Bali – a fragile beauty

So, why Bali? It wasn’t top of my must see list; the ‘big hitters’ of South East Asia holding more appeal. At 7816 miles distant from Glasgow it’s by some way the furthest I’ve ever travelled. Trip Advisor named it World Top Travel destination in March 2017 so there must be something in it, right?

Bali formed the second week of a two week trip, following on from three days in Singapore and a four night ‘mini cruise’ taking in Penang and Phuket. Particularly in view of the cruise being rather frenetic and noisy, the intent was mainly to relax on the beach but, having journeyed so far, a trip inland to gain a deeper understanding of the island was essential.

My expectation was of beautiful beaches and stunning inland jungle scenery, and on both fronts we were not disappointed. But at the same time it would be wrong to ignore some clear signs that Bali, like many of the world’s beautiful regions, is suffering from the ravages of human behaviour and disregard.

First to the positives. Nusa Dua beach hosts a range of hotels fronted by a golden sandy beach, a lovely spot to enjoy the warm sunshine with a cooling breeze to make relaxing more comfortable.

Our hotel was the Nusa Dua Beach resort. We were able to walk between the sands and each of the hotels and all are set up in similar fashion with lovely beachfront bars and restaurants, then the pool area with the main accommodation set back from the beach. Garden areas are lush and feature ponds and statuary to give a very individual Balinese look.

The wonderful service of the Balinese staff was a particular highlight of our stay. Being met by so many welcoming, smiling faces is infectiously uplifting. Their desire to be attentive and helpful is so obviously genuine. As I have before, I found myself wondering what visitors to Scotland make of the fact that so few of the staff they encounter in restaurants and hotels will actually be Scottish?

We had arranged a day trip inland to the area around Ubud to see some of the island’s sights. As we left the hotel we hit gridlocked traffic and spent an hour essentially going nowhere.

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However, eventually the traffic eased and as we climbed into the hills the scenery became gradually more attractive. First stop was Batuan temple. Catering for the needs of Bali’s overwhelmingly Hindu population, these temples with their distinctive architecture are found in every village.

Bali is famous for its arts and crafts and we enjoyed several stops to see woodcarving, batik, painting and silversmiths at work.

The highlight of the day was Ubud Monkey Jungle. Here the magnificent jungle scenery and temple buildings play host to families of monkeys which caper among the trees and venture down to capture food from the attentive staff. It was an amazing, beautiful and happy place.

As the morning wore on and we climbed still further the scenery became more magnificent, culminating in the splendid vistas over the rice paddy fields which to me are archetypal of south east Asia.

Lunch was taken at Kintamani in a scenic if windy restaurant with views over the volcano of Mt Batur and adjacent lake.

In the afternoon the weather closed in and we had a heavy thunderstorm but were able to continue our trip, finishing at Tengunugan waterfall as dusk fell.

At night we were entertained at an open air dinner by traditional Balinese music and dance. Characterised by precision and fine attention to detail the rhythms of music and dance are enchanting and mesmerising, drawing one into the allure of the islanders.

The following day we took a boat trip along the coast to a turtle sanctuary. On the way back we used the glass bottom to view the seabed with some fish and coral, but the latter was bleached and brittle and the whole scene somehow disheartening. Walking along the shore and also swimming in the sea we were aware of how much plastic is washing up on the beaches here. Much has been made recently of plastic destroying marine habitats, initially through David Attenborough’s magnificent ‘Blue Planet’. Sky news have championed a major awareness and action programme.

To me there is a real challenge to balance the right of us all to enjoy the beauty of places such as Bali with the responsibility beholden on us all to respect our environment. With ever cheaper travel it is no surprise to find congestion and pollution increasing in popular tourist destinations. Responsible, ecological ways of facilitating tourism must be developed and put in place before the beautiful pictures I have been able to take here become distant memories.

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