A curious interest in traditional Bali and a passion for learning about world music led me to the tranquil town of Ubud. With Ubud’s pleasant climate due to its location just before the mountainous regions, and its welcoming locals, I felt a warmth for this place the moment I stepped foot into the town. A centre point for Balinese culture, music, arts and crafts, all of which offer inspiration to travelers from all walks of life. The lush green rice paddy fields are just one of the many beautiful views that Ubud offers its visitors. I wandered through some paddy fields in Ubud and came across a man holding a machete shouting “hello” in my direction. The man gave me a great big smile and introduced himself as ‘Bobby’, which wasn’t quite the Balinese name I’d expected. The next moment, Bobby was half way up a coconut tree, rope between feet and machete in hand, his agile movements skimming the trunk of the tree on a mission to hack down a fresh coconut. The coconut milk tasted rich, cool and refreshing in the midday heat. I continued wandering through the pleasant fields with Bobby’s contagious smile stuck in my mind, and I later retired as the humid air stole the energy from my body.
Evenings in Ubud are full of interesting characters, pleasurable music and the taste of arak (an alcoholic drink made from palm sap), which is cheap, yet I think palm sap requires a trained palette. A night in Ubud will not go by without a choice of music being played for visitors and locals, as I often heard the sounds of Marley (or random cover versions) being played out in bars along the main stretch of Monkey Forest Road and the surrounding areas. I also very frequently heard Gamelan music which is recognized as the music of Bali, a powerful blend of various percussions, strings, gongs and xylophones. I could only describe this music as a combination of thundering sounds, jangling bells and an energy that fills the listener with excitement, yet even this would not do it enough justice.
I felt curious to explore a traditional performance so I headed for an evening of the ‘Kecak dance’. This is a beautiful, enchanting, hypnotising performance and a traditional Balinese dance of Hindu origin. The ‘Kecak dance’ is a fire/trance dance, and the name of the dance really does express what the experience is like. The Kecak is the most overwhelming dance I have seen, with a choir of over a hundred and fifty men chanting and moving with the rhythm of the fire. Dancing, fire burning, chanting and the swaying of arms overtook my mind and almost sent me into some form of trance (I’ve never stayed so quiet!). The male choir provide the musical accompaniment to the dance and their chants change throughout the dance as the mood of the dancers change, a truly exotic performance.
Amongst thousands of islands in Indonesia’s archipelago, Bali is a small island and offers a warm friendly welcome to those who explore its soil. Even amongst a developing and changing world, Bali still holds on to its traditions and offers a slow pace of life for those who wish. I was touched by the richness of Ubud and the beauty of its people. You won’t have to walk far to find a smile along the way.