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Morning of the World

The sands are golden, the sea is shallow. At low tide there are rippled dunes to run on and small lagoons of soft water to play in. It’s a perfect place for families, which is why you see many Balinese and Indonesians here. The best time to go to Sanur’s beach is just before dawn, to wait for the sun to break through misty clouds over Lombok and rise high over Bali. Seeing the same, Nehru coined the phrase “Bali is the morning of the world.”

Pantai Sanur (Sanur Beach) seems to have been the preferred landing spot for any force looking to dominate southern Bali. The Javans did it in the 900s CE, the Dutch in 1906 and the Japanese in 1942. Not to mention the privileged set of semi-resident tourists from the 1920s right through to today. Their villas still, most discreetly, ornament this famously relaxed end of southern Bali. Indeed modern tourism started here, with the The Bali Beach Hotel, built on Sukarno’s orders in 1958. Nowadays a lot of the southern coastline is taken up by hotels, fine restaurants and villa resorts. You can still get to the beach in the northern end of Sanur, from where you can see the jukung coming in, those brightly painted fishing canoes with their long outriggers.

One special place to visit in Sanur is the Pura Belanjong, with the stone column that bears an inscription ordered by Sri Kesari Varma, king in Bali and scion of the great Sailendra dynasty of Sumatra and Java. The Prasasti Belanjong, as it is called, dates to 914 CE, making it the oldest public notice in Bali to date. Set up in this location to commemorate Sri Kesari’s attack on islands further east, the stone has been venerated for over a thousand years. Rather like the Rosetta Stone, two languages are written on the pillar: old Javanese and old Balinese.

Adrien Jean Le Mayeur de Merpes was a painter who, having traveled in Europe, Africa and Asia, settled in Bali in 1932 because he fell in love with the colors, the images and the culture. Le Mayeur’s bungalow in Sanur became a focus for what today we happily call an alternative lifestyle; his paintings sold and from them we have the imprint of tropical, mystical, beautiful, sensual, bare- breasted Bali. The woman in his paintings was often his wife, Ni Pollok, the former dancer. Now their home, bequeathed to Indonesia, is a museum to his work and the ornate style of living that represents Bali of the time. You can find it easily enough; it is on the beachfront.

Kites have a special significance in Bali: they are one of the ways to get messages to the gods. The bigger the kite, the more significant the message and, it is hoped, the easier for the gods to see. One very important message to get across is the hope of a good harvest, which means the right balance of rain and sun, no diseases or disasters, and plenty of rice in each sheaf. Someone, thirty-odd years ago, had the idea to organize a competition between the villages of Badung. Now people from all over the world come to participate, or just watch in awe as the Balinese launch kites larger than dinosaurs up into to heavens. These leviathans are brought in segments on the back of vans and trucks, assembled by hand and then hauled up by teams of no less than ten people at a time, all to the sound of gamelan music. The teams are deadly serious about winning, as much as the horse riders are in Siena and the samba dancers are in Rio. There can be accidents and spectacular fails; on occasion the stiff breeze will suddenly drop away, and these kites do not fall out of the skies lightly.

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.