North Bali is the new Lombok — it has all the natural charms of the more popular South but also has enormous appeal for those travellers fed up with south Bali's traffic and mass tourism. It is still authentic.
Last month I attended the Fourth Annual Tejakula Cultural Festival and toured the delightfully scenic far northeast coast of Bali, now reachable in under 90 minutes from Ubud via Kintamani and the new Kintamani-Tejakula road. There are over a dozen new reasonably-priced 'boutique retreats' which feature healthy food and get fit programs. I stayed at the Gaia-Oasis above Tejakula which is set in a vast mango plantation and surveys the North Bali Sea just below.
During my weekend on the North Coast I was lucky to catch the ‘Sabha’ festival at the BALIMULA village of Julah, a pre-Hindu village with unique architecture and traditions. I visited the nearby villages of Sembirenteng, Les and Bondalem (famous for it's ikat textiles) and discovered pockets of quite ancient architecture and friendly villagers.
For the water sports fans and nature lovers there are plenty of attractions too: the dive sites off Amed are just around the corner in Karangasem; there are many trekking guides spread through villages too.
North Bali's real attraction however is its lack of attractions: one can very easily spend hours in a hammock on a virgin beach watching fishing boats sail out from the next bay.
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Last month I also went to India for a meeting with the great-great-great-great grandson of the Zamorin (ruler) of Calicut who first ‘welcomed’ Vasco de Gama to India (Calicut) in 1498. I was ushered all over South India to look at potential campus sites.
The amazing thing about South India’s stunning new airports — Bangalore, Kochi and Chennai — is that, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the architecture and the interiors , the experience for the traveler as he steps out of the terminal building is just the same as it was in the Dark Ages. The airport authorities have thoughtfully provided the same level of decay and chaos — rampless egresses, cracked paths, cars deserted in the middle of pick-up zones, hundreds of milling ‘extras’ — as previously existed. It’s like an obstacle course for extreme travelers!
By chance I was in Kochi (Cochin) on Indian Independence Day and was lucky to witness all manner of processions and church services. At St. Joseph’s, Kochi, I saw a firebrand father raining verbal brimstones down on his docile flock, like you know who at the Nuremburg rally. Outside, on the street, school children processed past in the regional costumes of the Indian States, similar to Independence parades in Indonesia. Die-hards can watch the video I made: http://youtu.be/toD9fccTnnw
In Chennai the next day I happened upon a different sort of ritual — a trance ceremony to celebrate the end of Tamil Nadu’s month of Aati.
Under the broad branches of a rain tree, and next to a gaily-painted temple, a brightly-clad group of villagers were being whipped into a frenzy by a five-piece band and some priests.
The atmosphere was spooky but also quite clinical in the middle of an I.T. park: Brahman-bruiser aunties put the silk-clad youths through their paces, India is riddled with such surreal juxtapositions: cows in express lanes; stark bollocks naked holy men; pudding with pickles. Watch the video: http://youtu.be/QkKWvl1LENE
It is incredible, it’s but also quite exhausting. As a senior I need down time in Singapore-standard hotel rooms to get back my strength and sanity; the new Westin in Chennai is fabulous for that. It’s all neutral-colours and non-denominational. There are no cows in the lobby. The Spa technicians keep the folded towel below the knee. I feel for the young people still doing India on a shoe-string budget.
29 August 2013:
Today I am delivering a lecture on Islam-Majapahit architecture to the Australian Society for Asian Art and Architecture.
I was billed as “David Bowie’s gardener turned art historian.” They made me promise to perform my Condong Merokok, “to boost numbers”. Twenty are expected. I have been holed up all week at the University of Sydney’s fabulous Fisher Library (24 hours; open to public; pineapple donut vending machines in the basement), reading books which have along disappeared from my library in Bali.
Yesterday I was interviewed on SBS Radio Indonesia’s Culture Program. I explain how I have just about stopped making 14th century Majapahit ruinscapes — gardens I used to occasionally create for high-end hotels — as they seem to just want ‘culture neutral’ gardens these days. I told the interviewee, Miss Sri Dean, that this has not stopped my continued research into 14th Century Architecture and Gardens in Java. In fact, I explained that the creative energy I used to put into garden design is now channeled into research. The interviewer’s eyes glazed over after I said this. She paused for a second and then asked me what David Bowie was really like.
Amazingly last night at Ken’s Karate Klub in Kensington a young Javanese in the steam room recognized my voice from the radio program — I was reciting W.S. Rendra poems to the gathered gym-maryz — and asked me, as he laid a sweaty palm on my thigh, what David Bowie was really like.
I can’t imagine what other amateur archaeologists without ex-client celebrities talk about.
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On the whole Sydney was a refreshing break: it is still the best destination 7 hours from Jakarta, with the possible exception of Bhutan.
In Australia resident Indonesians now call themselves ‘diasporas’. I tried to explain tom my Indonesian friends in Sydney that this is a horrible bastardization of the English language. The diasporas, all told me to ‘shutta your face …….. we are Indonesians, we do things our way’.
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It is amazing how many erudite publications about Majapahit come out of Australia versus the few little pamphlets squeezed out here. All that colonialism plunder has born fruit.