The word is, north Bali is the paradise island’s Next Best Thing. This is good newsfor Bali after the blow of the second terrorist bomb last year.
The boys had a ball taking the mickey out of our Malay diction. “Aper khaber,” intoned Ketut Pony while Putu Arnaya smiled. “An-der nak ke ma-ner?” cackled Kadek Resdana.
Indonesians pronounce the end vowels differently.
Good-natured linguistic ribbing was part of the fun with our young tour guides from Kalibukbuk village. They were knowledgeable and attentive, ferrying us on speda motos (motorbikes) and in a Toyota Avanza through the visual, sensory experience that was north Bali.
Unlike Kuta and Batur, this part of the island is relatively unvisited. Not for long though, it would seem. Two Decembers ago, we were Kalibukbuk’s first Malaysian visitors. Last December, there were at least two other Malaysian groups there. And within two years, our guide Ketut was driving a new car, and the little homestay we put up at had been upgraded and new eateries had opened.
The word is, north Bali is the paradise island’s Next Best Thing. This is good news for Bali after the blow of the second terrorist bomb last year.
Ironically, it was to the north that visitors first came, according to The Lonely Planet. The main entry point was Singaraja, which remained important for trading and, in colonial times, administration. At one stage, north Bali was even considered “too commercial and south Bali less developed.”
We all know how it all worked out, though.
A good base to explore north Bali is Lovina, a black sandy beach that first saw tourist action as a backpacker concern.
Lovina encompasses several villages, including Kalibukbuk. The name was coined only in the 1960s by a novelist who recognised its potential and came up with this compression of “Love Indonesia”.
Wild, wild West
What is there to love in north Bali? West of Lovina, the Bali Barat National Park has its pristine forest. Easy trails lead to scenic views and an insight into its ecosystems, comprising rainforest, mangrove forest, savanna lontar and monsoon forest.
What is amazing is the presence of a Hindu shrine/tomb within this reserve, evidence of how pervasive religion is in every facet of Balinese life. The shrine sits by a dry riverbed, a tree-shaded oasis where a gentle wind blows. The main tomb of Makam Jayaprana further uphill is a tribute to a Romeo and Juliet-like pair worshipped for conjugal happiness and well-being.
Like the Makam, other coastal temples are thoughtfully elevated, with inspiring ocean vistas. Typical of the temples in the north, many have ornate stone carvings. The commanding Pura Pulaki, an important temple, is built into a steep slope, its shrines overrun by silver leaf monkeys.
Across from it, Pura Pabean is a quirky amalgamation of Hindu and Buddhist influence. Within its traditional temple set-up, one shrine is dedicated to Kuan Yin and the Buddha while another has a Chinese subandar (tax collector) spirit sharing “home” with the Hindu diety Siva. Here, the trading history of the northern coast is – literally – enshrined.
A lovely drive through Munduk takes one past rice terraces and clove and coffee plantations. The weather is cool and the villages, picture perfect. In the fruiting season, roadside pyramids of durian, mangosteen and passionfruit tempt passers-by.
The real attractions are the lakes. Tamblingan and Buyan once were one lake – until a landslide divided them. A trail around the lakes makes for a nice walk.
Southward, on even higher ground, is Bratan Lake. Its main temple, Pura Ulun Danu, is sometimes called a floating temple as lake waters sometimes surround two of its meru (pagodas). The allure of this Hindu-Buddhist complex is completed by its landscaped gardens and a backdrop of cloud-shrouded hills.
A stiff two-hour climb up one of these hills, Gunung Catur, through dense rainforest and mossy forest to the peak, takes you to an otherworldly temple.
Tales on walls
East of Lovina is Singaraja, home to fine Dutch architecture. This port has an excellent library with lontar manuscripts (ancient parchment), some dating back 3,000 years.
Further east are some of Bali’s most ornate temples, products of pliable sandstone and imaginative sculptors. The walls of the Sangsit Pura Dalem (Temple of the Dead) immortalise battles old and new, both temporal and spiritual. They include World War II planes and punishment in the afterlife.
Reliefs of old and new also adorn the Pura Maduwe Karang in Kubutambahan, an important temple dedicated to agricultural deities. They include scenes from the Ramayana and a depiction of the first bicycle on Bali, supposedly that of a Dutch artist.
From quiet to quirky, the charms of north Bali are difficult to resist. When we bid our guides a fond farewell, it was with “Jumpa lagi”, for surely, we will meet again. W
o Two good guidebooks covering north Bali are Lonely Planet’s Bali & Lombok and Insight Pocket Guide’s Bali.