The mere mention of the word Bali invokes a sense of peace, a feeling of calm and a mood of tranquility. Known as the ultimate exotic location, the Island of the Gods is more than a place to go, see, do, eat and experience – it’s a spiritual place to just sit and “be.”
As a province in Indonesia and the Lesser Sunda islands, the popular tourist destination attracts some 10 million visitors a year. While rich in culture, tropical beauty, luxury beachside resorts and a haven for divers and surfers, there is so much more for those seeking a quieter laid-back and perhaps spiritual experience.
Spirituality is at the Balinese core as temples and meditation and yoga centers abound. Those seeking a getaway from the day to day grind can find serenity in the city of Ubud which was made famous in the best-selling book turned film Eat Pray Love. Tourists also flock to the small valley of Sideman, a 45-minute drive from Ubud (which in local dialect means medicine) where quiet meditative walks, massages and the vista of rolling hills and bright green rice fields (Tegalalang Rice Terraces are said to be filled with spiritual energy) await. Work on your yoga practice in an outdoor setting at Ubud’s Yoga House or Yoga Barn. Find enlightenment with a morning trek up the highest peak and holiest mountain known as Mt. Agung for a panoramic view of Bali at sunrise. Or find your inner Zen on one of the many secluded beaches (Sanur and Candidasa offer peace and quiet) and scenic tropical jungles, listen to the local traditional gamelan music or simply take in the sights and serenity of the diverse landscape.
Hinduism is the primary religion in Bali and ever present in a region that is also known as the Island of a Thousand Temples, 20,000 to be exact. No doubt you will see a temple ceremony or procession during your visit and plan to see one of the many fascinating temples during your stay, each one more unique than the next. One of the oldest is Gunung Kawi Temple (also known as Rocky Temple) which boasts ten ornate shrines carved in rock and considered one of the more unique archaeological sites.
Located on a cliff top and a favored spot for photographs, Uluwatu is perhaps the most picturesque and features traditional dance shows and legendary unobstructed views of the sunset. Besakih Temple is considered the oldest and holiest temple (some 23 in all). Tanah Lot is also popular due to its offshore location and the place to be when the sun sets. Known as the “elephant cave “and built as a meditation site as far back as the 11th century, Goa Gajah in Ubud boasts stone relics, meditation spaces, and an ancient bathing pool. If it’s architecture you are interested in, do not miss the 17th century Taman Ayuh Temple which features classic Balinese Hindu temple designs. No doubt you will recognize the towering tiers that make up the iconic architecture along with lotus and fish ponds, tropical gardens and classic reliefs in the Mengwi village. And speaking of lotus ponds, the Pura Taman Saraswati water temple in central Ubud is a favored landmark and honors the Hindu goddess of knowledge and arts, Saraswati.
When visiting the temples of Bali, be sure to respect the local customs and dress modestly (both women men should wear clothing that covers up your shoulders and knees). Women will want to don a long sarong (kain kamben) around their legs and a temple scarf (selendang) tied at the waist. Some temples include a sarong and a sash as part of the entrance fee. Be mindful of the canangs (offerings) that are present at the base of Bali’s statues left for the Gods each morning. And last but not least, keep your distance from the seemingly adorable and inquisitive food-seeking monkeys that are clever, fast on their feet and not above stealing your hat, sunglasses, camera or cell phone!