The Bali Blog. . .
I'm in Bali, Indonesia. Most travel writers and visitors have talked about the breathtaking vistas of royal blue sea rolling towards golden sand lined with coconut palms, but, I've already experienced beautiful views and more in my December visit to Goa, India, so I'm expecting more...
and, I'm not disappointed. Our first sightseeing trip is to the Uluwatu Temple. Without a doubt what makes Uluwatu Temple spectacular is it's cliff-top setting at the edge of a plateau 250 feet above the waves of the Indian Ocean. 'Ulu' means the 'top' or the 'tip' and 'watu' means a 'stone' or a 'rock' in Balinese. A small forest lies at the front and hundreds of monkeys dwell here. In the van leading upto the temple, our travel guide, Surya warns us to remove our sunglasses and put them away because the monkeys are notorious for snatching them. We're all aware of the antics of monkeys because they're a familiar sight in the temples in India where they roam at large. They're considered descendants of the Hindu monkey God, Hanuman and, traditionally enjoy a large measure of respect and indulgence, even veneration. So, we take his warning seriously and lock up our sunglasses.
Within minutes we realize Surya's warning was no empty threat. All visitors to Uluwatu are required to wear a sarong (available to rent for $2) to show their respect for the diety. We halt at the stall engrossed in tying the sarongs at our waists. Twenty yards away from us a young father sits on a retaining wall cradling his toddler in his arms. His sunglasses are perched on top of his head. Within minutes monkey has appeared, grabbed the sunglasses off his head, dangled them from his fingers in a catch-me-if-you-can moment and scampered away, before I can frame my camera lens on him.
"He didn't want to be featured as Indonesia's top 10 wanted monkeys," my husband, Tony quips.
The poor man whose sunglasses have been stolen is dumbfounded but can't do anything because monkeys are believed to guard the Uluwatu Temple from bad influences and are allowed to go about their business. We find more evidence of this as we proceed towards the holy shrine. A bolder, more brazen monkey has taken an elderly Asian woman's slipper and proceeds to tear it apart, while she looks on in tears. A small crowd of onlookers gathers. A loud gasp ensues when the monkey is done with destroying the woman's one slipper and then chases her around the courtyard, forcefully pulling the other slipper off her foot. The poor Chinese woman surrenders and the couple hastily retreat from the area, shaking their heads at this unprovoked aggression from the simian.
We proceed towards the temple, keeping a wary eye out for the prowling animals. The serpentine pathway to the temple is fortified by concrete walls on the cliff side. It takes about an hour to get from one end to another as there are several fenced points along the way to stop and savor the ocean views and the view from the bottom of the water surging up against the rocks.
Another popular attraction about the Uluwatu temple is the Ramayana and the fire dance show. The promotional blurb to the dance states that "every visitor to Bali should see at least once dance and if you plan to see only one, this should be it." I have to disagree. The one-hour performance relies hugely on the Ramayana and even though I'm familiar with the story, the dance itself is very basic and very busy. Those not familiar with the Ramayana epic will likely find the performance too confusing and too long; we noticed that people got up and left en-masse through the show. I would say go not for the dance itself but for the location. If you're seated at the right location (the top steps of the stadium facing the cliffside are the best) at least twenty minutes before the start of the show, the culture blends in with a panoramic view of the sunset, making it worth the visit.
Making our way back from the hotel we notice a local selling sunglasses at the exit of the temple parking lot. "He's traded the sunglasses for a banana from the monkey and that's how he's set up shop," my husband jokes. Yes, well, stranger things have known to happen!