Eat, Pray, Love is what Bali brings to my mind. It was my first ever solo trip which, needless to say, brought with it, it’s own apprehensions and doubts, all of which were cleared by the end of my sojourn.
I stayed in Kuta beach area which is the hotspot amongst partygoers, families, surfers and backpackers alike.If you want to feel the pulse of Bali, this is a recommended area.It is also a 20- 25-minute ride from the airport ( well, depending upon the frenzied traffic in and around the beach area ).Potential holidayers to Bali will find a confusing comparison between Kuta and Ubud. While Kuta is the pulsating, restaurants-and-shops-filled, somewhat noisy and touristy area, Ubud is its quieter cousin. You can choose what you are looking for, why not both?
In Kuta, you can relax on the beach, shop for souvenirs, faux Chanel and Gucci bags, hammocks, colourful Bintang t-shirts and queer-shaped bottle openers which hint at a special part of male anatomy, ahem ahem. I got two for my girlfriends.Surfing lessons are provided on the beach. A turtle conservation shelter is located wherein you can have a glimpse of these adorable creatures. Kuta is lined with spas and beauty centres offering all possible kind of beauty treatments and especially Balinese massage. Balinese coffee is a good purchase too. The atmosphere reverberates of music, youth and vacation.
As Kuta sits on the west coast of Indonesia, visiting the temple of Tanah Lot is a good idea for a half-day trip. Tanah Lot is an ancient mesmerising temple and a site of pilgrimage for Bali Hindus. While only pilgrims are allowed inside of the temple, visitors can still go up the stairs and confiscate the beauty of the Indian ocean. Girls could be asked by shy teenagers to appear in a picture with them, totally harmless. Tanah Lot is a popular tourist destination and surprisingly commercialised. The area is peppered with shops selling hats, sunscreen lotions, souvenirs, coconut water (bliss) and every fathomable object that could be of use. An afternoon in Kuta is a good idea in order to catch the sunset behind Tanah Lot. It is an awesome destination to capture the various colours of the sky during the wee hours of the afternoon. As you make your way back to Kuta in the evening, be prepared to be welcomed by the sounds of Pitbull and J Lo blaring from the restaurants. Resting for a while and rejuvenating for the night ahead could be a wise choice. Bounty club needs a special mention as it is the most popular one, brimming with Aussie tourists.The main attraction is the “cage” in Bounty which hosts “spirited” party goers all night. Do not be surprised if you are offered Hashish by a 10-year-old on the street. Establishments advertising “mushrooms” are commonplace too. On my way back to the hotel, I decided to stop for a Bintang in one of the shacks which also served delicious Nasi Goreng and Sheesha. The breeze from the sea was serene. “Where are you from?” , I was asked by a group of Balinese men who seemed to be enjoying a guy’s night out. Upon learning that I was from India, the conversation steered towards Hinduism and later to a less serious subject aka Hindi films.My insistence on paying for Bintang fell on deaf ears and I was reminded of my status of “our guest “.
Next day I made my way to the famous Monkey Forest in Ubud and later to Elephant Safari Park and Lodge. The ride from Kuta took approximately 1 hour 30 minutes. Most tour companies combine Monkey Forest and Elephant Safari in a half-day trip or include Tanah Lot to the itinerary for a full-day tour. I stayed in Wina Holiday Villa and rented a car for the day.The hotel offers individual cottages and rooms with balcony and complimentary breakfast. As you enter Ubud you would be greeted by paddy fields and vast green patches of land. The journey from Monkey Forest to Elephant Safari might be through some villages and you would see villagers selling their handmade pieces of exquisite art at throwaway prices.
Monkey Forest is another popular destination in Bali. Our ancestors can be fed and photographed with, however holding on to your personal belongings might be a good idea. There are picturesque locations to click photographs and listen to the birds chirping.Sacred Monkey forest, as the name suggests, encapsulates old banyan trees, quaint temples, ancient stone sculptures and a general aura of peace.
The journey from Monkey Forest to Elephant Safari Lodge takes 45 minutes.The sight of these magnificent creatures can not be described in words.It’s interesting to see the bond each elephant shares with his/her mahout. Every elephant is assigned a particular mahout who takes care of the giant beauty, thereby fortifying their relationship and understanding.You can have a look at the elephant sheds and be mesmerised by their strength and huge stature. An elephant tour through Taro village is unmissable. I was greeted by an enthusiastic and chatty mahout who was more than happy to click some pictures.I was told elephants are generally friendly and domestic animals who would not be mean to you unless provoked.Please bear in mind, as elephants are tall creatures and they walk on uneven terrain, you might feel some bumps during the ride.It was a bit scary for my fellow rider. However, I enjoyed it thoroughly. You will have another chance to buy Balinese coffee here. The elephant ride lasts around 20-30 minutes. For tourists who fancy waking up to the sight of elephants while having a steaming cup pf Balinese coffee, the lodge offers accommodations too.
Next in line was some physical stuff. Now before you get too carried away I mean hiking a volcano. The first hike and the first volcano of my life. Mount Batur is an active volcano. it is 1717 metres high and its last reported eruption was in 2000. (The ’87 born me still thinks that 2000 happened 6 years ago ! ) Now being an avid gym goer I thought I was ready for the climb. Natural terrain is much tougher than the shock absorbing incline of the treadmill belt. I discovered it and how!
The sunrise trail of Mount Batur is extremely popular amongst tourists. The trail starts at an unearthly hour of 4 am , which means you leave your hotel in Kuta around 2 am. Yawn! It is highly recommended to hire a guide as Batur climb can be challenging at spots. The volcano has thick foliage, slippery ground, narrow paths, numerous type of flora (poisonous and otherwise), and a number of points where the inclination is at a 70-degree angle. At some points, your guide will suggest you walk with a stick to maintain balance.
Now, after scaring you enough, here is the real deal. Mount Batur climb is completely doable and totally worth those screaming calf muscles. The trail takes approximately 2 hours. It is advisable to carry a bottle of water, chocolates, mosquito repellant and towel or tissue. I did the climb in my gym shoes so you can choose the most comfortable closed shoes you can.
Guides are present at the car park at the base of the volcano and it is here where all tourist-groups and their respective guides assemble and start the climb.Our guide was a short man whose first question upon knowing that I was Indian was if I was a Hindu. (Totally needless but Indians might get that frequently). He was my support and belief during the climb. There were times when the steep angle left me out of breath (you can ask your guide to take a break whenever you feel like) or I thought of my cosy bed, however, I kept reminding myself the reason I was there for. And the reason was beautiful as hell ( quite an oxymoron here ). As you reach the top, you are hugged by the most refreshing breeze, the most beautiful sky and the most delicious cup of tea. It is advisable to bring a thin jacket/sweater as the top of the volcano gets cold at dawn. As you bask in the glory (literally), forgetting about the descent for some time, you would witness the most ethereal sunrise where the sky turns into myriad shades and gives you just another proof of nature, its beauty and might. This is a perfect spot to get Instagram-worthy pictures without its confusing filters. You might encounter professional photographers having the time of their lives. The beauty is indescribable.
I was accompanied by Christian from Netherlands. We had a somewhat juvenile competition of the minimum number of falls. I can proudly say that I won.We spent some time at the summit, talking to other tourists and finally decided to head back. I personally feel descent is a Herculean task. What with tired leg muscles and that complex science behind the distribution of body weight! Not to mention the rubble under your feet. The key, however, is to lean back a bit and advance. It was during the descent that Christian kissed the ground a couple of times more than me, thereby aiding my win. As you are half way down, the sun is out and things become sweaty and salty. You may come across monkeys which inhabit the volcanic flora.
Mount Batur climb does not require extreme fitness or athleticism. What it does require is constant advances and the determination to reach the top.We thanked our guide, exchanged social media addresses, wished each other well and left.
As far as general Dos and Don’ts for a solo female traveller in Bali are concerned, my advice would be to use your common sense, trust your gut instinct and be aware. Avoid flashing expensive watches, bags and jewellery, choose a well-lit road instead of a dark by-lane, do not leave your drink unattended at a bar (commonsense). Bali is considered a backpacker’s heaven and extremely safe for solo female travellers, however being mildly aware of the surroundings has done no one any harm.
I wound up my Bali escapade with a Balinese massage, Bintang and more Nasi Goreng! Guess “Eat” was the only part of the movie I concentrated on.(Luckily, mushrooms were not a part of it !) Apprehensions cleared.