Pura Tirta Empul in Ubud Bali

Choosing Bali for its culture

When I heard Bali for the first time I thought of sandy beaches, surfers and palm trees. Like many I believe. Then I arrived, I saw the surfers, the palms and the beautiful sea but they exist in many places and I tried something else. Based in Ubud, I tried to take the road less traveled, to discover something more deep of this beautiful island, made not only of the things above but also of terraced rice fields and huge and colorful flowers, a different Bali that has open in front of my eyes and in this moment I have realized that the real reason why people should come to Bali, should be for its exceptional culture.

Bali is known to be frivolous and spiritual, known to be economical and expensive, known to be intimate and noisy. It can be everything and the opposite of everything, depending on what you are looking for. What I can assure you is a constant that has characterized the entire trip on this beautiful island: the sweetness of the Balinese population. The Balinese are among the most hospitable people I have ever met on my travels. They welcome you with a smile, they are patient, they make you feel at home.

Balinese history is very old, deeply different from that of the rest of Indonesia as there are different people. The culture of the island is based on symbiosis with nature, people live in respect of their surroundings and even religion, Balinese Hinduism, a form of Hinduism modified by geography and time, is much more linked to spirituality than almost all the great religions are.

Of course, there are the symbols, the gods, the offers but the whole does not have a pyramidal shape, with religion at the top. A local guide explains the meaning of the swastika, the sacred symbol of Hinduism, in fact the swastika is a common and prominent symbol in the temples of Bali. A symbol still associated only with death and evil in the West, in traditional Hindu and Buddhist cultures the swastika still retains its 5000-year-old heritage meaning of auspiciousness, good fortune and to evoke the sacred force, shakti (particularly when used in this right-facing form). For  Balinese the arms of the swastika represent the gods, the nature (the two side arms) and the man. These three elements must be combined to form a wheel, without one of these the mechanism does not work.

Ubud is the cultural hub of the island: here, every year a festival of literature and exhibitions of international art takes place, it is a very lively and relatively touristic which however remains faithful to tradition. In Ubud you can find the famous Ubud Monkey Forest that I recommend to visit, especially to those who have never seen a monkey up close. The forest itself is a breathtaking sight: centenarian trees, giant orchids and small temples hidden in nature, absolutely beautiful. Then there are the monkeys, who live in this forest because of the fact that for centuries they have been hunted by rice paddies (a monkey alone can destroy the harvest of the season in a few minutes) and for the tourists from whom they can get the bananas they are greedy. Here, the monkeys are very greedy and it is not uncommon for them to come near you, spontaneously, to pick up a banana from your hand.

From the center of Ubud with a motorbike or a driver you can easily reach many attractions. In fact, if you start climbing the hill, the road that opens up will be extraordinary. In fact, the island shows you its magnificence, the emerald green of the rice fields (UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the extremely effective and sustainable irrigation system) contrasts with the bright colors of the farmers’ clothes and it is punctuated from gray temples in honor of Devi Sri, the god protector of the harvest. Everything is beautiful, you could spend the rest of the holiday looking around yourself and still experience a fantastic experience.

Goa Gajah

Not far from Ubud, there is another little gem: Goa Gajah Temple, also called Elephant Cave. Instead, it is necessary to grind more kilometers to reach the Pura Tirta Empul (picture on top), the temple that also has an area where you dive into the water. It is an epic but definitely crowded place. To enter these two temples, as in most Balinese temples, you have to wear the sarong, a cloth that is wrapped around the waist and knotted.

A beautiful place that I will bring into my heart is the Ulun Danu Temple on Lake Beratan. It is perhaps the image of Bali that I had kept in my mind for years and I could not leave Bali without reaching it and admiring it live. Dewed to the water god Dewi Danu, it almost seems to float on the water. This wonderful temple is about two and a half hours from Ubud and is usually surrounded by a mysterious mist but you might be lucky and see it in the clear sky.

Ulun Danu Temple

A custom note that I think will be useful is that the Balinese always eat alone and in silence, this is a very difficult thing to understand for us Westerners, but they claim that the food should be enjoyed without being disturbed by bad news, so do not ask the locals to have lunch or dinner with you. Also in large cities and restaurants in Asia, and certainly in Bali, it is a sign of respect to leave some food on the plate to show that we enjoyed the meal and that what has been offered there has satisfied.

Finally, I had very high expectations and I must admit that the Bali that I wanted to meet has fully met my expectations. I wanted to avoid the classic clichés and I succeeded but I immediately perceived the diversity of this island compared to others; different because the island itself is full of oxymorons and traveling from north to south (or vice versa) the contrast is absolutely evident.

Where to Stay

Nandini Bali Jungle Resort & Spa Ubub is a dreamy destination located on the slopes of the Ayung River Valley in Indonesia’s most famously tranquil region. This opulent resort simply presents Balinese village which is constructed with finest materials on raw nature of forest where descending forested river gorge beneath. Concealing an oasis of luxury and serenity, these five star villas are nestled in natural terraced landscaped connected with winding paths and exclusive monorail. Located amid the raw nature of forest, rice terraces and banana clusters, perched in the hillside of Ubud above of the river flowing serenely, you can enjoy this paradise however you want to. Relax with a book amid palm trees and frangipanis, do some laps in the hillside swimming pool or soothe yourself in an outdoor Jacuzzi. You can also take full advantage of the resort’s restaurant and Spa with tempting massage pavilions. Amidst in the valley, 18 traditionally built alang-alang roofed villas are melted on a slope, allowing each stay in an experience of luxury, exclusivity and sophistication. All rooms of Nandini Bali Jungle Resort & Spa are designed with the traditional Balinese influence, with thatched-roof buildings using local materials and build by local architects. There’s an infinity swimming pool excavated from the hillside and elevated 15 meters above the descending forested river beneath. It is an heaven where to relax after a day in excursion or just to take your time during your relaxing stay.

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