In Bali, like in Bombay, reclamation is an unhappy word. It sticks to your touristy conscience like the salty sea air as you see greed turn sea fronts into concrete corners. While good citizens of Bombay have bowed down to fate and builder might and moved on, in Bali, a punk rock band that calls itself "Superman Is Dead" has picked up the big fight. Band members are trying to save their island home through what they call the Tolak Reklamasi campaign that aims to stop the Teluk Benoa reclamation scheme in what is supposed to be a conservation area.
|Bali is a Hindu-majority island, with Buddhas and Ganeshas peeping at you from every other handicraft store and hotel billboard.|
In an interview to hellobali magazine, band members have said: “Bali is our home. Once it’s destroyed, we will lose our culture forever.”
Which would be a shame, because in Muslim-majority Indonesia, Bali is a Hindu-majority island (take note Modiji), with Buddhas and Ganeshas peeping at you from every other handicraft store and hotel billboard. Our tour guide Madhu (not a man’s name back in India, but who am I to ponder over such things in gender neutral times) tells us Balinese culture has prominent traces of Indian, Chinese, and particularly Hindu culture, beginning 1st century AD. The name Bali dwipa has been discovered from various inscriptions, including the Blanjong pillar inscription written by Sri Kesari Warmadewa in 914 AD.
We have to cut Madhu short. Who wants history lessons when you are spread out on a beach chair on the famous Kuta beach, nibbling on lobsters and giant crabs, watching an orange sun fall into the sea, as tired surfers end their battle with tricky waves. Bali is worth the big bucks spent on the tour for a sunset like this. This part of Bali, Kuta, once a fishing village, is now home to surfers and night revellers. Perhaps Indonesia’s most famous beach, Kuta is also called the Sunset Beach, and is lined by resorts, restaurants and clubs. The semi-luxury hotel we are staying in (no match to where someone like Vir Sanghvi would have stayed for free) offers standard pleasures like a swimming pool where you relax in the evening with a bottle of cheap local beer and talk coke and communism with the talkative firang from next room.
As night falls and the belly rumbles, we decide to give the hotel’s overpriced dining options a miss and step out to sample local offerings. We have been warned Bali food causes Bali belly, a condition that sends you running to the loo after you have had the very spicy local fare. But we are game for the whole spectrum of Bali cuisine, from the easy-to-digest to the untamed. An affable street vendor offers us a plate of beef curry, boiled rice and fried catfish. With a bottle of fruit beer to wash it down. We have had beef curry at Mahim and earlier in the shady bylane near Jamuna cinema hall in Kolkata. But nothing compares to what we are served in this tiny speck of an eatery on a semi-lit Kuta road.
What we do not try, and now so wish we had, is lawar. A traditional dish with finely chopped meat, vegetables, spices and grated coconut, with fresh animal blood sprinkled for added flavor! We are told even less courageous locals do not dare to put that meal into mouth. Plus, we have a long day ahead.
Day 2 is about grouping up with other tourists for temple hopping, volcano watching and coffee drinking at Ubud, the cultural hub of Bali. Legend has it the Tanah Lot Temple was built by a Majapahit high priest in 1489 to honour the Balinese sea gods. In order to quash the resistance he faced from the village priest, the good priest cast the large rock he was meditating on out to the sea, the very rock on which the temple now stands. Visitors aren’t allowed inside the temple grounds, the same apartheid perhaps that Somnath and other temples follow in India, but it is an incredible feeling to see the wide reach of the Hindu religion unaided by militant Hindutva.
The Kintamani volcano looks harmless from afar, but the highlight of the day has to be the sculptor’s village and the coffee plantation. We match men with scalpels and paintbrush turn tree trunks into laughing buddhas and dragon gods. But a bigger marvel is the luwak coffee. A small civet-like animal that lives in trees around the plantation eats red, ripe coffee cherry, bean and all. The bean gets fermented in its belly and when it shits it out, the still intact bean is collected, cleaned, roasted and ground. The result is one of the tastiest and most potent coffee in the world. Piku’s father would have approved.