Monday, May 27, 2013

21 Days in The Kingdom: Part II - Road Trip to Nirvana

The alarm sounds at 3am. Aaarrrggghhh. It's time to rise, throw myself under the shower, dress, inhale a cup of strong coffee and stumble through darkness and sleeping village streets to the central corner fronting the Royal Palace. The air is cool & damp and the only sounds are those of crickets, croaking bullfrogs and the occasional motorbike. 

Mr. T, Edi & Abi arrive a few minutes later. Climbing into the giant SUV, we aim the car towards the mountains high above the island's northern coast. Our first destination is a remote mountain village situated on the shores & shallows of a volcanic mountain lake - Tamblingan. It is still dark when we arrive. Already, there are a handful of local photographers jockeying for position. They are friendly and welcome us... quickly comparing gear and chatting in hushed tones. To our right, the silhouette of the temple and it's many tiered mehrus can be seen against the faint light of dawn climbing from behind the surrounding mountains. 

Small dugout canoes line the shore, along with the ruins of a few homes abandoned after heavy rains swelled the lake waters and flooded the area. Our crew wanders thru marshes looking for positions to best greet the sunrise as the first hints of dawn color creep over the ridges in the distance.

Mist rises from the still lake waters, shrouding surrounding mountains ridges. A film crew arrives... this spot is becoming popular with happy asian couples as a location to shoot "pre-wedding" video. They clamor into small canoes and paddle out to a raft in the center of the lake. We continue to tramp through the mud & marsh as the water becomes a mirror reflecting the sky & surroundings.

The sounds of a village coming awake echoes off the water... roosters crowing, the barking of dogs and the chatter of children. The light here is magnificent. I wander over towards the shacks lakeside just as a woman is bringing baskets of fighting cocks to air in the sun along the path fronting her home.

A few sleepy-eyed children emerge, curious about our group. Mr. T talks with them, makes a few photographs and then hands them each a  2000rp note. The children smile enthusiastically at their sudden luck.

After a while, we climb back into the car and wind back down the mountain, stopping for breakfast at an odd restaurant of dutch architecture with whitewashed walls, blue shutters and a manicured, european style garden. The building feels completely out of place here but the food is good and the service friendly & efficient.

By mid- morning, we are winding thru terraced rice paddies, lush & green as far as the eye 
can see. This is the area known as Jatiluwih.

Continuing on, our next destination is the Pasar Candikuning, the vibrant marketplace in the mountain village of Bedugal. Here, we stop to purchase fresh vegetables to leave as gifts with priests and friends we plan to visit later in the day. The market is humming and the crowded stalls brimming with every imaginable type of locally grown fruit & vegetable, exotic spices, and local handicrafts. This market is especially known for it's strawberries grown nearby and we leave with the rear storage area of the car bursting at the seams.

Next stop... the mountain temple Pura Luhur Petali. The temple priest, or Mangku, is a close friend of Mr. T.  Here, we watch as Mr. T, who is also a renown Mangku, prepares small offerings of flowers & palm leaf, bits of rice, Ritz crackers and incense to place upon the altar. Our group then sits, cross-legged, before the altar to pray, as the resident Mangku bestows a blessing on each of us and dowses us with holy water. Before taking our leave, we drop off some of the booty purchased earlier at the market with the temple mangku.

Later in the afternoon, we head towards the Regency of Tabanan. Here, we drop in on the family compounds of friends of Mr. T. We are greeted warmly and offered drinks of hot water and banana, coffee, fruit and balinese pastries. Mr. T introduces me to two brothers, men who are strong trancers... meaning that they are prone to being used by the Gods as vessels in which they communicate their wishes and advice to the village. I am invited to ask questions about their trance experiences, Mr. T translating when my feeble grasp of the language fails me. The men answer my questions thoughtfully and seems surprised by my interest. We sit informally on their covered bales while other assembled family members chat & joke and express their curiosity about this foreigner who has suddenly appeared in the company of their priest.

Soon, the light begins to fade and nightfall surrounds us as we leave them with bags brimming with vegetables purchased earlier & take our leave. Speeding down rough mountain roads, heading back to Ubud where we meet Adi & the Missus at the home of old friends Roy & Eri for an amazing feast of smoked & spiced balinese chicken, corn fritters, green beans with greens, red rice and deliciously hot sambal pastes. The meal is concluded with Eri's homemade cheesecake. 

A full day, a full belly and we head back to our lodgings for sleep.

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