Ever since the first time I read it in 2015 when I had received it as a birthday present by someone I don’t really remember, I’ve made it a point to re-read J D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye around my birthday every year. Naturally, I was carrying the book with me on my trip to Bali where I celebrated my birthday this year. There is quote in the book which says, ‘Certain things, they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone.’ My trip to Bali is one of these things that I really wish would always stay the same in my memory so that I can reach back to it agin and again for the solace I found not just in the place, but its people, its culture, its food, its sea and its sun.
A scene while driving to Uluwatu
My Bali itinerary was rather hectic because it was only a three day trip which is why the first thing that I’d like to say is, no one should go to Bali for less than 10 days. Mainland Bali in itself is so vast and full of beauty that when you include it with its neighbouring smaller islands like Nusa Penida and Gili Islands, that are little paradises of their own, you’d want to stay in Bali all your life, but pragmatically, the place deserves at least 10 days your life. My trip began with a short visit to the Uluwatu temple where the beautiful view of the cliffs and the sea gave me such a high that the fever that I had managed to be afflicted by just as I landed in Bali, vanished. The Balinese Hinduism has four kinds of temples they worship, very different from traditional Indian Hinduism. First are the nine temples, situated at nine different corners of Bali to protect the Island itself. Then ever Province has its main three temples that signify the three gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Thirdly, every family has their own family or clan god that only the members of the family or clan worship. Finally, outside all Balinese Hindu homes you’ll see these temple structures that are called Shrines. These Shrines are conical in structure that depicts the mountain, Mount Batur, an active volcano that towers over the land of Bali and are worshipped to provide protection to their homes. The Uluwatu Temple belongs to the first kind. Here I also saw the traditional Kecak Dance that depicts the Ramayana. It was a unique experience of its own, to sit in an audience that comprised of people from across the globe, all mesmerised and entertained by the dance which takes place on a cliff, against the backdrop of the sun setting down.
Speedboats at Sanur Harbour that take you to Nusa Penida
The next day, on the day of my birthday, I left the mainland to explore the gorgeous island of Nusa Penida. This island is known to be Bali’s Black Magic island because it is said that all the dark and negative spirits from Bali were expelled to this island. Yet, the Balinese Hindu have to mandatorily make a pilgrimage of sorts to this island and worship the temples here because they believe in balance, in worshipping divinity alongside darkness and negativity. This fact might scare some but I can assure you, the island is nothing but a land full of sights so breathtaking that you’d never want to leave. Once you reach the island via a speed boat, the island tours are divided into two, the east island and the west island because you cannot explore the entire island in one day and one has to choose. I chose the west island because most of the sights that I wanted to see were part of this tour. The roads are rather narrow which is why the travel from one point to the other takes a bit of time, but the people there are well organised and tell you how much time you can spend in one place so that you can explore as much as possible. Here I would also really like to say that one should really exercise caution on this island because the waves and the currents are very unpredictable. Unless you have absolute control over yourself, do not go near the edges of the cliffs because there have been fatalities before. The people of the island always give you warnings to avoid certain places and its really important to listen to them and be safe on your own. Another piece of advice would be to not wear sport shoes because you would asked to remove your shoes before boarding the boats as there is no proper ports for it and you would have to walk in the water in order to do so. You must carry all your hiking shoes and other swimming gear in a bag because there are a lot of hiking and sea adventures that await on the island.
L-R: Kelingking Beach, Angel's Billabong
I still remember walking out of the boat and onto Nusa Penida. The island really looks like a paradise even at first glance and it’ll prove that it is once you explore it further. The first stop on my journey was the Kelingking beach. I don’t think that I will ever come across a view as beautiful as this. Here, one corner of the island tapers off into the sea in the shape of a T-Rex. You can go down the steep hill and onto the small and secluded beach below but it takes a lot of stamina and hard work to do so. I was in no condition to do it but the view from the above was so deeply inspiring in itself that I do not have any regrets. After soaking in the view here, the driver took me to the next spot called the Angel’s Billabong. Looking back, I think this was my favourite spot on the island. Here you are left once again on one corner of the island and the cliff formations here are astounding. The water of the Bali Sea is so incredibly blue that you’d really not want to wear your sunglasses and the way the waves crash against the cliffs, just the sight and the sound of it is magical. Just a 10 minute walk from Angel’s Billabong is the Broken Beach, perhaps one of the most beautiful island arches in the world. Here I was sitting near the edge of a tall cliff, really inspired and breathless, when an unanticipated wave crashed over the cliff and left me drenched. You’d think that I might be annoyed or upset but really, it somehow has become one of the best experiences of my life. When I sat back in the car and told my driver what had happened, he told me that this rarely happens and that I had been given a Lessing by the sagara, the sea.
After receiving the Balinese blessing and a quick lunch at a local eatery, I was driven to the last spot on the island that I would get to explore, the Crystal Bay. Undoubtedly, Crystal Bay os one of the most beautiful beaches I have come across. With the sight of a very small island in the distance and water so crystal clear that it seems almost unreal. This is also an optimal location for snorkelling because some of the most beautiful and thriving coral reefs are here and if you go a little further into the sea just on foot, you’d be able to see some the reefs. I spent about an hour here, collecting seashells and stones and even some washed away coral reefs. Even though the sun was blazing up high, you won’t feel hot because the beautiful sea breeze is always cooling. As I was being driven back to the port where I would have to board the speed boat again and go back to the mainland, I wanted to cry and throw a fit and never leave. Nusa Penida, with all its age old dark myths and gorgeous sights, is a rather complicated place, but here I found solace like I had never found I before. On the speed boat ride back the sun was already setting down and the view was again magical. I somehow managed to experience so many magical moments in the span of a single day that they would last a lifetime.
L-R: Entance to Taman Ayun Temple, Bali Jungle Swing
My last day in Bali was all about exploring the beautiful cultural district of Ubud. The Bali Swing has always been on top of my must do list and so I had to pay a visit while I was in Bali. I would say that if you’re in Bali, you really should not miss the experience of the Bali Swing. There are many swings to choose from, some are placed above waterfalls and some above rice paddy fields, I chose the one that was placed above the jungle and is called the Bali Jungle Swing. It was simply an experience of a lifetime! After that I went to see a few waterfalls, Tukad Cepung waterfall and Tegenungan waterfall. There are many waterfalls just randomly strewn around the island, so you should choose the ones that are not too far away from one another because Bali traffic can also be a sore issue sometimes. After the excursions to the waterfalls I explored a few temples, Goa Gajah and Taman Ayun. Its a rather interesting experience to visit Hindu temples in Bali because they are so completely different from Indian temples. There is so much peace and quiet that even even if you’re an atheist, you’d just get caught in this calming energy of the temples. The last temple I visited was a little far from Ubud and is called the Tanah Lot Temple. The only downside to Tanah Lot is its touristy vibe that underwhelmed me because its the one spot that literally all Bali guides will take you to. Nevertheless, the place is still an amazing spot to view the beautiful Balinese sunset. After watching the sunset I went to the Seminyak Beach for dinner because I was staying in Seminyak and the beach was a short five minute walk from my hotel. Here I saw such stunning post sunset skies that I find myself going back to them whenever I look up at the sky now.
Post sunset sky at Seminyak Beach
My trip to Bali was something that I had been planning for a very long time and somewhere deep within, I was very scared that I had built up the place way too much in my head. But, Bali came around magnificently. Even though I got sick, the place really kept me going and the people were so genuinely nice that I managed to make friends for a lifetime. Its truly a heaven on earth and I cannot wait to go back again.
Text and Photography Nidhi Verma