People of Bali

Bali did strike a nerve in me. Or else, why would I still find myself thinking about the blue blue beaches of Kuta or the lush green rice terraces near Ubud or the mighty volcano - Mt Agung which we climbed or the Balinese people, even after a month since I am back? I find it very frustrating, my inability to shake of my thoughts about Bali.
Talking about the Balinese, they are one of my most peculiar people I have ever interacted with. Usually, the natural beauty or the potential activities I can undertake in a place are the main things I look for, in my ideal travel destination. Bali (Indonesia in general) is one exception. I am as fond of the Balinese people as I am fond of the place itself. They are a bunch of very polite and spiritual (may or may not be religious) people. I was amazed to see the dedication and discipline they have towards their conventional way of life. 9 out of 10 people you meet in Bali will be named either Wayan, Ketut, Madhe or Koman.
In the modern world, I usually don’t get the 'feel of spirituality' in day to day life. But while exploring Bali, the temple or a shrine within every 500 sq m, the way the Balinese think in terms of ‘karma’ etc, constantly reminded me of the presence of God all around us. Contrary to the Indian way of ‘investing in God’, Bali temples do not have the slightest touch of extravagance in them. It showed me how simple, things can be. Religion and God for Balinese is part of their lifestyle and not something they practice simply out of commitment or for attracting tourists.
No matter where I traveled in Bali, I couldn’t stop myself from feeling that this place really has something spiritual about it. The cultural capital of Bali - Ubud - with the abundance of its old, moss covered temples, made me feel that I was being watched by the Gods. In the village of Tulamben - where I was diving - I could see at least 2 temples and a dozen shrines from where our resort was. I visited a waterfall and right next to it was a small, beautiful shrine; I summit-ed a volcano, (starting from a temple) only to find a bunch of Balinese at the summit, involved in their early morning prayers.
May be this deep influence of spirituality in their life is the reason why Balinese are extremely polite and service minded. Our dive master took care of us like little kids jumping into water for the first time. When I was down with fever, the landlord shared his meal with me and when we were climbing, our guide literally helped Manju during every difficult step, which was most of the climb. Even a total stranger offered to take me to the doctor when I was coughing too much, and when I refused, he insisted that I take his medication. The experiences go on and on.
Sometimes, I was a bit startled by their attitude towards money, may be a byproduct of excessive commercialisation. Some of them can be extremely annoying with their excessive touting or while negotiating prices, be it for an item or for a service. I wonder why they ask exorbitant rates and the moment we raise doubts, they tend to reduce the rates. But this doesn't even remotely affect the way they interact with you. As Manju correctly pointed out, once the negotiations are over, the Balinese people are as friendly and caring as a close friend of yours.
Bali reminded me a lot about home and I think that is one reason I got so emotionally attached to the place. When we were boarding our flight back to Singapore, I found myself telling Manju, “There is definitely a God and that God is Balinese”. I am sure there is something magical about the place and the people or why else would I keep thinking about a way to go back to Bali?

Sunrise from a Summit

“I am stronger than you think I am”, I told Manju pretending that I meant every word, although I had severe doubts about the limits to which I can push myself at that stage. She seemed to calm a bit hearing that.
“Besides, volcanoes are my specialty”, I added on, just in case I didn’t convince her enough with my previous statement. That seemed to do it, but the next moment, she gave me one of her “looks” from which I can’t hide pretty much anything. Even though she didn’t say anything, I knew for sure that she saw right through me. I guess she felt my overwhelming desire to finish what we have started and that caused me to be totally oblivious to my physical condition. Besides, our guide was assuring us that there is only less than an hour to go, to reach the summit of Mt Agung, the highest point in Bali.
“Sunrise from a Summit” was a difficult dream for me due to my knees. A full 2 day trek to the likes of Mt Kinabalu or Mt Rinjani were unthinkable for me. That’s when I heard about this less than a day trek from a friend of mine last year. And before we knew it, we were planning for it. We trained 3-4 days a week to build up our stamina, with a focus on my knees. We arranged our trek with Mr Wayan and climbing Mt Agung was one thing I was looking forward the most during our Bali trip.
Three days through our trip, I got a severe flu & cold and I was pretty sure that I might have to abandon the climb. That’s when Manju told me “You are stronger than you think you are”, (yeah, she was the one who told me that in the first place). While I was pondering the idea of dropping the climb and salvaging the rest of the trip fearing a bad climb will put me down for a long time, she rearranged our itinerary and rescheduled our climb. Lonely planet says the climb is very taxing even for the fit and that gave me second thoughts about my decision to climb. But I decided to push myself and see what happens. After all, the whole point of this climb was to push my limits.
We started from Ubud around 12:30am and by the time we reached our starting point, around 2 am, it was drizzling. Since I didn’t anticipate a ~101 deg fever, the only warm cloth I had was a sweater. We started our climb with the 300 steps to Pura Pasar Agung temple. While our guide Madhe was praying at the gates of the temple, we were panting and discussing about our possible “stop condition”. Thus we started our long and gruelling journey towards the summit of Mt Agung.
By the time we reached the first designated resting point, we had already taken 2 stops. I started the climb with the warm clothes on, due to the slight drizzle, but had to remove them in between due to my body heating up from the climb. When we stopped, my body was burning and i was not able to conclude whether i was having a fever as all my senses were acting a bit funny. Once our guide had finished his prayer at the small spring there, we took some photos and continued to climb.

How Bali looks at night

I could remember reading that, with a normal pace of climb, we should be done with the forest within an hour or so. But even after 2 hours, we were still surrounded with lot of vegetation. We had to hurry up if we were to make in time for the sunrise, but it was impossible to do so as the more we climb, the trail became more and more difficult.
Slowly, I began to understand the phrase “This is a mighty mountain, show some respect”. At some point during my climb, we had to go through light clouds and I felt like the chill of the wind in my bones. Even though every part of my body was begging me to turn back, I was feeling emotionally “high”. Somehow I kept pushing harder.
I’ve got to say, me and manju make a good team as we tend to complement each other, well. We both drew inspiration just by looking into each other’s excited eyes, which screamed “you can do it”.
Finally, there came a point where we both decided that this is it, we are not summit-ing, we will rest here, watch the sunrise from here and begin our climb down. But I guess dropping something we worked so hard, in the last minute, is not in our blood. Manju looked at me and told me to continue, and that she will follow. I didn’t believe her, but then I started alone.
Since it was almost time for sunrise, I raced as fast as I could, and at many places the terrain was so steep that I had to crawl up. I was afraid to look down as it was too steep which made me feel uneasy. I tried not to think about the climb down.
And just when the sun was visible at the horizon, I summit-ted.

Atop the Clouds

Summit of Mt Agung

Along with the breathtaking view of the rising sun against the backdrop of a colourful sky, I was stunned to see a group of Balienese people doing their morning prayers like it was their backyard. My sense of achieving something big vanished. I was humbled. Nature had taught me another lesson.

Ongoing ceremony at the summit of Mt Agung

I missed Manju. After all, what’s a victory without your teammate. So, I began my climb down without waiting for long, only to find Manju already at the other side of the summit. I climbed back and we spent couple of minutes together at the “top of the world”.


By then, the clouds were coming down on us and we began our climb down. As they say, climbing down is the most difficult part and the most stressful on your knees. By the time we made it to where we started from, it was 2pm - way too late than it should be - and I simply do not have enough words to describe our physical conditions except that for the next two days, I couldn’t bend my knees without “feeling” them.
Over the course of the entire 12 hour trek, an entire array of emotions passed through me. I felt awe at the might and raw power of nature, I learned to be humble, I learned the power of determination and teamwork, I learned to respect the mighty nature and the “Gods”, I felt fear, anger, hunger & thirst, I even felt fever and cold on the top of a mountain, but above all that, I rediscovered how it feels to be an adventurer, one who ventures into the unknown realms.

The mighty Mt Agung