The knock came gently to my door promptly at 5:30 AM. “Hello, miss, you up?” I couldn’t help but laugh – and be glad I was already awake and downstairs in the bathroom. Otherwise, I never would have heard, much less wake up to this gentlest of knocks. My guide also laughed when I told him about it. “It is a Bali thing. It would be impolite to knock loudly and wake someone up, even when this is what you want. So they come with a gentle tap, tap, tap, instead. Balinese are always very polite.”
Why, you might ask, am I up at this ungodly hour when I am supposed to be enjoying myself? I am on my way to Lake Bratan in the village of Bedugul, where I will photograph the sun rising over the Pura Ulun Danau Bratan. And this is why I must scratch yesterday’s claim that the Brahmavihara Arama Buddhist Monastery is the most beautiful I have ever seen, because it cannot compare with the beauty of Pura Ulun Bratan.
This temple is mostly Hindu, which is the religion of the majority of Balinese, although there is a Buddhist Stupa on the grounds. I am immediately transfixed by the golden morning light playing on the lush grounds and am shooting photo after photo – but my guide hurries me along a path to the water’s edge. Again, I linger over the crystal clear waters, shooting dozens of photos of the colorful Balinese boats tied up at the shore. I watch, fascinated, as a man in a carved canoe glides silently through the reeds and lithely steps out onto the shore. Holding a long bamboo pole high over his head, he stalks the shoreline, crouching tiger-like, so as not to scare the fish. It was like watching one of those Karate movies and I could not imagine what he was doing.
Suddenly, SPLASH! He swung the bamboo pole with such force that it sent a spray of lake water high over his head. Quickly, he reached down into the water and threw several stunned fish up onto the bank. I rounded the next corner to find an entire family fishing with a throw-net. Each cast brought up five or six tiny fish, until their bucket was overflowing.
Again my guide is motioning me to come. Since he has never done this before (he has always let me go at my own pace) I am curious. I follow him down the concrete walkway that lines the shore until we round a corner where I am stunned into immobility and speechlessness by the most beautiful sight I have ever seen in my life. Lake Bratan is in a volcanic crater, ringed by high, green mountain peaks. We are here before the sunrise, so gently mists fill the crater and clouds hang along the mountain peaks. There is no wind so the lake waters are glassy and reflective. On a finger of land that juts out into the lake is the Pura Ulun Danau Bratan Temple. No words can do it justice, so I will simply share some photos with you.
We spent the better part of the morning at the temple shooting photos, with me giving Wayan lessons on how to set the proper exposure when shooting into the sun. With every step I see yet another photo opportunity, another angle that begs to be recorded, and I cannot resist. I realize that I don’t see things like other people; rather I see things as if through the lens of a camera. I have already used up two memory cards (I have taken nearly 2000 photos in the last three weeks) and I am going to have to buy a memory stick when I get to Thailand.
My photo hunger finally sated, we headed back to the village of Bedugul to see the Botanical Gardens and their orchid collection, followed by a trip to the local market. Believe it or not, we beat most of the shopkeepers to their stalls. I buy some exotic fruits but pass on the exotic spices these “Spice Islands” are so famous for – saffron, curry, turmeric, clove, and saffron, among others. I wish I could buy some but I cannot carry the stuff around with me for six months – every ounce counts when traveling long term. Even though I have packed light, I am already jettisoning stuff that I am not wearing or items that are already too big on me. It is so cheap to get laundry done here that I am wearing the same two pants and the same three or four tops over and over again. The only problem is my sandals – they already reek so bad I am ashamed to take my shoes off to enter a temple.
We head back to the hotel at 10:30 AM so I can avail myself of the breakfast that is included with the price of my room. At one spot along the winding mountain roads we pull over at a small temple where the locals leave offerings. The moment they deposit fruit and flowers upon the altar the local monkeys begin to fight over which of them has rights to the food. One big guy scared the crap out of me because, as I was taking photos of him perched on a concrete ledge, I saw him sprint toward me through the lens of the camera. I flew backward down the steps to get out of his way – I thought I’d angered him and he was going to attack me. Wayan explained that I just happened to be between him and the food. Here he is, the victor, eyeing me with suspicion as he chomps away on some tasty morsel.
After breakfast (brunch?) my plan is to take a nap and maybe do some Yoga and, of course, to write. Somehow, I must find a way to convey the incredible beauty of the Pura Ulun Danau Bratan Temple and that is best done while it is fresh in my mind. I go in search of Wayan to discuss the rest of the day and find him napping on the wooden platform under one of the stilt cottages. I just don’t have the heart to wake him so I head for my room. Around noon it begins to rain – really pour – so I grab a book from the hotel’s library and spend the rest of the day just reading and relaxing on my balcony, watching the mists swirl around in the valley beyond. And oh yes, I have filled the sink with soapy water and left my sandals to soak for the rest of the day – I simply cannot continue to offend people who are near me whenever I take off my shoes. For the moment, barefoot is good. Actually, it’s more than good – it’s great!