This short trip to Bali presented a set of varied and interesting experiences. I had heard from friends and family about the quaint Balinese worship rituals and sure enough, the carved stone statues and beautifully decorated offerings to the Gods and demon spirits were everywhere. So was the tourist-oriented commerce with its plethora of souvenirs and knick-knacks, though the large number of designer clothing and accessory stores with high quality products and tasteful displays were the icing on the cake during our sojourns through Seminyak and Kuta. And, of course, there was the glorious sea!
We had done little advance planning for this trip, and I had the sense of floating from experience to experience over the three days we were in Bali. And because we had known each other so long, we were able to laugh at the imperfect decisions just as well as we savored the ones that turned out well. Which is just as travel ought to be, spontaneous and rich in detail, and stress free to boot! Presenting a set of small stories from our Bali sojourn….
The kindness of strangers
Bali offered us the perfect escape into anonymity, allowing us to have a reckless element to our capers on the beach. One evening, a couple of us were caught in strong currents and taken a tad further out to see than we had anticipated. Reaching the shore rather breathless (and a bit shaken) after a strenuous swim back, we were touched to find that the man from whom we were renting our deck chairs was already in the water, genuinely concerned for us and ready to get help!
Laughing at ourselves
One night, we ventured into Kuta to sample the nightlife and got lost trying to walk our way to Hard Rock Hotel. Now this is hard to do in Kuta, which is small and linear, but clearly we have talent! After resorting to an exorbitant cab ride to get to our destination, we caught the last one and a half songs of a talented rock band at Centrestage, in Hard Rock Hotel. After the band wound up and we downed the drinks we had hastily ordered, we moved to Hard Rock Café, only to find that the live band there, the one producing screechy noises in a language that was hard to identify, was also on its last song. And so, much amused by our pathetic attempts to enjoy Kuta’s nightlife, we spent a few silent and awestruck moments on the beach, watching the bright moon and sparkling stars reflected in the rhythmic waves, before heading back to the hotel.
For happy senses, go to the local Warungs
With two vegetarians in our midst, one of them prone to a number of allergies, we were slightly skeptical about food. We need not have been. We delighted in the local Warungs (equivalents of dhabas in India) as well as the streetside cafes and restaurants we found. The Warungs specialised in local Balinese and Indonesian food. Our first meal, in the tiny Warung opposite our hotel, was chosen from a limited menu but was deliciously prepared, happily customised and served with side dishes of conversation and friendliness! My favourite meal in Bali it was. Warung Ocha in Seminyak allowed you to pick what you wanted from a buffet and the most tasteful dishes were the salads and veggie stir fries.
There’s also a lot to be said for the highly developed sense of aesthetics in Bali and the sinple Warungs capture this well. In Ocha, the landscaping and interplay of indoor and oudoor spaces would put most high-end restaurants to shame! Warung Damar in Kuta was more upmarket and the beef redang and veggie gado gado were memorable. Dinner at La Sal, the Spanish eatery down the road, with its sense of space, stood out for its careful preparation and assembly.
Unexpected celebrity status
That Indian cinema is popular worldwide is not news. Two young girls who offered us a share of the their offerings at Tirta Empul giggled about Salman Khan and Shahrukh. But we were all rather surprised that soap operas from Indian television seemed to really capture the Balinese imagination.
Wayan, our taxi driver for the day trip we took to Mount Batur, had me down as his contact person. Even as we discussed how common his name was in Bali, he expressed how delighted he was to have met a person called Mukta in person! Now this was a bit strange, as mine isn’t a particularly common Indian name. He murmured something about Mukta being a character in a daily Hindi soap called Utaran that he watched (dubbed in Bahasa, of course). At the buffet lunch we ate that day, our server Putu (another common name in Bali), was ecstatic when I introduced myself. She beckoned to her friends in excitement, pointing to me and saying “Mukta Rathore, Mukta Rathore…” once again referring to the character in the soap. I sure did not expect to be a celebrity in Bali!
For a long time, I’ve had this idea of having bi-monthly outings for family and friends. And the past few years, I’ve steadily worked to bring the idea to fruition, though the frequency has been far lower than desired! These outings are meant to be opportunities to experience our city and what it has to offer from the point of view of culture, open spaces and architecture, especially heritage.
Today, we trekked to the National Gallery of Modern Art to see ‘Project Cinema City’. Of course, going to Jaipur House, where NGMA resides, is a wonderful roller coaster through the best landmarks of Lutyens Delhi. The Rashtrapati Bhavan and the North and South Blocks, then India Gate are always a treat. Bathed the special light of monsoon, they looked particularly inviting.
The exhibition itself was a wonderful kaleidoscope of experiences. My kids have been dragged to exhibitions before and while Udai is a patient child and truly enjoys art, Aadyaa is much more restless and needs a bit more engagement. This time, I needn’t have worried. The display was wonderfully interactive and innovatively done. Sound, light, movement, color were all used to create a wonderful correlation between all the visual arts- cinema, fine art, architecture, sculpture, photography- against the backdrop of the theme, which intended to study the effects of cinema on the city and how we experience it. The children particularly enjoyed being able to turn a wheel and make a film reel of images move, thereby being able to enlarge specific images at will. They also enjoyed the bit where they could sit atop an exer-cycle and view their self-image on a screen in front, with an exciting backdrop that kept transforming as they pedaled! What’s more, they could change camera angles using a switch and it gave them a wonderful feel of how a cinematic projection can be created and how exciting that process can be! Old telephone instruments on which you could hear recordings of dialogue and song specially put together for this project, recordings that conjured specific themes or eras in Indian cinema. Posters that can make you roll with laughter, though a few were too debauched for the kids to grasp, thank God!
The icing on the cake, as usual, is the wonderful green space outside which doubles up as a sculpture garden. While Nupur and Amma did a quick round of the museum’s permanent collection, Rahul and me watched the kids chase birds, watch ants and centipedes and run around the lawns, every now and then stopping to peer at one or the other metal or stone sculpture. Expressions ranged from puzzled to amused, indifferent to amazed.
A wonderful trip and one that the kids will remember and cherish, I am sure. I hope to do many more such trips with more people joining in. I believe the Delhi NCR region has so much to offer, we should sieze that opportunity and enjoy the explorations with our children so that they grow to be culturally sensitized, with a strong sense of identity. To me, that is a critical attribute that really sets a person apart!
Here are some pics I took today. You can see we had fun!