The Bali Circuit

When we first told people we were going to Bali for ten days, their reactions were mostly on the lines of, “What will you do for ten days???”

Even the Balinese were not exempt from such skepticism. The cabbie who picked us up from the airport was incredulous. “Ten days!” he said, half in awe and half… well, he probably thought we didn’t have internet at our place. If your thing is sightseeing, you can complete the checklist of must-see’s in about five days at the most. But…

Tourists!

We didn’t want the typical rushjob, for one. For another, the cheapest air-tickets (which were, by far, the costliest component of our trip) were available only ten days apart. Even including the additional days of stay, it worked out cheaper to stay longer.

And no regrets, it’s safe to say, now that we are back. We took in the island in a leisurely way, as it should be taken in, and spent most of it in Ubud, the true heart of Bali.

If you are reading this and mulling a trip to Bali (and if you aren’t the sort to go ga-ga over surfing or generic beach-side resort-towns flooded to the brims with White tourists trying to soak in some Vit D), these are the four letters you should remember. Technically, three, but I’m still too Bali’d out to quibble.

U.B.U.D

Bali’s still got multiple provinces, remnants of their era of little monarchies. Nusa Dua, which is the southernmost part of the island, is expensive and touristy, but it also has one of the most scenic spots on the island in the Water Blow (not on many brochures, but a must-see). We went into the Museum Pasifika as well (expensive at IDR 70K per head), but it’s a good first-step into Balinese art and culture. Kuta and Legian areas are over-crowded and quite unremarkable (except for the Legian beach in the evening). You will have to use Zomato and Agoda to find out VFM options for food and accomodation. In fact, the only hotel we regretted choosing was Si Doi in Legian, and not just because of the bed bugs. Seminyak (and particularly the Kubu Cempaka on Jalan Plawa) was the better place to stay and shop around in.

We were in Ubud (north of Kuta) for six days and five nights, and never regretted keeping it as the base of our ‘operations.’ Rented scooters at the fraction of a cost that they would have charged us on Kuta. Ate delicious vegetarian food (which is hard to get in the more urban areas). Got great massages at less than half what they cost us in India. Drove to Kintamani and looked down at Lake Batur, and then drove across Candidasa and over to Tirtta Ganga. We avoided tourist traps like Taman Ayun, but caught gems like Pura Kehan. We did just enough research to know what we wanted to see and what we could avoid. And we weren’t ashamed of just sitting at the Gaya Gelato on Jalan Raya Ubud and watching the setting sun bathe the streets just before the rain did.

And all the while, there’s this frisson of terror. Bali sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, and the last eruption on Mt. Agung in 1953 damaged buildings 50 kms away. We weren’t that far away, and suddenly, all those news stories and geography lessons of volcanoes and lava rains seemed terrifyingly close by. Not to mention the spectre of a tsunami.

And then you think, how do these people do it? How do they stay so infernally cheerful, so welcoming, so polite, all the time? And not just to the vellakkara tourists who expect it, you know. Even to us Indians who can’t do a mile without being uncivil. Bali’s streets were narrower, but their vehicles just as big; they had traffic jams, and their businesses close by 9. They don’t have half the infrastructure we do and take for granted.

“We honk when we pass a temple or a Banyan tree,” said Alit, from whom we rented an NMax, a Vario and a Scoopy. “Other times, we don’t.” Even cab-drivers let others pass or take a turn before them, waiting patiently, rarely – if at all – honking. I was suddenly aware that what passes for my (and everybody else’s) usual riding behavior here was unnaturally rash or rude there. The difference was so stark I resolved to cool my honking and squeeze-through habits back in Bengaluru. Call it the Bali hangover, but I managed to last 93 kms before I honked even once on a Bengaluru road. That is a record for me!

We even met a fellow Malayali there. Manoj, an ex-seaman and now proprietor of the Dapur Malabar on Jalan Arjuna (aha! you’ve noticed it, haven’t you? Most roads in Indonesia are prefixed with Jalan to indicate that they are throughfares; I am not sure, but dead-ends seem to be prefixed with Gulung.). He’s married to a Balinese woman, and remarked that he’s picked up enough of the language to understand it.

“Enough to know when your someone’s scolding you,” I remarked.Watch movie online The Transporter Refueled (2015)

Pat came the reply. “Oh, nobody scolds anybody else here.” Delivered in a manner that left us wondering… where and when did we Indians go wrong? Our social etiquette…

It wasn’t an empty statement either. When we got pulled over – as everyone else was who was headed towards Mt. Kintamani – by the police, they couldn’t have been politer. I ended up with a fine of IDR 500K for not getting an international license (because I overrode my own promise of getting one – do not make that mistake. Ain’t worth it!) but they were very nice about it. When even the cops are polite, you have to believe it’s in their DNA.

Bali’s a place I suspect we will be visiting again and not just because we left the northern coast and nearby islands unexplored. Both of us felt that it called out to a primal part of us – the music, the people, the world there.

Selamat tinggal, Bali!

How to get there? You can fly into Nguah Rai International Airport at Denpasar (on Bali island) via Kuala Lumpur or Changi if you don’t have a direct flight. Air Asia operates many flights in the region.

And remember to

  • Convert Rupees to USD before going to Bali. While market rates pegged the IDR at 200 to 1 INR, the going exchange rate (even at banks) was 140:1 or worse. USD gets you the best rates. I used Nafex.com which found me quotes at least Rs.1.25 cheaper than what was advertised on the money changers’ boards.
  • Convert into local currency only at a bank branch. We used BNI near Kubu Cempaka. Get about 80% of your needs in 100K notes – it’s easy to break it down in Indonesia, and you won’t have to carry around more notes. $750 is roughly equal to IDR 10 Million!
  • You can use Uber to move around in the urban areas. But places like Tanah Lot and Ubud do not allow Uber to operate – you will have to bargain with the local operators on a point-to-point or round-trip basis. Uber’s estimates are usually lower by 30% from actual fare.
  • Remember to specify and emphasize if you are particular about having vegetarian food. In some places, it just means that they remove chicken pieces from the rice or noodles before they serve you. And even then, you might still get vegetarian nasi goreng… with fish crackers!
  • Rent scooters or bikes only in Ubud – not only are they more expensive down south, but also is the traffic worse. In Denpasar, Kuta and Legian, it’s almost Indian conditions sometimes!
  • Bargain. Shops, bikes, cabs are more flexible in rates than they let on. We got the NMax, a 155-cc bike, for 80K when the same thing was offered for $15 online.
  • You will have WiFi at almost every stop all over the island. Restaurants and mini-supermarkets definitely have them, as does the airport. We paid 126K for a Simpati prepaid sim with data and barebones voice plan, and it lasted the trip with balance to spare. Simpati has good 3G service in the areas we went to.
  • Given the zeroes you have to deal with in an IDR note, always pay attention!

 

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