Day Two: Marching up the mountain

I shook my head at Ketut, shot him a withering look for breaking his promise, then followed the smell of coffee. Two grandmothers in towel-wrapped heads squinted at me silhouetted in the doorway. Steam poured from a soot-blackened kettle and smoke from the wood fire clung to the low ceiling. Eyes stinging and watering, I crouched below the haze and slid onto a stool in front of the glowing warmth as a package of cookies and a cup of thick, sweet, Bali kopi was passed to me.

The grannies kept up a stream of chatter as I drifted in a dreamy, heat induced stupor. Other family members entered like shadows until the little room was full. It’s always the same, coffee and sweets as the family awakens and gathers in the kitchen. Then a big breakfast of rice, vegetables, tofu, and chicken follows the morning chores.

But on this day, after coffee all similarities ceased. The holy man appeared. Men and women arrived in temple clothes. Offerings created the day before were carried to the street and loaded into the back of a white truck. Women hiked themselves, sidesaddle, onto motorbikes that roared off in a dusty cloud.

“Go to cemetery,” Ketut said, as he pulled up on his motorbike and I, too, hoisted myself to sit, lady fashion, sideways on the slippery bike saddle. If the road had been paved before, it was so eroded by water and time that it was no more. Gullies and chasms made for a rough ride. “Massage,” Ketut said as I clung and bounced.P1070952The cemetery would not have been identifiable as such had I not known. There were no neatly clipped lawns, orderly headstones, or flowers. It was a clearing on the side of a forested mountain. A white cloth suspended, hammock-like, from two bamboo poles indicated Bapak’s burial site. Silence seemed a heavy thing, weighted by solemnity and the lack of movement in the air. Someone put a drink and a little food on the grave and a lump formed in my throat.

Commotion behind me signaled that the offerings and the white truck had arrived. Instead of coming to the grave, women, balancing the precious cargo on their heads, and men carrying the larger baskets, were marching single file up the mountainside.

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I thought I had seen all of the exquisite creations, but I watched the stream of elaborate baskets and trays go by noticing many for the first time.

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After the ceremony the fabrics in this offering were distributed among an eager group of women.

P1070985I picked my way, with help, up the sandy slope sliding two steps back for every one step forward. How do they do it with baskets on their heads?

P1070986The bearers waited at the top until the priest showed each one where that kind of offering should be situated. P1070992 The bounty was piled high in front of the seated crowd when the line of gifts coming up the incline finally stopped. After arranging them in the correct ritual order, the busyness ceased and a hush fell over the crowd. Silence. There were no birds singing, not a breath of wind rustled the trees. Then a low, melodious chant, soft at first, but building in volume and strength, flowed from the women. Moments later the priest joined them, his voice a raspy, hypnotic tone accompanied by his ever clanging bell. P1070966 Prayers commenced, a well-orchestrated sequence that changes very little no matter what is being celebrated. Rich with symbolism, it’s the one time during a ceremony when people stop chit-chatting, instant messaging or gaming on their smartphones, and give the officiant their full attention. P1080006Lost in the beauty of nature, the warmth of the people, the intimacy of this eons old practice, I felt very close to Bapak. At that moment a wind swished the leaves of the trees overhead and brushed a swath of air across my hot, moist face. “Goodby, Bapak,” I whispered and a rogue tear slid down my cheek. The crash of gamelan answered me, resounding through the trees from somewhere below shifting the energy into a rousing farewell to his spirit.

“You have photo of gamelan?” Ketut asked.

“Not yet.”

“Now is good time.” Grateful for a chance to stretch my legs and relieve my buttocks after hours on the ground, I stood and headed toward the path, half skidding, half running down the mountain.

The gamelan orchestra was spread out in the shade focused and intent upon the difficult rhythms they were creating.

“Ketut are there are special songs for different ceremonies?”

“Different gamelan group, one for temple called Gong Gede, one for when people die called Angklung. Angklung song sad, Gong Gede song happy.”

P1080008 I listened but to my Western ear, gamelan can never sound sad. Perhaps the beat was a little slower, the pounding a little less intense, but even funeral gamelan has a vital energy that stirs and enlivens my senses.

The ceremony on the mountaintop was over and the offerings were making their way back down the slope to Bapak’s grave. I watched as the pile became a mound and family members gathered on the northeast end of the site, the direction of his head.

“Ya, when in ground same as for sleeping,” Ketut told me in answer to yet another of my endless questions. The Balinese sleep with their heads in the direction of holy, Mt. Agung.

P1080037When the last basket was settled in place, the men erected a bamboo fence around the grave. I learned later that this is a ritual performed only for the body of a minor holy man called a Dulu in Ketut’s village. His father was a Dulu and he, Ketut, will eventually also have that designation. Every question I ask, and every answer I receive prompts about fifty thousand more questions. But the language limitations are still so great that I don’t ask them. I just wonder, and marvel at the endless layers of significance that exist in every aspect of the life of the Balinese Hindu.

P1080063Once the cage was in place and Ketut had circled it distributing small packets of satays along the exterior perimeter, “So all spirits can have party,” he said, the family received one more round of blessings and started home.

I lingered, taking time to say goodby. Here was a man I had met only two years ago. Our ability to communicate was limited to Ketut’s willingness to translate which was limited even farther by Ketut’s very basic English language skills. But Bapak persisted with questions about America, about my family, about the solar system, seasons, and the cost of a house or a plane ticket to the U.S. He was soft spoken. His sons have the same gentle quality of voice. But intelligence burned from his eyes and the intensity with which he listened made my breath catch in my throat. As I stood there, emotion rolled over me moving from gratitude, to loss, to love, and back to gratitude.

At last I turned away and hurried to catch up with the crowd. I saw what looked like another family ritual and turned to go around so as not to disturb, but was waved back. When I got closer I understood. I needed purification after being in the company of the dead. A long bamboo tube with leaves tucked into its mouth tipped over my hands and cool, clean water trickled out. I rubbed my palms together and was told to take some of a green mixture of finely chopped leaves and continue to scrub.

P1080066Thus cleansed, I found Ketut and the motorbike and we headed back to the house. People were lined up opposite the gateway to Ketut’s family compound when we arrived. I hopped off and went to join those waiting and once again, hands beckoned me to come to the gate. I couldn’t make out what to do but I knew something was required. There was a person standing on one side with a dish of salt. There were hot coals burning in the center, and another person stood on the opposite side with a bucket and ladle. Behind this setup was a holy man seated on the ground deep in prayer.

P1080070Watch and learn, Sherry, I told myself as a woman in blue carrying a child dipped her hands into the salt, scrubbed them and flicked the remains over the fire, then proceeded to the man with the buckets who sloshed water over her feet.

P1080073Once the feet were doused a dribble was poured into her hands which she drank. Only then did she proceed past the holy man and enter the compound. At the first opportunity I quizzed Ketut. What happened at the cemetery and again at the house?

“Water at cemetery make ok  go home so spirit don’t follow. Leaf same. When home salt make dark spirit go into fire. Must wash feet so land from cemetery don’t go in house. Drink water a little take out spirit. Holy man sit in middle make no spirit come in.”

“Right. Of course. Thank you. Glad we cleared that up!”

Once the family had all proceeded through the gate, the rest followed. In the back of the property, yet another priest, seated with more offerings, prayed and blessed the family home while the women once again filled the long tables with bowls upon bowls of food and the blue laundry basket overflowing with rice.

P1080078Faces were showing signs of wear and as soon as their plates were emptied, a weary group straggled through the gate toward home.

P1080081The men began deconstructing the tarp shelters and for all intents and purposes, it appeared that the big day was coming to an end.

P1080080I’d been close to nine hours in my corset and sarong. Up the road about a half mile is the house of another friend and I’d promised her I’d stop in after the ceremony. I longed to shed the constraints of my restrictive clothing and have a few laughs with her.

“Ketut, maybe I can go to Nyoman’s house now? Finished, ya?”

“Oh, not yet temple. Want go temple?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“There’s more?”

“Ya, in temple.”

“Of course I want to go.”

And of course I did. There wasn’t one moment of this fascinating day I wanted to miss. The rigorous activities required of the living to appease the spirit of the dead mystified me. Back on the motorbike and up the steep hill to the top we zoomed to the location of the temple. A handful of people were sitting just inside on the steps and they flagged me over to join them. Then we waited. And waited. And waited.

“You want to walk? Take more photos?” someone said. So I walked and snapped a few more pictures. Slanting rays cast long shadows when by some mysterious clock it was time. We were a small group, five priests, a few elder men, several women, and a child. I sat with them and observed. When it finally began it was brief and I assumed, which I should never do, that this final temple ceremony ensured that the village was also purified and safe from unruly roaming spirits. (I asked Ketut before writing this. Nope! That particular ritual had made it possible for the family to once again go to the temple. When a relative dies the rest of the family cannot enter the temple until either the cremation or this special ceremony is held.)

P1080090By now my energy gauge was hovering around empty. We returned to the compound and as I walked back to the room to finally free myself from my ceremonial outfit, I passed this little fellow, down for the count.

P1080079 Alone at last, I unzipped the corset, untied and unwound the sarong, and let my stomach fall out into happy freedom. My lungs sucked in deep breaths of air. What a day you’ve had, Bapak. What an incredible day.

Next

PART THREE: Kick Ass Granny

The Dance of Demons and Ghouls

It’s 3:00 in the afternoon, still early, but I’m impatient. The air sizzles with excitement, and the methodical background of gamelan holds a promise of things to come. I grab my camera and head for Hanoman. I’ve been told the ogoh-ogohs are already lining up there. Last year I had no idea what to expect so I found a cafe by the street and waited for the parade to come to me. Not this time. I want to be at the starting line. I want to catch the action from its inception and merge with it, lose myself in it’s ferocious intensity.

Nyepi, the Balinese New Year, is a celebration like none other. For weeks leading up to Nyepi Eve, in villages all across Bali, young and old work feverishly creating mosters of enormous size and hideous countenance. Artistic genius is unleashed to create it’s worst nightmares. In parks, garages, and banjars a framework appears first. The next day it has a penis or two immense breasts clinging to it’s skeleton. Every night the gamelan players whip up a frenzy of sound to cheer on the workers. They have already done a full day’s work at their real jobs, but the driving music propels them to slave feverishly on into the night, building a fiend that will storm through the streets at dusk, restoring a peaceful balance to the energy of the island.

As I turn the corner from Dewi Sita onto Jl. Hanoman I catch sight of the first ogoh-ogoh.

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Suckling pigs are used as offerings for the more auspicious Hindu ceremonies. This particular dark spirit looks hungry!

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Notice the man standing to the left. Once the framework is hoisted onto the shoulders of an army of Balinese men, these statues do battle with the utility wires that span the streets.

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This one has fuzz by his toenails. Where does the inspiration for that come from?

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Remember the breasts I mentioned? The flimsy red skirt doesn’t hide much either.

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This dude is enormous. He has to be 20 feet tall, at least.

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The mammoth boar comes complete with sound effects. It’s either a recording or a human inside who may not be able to talk again for a week!

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The attention to detail is astounding.

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This team puts on a show! They twirl thier monster, dipping and swaying. They run forward then side to side making their diabolical looking golden buddha appear to be very much alive.

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King Cobra is even more stunning after dark. His head and entire body are outlined in lights. His eyes flash red and his mouth glows green.

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This one may be my favorite, although that screeching boar is pretty awesome!

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I want a skirt like this! Not the tail, just the skirt.

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A pack of tomorrow’s leaders sport special hair in honor of Nyepi.

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“My dad’s an artist too…!”

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Ogoh-ogohs surround the field that is filled with curious onlookers. Notice the mysterious little orbs floating about. My camera does not have a dirty lens. These only seem to appear when I’m taking photos in temples or at ceremonies. ?!

By dusk the teams and their ghouls have all arrived. Now it’s time for the real cacophany to begin hearalding the march to the cemetery where ritual burning of these sinister entities will ensue. One by one the gamelan that accompanies each team plays a frenzied percussian as their group exits the field. The crowd roars its approval while the players hammer out the complex sycopations. Just when I think it can’t get any better than this, the next gamelan begins, racheting up the volume, pulling out all the stops until the roar of the crowd and the ecstatic pounding beat drowns out the memory of anything else.

It is glorious. I walk home through streets, deadly quiet, contemplating the immensity of the moment. All of that, the pageantry, the noise, the hours of preparatory labor, is a grand performance to maintain the balance between good and evil. The Balinese don’t just make offerings to the high spirits. The eve of Nyepi is meant to wake up both the benign and the malignant so they will see the abundance presented on their behalf and be at peace for another year. It feels primal, and right for this place that sits so close to the equator that dark and light, both literally and figuratively, are in balance here.

The next morning I awake to the sounds of Ibu. I shuffle, sleepy-eyed, out of the bedroom, then scurry back for my camera. She has outdone herself. The offerings on this day are heaped with fruits and flowers.

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 She piles them on top of one another, sumptuous and bountiful. She is elegant in her temple clothes, but I know she has crossed a river where there is no bridge, and walked through the jungle to bring these gifts and bless my house today.  The incense drifts lazily in fragrant swirls. There are no planes overhead, no cars or motorbikes in the streets. Bali rests like a quiet green jewel in the blue sea. Any spirits who might be looking to make mischief will assume there are no inhabitants here and pass by.

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People who spend any time here will tell you that Bali is like nowhere else in the world.  If you have any doubt, come for Nyepi and see for yourself.  I find it irresistable, and the longer I stay the harder it is to imagine life anywhere else.

Dancing History, Dancing Memory, Dancing A Prayer

The entrance to the Water Palace was ablaze with light. Instruments of the gamelan glowed golden as they awaited the evening performance.

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We had been accosted by a man in a checkerboard sarong as we hurried toward the venue along Jl. Raya. “You see Lagong Dance at Royal Palace? You buy ticket from me. Only 80,000 rupiah.” I told him we were going to the Water Palace to see Gamelan, not the Royal Palace for Legong. “Yes, you go to Water Palace, Gamelan, you buy ticket from me, 80,000 rupiah.” He was walking sideways, ahead of us, earnestly explaining that the price was the same for us whether we bought tickets from him or at the gate. If we bought from him he would get commission.  There are many ways to make a buck in Bali, and that’s about what he made when we gave him our business.

Passing through the gate we strolled a pebbled walkway between two lotus filled pools and found a seat a few feet from the entrance to the palace. The air, heavy and moist, threatened rain. Those seated near us were speculating on the likelihood of that happening when the musicians filed in and took their places. There is a relaxed informality inherent in the Balinese alongside a dignified grace. The woman on the right checked her glasses, decided they were adequately clean, and repositioned them on her face. When all were seated a joyous and resounding instrumental introduction welcomed us to the performance.

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Gamelan is distinctly Indonesian. It is meant to be played outdoors. As one writer described it, “The open walls allow for the music to flow out into the community where the rest of the people may enjoy it. Inside closed rooms Balinese gamelan is inaudible and it easily trespasses the threshold of pain.” I have experienced it both ways and wholeheartedly agree that it must be played outdoors.

The instrumental introduction was followed by Puspa Wresti derived from the ceremonial Pendet dance. Young girls with bodies undulating disciplined and slow, shower the stage and the audience with flower petals. The flower offerings purify the temple or theater as a prelude to ceremonies. It is a ritual of welcome inviting the audience, and the spirits, to enjoy the delights of the performance. 

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The costumes, makeup, and artistry of the dancers held us entranced.
The movements of their hands and feet, arms and torsos, necks and heads, and even their eyes, were precise and provocative.
 

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The beautiful Bird of Paradise dance, Cendrawasih, followed. The complex choreography is designed to portray the arrogance of this magnificent creature, and the costuming reflects its glorious plummage. This sweet bird moved too quickly for the night setting on my camera to do it justice!

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No performance would be complete without the fierce Baris, glorifying the manhood of the triumphant Balinese warrior. The dance depicts the courage of a hero who is going to war. Once again the careful positioning of the feet, the impossible angles of the fingers, and the whites of the eyes tell the story.

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After the intense scariness of the Baris, it was time for the children to perform Kelinci, the Rabbit Dance! They came bouncing out all in white satin and floppy ears looking adorable. And they continued to bounce and playfully bat at each other executing their antics in orchestrated unison.

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Each performance was more exotic and technically brilliant than the one before. But at the end of the night I had a distinct favorite. The Panji Semirang tells the story of a young princess. When her husband marries another woman, the princess cuts her hair and changes her clothes pretending to be a man. She moves to the forrest with her servants. Granted, the Balinese men are gorgeous, but I don’t think anyone is going to mistake these beauties for handsome gents!

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Throughout the evening a light mist hung in the air, but no one noticed. The magic of sumptuous fabrics, intricate movements, and melodious gamelan kept us spellbound. These ancient stories have been danced for centuries, but they are more than mere entertainment. Woven into the artistry is a thread of reverent awe.  The performers are dancing history, and memory, and perhaps even prayer.

Deep Magic

The strangely discordant music of gamelan works in Bali. You can hear it emanating from open pavilions, raucously accompanying cremation processions, or drifting in soft tinkling waves on the humid night air. It is pure essence. It works because it is played in unconfined spaces with few or no walls to trap the cacophony. The cymbals, drums and the metallic keys of xylophones create an unparalleled din that is sucked up by the 100% moisture content of the atmosphere. Thereby muffled, blended, and slightly distilled it becomes dramatic background to weddings, cremations, and traditional ceremonies. It also accompanies the Legong, Barong, and a host of other dances performed by outrageously beautiful Balinese women and fierce, masked men.

But……when taken out of context, inserted into a bone dry climate, captured in a room with four walls and a ceiling, and visited upon ears that are tuned to Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and even an occasional Led Zeppelin or Johnny Cash, gamelan assaults. It is instant headache. With every cymbal crash each delicate Western nerve ending spasms. Foreheads furrow, brows knit, the polite, politically correct audience sits on its hands to keep from covering its ears. It won’t catch on here. I guarantee.

I love gamelan. Is it an acquired taste? Not really. As I said, it works in Bali. It celebrates the rich abundance of the island. Life there is lived outdoors in the color and heat of nature. Gamelan proclaims in sound, tangled jungles, volcanic peaks, curling breakers, black sand, pounding rain, relentless sun, terraced hillsides, and deep magic. The complexity of ritual supported and enhanced by gamelan music is the heartbeat of the Balinese people.

I have downloaded a gamelan CD to my itunes. When I’m not in Bali something in me craves that sound. When I know I’m alone and won’t disturb the sensitive ears of my Scandinavian roots, I crank up the volume. Lighting a stick of supa-dupa Balinese incense I close my eyes and sink into the mystery. The frigid temps and monochromatic landscapes of my childhood melt away. In moments I have a headache. But in those moments I’ve been strangely replenished, fed, revived. It’s powerful stuff, gamelan…deep magic.

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!”

Come to Bali…just do it!

I have been MIA on my blog for a few days but certainly not missing any of the action in here ! So let me bring you up-to-date.

I love this sunrise walk to yoga. There is Mt. Agung, all pastels in the morning stillness. The path is embellished with intricate stone mosaics and colorful flags mark the approach. What a privilege to be able to do a yoga practice in such meditative surroundings.

This morning I was the first to arrive. It is incredibly peaceful at this hour, but someone has already been here to place offerings. An hour and a half of breath and poses later, I’m energized and ready for the day.

Today its a trip to Ubud Palace. There are many palaces in Ubud. The families who ruled in the past now have no political power but their social status is still recognized by the Balinese people.

Puri Saren Palace

These intriguing moss covered doorways are everywhere and lead from one tranquil garden to the next.

Carved figures abound, big breasted beasts with horrid teeth, winged serpents…

and just plain scary monster types like this one!

This stage on the palace grounds is ready and waiting. The gongs and xylophone type instruments are used for the gamelan music heard everywhere in Bali.

The ceilings of the buildings are intricately carved.

The most important ones are painted gold.

And there is always another pair of beautiful doors.

Walking home I pass a school where the children are outside in their sweet uniforms.

My evening is a much different experience from the day’s activities. A kirtan performance led by world famous composer and kirtan leader, Dave Stringer is happening at the Yoga Barn. The group consists of musicians and instruments from all over the world. At least 100 of us walk the candlelight path through glades of bamboo and frangipani. Entering the open-air structure we climb the stairs. Yoga bolsters are spread in circular rows throughout the space and I choose one in the front toward the edge. For the next three hours we participate in call and response chanting in Sanskrit lead by Dave and accompanied by 10 incredible musicians. These things have to be experienced. A written account doesn’t do it. The sights, the sounds, the energy, the night, the fragrant air…come to Bali…just do it!

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