The Natural Beauty of Bali – Part I

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The Natural Beauty of Bali – Part I

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Bali is an island located at the centre of the Indonesian archipelago – a vast chain of over 17,500 islands stretching from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific. Despite being a small island (just over 5600 square kms), Bali has an extraordinarily diverse and stunning landscape. The rich volcanic soil contributes to its fabulous variety of tropical flora and fauna. The vibrant colours and beauty of the island is further enhanced by a charming people who are kind, community oriented, deeply spiritual and talented in art and craft. Exploring the island is a truly unique and ever-intriguing experience that opens hearts and minds. It is easy to be lost in wonderment of the smells, sounds, tastes and sights through the infinite diversity of nature, fresh flavoursome food and a flamboyant culture, well known for its artistic expressions through dance, music, traditional paintings, crafts and textiles.

Bali has beaches, surfing, diving, a myriad of shops, clubs, restaurants and resorts great and small. Much has been written about the tourist hubs primarily located in the south of Bali. The essence of Bali however manifests through its wildly beautiful nature (covered in Part I), lovely people, and their unique and wonderful culture (Part II).

Volcanic Mountains

Through the middle of the eastern side of the island, there is a range of volcanic mountains that figure prominently in the island’s mythology. The most well-known Balinese peaks are Batur (1717 metres above the Batur lake) and Gunung Agung (Great Mountain, 3142 metres). The Balinese regard Gunung Agung as a replica of the sacred Mount Meru the central axis of the universe in the Hindu cosmology. Bali’s mother temple Besakih is located on Gunung Agung’s southwestern slopes. The crater lakes in two of the volcanoes are believed to be the source of irrigation water for much of Bali, where farming is still one of the primary income sources for most families.

Between these central mountains and the coastal areas, lined with beaches and mangroves, there lie deep rainforests and dense jungles filled with vines and ancient trees. Brightly coloured butterflies flutter amongst the lush plant life. If you are fortunate, exotic tropical creatures can be sighted as you explore the forests, flowing streams and sometimes thunderous waterfalls. The landscape often drops away to deeply carved volcanic cliffs, or make way to beautiful rice terraces and lovely gardens in picturesque villages.

Ricefields

Beautiful rice paddies are a key feature of Bali’s stunning rural landscape, particularly around Ubud, Sidemen and Jatiluwih. A walk through the fields is an indulgent experience of brilliant colours – from the deep green of the growing rice, to the azure of the sky and the flash of red as a dragonfly zips by. Occasionally the splendour of a pink lotus arises from the lovely lily ponds that adjoin many of the paddies. The warm sun brings a brightness to the scene and ensures that you build up a healthy sweat. Sounds of the fields drift by peacefully, a mix of water trickling in the irrigation channels, the rustling of leaves and gentle clacking of bamboo contraptions designed to keep the birds away. Adding a little extra light and joy to the walk is the sighting of ducks merrily quacking to each other as they scurry between the rice stalks.

Behind the scene, a variety of rice (white, black, brown, red and glutinous) is cultivated in terraces over steep slopes protecting the land from erosion. Bali rice terraces have been described as an “engineered landscape” – a collaboration between nature and humans. Dating as far back as the 9th century, the Balinese rice field irrigation system is an ingeniously complex network of irrigation channels, tunnels and cleverly constructed mud gates that divert water from sources high up in the mountains to water-sharing communities. The system requires close cooperation of rice farmers in irrigation organisations known as subaks, who set the cropping patterns and irrigation schedules in their regional water temples.

Rice Terrance

Tropical Fruits and Plants

Bali has abundant fresh tropical fruits that come in a variety of shapes, colours, textures, smells and tastes. Trying new fruits is an exotic sensory experience. Some of the fruits are cultivated in village plantations, some are grown in traditional family compounds while others grow naturally due to the rich volcanic soil, heavy rainfall and fertile land.

With high altitude mountainous areas and well defined rain and dry seasons, the small island of Bali also has the perfect climate for growing a variety of spices, coffee and cacao (chocolate beans) which are export crops that provide income for the locals. Westerners are large consumers of coffee and chocolate and yet without traveling aboard, we rarely get to see how they are grown.

In Bali, these plants are cultivated in large plantations as well as by individual farmers and community groups who use rudimentary equipment for processing.

Beaches

Bali is surrounded by coral reefs that were once infamous as a hazard to navigation. It is ringed with a variety of beaches and lively fishing villages where locals’ living space spills out onto the beaches in an assortment of fishing boats and nets; chickens, ducks and cattle; huts, roaming dogs and playing children.

For Balinese villagers, beaches are both for fun and relaxation as well as a source for a modest income.

Today, many of these beaches are popular tourist destinations, with some of them having been sectioned off as private beaches by resorts for the exclusive use of their guests. With the rapid tourism developments, Bali has transformed itself to meet the needs of tourists. We love the natural beauty of Bali – its people, culture, flora and fauna, and wish to support its economy through tourism. The pertinent question we cannot turn away from is how could we do so without changing the island from what it is?

Wildlife

Bali is home to an impressive range of wildlife. As though endeavouring to match the vibrant colours and lively energy of their tropical surroundings, Bali’s creatures also come in an abundant variety and amazing colours of their own from dragonflies, butterflies, beetles, lizards and birds to monkeys, deer and a wide array of beautiful marine life.

Monkey in Bali

The traditional Balinese architecture has a distinct flair for being in harmony with nature. Apart from using primarily organic materials, Balinese houses are kept cool and well ventilated through large windows and having walls open to the outside to negate the need for air conditioners. As a result, any number of interesting creatures could move in or come to visit. For those who are not used to it, living in one of these houses is a fun and challenging new experience that pushes one out of their comfort zone. However, isn’t this one of the compelling reasons why we visit Bali – to experience its unique environment?

Frog

Stay tuned. In the next article, we will continue our exploration of the natural beauty of Bali with a focus on the wonderful people who are generous, warm-hearted and share a strong community spirit. Their unique culture is often expressed creatively by ways of art, craft and drama. Through their deep spirituality integrated closely into the everyday village life, people partake in a great number of elaborate ceremonies during their lifetimes. These ceremonies mark a Balinese’s journey through life with rich traditions, sacred rituals and wonderful celebrations.

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