Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Bali, Indonesia - Part III: Bangli, Batur and Perhaps the Best Pork Ever

(Continuing from Part II) After a quick breakfast we met up with Ngakan at the reception desk for what would be a day of sightseeing further afield from Ubud than our previous excursion that would take us as far north as the town of Kintamani, which is located near the edge of a caldera that overlooks both the 1717m Gunung Batur (Mount Batur) and Danau Batur (Lake Batur), and is the site of one of the most important temples in Bali. The morning sky was a bit gloomy as we started on the journey, suggesting that rain was a possibility in our day of sightseeing, and that at some point I might have to contend with taking one-handed photos while my support hand held a raised umbrella; though shooting photos in such a manner is less than desirable, it was something that I had to do for a portion of my stay in Kyoto, Japan back in the Summer of 1987, as the outer fringes of Typhoon Thelma dumped a lot of rain on the city and caused the nearby Kamo River to overflow its banks about three miles downstream from my ryokan (traditional Japanese inn). Our route first took us again southeast of Ubud through the now-familiar territory in the vicinity of Bedulu, then on a northerly heading as we made our way about 40 minutes outside of Ubud for the first stop on our itinerary, the Pura Kehen Temple.

Rice Farmers Working in the Paddies North of Ubud

A Balinese Woman Balancing a Large Temple Offering

Along the way one of the low rice terraces that we passed was being work, so Ngakan pulled to the side so that we could both stretch our legs and take some photos before continuing on. As luck would have it, just as we were about to get back in the car a woman who appeared to be on her way to the local temple with a tall stack of colorful offerings nestled in an ornate pedestal-styled offering dish balanced atop her head happened to walk by accompanied by a woman carrying a rather large knife in her hand; the scene presented a photo opportunity just too good to pass up.

The Front of Bangli's Pura Kehen Temple
The Entrance to Pura Kehen Temple
Guardian Statues on the Pura Kehen Stairway
A Split Gates Beneath the Lower Courtyard's Huge Bayan Tree

Arriving in the town of Bangli, we exited the main road and after a few turns came to a stop across from the stair-stepped entrance to Pura Kehen temple, parking the car along side a row of vendor stalls whose owners were only too eager to make a sale so that we could pay our admission at the temple's ticket counter. As a couple wandering vendors eager to make a sale approached, Ngakan reminded us that we don't have to entertain them or buy anything from them, and that it is best to tell them right off the bat that you're not interested and just keep walking. Donning the requisite sarong and sash, we crossed the street and walked to the main entrance of the temple, which is terraced up the southern slope of a hillside and said to essentially be a miniature version of the Pura Besakih, Bali's most important temple; similar to Pura Besakih, the Pura Kehen temple compound is laid out in a series of eight terraces. Considered to be the most sacred temple in the region, Pura Kehen once served as the state temple for the Kingdom of Bangli, which was one of Bali's nine former kingdoms. The temple was built in the 11th century during the reign of Sri Bhatara Guru Adikunti Ketana. Passing between two flanking guardian elephant statues, we made our way up the 38 steps under the watchful gaze of additional guardian statues whose forms are taken from the popular epic Hindu tale of Ramayana to the ornate doorway that leads into the temple's first courtyard. Entering through a side door in the angkul-angkul gate, we began our tour of Pura Kehen temple’s three courtyards, the lower of which containing a huge, 400-year old banyan tree that features a kulkul warning drum entwined in its branches and a monk’s cell built high up in its branches. The lower courtyard is where gamelan performances are normally held to honor the Gods, with the middle courtyard housing a number of shrines used for making offerings.

The Split Gate Leading From the Middle to the Upper Courtyard
The 11-Tiered Meru of  Pura Kehen's Upper Courtyard

Details of Pura Kehen's Upper Courtyard
The Lotus Throne in the Upper Courtyard

The upper courtyard of Pura Kehen was the most intriguing. It features a photogenic 11-tiered meru shrine with a carved wood and stone base that is dedicated to the God that protects the temple. One the sides of the main meru are smaller meru shrines that are meant to provide a place for the mountain gods a place to rest when they visit the temple. In the walls below the shrines, old and chipped Chinese porcelain plates have been cemented in place as a decorative element, similar to the way that porcelain plates and colorful porcelain pieces have been cemented into the walls of Bangkok’s Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn). The upper courtyard also features a carved stone lotus throne in its northern section that is dedicated to the three Hindu Gods Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. The intricate carvings are exceptional for a Balinese temple, and incorporate a turtle and snake around the base of the shrine to symbolize the underworld. After touring and sufficiently photo-documenting the upper courtyard, we took the scenic route back to the temple's statue-festooned stairway and made our way back to the car, again passing through the gauntlet of eager vendors, and headed north out of Bangli along Jalan Nusantara Road to our next stop on our itinerary, the quaint and picturesque village of Penglipuran.   

Penglipuran, a Traditional Balinese Village near the Town of Bangli

Touring a Typical Family Compound in Penglipuran Village

A Family Offering Shielded from the Rain

Situated in a scenic countryside dotted with stands of bamboo forest at an elevation of roughly 700m, Penglipuran Village enjoys a cool climate and was said in the days of the former empire to be the place where kings would come to relax, recharge or otherwise amuse themselves amid the region's natural beauty and peaceful environs. The name is said to be taken from the phrase pengeling pura, meaning 'remembering ancestors', though other say that the name is taken from the word penglipur, meaning 'the entertainer'. After paying our IDR 7,500 or person entry fee, we entered the village at what appeared to roughly be the midpoint of the single, tile-paved boulevard flanked by narrow rectangular patches of groomed turf that ran its full length and divided the villages household compounds into two long continuous rows, and were immediately impressed with how clean and orderly it appeared to be. In addition to the grounds of the village seeming to be meticulously maintained, the sense of order was mainly conveyed by the similarity of the family compound exteriors, the gates of which feature a bamboo roof and a slim 2.5 meter high door roughly the width of a single adult, with the color of houses uniformly a natural brown hue made from dirt. The layout and structure of each house in the village are the same with regards to form, size and function with the exception of the family bedrooms, which are free-form. The village homes and family shrine structures are all oriented northeastward in the direction of the sacred Mount Agung. The village's layout follows the 'Tri-Mandala' concept, and is divided into three main parts. The northernmost and holiest part of the village is the “Utama Mandala”, where the temples are located; the second part is the “Madya Mandala”, where the villagers live and do their activities; the last and southernmost part is the “Nista Mandala”, where the village cemetery is located. During our drive over from Pura Kehen, the hazy overcast skies had darkened as a bank of gray clouds moved in, and as we began our uphill walk towards the temple at the north end of the village, a light rain began to fall that made me start shielding my camera between photos and even briefly open my umbrella, though the rain would never progress beyond a sporadic drizzle for the remainder of our visit to the village. Ngakan lead us into one of the traditional family home compounds and walked us around as he pointed out and explained its various elements. 

The Entrance to Penglipuran's Village Temple
Local Kids in the Village temple
A Village Boy Practices Playing Gamelan Music on a Metaliphone

The Bale Shrines in the Village Temple

The View Looking Out Through the Temple's Gateway

After leaving the home compound, we continued uphill to briefly tour the village temple, and as we approach the temple's gate the shimmering tones of a metaliphone tentatively producing a Balinese gamelan melody, as if its player were still in the process of learning it, emanated from somewhere within the compound. As we entered the temple, one of the bale pavilions was seen house a number of ornately carved and gilded metaliphones used in the gamelan orchestra, and within another pavilion was a young boy seated atop a section of carpet placed on the pavilion's paved floor before a small metaliphone, who was producing the melody that we had heard. As the others continued their stroll around the temple compound, I stopped to capture a bit of the boy's practicing on video after first pointing to the camera and asking him if it was okay to do so, to which he responded in the affirmative with a nod and a smile. He continued practicing his melody, leaning over the instrument and in turn striking the tuned metal bars with the mallet in his right hand then quickly thereafter damping the vibration out with the thumb and index finger of his left hand to produce staccato notes. Upon striking the final note of the melody, he let it ring as he sat back and laid the mallet in his lap, then lifted his head upwards as if gazing around at the rafters of the bale's thatched ceiling. As I continued shooting video, I thanked him very much for his performance in Bahasa Indonesian by saying, "Terima kasih banyak", which caught him a bit by surprise and caused him to respond in English with an amazed, "Wwwow...!" We continued our stroll around the grounds of the village temple, checking out its various shrines and encountering a small groups of local kids that were occupying there time witching the temple compound. As we exited the temple and made our way back down the village's main boulevard, a light rain again began to fall that thankfully soon taper off as we resumed continued north on the drive to the outer crater of Mount Batur, with the clouds parting to allow the sunshine to return by the time we reached the southern edge of the crater.

Mount Batur, Near Kintamani

Lake Batur

Our Lunch Buffet at the Lakeview Hotel and Restaurant

We drove along the crater's southwest perimeter via Jalan Raya Penelokan Road en route to the village of Batur, which lies on the outskirts of, and essentially blends into, the town of Kintamani. In addition to taking in a view of Mount Batur and Lake Batur, the main reason for the trip to Batur was to visit the much-revered Pura Ulun Danu Batur Temple. The Batur temple and the entire  village itself were formerly located down within the caldera at the foot of the Mount Batur volcano, though a violent eruption in 1926 destroyed both the village and the temple; the only part of the original temple to survive the eruption was the most important shrine within the compound, an 11-tiered meru dedicated to Dewi Batari Ulun Danu. Following the cataclysmic destruction, the village and the temple were rebuilt on its current site, which is situated on the highest and oldest rim of the Batur calderas. The Kintamani region is renowned for the Arabic coffee that grows in its fertile volcanic soil, and prior to leaving Bali I would purchase some to take home; I would later find the coffee to be pretty good, although it seemed to have the bright citrus overtones (perhaps owing to its medium roasting) that I tend associate with Central and South American Arabica beans, as opposed to the rich and earthy sweetness of the dark roast Sumatran Arabica that I prefer. Ngakan told that we would be stopping for about 30 minutes to have lunch before visiting the Batur temple, and shortly we pulled into the Lakeview Hotel and Restaurant (which, sometime after our visit, had been re-branded as the Lakeview Eco Lodge), which offers a nice table-side view of both Mount and Lake Batur in addition to a buffet lunch of Indonesian and local Balinese specialties. The meal, which paired with some cold bottles of Bintang Beer, was quite good, with my plate including grilled pork satay, bakmi goreng (vermicelli stir-fry), vegetable spring rolls and ginger fried rice.

The Kulkul (Warning Drum) Tower at Pura Ulun Danu Batur Temple

We continued up the road to the village of Batur, slowing as we approached the entrance to the Pura Ulun Danu Batur Temple on the caldera-facing side of the road and finding a parking space a short walking distance beyond the entrance on the opposite side if the road. As we donned the sarongs and sashes that we had brought with us and headed towards the entrance, Ngakan warned us that the wandering vendor girls assembled at the base of the steps leading into the temple compound would be very aggressive and insistent that we rent sarongs and sashes from them before entering the temple, despite the fact that we had already brought our own. Sure enough, before we even made it to the entrance ticket booth they had encircled us, all clamoring at once with sarongs and sashes held out before them that we were required to rent the items from them before we could enter. We showed them that we already had the required items and would enter the temple after paying the admission fee, but that merely resulting in them raising their voices from a low shrill to a higher one as they claimed that only their sarongs and sashes were allowed in the temple, leading one to believe that they were perhaps in collusion with the ticket booth attendant who did not show any signs of leaving his post to shoo them away. Ngakan next spoke with them in what sounded like Bahasa Indonesia instead of Balinese, but it appeared that they were not about to give into him as their voices maintained the same tone of defiance and aggression. Tempers and frustration on both sides continued to rise until our daughter finally exclaimed that we were not going to be ripped off by them, and that we were just going to forget about seeing the temple and leave. Our son-in-law agreed that the vendor girls were trying to bully us out of some cash, and that it was better to leave rather than give into them, whereas Ngakan and I were a bit surprise that they wanted to scrap our plans to visit the temple out of a sense of frustration and principles, given that we had driven the extra miles to get here and were but a few yards away from the entrance. Tempers and frustration on both sides continued to rise until our daughter finally exclaimed that we were not going to be ripped off by them, and that we were just going to forget about seeing the temple and leave. Our son-in-law agreed that the vendor girls were trying to bully us out of some cash, and that it was better to leave rather than give into them, whereas Ngakan and I were a bit surprise that they wanted to scrap our plans to visit the temple out of a sense of frustration and principles, given that we had driven the extra miles to get here and were but a few yards away from the entrance. Ngakan asked them if they really wanted to forego seeing Batur, and when they confirmed their decision (which evoked a reflexive sigh of disappointment from me), we turned and made our way back to the car. As the car doors closed and the back seat belts clicked into engagement, Ngakan gave me a somewhat apologetic glance, then looked back over his shoulder at our daughter and son-in-law and asked again if we were all on board with not visiting Batur Temple. It was at that moment that I decided to be the lone voice of opposition, and said that I wanted to go back and submit to the extortion of the greedy Balinese vendor girls and visit the temple, reasoning that our daughter and son-in-law, who would end up living in Singapore for another three years, would always be able to take the fairly short flight to Denpasar and visit the temple at a later date if desired, whereas it was unlikely that I would be returning to Bali given that I had other countries and new destinations in the region yet to visit. My decision was met with a 'do whatever you want to do' conveyed in a voice still colored by frustration over our encounter, after which Ngakan and I walked back to the temple entrance where the vendor girls no doubt watch watched our approach with the satisfaction that they had at least partially won this round.

The Grounds of the Pura Ulun Danu Batur Temple, Near Kintamani

Pura Ulun Danu Batur, or the ‘Temple of the Crater Lake’, is Bali's second most important temple after Pura Besakih and is the ceremonial throne for Dewi Danu, the goddess of the lake. The original Pura Ulun Danu Batur temple, which was located down in the caldera at the foot of the Mount Batur volcano, was constructed by the King of Mengwi in 1633; in its post-eruption rebuilt form that dates to 1926, it is one of the biggest Hindu temple in Bali and by far the most impressive of all the temples that we visited during our stay on the island. Unlike other temples in Bali, the temple of Batur is perpetually open and maintains a permanent staff of 24 priests which had been selected by virgin priestess when they are children and serve for life. Pura Ulun Danu Batur is not a single temple per se, but actually a complex of nine different temples containing in total 285 shrines and pavilions dedicated to the gods and goddesses of water, agriculture, holy springs, art, crafts, and more. The principal temple of the complex is the Pura Penataran Agung Batur, which consists of five main courtyards. The temple’s most dominant shrines are its impressive multi-level meru's, including an 11-tiered one situated in the inner and most sacred courtyard that is dedicated to the lake goddess, and three 9-tiered ones for the gods of Mount Batur, Mount Abang, and Ida Batara Dalem Waturenggong, the deified king of the Gelgel dynasty who ruled from 1460 to 1550. We spent about 30 minutes walking around the expansive grounds of the temple, and then made our way back to the car for the return drive to Ubud.

The Komaneka Resort's Infinity Pool

We arrived back at the Komaneka in the late afternoon and headed out to the resort's infinity pool, which overlooks both a narrow gorge and some rice paddies that lie beyond it, to partake in the complimentary coffee, tea and snacks that are offered poolside. Newly fortified with some caffeine and calories, we opted for a later dinner that evening after grabbing some rest back at our room. Our restaurant of choice was Lamak, which is just a short walk up Monkey Forest Road from the Komaneka. Lamak Restaurant and Bar serves a variety of cuisine,including traditional Balinese, Indonesian, pan Asian and International fare,with its stylish interior decor giving it an upscale feeling relative to the other places that we had been dining at. After the meal as we left the establishment, we heard the sounds of live Reggae emanating from a bar across the street and decided to go over and have a look. The venue, which was opened in the front to allow al fresco drinking and dining while still providing a view of the performing stage located along the interior back wall, was called Putra Bar and offers live music from 9 to 11 pm on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. We grabbed one of the outdoor tables nearest to the bar's entrance and ordered some drinks as the evening’s three-piece band comprised of guitarist and keyboardist that both sang and a drummer played some Bob Marley tunes. After the last song of the performance, we sat and listened to a few Reggae tracks off the house’s sound system as we finished our drinks, and then called it an evening.

Ubud's Neka Art Museum
The Grounds of the Neka Art Museum

Garuda Statue Inside the Neka Art Museum
Samples Images of the Neka Museum Art (Courtesy of http://museumneka.com)

After breakfast, we again met Ngakan out front to embark on our guided tour of the Neka Art Museum. As the family that owns the Komaneka Resorts also runs the Neka Art Museum, guests of the Komaneka are able to visit the museum for free during the period of their stay. The Neka Art Museum was opened in 1982 and is named after a Balinese teacher Suteja Neka, who collected paintings as a means of artistic documentation. Its collection is unique in that it includes artwork by Balinese, other Indonesian, and foreign artists who all were inspired by the natural beauty, life, and culture of Bali. The galleries provide the visitor with a richly-illustrated introduction to the history of the major styles of Balinese painting, conveying the important characteristics unique to each style, from the early classical 2-D puppet figure depictions and religious art, to the transitional style paintings which introduced secularity and the influences of Western aesthetics with its awareness of depth and shadows, the Ubud and Batuan styles of painting, and the different regional developments of art found on the island. Other galleries cover contemporary paintings by artists from Bali, other parts Indonesia, and abroad. Although I did take some photos of the museum grounds, I neglected to take any of the artwork within the galleries; I am including some sample images taken from the Neka Art Museum’s website (Link) of some pieces that I particularly liked.

Warung Ibu Oka, Said to be the Best Suckling Pig in Bali
The Front Counter at Ibu Oka
An Order of Ibu Oka's Signature Babi Guling Suckling Pig

General Seating at Warung Ibu Oka

After being dropped back to the hotel, we walked up Monkey Forest Road and along the northern boundary of the Ubud Palace grounds to Warung Ibu Oka, which is considered by many to serve up the best babi guling, or slow-roast pig, in all of Bali (if not all of Indonesia, as the vast majority of Indonesians are Muslim and are not allowed to eat pork, where as it is permissible under the majority Hindu faith of the Balinese.) The restaurant is very popular with tourists and locals alike, and was featured on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations’ Indonesia episode. The place opens at 11 am and only stays open for about four hours a day, or as long as it takes to portion out the six pigs that are cooked each day. A very limited number of chair-seating tables are available, but most visitors will eat seated tatami-style on the floor atop straw matting before a low table. The pig is placed on a spit and is continually turned (‘guling’ means ‘to turn’) over a medium fire for about five hours, with the pig liberally basted with coconut water to yield a very crispy skin. Prior to roasting, the pig’s entrails are removed and a mix of spices (said to include galangal, tumeric, candlenut, ginger, shallots, garlic, small and large chilis, and cassava leaves) are added to the body cavity, after which the pig is bathed in coconut water to improve the taste and texture of the meat. We ordered the ‘babi guling spesial’ ("special roast pork", IDR 30,000), which consisted of a square of crisp skin, some slabs of spiced fatty pork meat, a slice of pig blood and entrails sausage (which I did have reservations about and passed on), a side helping of spiced vegetables, and steaming hot rice. Paired with a cold Bintang Beer, the meal was amazingly good. After I finished my meal, I walked around the restaurant’s compound to snap a few photos and a bit of video of what looked to be fighting cocks housed in wicker cages.

Urban Rice Paddies South of Ubud's Monkey Forest Road

Following lunch, we walked back down the full length of Monkey Forest and then proceeded south on Jalan Raya Pengosekan to check out an arts and handicraft shop that I had hoped might contain a particular piece of silver jewelry that my wife said she wanted us to bring back for her from Bali; she had described in great detail to our daughter and I the piece that she had envisioned, and we had as yet seen anything that vaguely came anywhere close to what she desired despite the number shops that we had already browsed through. Again coming up empty-handed, we reversed course and headed back to the hotel, only to be forced to seek shelter when it began to rain heavily. We ducked into Warung Enak, where we were able to enjoy a Bintang Beer and watch the rain fall over the paddy fields from beneath the cover of the restaurant’s open-air pavilion. As the rain tapered off, we continued on our way back to the hotel for a bit of relaxation; our daughter and son-in-law would be on their own for dinner, as I wanted to take in another cultural performance during our final night’s stay in Ubud, one that I had found particularly intriguing when I first learned of it years earlier.