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Bali Guide

About Bali

Bali, the famed Island of the Gods, with its varied landscape of hills and mountains, rugged coastlines and sandy beaches, lush rice terraces and barren volcanic hillsides all providing a picturesque backdrop to its colourful, deeply spiritual and unique culture, stakes a serious claim to be paradise on earth. With world-class surfing and diving, a large number of cultural, historical and archaeological attractions, and an enormous range of accommodations, this is one of the world's most popular island destinations and one which consistently wins travel awards. Bali has something to offer a very broad market of visitors from young back-packers right through to the super-rich. 

With reputation of beeing one of the most beautiful and diverse tourist spots in Asia, Bali annualy attracts almost 7.000.000 visitors from around the world.

Geographically Bali is situated between the islands of Java and Lombok. Bali is small, stretching approximately 140 km from west to east , and 80 km from north to south.

The tallest of a string of volcanic mountains that run from the east to the west is Gunung Agung , which last erupted 1963.

Located just 8 degree south of equator, bali boasts a tropical climate with just two seasons( wet and dry) a year with an average temperature of around 30 degree Celcius.

Cities

  • Denpasar — a bustling city, the administrative centre and transport hub of the island but not a major tourist destination
  • Candidasa — a quiet coastal town, the Bali Aga and gateway to the east coast
  • Kuta — surfer central, by far the most heavily developed area in Bali. Lots of shopping and night-life and the centre of lower-end party culture on Bali
  • Jimbaran — sea-side resorts, a nice sheltered beach and seafood restaurants south of Kuta
  • Legian — located between Kuta and Seminyak; also the name of Kuta´s main street
  • Lovina — beautiful black volcanic sand beaches and coral reefs
  • Sanur — sea-side resorts and beaches popular with older families
  • Seminyak — quieter, more upscale beachside resorts and villas just to the north of Legian, with some fashionable upscale restaurants and trendy designer bars and dance clubs
  • Ubud — the centre of art and dance in the foothills, with several museums, the monkey forest and lots of arts and crafts shops

 

  The Balinese have strong spiritual roots and despite the large influx of tourists over the years, their culture is still very much alive.

The main religion is agama Hindu Dharma .which although originally from India is comprised of a unique blend of Hindu, Budhist , Javanese and ancient indigenous beliefs.

It is very different from the Hinduism practiced in India today. Naturally creative

The balinese have traditionally used their talents for religious purposesand most of the beautiful work to be seen here has been inspired stories from the Ramayana and other Hindu Epics

    

History

The first Hindus arrived in Bali as early as 100 BC, but the unique culture which is so apparent to any current day visitor to Bali hails largely from neighbouring Java, with some influence from Bali's distant animist past. The Javanese Majapahit Empire's rule over Bali became complete in the 14th century when Gajah Mada, Prime Minister of the Javanese king, defeated the Balinese king at Bedulu.

The rule of the Majapahit Empire resulted in the initial influx of Javanese culture, most of all in architecture, dance, painting, sculpture and the wayang puppet theatre. All of this is still very apparent today.

The very few Balinese who did not adopt this Javanese Hindu culture are known today as the Bali Aga ("original Balinese") and still live in the isolated villages of Tenganan near Candidasa and Trunyan on the remote eastern shore of Lake Batur at Kintamani.

With the rise of Islam in the Indonesian archipelago, the Majapahit Empire in Java fell and Bali became independent near the turn of the 16th century. The Javanese aristocracy found refuge in Bali, bringing an even stronger influx of Hindu arts, literature and religion.

Divided among a number of ruling rajas, occasionally battling off invaders from now Islamic Java to the west and making forays to conquer Lombok to the east, the north of the island was finally captured by the Dutch colonialists in a series of brutal wars from 1846 to 1849. Southern Bali was not conquered until 1906, and eastern Bali did not surrender until 1908. In both 1906 and 1908, many Balinese chose death over disgrace and fought en-masse until the bitter end, often walking straight into Dutch cannons and gunfire. This manner of suicidal fighting to the death is known as puputan. Victory was bittersweet, as the images of the puputan highly tarnished the Dutch in the international community. Perhaps to make up for this, the Dutch did not make the Balinese enter into a forced cultivation system, as had happened in Java, and instead tried to promote Balinese culture through their policy of Baliseering or the "Balinisation of Bali".

Bali became part of the newly independent Republic of Indonesia in 1945. In 1965, after the failed coup d'etat which was allegedly backed by the Communist Party (PKI), state-instigated, anti-communist violence spread across Indonesia. In Bali, it has been said that the rivers ran red with the reprisal killings of suspected communists—most estimates of the death toll say 80,000, or about five percent of the population of Bali at the time.

The current chapter in Bali's history began in the seventies when intrepid hippies and surfers discovered Bali's beaches and waves, and tourism soon became the biggest income earner. Despite the shocks of the terrorist attacks in 2002 and 2005, the magical island continues to draw crowds, and Bali's culture remains as spectacular as ever.

Culture

Unlike any other island in largely Muslim Indonesia, Bali is a pocket of Hindu religion and culture. Every aspect of Balinese life is suffused with religion, but the most visible signs are the tiny offerings (canang sari, or sesajen) found in every Balinese house, work place, restaurant, souvenir stall and airport check-in desk. These leaf trays are made daily and can contain an enormous range of offering items: flowers, glutinous rice, cookies, salt, and even cigarettes and coffee! They are set out with burning incense sticks and sprinkled with holy water no less than three times a day, before every meal. Don't worry if you step on one, as they are placed on the ground for this very purpose and will be swept away anyway (But you better not stepping one on purpose, because - as Balinese belive - it'll give you bad luck!).

Balinese Hinduism diverged from the mainstream well over 500 years ago and is quite radically different from what you would see in India. The primary deity is Sanghyang Widi Wasa (Acintya), the "all-in-one god" for which other gods like Vishnu (Wisnu) and Shiva (Civa) are merely manifestations, and instead of being shown directly, he is depicted by an empty throne wrapped in the distinctive poleng black-and-white chessboard pattern and protected by a ceremonial tedung umbrella.


An empty throne of Sanghyang Widi Wasa, with poleng cloth and tedung umbrella, Ubud

The Balinese are master sculptors, and temples and courtyards are replete with statues of gods and goddesses like Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice and fertility, as well as guardians and protecting demons like toothy Rakasa, armed with a club. These days, though, entire villages like Batubulan have twigged onto the tourist potential and churn out everything imaginable from Buddhas to couples entwined in acrobatic poses for the export market.

Balinese dance and music are also justly famous and a major attraction for visitors to the island. As on neighbouring Java, the gamelan orchestra and wayang kulit shadow puppet theatre predominate. Dances are extremely visual and dramatic, and the most famous include:

  • Barong or "lion dance" — a ritual dance depicting the fight between good and evil, with performers wearing fearsome lion-like masks. This dance is often staged specifically for tourists as it is one of the most visually spectacular and the storyline is relatively easy to follow. Barong dance performances are not hard to find.
  • Calonarang — a spectacular dance which is a tale of combating dark magic and exorcising the evil spirits aligned with the witch-queen Rangda. The story has many variations and rarely are two calonarang plays the same. If you can find an authentic Calonarang performance, then you are in for a truly magical experience.
  • Kecak or "monkey dance" — actually invented in the 1930s by resident German artist Walter Spies for a movie but a spectacle nonetheless, with up to 250 dancers in concentric circles chanting "kecak kecak", while a performer in the centre acts out a spiritual dance. An especially popular Kecak dance performance is staged daily at Uluwatu Temple.
  • Legong Keraton — perhaps the most famous and feted of all Balinese dances. Performed by young girls, this is a dance of divine nymphs hailing from 12th century Java. Try to find an authentic Legong Keraton with a full-length performance. The short dance performances often found in tourist restaurants and hotels are usually extracts from the Legong Keraton.

Festival

There are an estimated 20,000 temples (pura) on the island, each of which holds festivals (odalan) at least twice yearly. With many other auspicious days throughout the year there are always festivities going on.

The large island-wide festivals are determined by two local calendars. The 210 day wuku or Pawukon calendar is completely out of sync with the western calendar, meaning that it rotates wildly throughout the year. The lunar saka (caka) calendar roughly follows the western year.

  • Funerals (pitra yadnya) are another occasion of pomp and ceremony, when the deceased (often several at a time) are ritually cremated in extravagantly colorful rituals (ngaben).
  • Galungan is a 10 day festival which comes around every 210 days and celebrates the death of the tyrant Mayadenawa. Gods and ancestors visit earth and are greeted with gift-laden bamboo poles called penjor lining the streets. The last day of the festival is known as Kuningan.
  • Nyepi, or the Hindu New Year, also known as the day of absolute silence, is usually in March or April (next on March 23, 2012). If you are in Bali in the days preceding Nyepi, you will see amazing colorful giants (ogoh ogoh) being created by every banjar. On the eve of Nyepi, the ogoh ogoh are paraded through the streets, an amazing sight which is not to be missed. There are good reasons to avoid Nyepi as well, but for many visitors these will be outweighed by the privilege of experiencing such a unique festival. On Nyepi absolutely everything on the island is shut down between 6AM on the day of the new year and 6AM the following morning. Tourists are confined to their hotels and asked to be as quiet as possible for the day. After dark, light must be kept to a bare minimum. No one is allowed onto the beaches or streets. The only exceptions granted are for real emergency cases. The airport remains closed for the entire day, which means no flights into or out of Bali for 24 hr. Ferry harbours are closed as well. As the precise date of Nyepi changes every year, and isn’t finally set until later in the year before, flights will be booked by airlines for this day in case you book early. When the date is set, and as it gets closer, the airlines will alter their bookings accordingly. This may mean that you have to alter your accommodation bookings if your flight has been bought forward or back to cater for Nyepi day.
All national public holidays in Indonesia apply in Bali, although Ramadan is naturally a much smaller event here than in the country's Muslim regions