By: Anoop Sood
PUNE: Famous for its volcanoes and great beaches Bali is emerging as the new preferred holiday destination for Indians who are frequently travelling overseas for leisure. It has been a popular travel hotspot, drawing holiday revellers, especially from Asia and Australia, for many years. Easy accessibility, temperate weather, delicious local cuisine and exciting night life along with wide range of water sports and dense jungle treks make it favourite destination for both for relaxation and adventure.
Bali is one of the major islands in Indonesia and Denpasar is the gateway. One can now fly to the island resort directly from Mumbai by Garuda, the Indonesian airline. Else catch a flight to Singapore or Kaula Lampur and get a connecting flight to the capital Denpasar. It takes about 9 hours with a break at Singapore.
The first thing that strikes a visitor from India is that Bali is predominantly a Hindu island in the Muslim majority country. About 90% people follow Hinduism and, as we realised over our interaction with locals and our guide in particular, they know much more about Hindu way of life than an average Indian. Our guide could recite Gayatri Mantra in five different ways and explain the meaning and significance of each, something I had never heard in India.
Denpasar itself is spread over two islands- the main island and Nusa Dua- which means Second Island in local language. The main island has a typical tropical tourism hotspot, a long clean Beach named Kutta. There is endless activity throughout the day and endless entertainment in nearby pubs and watering holes during the night, ending often at sunrise. There is the famous Paddy’s pub here where the only terrorist attack in Bali’s history, a bomb blast leading to deaths and destruction, took place in 2002. Except this one tragedy, Bali is safe as can be. Locals are God fearing simple folks who depend on tourism for their livelihood. They value the tourists.
Nusa Dua or Second Island is more for the luxury high-end of tourists. Along the beach there are about 20 top end hotels in a row.Golf playing Japanese have a conspicuous presence
Here Amongst the places of interest beyond beaches and clubs, is a tenth century Hindu temple, built right in the sea with the waves caressing the temple steps. The place is called Tanha Lot and it’s amazing at sunset. One can pray at the temple. The priest takes one through the entire Pooja during which lot of flowers are offered, much like India. But one striking difference is that shoes are allowed into the temple, something the Indians are not accustomed to.
There are three volcanoes: Mount Agung, Mount Bratan and Mount Batur. The staff at the Sofitel hotel ,where we were staying, told us the ultimate adventure in Bali is a midnight trek to the sacred peak of Mount Batur, timed to witness an amazing sunrise from the top. Thus, the trek has to be undertaken during night. The base of the mount Batur is 80 km from Nusa Dua. We had to start at 12.30 AM to reach the base at 2 AM. We were given a torch to be worn on the forehead like miners, a walking stick and advised to wear or carry along warm clothes. A guide was assigned to take us through to the top. We found ourselves in a group of about 50 people, excited as school kids.
The moment we started walking uphill a realisation dawned- there is no road, not even a pathway. Only loose black volcanic soil on which there is plenty of vegetation. And there are precipitous stretches where on could really fall down from quiet a height. A bit scary in the beginning but that is where the guide matters. He talks nonstop, pointing to obstacles and cajoling you to hurry up to be in time for the sunrise. We just follow what he says, not being able to see anything in pitch darkness except the little patch the torch can illuminate.
The gradient is mostly in excess of 45 degrees all through and that makes the climb a bit exhausting. There was no time to rest as we had to reach the peak before sunrise. The amazing trek went on in pitch dark, trusting the guide. At half way mark, everyone was taking a break and exchanging notes. Looking at some visibly tired tourists the guide announced “you can stop here and sunrise will be equally spectacular from this point too, or you can continue and scale the top”. A majority was gung-ho and too excited to make it to the top. We decided to go on without any hesitation.
After another hour of walking, falling, crawling we were close to the top. The sky was turning a little orange on one side making it evident where the east is. The last few hundred yards were very steep, close to 70 degrees. As dawn spread, we could see dark black ash through which we were virtually crawling towards the top
Finally at around 5.30 AM we hit the deck, covered with black ash. The cold was biting at the height of 6000 ft above sea level. Out of group of 50, only about 30 reached the top, mostly young adults. It was a matter of great satisfaction that I could do it at the age of 62.
The atmosphere was electric as everyone was on a high with a sense of achievement, patting each other.
There was still about half-an-hour to go for the sun rise expected at 6 am. It allowed us ample time to witness magic weaved by changing colours of mountains, volcano and the sky. I got the opportunity to capture the mostmemorable photographs in my I-pad.
And finally the spectacle of the rising, it was different from anything I had seen in my life. The sun rose from behind a small hill, from a much lower elevation. It was spectacular as we had been promised, making it a memorable for life.
After lazing around for about an hour we started to climb down. Getting down took a bit of time as sleep and tiredness set in. But on way back we were taken to another amazing place at the base, a hot water spring to take a shower and then relax in a pool where hot water takes away all your fatigue and body aches. A couple of hours in the hot water and we were all rearing to go for more site seeing around Denpasar.
The trek to Mount Betur was indeed the best part of the five unforgettable days in Bali.
Anoop Sood is former President of a Pharma Company. He is a voracious reader and a keen traveller.