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Bali’s Magical Heart

You know when you have left southern for central Bali, for the scenery around you suddenly looks more measured. The traffic is still the same, with trucks hauling building materials, pariwisata buses charging through with their tourists all rush-rush to see the three sights allotted them, the black- windowed utility vehicles with shaded drivers figuring out where they should pull over to visit this workshop or that showroom. It’s busy (it’s always busy), but it’s pleasant; more than anything, it is recognizably Bali.

North of Denpasar, Bali shows itself to be what it is, an up-turned clamshell, the raised hinge being the line of the volcanoes to the north, the ridged bowl being where most people live. Traveling north-south is relatively easy, the volcanic rock and earth being deeply scored by ravines, each with their ever- flowing river spilling off into the sea. Going east- west is almost impossible. This north-south axis not only dictates where the villages and roads are, it actually permeates Balinese culture too.

Four roads take you north. Not by chance each one represents the central axis of four of the old kingdoms: Mengwi, Badung, Gianyar and Bangli. Nearly all of Bali’s classical history is here too, from the time before the Majapahit take-over to just before the Dutch one.

Just out of Denpasar, on the road to Gianyar, are a great number of what were once small villages, such as Celuk, Sukopati, Batuan and Mas, each renowned for the particular skills of its artisans. All that is still there, but they have so merged together into a long strip of workshops and outlets that it is impossible to tell them apart any more.

The place everyone heads for is Ubud, by now the iconic town of culture and art in Bali. Thanks to the initiative of one of its rulers, Ubud was well known in Bali for its art and dance over one hundred years ago. This local fame was made international by an expat community that has made its home in Ubud for upwards of eighty years. Now it is globalized thanks to the image created in a recent film.

There are many, many other places to see in Central Bali, only a few of which are ever seen by the passengers of those locust-headed tourist buses. After Ubud, the most popular sight is Bedugul, where a temple famously juts out into a crater lake. If they are lucky they might see Goa Gajah, the elephant cave north of Mengwi. There is so much more.

One of many locations described in “The Great Guide to Bali”, an eBook with more than 120 locations and 160 high quality photographs. Read more about this book here.