Close your eyes and imagine hills of verdurous rice paddies, clear blue beaches and colourful vibrate coral reefs waiting to be explored by you. Now imagine sweating it out at a meditating yoga class and feeling fully refreshed afterwards. To help loosen up the tension in the muscles, a luxuriate massage session is waiting for you by the resort pool. Sounds amazing? Bali is a small yet an exotic island that encapsulates all these things. Its exoticness is exactly the reason why so many people travel there – for the so-called authentic relax paced holiday in South Asia.
Cocktails and massages sound relaxing, but this wasn’t top priority for my recent trip to Bali. Being able to travel with my favourite digital companion, the camera, and capture breathtaking street and landscape photos of the island was all I wanted. I learnt that Bali is a very small island, but is the home of over thousands of historic temples. My trip primarily focused on the selected temples I wanted to see. My photography hobbyist’s dream was satisfied, but a reality about Bali come into sight in my travels.
A little girl of no more than 5 years old who I met at a temple presented me this reality. I stood at a lookout and the little girl walked up to me. She extended her hand presenting me a beautiful postcard of Bali and said “One dollar?” This sight made I felt uneasy. What the little girl was doing wasn’t strange or uncommon in third world countries. However, it showed me how much Bali depended on tourism where even the youngest had to work and learn skills like saying the word “dollar” to tourists.
Bali has been shaped, very effectively, by businesses and the government to be an ultimate place for a getaway. Areas like Kuta in South Bali, Denpasar and Ubud in Central Bali are what you would call modern Bali. These areas have well structured roads, ATM machine, westernised restaurants and are overflowing with tourists. While the modernised Bali feels familiar and safe, its limits you from experiencing the authentic Bali.
But what is authentic Bali? I spoke to many people of Balinese decent. One man’s explanation stuck deep in my mind. He described a world of 20 years ago, how Bali use to be an island with only forests and rice paddies. The influence of tourism has changed what Bali looks like; but the true essences lies within the people. Customs and culture are not forgotten and are still actively carried out on a daily basis. Every day, flower offerings in small baskets with burning incenses perched all over the streets of Bali. When a local celebration or temple ceremony took place, women, men and child wear colourful traditional clothes and it creates an amazing sight. I may not truly understand the meaning of the flowers and traditional dress, but the sense of importance of these customs were apparent and I only wish that it continues on for generations.
My journey in Bali was short but not without a sense of achievement. In 7 days, I visited 9 temples, 4 palaces, had 2 Balinese massages and took over 2000 photos. The true sense of achievement, though, was being able to come into contact with its beautiful culture. Encounters with local people and listening to how Bali has developed and changed was an enriching experience in its own. Today, still, I remember that little girl at the temple who held out the postcard to me. I may not agree with the decision of having her work at such a young age, but who am I to judge her way of living. Could you say that this is also part of the authentic experience? For me, it would be a yes.