How to see the real Bali

Uluwatu temple in Bali

Do you like to go away on holiday? Silly question really and one that has occupied all of us as we attempt to come out of COVID isolation. A girlfriend had booked a holiday for three of us two years ago to celebrate a big birthday. Yes, those candles on the cake are running the risk of burning the house down. But we finally made it to both the celebration and the getaway.

Now I find myself in Bali soaking up the humid air. Yes, sorry Melburnians as you shiver through record cold mornings. I have escaped to the tropics, basking in the velvety air of a warm evening.

It is lovely and I am staying in a resort like so many other Aussies, with its buffet breakfast and swimming pool off our bedroom balcony, ready for me to rejuvenate my body with an early morning swim. I am pampered and fed and indulged but somehow it feels disconnected from the real world. I wanted more, some of the real Bali.

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So, we headed to a huge temple in Uluwatu, sited on a cliff top of gigantic proportions, sloping down to a raging surf coast. I realised then that it wasn’t just the Catholics who chose the highest point and best vantage for their temples.

We wandered through the hectares of the temple site, occasionally fearful of the local monkeys that have a reputation for harassing the tourists. Thankfully it was midday and the monkeys were mostly having a siesta. There was a sense of calm and history and a culture that reflected eons of Hinduism.

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Next on the list of activities was a local gallery, quite near our resort. It made the obligatory list of things to do but certainly was not touted by anyone near or far as being special.

But the art gallery was to die for.

I had heard, of course, of Gauguin and his stay in Tahiti and the beautiful works that he’d created but here in Bali was evidence of just as fine works of art by totally (to me) unknown artists. The Pasifika Gallery has room after room of major works by artists who all had some connection to Indonesia and in particular to Bali.

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Here were visions of the Balinese back in the late 1800s and early 1900s when it was probably as unspoilt a paradise as it could ever be. Dutch and French artists flocked here, the Dutch probably because it was one of their colonies at one stage, but others came perhaps on a whim or perhaps through some word of mouth from fellow artists acknowledging that they had found a little piece of heaven. The works cover portraits of early colonial types, dour and sombre, in clothes ill-suited to the climate, to magnificent portraits of young Balinese dancers and girls, innocent faces, impressionist works, portraits of beautiful women. Cleary some of the artists had fallen in love, their passion and devotion shown on the faces they so lovingly depicted.

Modern Indonesian art hangs there too, representing a new nationalism and desire to portray their culture both to their own people and to tourists. Sadly though, we had the gallery to ourselves, the only visitors that morning. It was a pleasure for us but this space needs to be shared. Tourism has yet to regain the pre COVID peak.

So, after you have had your Bintang beer and bought the T-shirt, make a visit to the Uluwatu temple and this fine gallery. They will not disappoint, and they may in fact be the highlights of your stay.

Have you seen the real Bali? Or do you prefer to relax and rejuvenate while on holiday? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Written by Dianne Motton

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