Taking Tea with the Prince

 

I’ve had tea with the prince. My life is complete.

Several weeks ago I happened upon a construction site. Looking at it from the other side of a yawning gorge it appeared an ambitious project. I followed steep steps beside a waterfall to the bottom, crossed the bridge, and huffed and puffed my way up the equally steep steps to the top of the other side.

Construction site

I wondered if it was another new hotel being built for the booming tourism business here in Ubud. But there was no one to ask so I carefully picked my way through building materials. The project took on a more finished appearance as I progressed. Then suddenly before me was the entrance, a towering edifice with not one, but four tiers of carved Barong faces guarding against unwanted visitors, earthly or otherwise. I began to wonder if this might be a private home. The doorway was constructed in traditional Balinese style, but I have never seen embellishment of this refined detail, even at the Ubud Palace.

Entrance edifice

I crept up the steps to peek, just peek, through the gilded doors standing slightly ajar. In front of me, barring further view, was a splendid Ganesh. Should any of those said unwanted beings happen to pass the first line of defense, his placement directly in front of the entrance was guaranteed to finish the job. My curiosity insisted on seeing what lay beyond.

Ganesh

So I proceeded, and Ganesh didn’t seem to have a problem with that. The scene that met my eyes when I cleared the final barrier was like something out of a fairy tale, or a Disney theme park! On my right, 15′ stone maidens poured the contents of their jugs into terraced pools.  Between the maidens water cascaded over lapped panels of metal. The landscaping was a glorious profusion of Bali’s most exotic vegetation.

Fountain wall

There are few places where I’ve stared with my eyes bugging and my lower jaw gaping…the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, the Vatican…my standards are significantly elevated. It takes something pretty special to impress me. This gilded oasis at the end of the rice paddies definitely made the grade. After ogling shamelessly for several minutes, I tore myself away and went home. But I couldn’t get the images out of my mind.

So when I asked Ketut this morning if he wanted an adventure, my plan was to return and see what progress had been made in the past two weeks. We hopped on ‘Pink’ (a fitting name for his pearlized mauve colored motorbike) and were there in a matter of minutes. My jaw dropped again. I hadn’t glamorized it in my mind. If anything it had grown grander in two weeks. We strolled the path toward a group of workers installing a pair of dazzling chandeliers on the porch of the main structure. It would be good to ask permission to be there, I decided.

One of the men was obviously not a worker. His diamond encrusted watch probably cost more than a small oceanside villa, and the two rings he wore, one on each hand, would make Tiffany’s drool. Ketut had addressed one of the workmen but I approached the jewelry and said, “This is amazing. Who is the owner?” The man smiled benignly, almost humbly. “I am,” he said. Then he proceeded to introduce himself as Cok Wah and invited me to sit on the floor of his glistening black marble porch with him. He said a few quick words of Indonesian and I knew he had ordered drinks for Ketut and me. I quickly said, “Not necessary,” also in Indonesian. Again the beneficent smile. “I want you to feel welcome in my home,” was the gracious reply.

So I sat. And as we shared tea and Balinese sweet cakes, Prince Cok Wah told me about his father, the king of Ubud, and how he was building this palace to honor him. He seemed in no hurry to be anywhere else. He explained the two female statues flanking the gold bust of his father at the great entrance. They represented his father’s two wives, the women who had raised him and his five siblings. He talked about other plans he had for the unfinished portions of the project. Then, as I’ve often experienced with Balinese people, the conversation turned philosophical. We contemplated good and evil, light and darkness, and the necessity of maintaining balance in our lives. I kept checking in with myself to make sure this wasn’t some surreal dream, but the tea was wet, cake crumbs were accumulating in my lap, and I was sweating. In a dream I wouldn’t be sweating.

Two chandeliers dripping with crystal were being installed on the ‘front porch’

Then he told me that I would have to come back and see the palace after dark. “The lighting is automatic,” he said. “It comes on at 6 p.m.” He whipped out his iphone (seriously) and showed me pictures of the palace after dark. I told him I would like nothing better and made polite leave-taking noises. On the way out he took us behind the aquarium that is built into the entrance stairway. The aquatic scenery that appears to be in the tank itself is actually painted on the walls of the room behind it.

Aquarium after dark

Ketut had been uncharacteristically quiet during our tea party. As we putt-putted back home he told me that Cok Wah is a member of the Ksatriya Caste. In the Hindu system, they are the rulers. There are three Balinese languages, one for the lowest caste, one for the middle caste, and the most formal one for addressing royalty. Ketut admitted that he did not know the language well enough for addressing a person of Cok’s social status. Rather than insult the man he had opted for silence.

We did return to the palace after dark. Prince Cok Wah was still there. He greeted me by name and apologized that he had to leave but told us to stay as long as we wanted. Evidently a TV crew had been there about a month ago and filmed the palace extensively. The special program was due to air that night and he was going home to watch it. Before he left he escorted us into the compound and seemed terribly pleased to hear our exclamations of astonished awe. Then he was gone.

The main house

View of the entrance from the main house

Detailed carvings on the entrance edifice

The lighting effects on a dragon’s head

Steps ascending to the family temple

The family temple

Gilded woodcarving adorning the structure where important ceremonies are performed, weddings, cremations, tooth filings, and the like.

The pavilion for gamelan and Balinese dance performances is still under construction

We stayed a long time. The almost full moon watched as I took 164 photos. Ketut chatted with the security staff. When it just didn’t make sense to take another picture we found our way out of the magic kingdom, located Pink, and headed home. Ketut, faithful scout that he is, was eager to tell me what he had learned. Evidently the project has been underway for five years. So far it has cost over $80 million (that’s in U.S. dollars). It will take another year before it’s completed. On the back of the motorbike my jaw fell open for the final time today and I repeated the worn-out word that my lips have reverently breathed over and over and over again…

“WOW!”

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa
    Oct 28, 2012 @ 18:08:28

    Wow is exactly what I was thinking through the whole piece. You are having some amazing experiences!

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  2. anspired
    Oct 29, 2012 @ 03:03:47

    Reads like an adventure story…wonderful, thank you!

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  3. Diane Struble
    Oct 29, 2012 @ 03:18:04

    This has to be the most magical adventure possible. The only thing missing was music. I am sure it was by itself worth the trip to Bali.

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  4. shanemac
    Oct 29, 2012 @ 05:44:28

    Thank you for sharing these photos of this stunning place. I loved seeing your photos and reading your beautifully written blog. What a great experience. Tea with a prince. What a great story.

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  5. Bobbi DeG
    Oct 29, 2012 @ 06:42:29

    Amazing….I’m just thinking of how much this cost , and how many people could have been helped in his own country… It was a lovely chance meeting for you though. May your adventures continue!

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  6. Nancy Strauss
    Oct 29, 2012 @ 10:31:18

    I know that neither your words, nor photos, convey the entirety of this wonderous experience. The intricate detailing on the structures is breathtaking, but I know it is far more impressive in person, and the experience of being there equally above verbal description. Thank you so much for sharing this amazing adventure!

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  7. Barb Garland
    Nov 02, 2012 @ 14:31:53

    Sherry, OMG, way to go mystical, magical woman !!! lots of love Barb

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