One of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, Bali for few years awarded as the world best island by The International Travel Magazine. There, however, are still many people who do not know in depth about the uniqueness of Balinese culture. Life in Bali is always related to "Tri Hita Karana" or a tripartite concept that include the spiritual relationship between human and God, and their environment.
The rapid growth of development in tourism has had a big impact and influences to Bali tradition and lifestyle. Interestingly, Balinese culture is still as what it was, growing along with the of globalization. It is the Balinese civilization what makes the island different from other destination.
Situated between Java and Lombok, the island of Bali is located 8 to 9 degrees south of the equator with the Java Sea to the north, the Indian Ocean to the south. Bali’s covers an area of 5,636 km2 or 0.29% of Indonesia, measuring just 90km long the north-south axis and less than about 140km from west to east.
Divided into three areas of water, the North Bali Sea is about 3,168km2, the East about 3.350km2, and the West about 2,982km2. Bali Sea covers an area of 9,500km2. The North Bali sea runs along the coastline of Buleleng, the East Bali Sea runs along the coastline of Karangasem, Klungkung and Gianyar, and the West Bali Sea include the coastline of Badung Tabanan and Jembrana.
The topography of Bali is formed by a mountain chain that stretches from west to east splitting the island into two parts. Some of the volcanic peaks are active, including Mount Agung, 3,142m, the tallest point above sea level, and mount Batur 1717m. Some barren peaks include mount Merbuk, Patas, Seraya, Prapat Agung, Klatakan, Sanghyang, Mesehe, Musi, Lesung, Tapak, Adeng, Pengiligan, Catur, Penulisan and mount Abang. The north side of the mountain slopes is fairly steep, creating narrow lowland along the coastal area. Meanwhile, the south slopes are much leaner, forming a fertile plain that becomes the main center of Balinese culture. Some of the most beautiful white sandy beaches are in the south, including Sanur Beach, Kuta and Nusa Dua. The south slope also is home to four lakes, i.e. Lake Buyan (367 hectares), Lake Tamblingan (115 hectares), Lake Beratan (376 hectares) and Lake Batur (1,605 hectares).
Something unique can be found about climate in Bali. Even when it rains most times in the most parts of Bali you can often enjoy sunny days on the "Bukit", the hill south of Jimbaran. On the other hand, you may expect cloudy skies and drips throughout the year in Ubud and the mountainous areas. Most interestingly perhaps, the international weather reports for "Denpasar" or "Bali" mention showers and rain storms all times of the year. In higher regions such as in Bedugul or Kintamani you'll expect to wear either a sweater or jacket when evening falls.
Flowers families are just as surprisingly as the variety of big plants. The most common are hibiscus, bougainvillea, jasmine, and water lilies. Magnolia, frangipani, and a variety of orchids are found in many front yards and gardens, along roads, and in temple grounds. In the day to day life flowers are routinely used as decorations in temples, on statues, as offerings for the gods, and during prayers. Dancers wear blossoms in their crowns, and flowers are worn behind the ear during ceremony sessions.
Like some other parts of Indonesia, Bali was home for big mammals such as elephant and tiger, although they no longer exist since early of last century. However, Bali still is rich of wildlife with the existence of various species of monkeys, civets, barking deer and mouse deer. There are 300 species of birds occupy the island including wild fowl, dollar birds, blue kingfishers, sea eagles, sandpipers, white herons and egrets, cuckoos, wood swallows, sparrows, and the endangered Bali starlings. The underwater world or marine life of Bali has been noted as one of the best in the world with various species such as dolphin, shark and sun fish, and some smaller inhabitants like colorful coral fish, small reef fish, and moray eels, as well as crustaceans and sponges.
The existence of these flora and fauna become necessary for the day to day life of Balinese, where ceremonies and rituals always flourish.
The coastal areas in the south are the most populous area with over 370,000 people living in various professions in the capital of Denpasar. Farming has been the primary way of living in Balinese life. Where else fishing, trading and craftsmanship are also in fashion from generation to generation. Yet with the fast growing of tourism since past few decades, young people start to build up a new touch in their living culture.
Life in Bali is very communal under the organization of villages. Temple ceremonies, marriage, cremation, farming and even the creative art festivals are decided by the local community institution called “Banjar”. The responsibilities in the day-to-day life are normally administered by both the Banjar and the government. The local government mostly responsible for schools, health clinics, hospitals and roads, and Banjar is responsible for all other aspects of life. There is another association exists in the banjar named “Subak” that concerns to the production of rice and organizes the complex irrigation system. Every family who owns a rice field must be a member of their local Subak, which then ensures that every member gets his fair distribution of water. A banjar consists of an average of 50 to 150 family members, owning a meeting venue called the Bale Banjar, which is used for regular gatherings and a center for local gamelan orchestras and drama groups.
Because of the size of the island, it is not difficult to get around Bali by various modes of transportation. The traditional types of transportation to the high class limousine are available for tourist to choose. Not to forget the sea transportation that connect Bali to some of its sister islands. However, train does not exist in Bali.
Bemo : this is the most used transportation in Bali especially in the city of Denpasar. It is a miniature van with a routine route set by local government periodically. This type of transportation is good for short distance around town and cities, because of its size and passenger can get in and out at any point. Most importantly, it is cheaper compared to some other type of transportations, even though fairly slow. Price ranges usually around Rp 3,200 to Rp 4,000 per one stop over.
Buses : there are buses for transportation between towns that relatively bigger compared to bemo. These buses connect all towns and most places of the island through local bus stations. Likewise bemo, buses also can be stopped at any point of the routes. They mostly operate day time inter island, but some are available at night for long distances within cities. Fares are between Rp. 1.500 to Rp. 10.000 per one stop point.
Taxi : Taxi is the most efficient and convenience transportation in the island. Either chartered or metered one, they are everywhere and quite inexpensive compared to some other countries. In Bali there are some different companies providing taxi services.
Rental Cars, Motorbikes and Bicycles : If you plan to explore Bali in half day or full day trip, the best way is hiring a car with the driver. The average rate is from Rp 120,000 to Rp 300,000 a day depending on the type of the vehicle. There are many independent car rentals around the island. If you wish to have better services, you can go to a Travel Agent. You even can hire a tour guide of your own language. The other possibility is to rent a self drive car. An international driving license from your own country is required. This rule also applicable for motorbike rental, but in some cases you can get a temporary permit at local police office. Price ranges are around Rp. 35,000 to Rp. 50,000 per day for motorbike and Rp. 15,000 for bicycle. Likewise, a safety helmet is a compulsory when you ride a motorbike. Meanwhile, bicycles are normally available for rent at hotels. Some bigger resorts even provides bicycle tour for free including a professional tour guide.
Dokar : in many areas of Indonesia, a traditional horse and cart transportation still can be found in many different versions. In Bali, this kind of transportation is known as “dokar”. Nowadays, the use of dokar is simply limited due to efficiency. In some areas dokars are even prohibited by the government because it becomes a dwindling sight around the street. A dokar ride can be a fairly bumpy and unique experience. That is why some hotels and event organizers sometime offer a dokar ride for their guests, wedding couples or special groups.
Sea transportation : to travel to some sister islands of Bali famous for their marine activities, local cruises is the most convenient. They normally offer a tour package including meal, activities and even a resort to stay over night. Some traditional boats are also in service for shorter distances such as to Serangan or Menjangan island.
In general, the history of Bali is divided into three different eras including the pre-historic, the Hindu-Buddhist era and the modern culture.
The pre-historic marked the oldest and simplest way of life, an era of hunting and food-stuff gathering, verified by the discovery of several tools and hunting equipments. In the following era there were also building construction system and a particular communication system. These were just proofs of the existence and further development of Balinese culture. The Balinese culture flourished that nowadays one can indicates a perfect bonds between religions, tradition and culture to become the identity of the Balinese community.
The Dutch seamen were the first Europeans to arrive on Bali and started to introduce western culture in 1597, though they hadn’t discovered any appealing aspect until 1800s. Around 1846 the Dutch returned with colonization in their minds, having established a strong political base as majority of the Indonesian islands were under their control since the 1700s. The military campaign embarked from the northern coast of Bali. With the help of Sasak people of Lombok, by 1911, all Balinese principalities were under the Dutch control.
The sense of Indonesian nationalism began to grow after the World War I, with the young generation declaring the national language in 1928, known as Bahasa Indonesia. During the height of World War II the Japanese arrived, expelling the Dutch and ruled the country for about 3.5 years, which ended later in 1945 when Indonesia declared independent led by its very first president, Sukarno. Yet the new-born nation was only recognized by the international community as an independent country in 1949.
Unlike most of Muslim-majority Indonesia, about 93.18% of Bali's population adheres to Balinese Hinduism, formed as a combination of existing local beliefs and Hindu influences from mainland Southeast Asia and South Asia. Minority religions include Islam (4.79%), Christianity (1.38%), and Buddhism (0.64%). These figures do not include immigrants from other parts of Indonesia.
When Islam triumphed over Hinduism in Java (16th century), Bali became a refuge for many Hindus. Balinese Hinduism is an amalgam in which gods and demigods are worshipped together with Buddhist heroes, the spirits of ancestors, indigenous agricultural deities and sacred places. Religion as it is practiced in Bali is a composite belief system that embraces not only theology, philosophy, and mythology, but ancestor worship, animism and magic. It pervades nearly every aspect of traditional life. Caste is observed, though less strictly than in India. With an estimated 20,000 temples and shrines, Bali is known as the "Island of the Gods".
Balinese Hinduism has roots in Indian Hinduism and in Buddhism, and adopted the animistic traditions of the indigenous people. This influence strengthened the belief that the gods and goddesses are present in all things. Every element of nature, therefore, possesses its own power, which reflects the power of the gods. A rock, tree, dagger, or woven cloth is a potential home for spirits whose energy can be directed for good or evil. Balinese Hinduism is deeply interwoven with art and ritual, and is less preoccupied with scripture, law, and belief than Islam in Indonesia. Ritualizing states of self-control are a notable feature of religious expression among the people, who for this reason have become famous for their graceful and decorous behavior.
Apart from the majority of Balinese Hindus, there also exist Chinese immigrants whose traditions have melded with that of the locals. As a result, these Sino-Balinese not only embrace their original religion, which is a mixture of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, but also find a way to harmonies it with the local traditions. Hence, it is not uncommon to find local Sino-Balinese during the local temple's odalan. Moreover, Balinese Hindu priests are invited to perform rites alongside a Chinese priest in the event of the death of a Sino-Balinese. Nevertheless, the Sino-Balinese claim to embrace Buddhism for administrative purposes, such as their Identity Cards.
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