21 February 2011
Bali: Head into the Hills
Board your bike and arrive at Ubud, Bali's 'cultural capital', in style.
The jungle-covered uplands of Bali are a world away from the beaches that line the island's coast. The artists' village of Ubud, home to the hideaway resort of Ubud Hanging Gardens, is only a 90-minute drive from the sands of oceanside Jimbaran Puri Bali, but couldn't be more different. Travel to Ubud by helicopter if time is precious - but the best way to arrive, and thereby really experience Bali, is to pedal there by bicycle.
Transports of DelightCycling is not the only way to explore the forests and rice terraces around Ubud. Other ways are by horse, open top safari jeep, quad bike, river raft and private elephant.
First, from Jimbaran you drive for two hours just beyond Ubud to Mount Batu, taking what is unquestionably the scenic route. After a lazy breakfast in a hill-top cafe overlooking lakes, smoking volcanoes and moon-like lava fields, it's time to take to two wheels.
From here, you double back: it is downhill most of the way, along tracks and back roads with little traffic. It's fascinating to watch people heading into the temples as you cycle through the villages, waving to farmers in fields and swapping smiles with children returning home from school. Paddy fields are still cultivated by hand and families live in traditional compounds each with their own small shrine where offerings of flowers, rice cakes and fruit are laid.
Bali is a truly spiritual place, with some 20,000 temples, mostly dedicated to the island's rich blend of Indian Hinduism, Buddhism and animism. The latter tradition holds that rocks, trees - indeed almost anything - could house spirits whose energy can be directed for good or evil. And so temple statues often depict special guardians to keep bad influences away.
Ubud Hanging Gardens is the perfect place to recover from your exertions. This jungle haven has been built on wooden stilts sunk into the valley's steep slopes, so seems to hover in the surrounding vegetation as if by magic. Manmade gardens mingle with the area's natural trees, big-leafed plants and flowers, as if verdant nature is barely being kept at bay. It's all so vibrant you can almost watch the healthy green shoots growing, and the pool villas where guests stay are almost invisible, peeking out of thick vegetation. No wonder Ubud is famous for the healing properties of its plants.
From almost anywhere though, you can look across to the opposite flank of the steep valley and see the beautiful Pura Penataran Dalem Segara, a temple whose architecture is cleverly mirrored in that of the resort. Such a blissful ambience lends itself perfectly to the gentle practice of yoga, meditation or pampering treatments at the Ayung Spa, or a simple soak in the infinity pool.
First ClassUbud is a great place to learn something new. Join a class in local Balinese cookery, dance, music, painting or massage; discover flowers and plants on a botanical walk, learn to identify tropical birds and animals.
Like the best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert, you might visit a healer while you're in Ubud - the name comes from the Balinese word ubad, or medicine, after the local herbs and plants used to treat ailments. Or you could just retreat to the terrace of your villa and let the calming atmosphere of Ubud Hanging Gardens work its own wonders on your soul.
By Wendy Gomersall, who writes on travel for a wide range of UK publications
What were your discoveries in Ubud?