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The original world nomad "Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance." - Confucius.

Outrageously scenic

INDONESIA | Thursday, 11 January 2007 | Views [4457]

The slice of blue that is the endangered Balinese Kingfisher.

The slice of blue that is the endangered Balinese Kingfisher.

The day starts with a flash of blue slicing past the coconut palms outside our veranda that overhangs the stream. A distinct ccreeeee-ccreee of the Balinese kingfisher heralds its presence each morning but we only catch glimpses of blue, orange and white wing-tips.

Our room has no air-conditioning, nor should it. Clever design ensures cool breezes off the rice paddies, ensures a most comfortable climate, far superior and infinitely preferable to the simply 'cool' of air-conditioning.

North of Semarapura (Kling-kung) an outrageously scenic road meanders east around the flanks of the Gunung Agung volcano. We were fortunate in choosing a day that started and stayed clear all day so the volcano remained displayed in all its glory, providing a phenomenal backdrop to the pretty rice terraces and villages.

Gunung Agung last exploded in 1963, and, according to our driver, on exactly the same day as a very special festival that is held only once every 100 years in these parts. No wonder the Balinese are superstitious.

It killed thousands, most people fled and this area was rendered uninhabitable with large parts covered in thick volcanic lava. When the people eventually returned to their home area presumably some years later, they fatalistically and methodically simply hacked their way through the cold lava back to the land and their fields. The task must have seemed impossibly daunting as 43 years later there are still huge piles of 0.5m square blocks of lava still lying around in well ordered heaps. Not known to waste anything, small teams groom the stone for building cladding, which is apparently now valuable and expensive.

Damming the open sewers that run down the sides of the street in the small dusty town south of Gianyar, the male youth were in the middle of a huge water fight. Standing well clear, we really didn't want to get splashed let alone a soaking ... but perhaps the locals are immune to it. The main streets are transformed into a throng of vibrancy for a cremation ceremony and in Bali that means colour, noise and excitement.

Teenage boys cling (or are tied) to effigies of either black or white bulls (depending on the caste of the deceased) and the boys we saw looked decidedly terrified and they clung on to the bulls that were being hoisted high and charged around the town.

The body is presented in a colourful tower that is carried through the streets by the team of young (wet) men and their job is to confuse the spirit of the deceased so they can't find their way home and they do this by charging around and making a terrific din. These towers are quite tall, perhaps 5 metres or more and the mains power cables around the town are probably strung at about 4 metres. If the team charge off down a side street with their tower in tow, they simply prod it with a large bamboo pole until it is sufficiently high enough for the tower to pass underneath. It doesn't seem to occur to anyone that being soaked to the skin and prodding the mains electricity supply for the town might add significantly to the number of people being cremated.

But alas, the processions started at noon, the hottest time of the day, and by 2pm both we and our boys were weary, burnt and thirsty so we gave the actual cremation part a miss as the teams with their towers headed off to the local cemetery.

Way to go!

Tags: adventures, bali, ceremony, culture, death, family, festival


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