 2 in Bali.

Our minds whirred. "Oh my! How are we to manage that with little kids? Will it be worth it? Do Dolphins really come out in the open?" 

Though excited, we were also fraught with unsureness. However, we quelled these before laziness and skepticism cast their spell. Between us, M and I dutifully set up individual alarms and agreed to be the supplementary human alarm for the one that may have overslept. 

I willed myself to shut off the mind that kept me awake with thoughts of waking up in time! At some point of being in a semi-wakeful state, I slipped into a world of nothingness. The alarm shrilled and I jumped up all dreary eyed. Clarity dawned in a few seconds and I busied myself to get ready. As C got ready, I slipped out into the dark and walked noiselessly towards M's suite to see if they were up. Comforted by the fact that they were in the similar stages of getting ready, I returned to wrap up. R was sleepy-eyed but excited enough to let me change him into fresh clothes. I was aware of the slight nip in the air as the seven of us bundled ourselves into the warm vehicle. The kids promptly fell back asleep and so did I. 

The car halted to a stop and I woke up to a heavy misty cover hanging over the gray waters. There was quite a crowd gathering that seemed to be awaiting a certain momentous moment. I looked quizzically and was told that it wasn't sunrise time yet- an opportune time to catch the dolphins skipping in the wild seas. We met our boatman-cum-wildlife guide who asked us to wait by a narrow long boat that was divided into lateral rows by thin planks that could seat a person each. Batches of tourists set off in similar boats into the sea one by one. Our boatman seemed to not be in a hurry while we got restless. The hues in the sky changed rapidly with the slanted rays of the rising sun. Blue-gray to pink-yellow to off-white. Finally, our boatman brought out our boat and gestured us to take seats. M sat right in the front while I took the last row. We cut through the waters at a steady pace, leaving behind the shores farther and farther. The pleasant sun rays were starting to feel warmer. I enjoyed the fresh, cool breeze and occasional sprinkles of water on my face as the boat sometimes raced, sometimes slowed in pursuit of the gregarious dolphins.

The fleet of boats circled together, the boatmen signaling one another over their walkie-talkies. It was well over an hour, but all we got exposed to was endless sheets of water. The little moments of heightened heart beats as the herd followed a lead call would die down soon to discover a false alarm. During the course, I realized that our boat had moved much ahead of the crowd; our boatman being the leader of the crew and more experienced at reading the cues. We wandered for some more time without luck.

Just as I let my shoulders slump, closed the shutters of the SLR, and wore a look of mock disdain, our boatman screamed, "Whale"! He sat right behind me, so I couldn't have doubted my ears. Yet, I sat in disbelief, erect, boring my eyes into the waters all around, right up to the horizon. So did the others. Nothing. A few seconds later, he screamed again. This time, there was no mistaking. We caught the water fountain right before our eyes. The works of a blowhole of a whale beneath. We let out collective gasps of wonder and excitement.

We couldn't believe our luck. This was like winning a lottery without even buying a ticket! Our boatman inched the boat up nearer the spot. Like a blood-thirsty animal, we wanted more. I changed the camera shutter speed and kept clicking greedily in the general direction of the first sighting. Amidst excited squeals and hidden nervousness, we saw it. A part of its body arched up the surface. Then, the tail came right up above and swooned downwards in a slow, sweeping gesture. I was wide-eyed and struck with wonder. I let the camera lay still. Fortunately, M had more presence of mind and a vantage point. So, we ended up with a video that will be a keepsake for posterity. Was it a humpback whale or a Beluga? We wouldn't know. A whale is a whale is a whale :-) Surely, some exciting memories to revisit when R grows older.

We last caught a glimpse of the mighty creature that glided away into deeper waters from underneath our boat, its body glistening a shade of green. A hush of reverential silence descended upon the boat. Moments later, the rest of the boat crew caught up with us and that moment gave way to more excitement as the fun-loving dolphins decided to show up and regale us for the next hour with their antics, skipping with infectious happiness. They teased us into chasing them, disappearing into the waters on one side and resurfacing from another, almost as if enjoying all the attention they were receiving.

Our final day in Bali had surely started on a super-high note. We returned to the shore grinning from ear to ear, filling our minds with stories to tell everyone.

The rest of the day's details will follow soon in another concluding post. Soon!

Temples, a volcano, and some coffee

We woke up to a bright sunny day. Contrary to weather reports for this time of the year in Bali, we hardly experienced any rains. Not that I was complaining. I'd had enough of the gloomy Bangalore weather and continuous downpour that had ceased just a month before our travel; a ripple effect of the cyclonic rains at Chennai. I stuffed myself with the scrumptious breakfast at our hotel; croissants that crumbled into a buttery smoothness as I bit into them, crispy, sweet pancakes, and a bowl of colourful fresh fruits, umm, heavenly!

We clambered onto the seven-seater vehicle to visit the first temple on our list.The seating arrangements in the Innova were always interesting. The three kids got along like fire but it was exactly that. Fire, that would sometimes be a warm, happy glow binding them in amicable harmony and at other times, a fierce, raging tornado threatening to bring down the roof of the car. So, depending upon the mood and the sentiment, the adults took turns in maintaining the equilibrium. Much like the puzzle where a tiger, cow, goat, grass, and the human had to cross the river in a single boat.

I tried to take in as much of the local flavour as we zoomed past the lanes. The local houses around Bali are beautiful too. The architectural carvings on the pillars supporting the main entrance lent them an old world charm. The Balinese tradition is, in many ways, similar to our Hindu culture. They too make a daily offering to God; on a small woven basket made from palm leaves. These offerings are found almost everywhere: outside houses, restaurants, and places of worship.

The temples in Bali have a charm of their own. A huge enclosed space with many shrines ensconced within, they resemble, in a way, the temples in South India that also have smaller shrines devoted to other sub-deities within the main temple. The thatched roofs placed one above the other resemble our own gopuram. The Balinese mainly worship Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma. However, tourists are not allowed inside the sanctum sanctorum. So, we missed drawing parallels between their deities and forms of worship with ours. Another interesting fact, in contrast to our Hindu temple culture, is that you are allowed to enter the temple premises with your footwear on.

The following pictures are from Goa Gajah, or the Elephant Cave, our first stop. This is more of an archaeological structure than a temple.

Lake Batur and Mount Kintamani was our next stop. The air turned cooler as we winded our way uphill. Kintamani is an active volcano that last erupted in 2000. We ambled towards the vantage point that was a restaurant with an upper-level deck overlooking the wide expanse of breathtaking beauty.

The shades of brown and black volcanic ash over the tall, stoic mountain on the left stood out in contrast to the shimmering blue-green water at its feet on the far right. Almost as though the towering structure, older and wiser with ravages of nature and time, stands as a guardian of the young and free-spirited that wants to explore the path ahead, unrestrained. I took in the beauty of it all slowly, imprinting them to the walls of my memory.

Our next destination generated some amusement as we listened to our guide enlightening us about the history of Kopi Luwak, Did we want to try it out?? Err...we looked at one another unsure. Only C was pretty sure he absolutely had to taste it, the dubious coffee extraction story notwithstanding. Well, I hadn't expected anything else from a true blood coffee lover! His excitement soon rubbed off on us and we made a beeline to the nearest coffee plantation. Apart from tasting the over-priced Kopi which I felt was overrated for all its proclamation of fineness and purity (?), we got to sample about 12 different varieties of tea. I immensely enjoyed the latter part.We purchased packets of the lemongrass and ginger varieties and set off for Tanah Lot temple located on the west coast. As we made our descent in our vehicle, sudden heavy droplets of rain splattered the car windshield which soon turned to an unrestrained shower. The downpour lasted for a total of 15 minutes!

Even as the skies cleared up. we stopped by for lunch at a lovely restaurant that was artistically done up and had a view like this:

By the time we hit the plains, the heat and humidity got to us and we dozed off for most of the travel time.

Bali's temples are not only beautifully constructed, they are also scenically located. Tanah Lot is a cave temple, situated off the sea coast. The cave at the bottom houses a holy spring water source. The priests chant a little mantra, sprinkle holy water on you and apply a tilak with rice grains on the forehead. A frangipani flower is also stuck behind your ears. We got to taste the sweet holy spring water (perceived similarly to our tirtha) that flowed naturally from inside the rock.

We later stood on the rocky cliffs with the super-excited kids in tow. Our laughs were drowned by the gusty sea breeze. The strong, big waves that hit the rocky structure at quick successions took us by surprise and unnerved me a bit. C held on to R's hand with a firm grip and led him a little away to a safer landing.

After clicking some pictures of the glorious sunset, we called it a day. But not before feasting our eyes on the colourful trinket stores that lined the lanes leading us out of the temple area.

Of Beaches, water and underwater

I had read up on a few travel blogs on Bali and scanned the accommodation options on TripAdvisor for starters on what I should expect and plan. Since we had only three days, I knew I had to plan carefully. I dislike having every waking hour of activity yet at the same time look to optimize the time spent at a place. I narrowed down on Ubud as our base in Bali. Somehow, it seemed just right for our taste. Beyond this, I got stuck. Tour planner or self-planned; B&Bs or hotels? I found the right person who had been to Bali a couple of years ago and was happy to share the details I needed. Getting a first-hand opinion on what places to avoid and which ones to include helped clear the fog in my head.

I'm always a wee bit anxious while finalizing the accommodation on the basis of online reviews. There's always a tiny voice of apprehension at the back of my mind until I reach the place and testify myself. Though, I must say that the likes of TripAdvisors have rarely let me down. Yet, the operating word here is rarely. I needn't have worried. Our hotel was as beautiful as I'd imagined.

Bali is tourist-friendly; we felt welcomed and warmed up to the friendly faces we encountered throughout our stay. Even locals seemed to reflect a sense of calm and inner happiness off their faces.

Day 1 was earmarked for some choicest beaches sprawled across the southern side of Bali. I had requested our tour-guide to include a beach meant for water activities even as we had jointly planned the itinerary. Our first stop was, hence, Tanjung Benoa. This is a beach that specializes in water activities. So, if you're imagining yourself basking under the sun with clean, golden sand and glistening clear waters, this is NOT the one for you. For that, you've got plenty of other beach options. Bali does not disappoint anyone :-)

The spot looked busy with travelers swarming in and out of the changing rooms and the instructors handing over safety instructions and sports gear to the ones that signed up for a particular sport. M and N are water sports enthusiasts and have done some extensive scuba diving while in the US. They were, however, not too keen this time. By contrast, C and I were rookies and tethered on the border not being able to decide between opting for kids-oriented sports or plunging into the deep waters (quite literally!). Holidaying with kids meant that we had to prioritize. We also didn't want to spend all day at one beach, so N helped us take a quick call: He and M were to take the kids to a turtle island while C and I were to experience the underwater sea walk. Scuba-diving seemed out of scope for two reasons. One, both of us are non-swimmers. And the second, and more important one was, although we have the appetite for some adventure, we are not entirely the bindaas kind and prefer to take one step at a time.

We had no idea what kind of experience was awaiting us. We quickly changed into the appropriate swim gear. The kids, M and N and we hopped onto two different boats. I had butterflies in my stomach; of excitement and nervousness. I asked C and he said he felt similar. We linked hands and giggled in anticipation. Savoring the kid-free moments, we watched in happy silence the calm waves that bobbed up and down the sides of our boat. We cruised to a certain point, then disembarked onto a bigger boat that doubled up as our base for our underwater activity.

There were a few others before us. As the instructor helped them wear the oxygen mask and briefed them about what to expect, we lapped it up as earnest students waiting to experience it all. Our turn came and my heart beat faster. Wearing the diving shoes and donning the diving helmet, C was the first to climb down the ramp leading to the man-made walk trail underwater. As he disappeared into the waters, the instructor on the boat helped me with my helmet. he repeated the signs I had to remember while under water and reassured me that I had nothing to worry.

As I climbed down one step at a time, I was cognizant of how heavy I felt. The distance between the rungs seemed more than I had expected. As I lowered myself slowly until there were no more rungs beneath, all I could see was water around me. The underwater instructor was at a little distance away from me and I could spot C waiting a bit farther at the beginning of the walk trail perpendicular to the ladder. At this point, I felt quite clueless abut how to proceed. I was apprehensive to let go of the sides of the ladder and wondered how to wade the short distance to the trail. Panic gripped me and I decided to climb up and ask for clarification. The underwater instructor seemed equally baffled and a tad annoyed with me as he quickly caught up with me above water. He impatiently explained that I had to let go of the ramp once I reached its end and hold on to his hand while he escorted me underwater to the handrail of the walkway. Oh, alright, I had not known that earlier!

This time, I gingerly let go, found my hand in the instructor's firm grip, and let myself float along towards the trail. I could read C's baffled expression from behind the glass of the oxygen helmet as I joined him. Yes, "to let go" is what was required; of doubts, apprehension, and nervousness. To completely take in the beauty of nature. To admire in awe the myriad fishes of different sizes and colours that swam next you, wondering perhaps where we came from. To wonder at the sea green clear water that was lit up bright by the sun far, far above.To caress the colorful reef that swayed to the tune of the waves. To consume the quietness of a different nature.

From time to time, I had to swallow my spit to release the pressure building in the ears. We walked on laboriously, firmly gripping the handrail with both hands. It was funny to note how distance and weight assumed different proportions when under water. On multiple occasions when I let go of a hand off the grip on the handrail and tried to grip back, I missed the target. I could never judge the distance. The instructor came duly to the rescue and literally guided me as one would a blind person. It was funny as well as humbling.

We headed back eager to share our experience with the rest and to find how they fared. It turned out that the turtle island was a huge hit with the kids. The island housed not only a turtle conservatory farm but also a variety of other species like the bald eagle, python, and porcupine. The kids had had a riot time posing with the animals. Needless to add, another page from R's dream book had come to fruition.

It was well past lunch and we certainly had no time to cover two other beaches and a temple for the day. The kids were in a mood for frolicking in the waters and making sand castles, the quintessential picture of a beach for them. So, we gave the Uluwatu temple and the sunset beach a skip to visit Pantai Pandawa beach. It should read as Pandava beach but the Balinese pronounce it as 'Pandaawa'. The beach was teeming with tourists and for a moment, I regretted our decision to choose this spot. However, the kids had a blast, getting drenching in the rising waves, and collecting sea shells and corals. We even managed to catch the Kecak dance. The start of the dance didn't appeal too much to me with the men making strange dance moves and chanting. Later, however, I was intrigued enough to watch it through as the dance drama depicting the Ramayana got interesting in bits and parts.

This has been quite a long post. Hoping to wrap up this travelogue soon.