After attending the wedding in Kuala Lumpur and a few relaxing days with friends at Langkawi, Swarup and I took off for Bali to join friends Milan and Nandini who had reached there a day before. Before going further I must extend a special 'thanks' to my friend Bunny (Sunil Jhaveri) who runs Dream Destinations and had not only planned our trip but had furnished us with a wealth of information and tips.

Mention the name Bali and one conjures up images of scenic beaches and night life, perfect for a holiday.  But Bali is all that and much more. This small island has old traditions and a lot of culture in central Bali which is in stark contrast to the sea-side places. Unfortunately, people miss out on these more interesting parts of the place which was evident in my conversations with people who had been to Bali. Typically they spent 2 to 4 days at the sea side hotels, unaware of places like Ubud and many other villages offering a rich and interesting culture.

Though Bali is a part of Indonesia, it's more like a province and has it's own government. The population comprises 85% Hindus whereas Indonesia's population has 87% Muslims. The main religion Agama Hindu Dharma  is different from the way it's followed in India it is a blend of Hindu, Buddhist and local beliefs. Unlike most Hindus they are not vegetarians and eat meat and fish.

Den-Pasar is the capital but Kuta & Seminyak are the hubs of activities offering sea sports, night life etc and are favourite tourist spots, especially with Australians because of its proximity.  After 9/11 Kuta was the target of two bombings by fundamentalists and tourist traffic suffered but things have settled down now although security measures continue to be high.

About half an hour away from Kuta is Nusa Dua which houses several hotels and is a safe place to stay. We stayed there for three days at the fantastic hotel Laguna Resort & Spa.  The hotel was spacious and had a big swimming pool with a lot of water ways and a couple of waterfalls too! The breakfast was the treat of the day and we spent the mornings on the pristine beach. The beach stretches a long way and as you walk you pass the other hotels, the promenade makes it a unique part of Nusa Dua. The several hotels do not have walls separating them and are separated by trees and gardens making it a very scenic place. The beach had the usual activities including a few locals selling trinkets and huge colourful kites. Adjoining the complex is Bali Collection, a nicely spread out place with shops and eateries.

The two temples, Uluwatu & Tanahlot are worth a visit. Uluwatu is at a little height and has a scenic panorama. It's also famous for it's monkeys! Visitors are warned to take off spectacles or sunglasses as the monkeys are experts at grabbing them and running off to the nearby tree. They sit there waiting for the owner to throw them nuts or bananas, as soon as that's done they throw down the glasses! We were 'lucky' to see such a spectacle (pun intended) when a monkey ran off with a lady's glasses! Tanahlot is at sea-level and is famous for it's topography and colourful sunsets. Unfortunately that day there was a low cloud cover so the sunset wasn't very clear but the colours were spectacular.

Our next stop was Ubud, a quaint town in central Bali and home to famous artists. The area surrounding Ubud offers breathtaking views of terraced rice paddies and gives an insight into rural Balinese village life. The distance from Nusa Dua to Ubud can be covered in 45 minutes but we took over four hours, stopping at various villages on the way.  Each village specialises in a certain craft; batik, wood and cane furniture, stone statues, jewelry, art etc., and it was an interesting way to learn their crafts and culture. Alila Ubud, where we stayed is a small hotel (56 rooms) housed in blocks at different levels. It's infinity swimming pool was lovely, overlooking the valley. ( ) During our four days stay we visited surrounding villages, took up river rafting, shopped and relaxed!

I love nature and it was a hot and humid day when & I ventured to go to the two parks: Taman Burung Bali Bird Park, (Singapadu, near Batubulan) and Bali Reptile Park. The ladies were busy shopping while Milan was taking it easy at the hotel. It was a 20-minute drive and by the time I reached, a slow but steady drizzle had started. Already sweaty I had no choice but to get wet from the outside too! My camera bag had a protective 'raincoat' which was a good thing, except that it made taking the camera out, taking pictures and putting it back after wiping the raindrops, a rather cumbersome task. The two parks, adjacent to each other, were very neat and clean. The Bird park was done up well and at times it was like walking through a forest. In fact, when I came out a lady stopped and sprayed some disinfectant on my legs as a precautionary measure! By the time I reached Bali Reptile Park, it had stopped raining, though most of that park was under cover anyway. The park guide took great interest in showing me different species of reptiles.  And it was quite an experience to hold a monitor lizard and iguana! As I was already wet, carrying a heavy load and was running out of time, I could not note down the names of the reptiles  I photographed the lovely animals but have named them from memory. The birds have been identified with the help of Punit. Thanks Punit! 

Another highlight of our trip was white-water rafting down the Ayung river. I have gone rafting twice in India (Teestha in Sikkim and Ganges near Rishikesh) but this was quite different. The river was narrower and flowed through a tropical forest. We had to maneuver a lot more as there were many rocks of all sizes. Unfortunately the cameras were stashed away in waterproof bags so have very few pictures to share. The ride included a buffet lunch by the river and it was a treat to have the special vegetarian fare made for us.

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