Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Pura Tanah Lot


It is raining Guest posts in my blogspace.  Though I am yet to be successful in persuading Jay and Rosy to come up with a post of their choice, I got it done through Sudha, yet again.  Proximity helps - she sits in the same floor in my office and I only had to tell her once and ta-da she was done with the post.
So, here we go..  Presenting Sudha's second guest post to you all...
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Pura Tanah Lot
Pura Tanah Lot - cliff scenary. This temple is in the sea.
Tanah Lot (Land in the sea), is one of the most photographed temples of Bali. I knew about this place even before we did any internet research. I have seen it on travel shows and magazines, and the name is etched in my mind. It was kind of a personal bucket list tick off. Was so excited that we would finally be able to go there. Was kind of missing my better half, (just 3rd day of the trip!) as we both wanted to go there. Anyway, no more thoughts about him, it’s after all a girls trip. True to its expectation this place was splendid and even now, when I think of it, brings in images of the rock temple in the ocean. The sun kissed waves sparkle like diamonds and the sapphire blue, deep blue and varying colours of the ocean stretches till your eye can see. The sound of the crashing waves were soothing and the whole experience was mystic.  We went to this temple on our way from Ubud, the town of arts and culture, to Nusa Dua the beach area of high end luxury resorts.

The road to the temple was so scenic. Brought back memories of Kerala. Interestingly all babes are natives of ‘Gods own country’. Paddy fields, coconut trees and vistas of clean green rice terraces as they call it. Some of the houses had wall murals.  Kevin explained that most traditional joint family dwellings, have their family deity as a part of small temple, inside their house compound.

There was a meandering walkway from the parking lot to the seashore, to enter the temple. On the way there were small shops and shacks selling knick-knacks and memorabilia. We were busy either posing or taking pictures, I took advantage of my DSLR lens to zoom in and see the temple that lie far ahead. While we walked we came across a group of visitors posing with a live snake. We have seen this in many touristy areas, and it brought back memories of our earlier trip where Rosy posed with a tiger cub, at Bangkok. Never in my wildest dreams I would have thought of touching and petting a snake. It was yellow in colour, ribbed and spattered with black and white patterns. As I clicked pictures of the snake the babes went out and reached for it. The snake vendor (for want of a better name), happily handed it over to us. I gave my phone to another visitor and Kevin took the camera and we had our videos and photos of carrying the snake. 
The babes with a live python.  Arent they all pretty pretty? ( we were actually terrified :-) )
Selfie with Snake



I was quite apprehensive. Vincy took the lead and was nearest the snake's head. I managed to dodge and carry it only for a brief moment.  We were cooing and hooting and I guess the poor snake must have become used to this from the various visitors who carry her. This was an unplanned, unexpected adventure if I can say. The video lays testimony to the fun we had for a brief moment with her. I even went ahead and clicked a selfie with her. Vincy by the end of it got over the fear and went ahead and laid down near her basket, and I caught it on camera :-).

Vincy posing with our new snakie babe friend
Moving on, we went inside a courtyard, part of the smaller temple, the main temple was even further away and its entry was forbidden to the non-Balinese visitors. It is believed that lots of sacred snakes in the ocean, guard this temple, which was built in the 15th century.  Pura Segara, translates to "Sea temples", a pura that is located by the sea to appease the sea Gods and deities. The Balinese believe that the shore temples protect the country from the vagaries of the ocean. This temple was overlooking the Indian Ocean. The temples in Bali are built mainly by the volcanic frothy lava rocks that solidified over the years. Mostly black and shades of grey, the temples are not painted and retained the original rustic look.
 
Lava Rocks that we brought back as Souvenirs
Overall, we had no doubts on why this was the most visited and photographed place in Bali. Its best to go during sunset or sunrise, to capture the varying hues of the sky, sun rays and the shadow play, amidst the temple and ocean.  This place is so beautiful and magical, and that’s why comes up as the top attraction when you Google Bali. We posed for the cameras, we had the temple, sky and the ocean in the background and made wonderful memories  to cherish. We collected some lava rocks to bring back as souvenirs. Quenched our thirst with tender coconut and continued our journey towards the beach resort.
 
Babes posing in front of Tanah Lot
When Vincy coaxed me to write about this place, I got reminded of mentioning that there should be a blog about Tanah Lot, in the guest Nyepi blog. Little did I know that, I would get to write it and virtually relive the day. This again is a picture heavy post.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Pura Besakih

All temples in Bali are Unique and Pura Besakih is different because of its sheer size, area and number of temple structures within its complex.

Kevin, our guide, did mention there are around 23 temples within its complex and each of these temples are for different castes and they have their own festivals, culminating to more than 70 festivals a year.  This is an ancient temple, built a millennium ago, and is open to all castes in Bali, which is rare.

Pura Besakih is also the largest, most Holy Hindu Balinese temple and is referred as "Mother temple of Bali". It gets its name from the village it is located in and is in the slope of Mount Agung, which is an active volcano with its last eruption in November 2017.  It has also wrecked havoc in this area earlier, when it started spewing lava and only Pura Besakih was spared, with the lava coming close to a few meters of the temple.  The Balinese consider this a miracle and attribute it to the power of their deities.
The village road leading to Pura Besakih
We stopped at a tiny town shopping place and Kevin got us to walk into a street that led to Pura Besakih. At one the official looking buildings, ostenbily belonging to the temple, we were given bright silk Sarongs ( we picked blue) and long vibrant umbrellas.  By  then it was beginning to drizzle a bit and we had a cloudy sky threatening to open up anytime. The street itself was scenic with paddies, Mount Agung in the background and lots of greenery.  We loved those typical Balinese village houses on the street.


Babes ( with the bikes we traveled in the background)
That's when Kevin told us something interesting.  Since it is an uphill climb to the temple which is on the slope of a Agung, and large vehicles are not allowed on the street leading to the temple complex, each of will be ferried on a motorcycle to the temple, including Kevin.  As he finished saying this, a group of 5 musketeers on bikes came vrooming in front of us, excitement writ large on their broad smiles, and we rode pillion with those guys up to the temple.

It was fun to wave at one another on those bikes, while those men tried to overtaking  each other (probably to impress us) and we felt literally like school girls as we traveled a short distance to the temple.  And you know what, this whole thing was part of the package. In all that excitement of getting on a bike, we missed taking pictures.  * Sigh*

Babes wrapped in Sarongs with the Pura Besakih in the background
Child hawkers
This is also one place we met few hawkers and sadly all of them were children. As mothers we really felt sad for them. We also had to go with a new guide from the village as external guides like Kevin were not allowed. The new guide was quite reluctant and we couldn't decipher what he was speaking either.

The Candi Bentar of this temple had the largest flight of stairs among all the temples that we visited and we did a lot of stair climbing within the temple complex, although we weren't allowed into the sanctum to offer prayers.  Though Jay wasn't worried, Sudha still reminds me how she asked some people in the temple about she being a Hindu devotee and why she was not allowed in.  We were told that "foreigners are not allowed for worship".
The babes on the largest flight of stairs with the Candi Bentar in the background

Babes and Dwarapalakas draped in Sarongs.  The next day was Nyepi day and the temple gets a festive look
One of the many Meru's at Pura Besakih
The main highlight here for us were the stepped terraces and flights of stairs which ascend to a number of courtyards and brick gateways that in turn lead up to the main spire or Meru structure. There are so many of them made of special grass like material and some of these spires had moss grown extensively on it which made them look even more beautiful.  The multi tiered thatched roofs are the most recognizable feature of the Meru Towers.  The number of roofs is always odd and reflects the status of the deity to whom the shrine is dedicated.  The lowest Meru contains three tiers, while the most prestigious one contains upto 11 tiers.  Pura Besakih is the only temple where we noticed this many Meru towers signifying the importance of the temple.
Look at the number of Meru's at Pura Besakih

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Heart warming Love

We all have little stories and anecdotes that fill up our days and lives – big, small, silly, significant, humorous, insightful, inspiring and the list  and also some stories that we may not want to tell anyone.   Here's a little heart-warming one, I have got to tell you.

BTW,  Conveying anything comprehensively is a big challenge for me, anyways, I will give it a try.

Alma, J’s niece is in my life for the last 23 years.  We share a special bond, which has grown over these years.  Anshu is Alma’s baby girl, an American Citizen and new to India, but pretty soon have got very fond of all of us.

I am in the process of making sure the new set of babies in our family call us by the traditional names rather than an insignificant Uncle and Aunty, meaningless references to relationships that we have lapped up from our erstwhile colonial era.  Quite successful with Anshu, she actually calls me Vincy Ammama – which literally means Vincy Granny.  I love the way she calls me Ammama, and also the way some eyebrows go up, as many in our clan do not want to be called a granny, especially women, when they are supposedly young.

I get to see Anshu rarely as she lives in Bangalore. Alma’s mom, describes how Anshu asks for me quite often, and recognises me from the pictures in their mobiles. Doesn’t it feel nice to be remembered by a tiny-tot?

She is a June born too and we celebrated her 2nd birthday and is just about beginning to make sentences and speak.  Last week, Chechi, Alma's mom,  tells me that Anshu has been taught a prayer which she recites everyday – it’s a simple, God bless Nanna ( her father) and Mamma and she lists all her father’s side people and Alma’s side people. Apparently during a recent  prayer, after she lists all the people that she has been taught to include, little Anshu says, God bless Vincy ammama, a name that she has included on her own.

I heard that and felt as if I melted into a mass of Jelly and plopped down like a large blob.

You know what, I am still wobbling from all that unadulterated and immaculate love from a two year old toddler.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Pura Tirta Empul

Look at the astonishing ornate stone work - Babes in the front yard of Tirta Empul
Our next stop in  Bali on the second day of setting foot in the beautiful land of Gods was yet another Hindu Balinese temple which is known as Holy spring water Temple aka Pura Tirta Empul.

Rich in its heritage this temple also had opulent stone artwork reminding us of the culture, practices and the age-old Balinese kingdoms that ruled Bali.  



This temple was built around 960 AD and is a national cultural heritage site.  And there was so much water and water sources in this temple that, unequivocally did justice to the name of the temple.




Like every other temple in Bali, Pura Tirta Empul, also had a Split Gateway also called as the Candi Bentar.  This is a classical Balinese Gateway, split perfectly into two, symmetrically,  creating a passage for people to walk through.  We must have seen hundreds of these split Gateways all through our travel in Bali and we have taken so many pictures in front of them.  The Candi Bentar is usually in an elevated place with a flight of stairs taking the people to it and acts as an boundary between the outer world and the inner realm of an Hindu temple.
The four of us with Tirta Empul's Candi Bentar in the background
This temple had stricter dress codes for both men and women, and we were instructed to tie our hair, ( we were strictly not allowed to open out our hair, however short it was and they provided us with bands that helped us tie our hair)  and we had to wear a traditional wrap, as you see in the pictures,  around our lower body,  which all of us liked so much, and it was called “Karmen”.  Just like a Sarong, this one is more ornate. Women during their periods are not allowed into the temple and they can only be in the outer perimeter of the temples.
The four of us again - Zig Zag posing ( notice all of us adhering to the dress codes of the temple?)
The sculpted water spouts used for purification
After adorning ourselves with the Karmen and tying up our hair, We walked through lush gardens with tropical plants, to the entrance and passed through the Candi Bentar. 

As is common with Balinese temples, Pura Tirta Empul had three complexes, the front courtyard, the central and the inner courtyard.  The front courtyard is a vast walled one, welcoming us to the bathing pools.  The central courtyard has a rectangular purification bath, with 13 elaborately sculpted spouts, that line the edge of the wall.  We saw numerous  foreigners who had their hands pressed together solemnly offering prayers and bowing under the gushing water spouts starting from 1 to 11.  The last two are meant for purification purposes in funerary rites. ( Thanks to our Guide Kevin, we would get these inputs intermittently).

The water was crystal clear and the ground of the tank was layered with pebbles and it was such a pleasant sight. It was a hot day and though we were tempted to get down into the water, in the purifying tank, we held our horses, as we didn’t have much time to change and we had a long day ahead and a lot more places to cover.
Sudha during  her purification process


This is where Sudha started chanting mantras and she purified herself by sprinkling some water on her head, while we all watched the foreigners (mostly westerners) in awe at their sincerity in prayers. There were groups of them who had a Hindu priest (obviously!) with them and were chanting prayers religiously. Oh not just that – we also clicked some pictures of some westerners who had elaborate colourful tattoos on their entire upper bodies.


Look at that elaborate and artistic Tattooed body!
Curative  holy water spring!
The water here is supposedly curative and  purifying and we also went to the inner courtyard that also has a ground water spring which kept spewing water gently and deliberately that it created nice water ripples that we could watch. This bubbling spring was totally walled and we had to see from a distance, but the view was worth it. Never seen an active underwater spring before.

Falling in love with the Gargoyles of Bali.
Pura Tirta Empul also has a Presidential palace to its right and somehow the modern concrete structure, albeit its beauty, didn’t sync with the traditional ambiance and  architecture of the temple.  Thankfully the presidential palace was on the right side, on a higher plane and was unobtrusive to the temple view from wherever we were.

I realised, every temple visit in Bali, expanded my perspective of religion, and helped me broaden my horizons about the oneness of the concept of God.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Gifts money can't buy

Birthdays have always been special, all these years.   Even this year.

The plan was to go to Kochi, where J is, and spend a week there, to celebrate my birthday with him.  And I thought to myself, yeah, I can do with some pampering.  After the hectic theater rehearsals and an awesome show day where we did 2 shows within few hours, I definitely needed to rest awhile and let my hair down.  Luckily, my work permits me to work from wherever there is network connectivity, and all official approvals in place, was ready to enjoy the devilish monsoon of Kerala.  As a Madrasi, Its been a long while since I even heard the pitter-patter of a feeble rain.

That’s when all plans went topsy-turvy.  

Mom took ill and we had to put her through an Endoscopy which led to an biopsy, for which we are still awaiting results, with our fingers crossed.  Don’t ask me how worried we are.  I am tired of putting up a brave face in front of my parents and my younger siblings. And sometimes people just assume you are the strongest, while you know you are the weakest of all.  And the problem with showing up as a strong person is that, no one even wonders if you are okay. 

The first thing I did was to bring my parent’s to my home, and made them stay with me.  Though reluctant initially, they budged.

J immediately made plans to come to Chennai, during the weekend and stay on with me on my birthday, 18th June, which fell on a Monday.  I can’t believe he took off on my birthday – he has hectic schedules, is such a workaholic and still chose to take off. He had traveled even the last week to watch our performance.  Oh yes, he helped me calm down and he is quite a strength when around.   One of my best birthday gifts this year.

The same week when mom took ill, my best friend and soulmate was travelling on a holiday and though I wanted to pour my heart out, I refrained from doing so, lest I would spoil the family vacation with my problems.  So, I was trying to sound normal, cheerful, and took care not to let let the cat out.  I must have put up that facade for a few days and I was convinced that this friend believed in my act.  Just before my birthday, out of the blue, I get a message – Hey, something tells me you are not okay. I stare into my mobile and the words blur as tears well up and blind me.  Felt so emotional that I almost froze.  Few hours later, I mustered some nerve to send a curt reply.  Stop cooking up stories in your head.  Have fun and enjoy your holidays. I also message back saying J is coming down from Kochi and will be here for my birthday.  That nailed it. I get a cryptic response “Good”.   

Yep.  Yet another birthday gift, no amount of money can buy – to be loved so deeply that a friend intuitively knows whether you are okay or not.  

I walk into the church that Sunday, 17th of June, feeling a bit depressed and worried.  I have a few existential questions that runs in my head.  Worry distracts me to a point, where I am not able to focus and pray.  And the Choir sings my most favorite song as the entrance hymn and the chorus goes something like this -  God still, still loves the world.  So throw your life into his arms, day by day discern his plans, God is passionately busy loving you and me. I realise that my Lord is wishing me a happy birthday in his own way. I join in and belt it out as usual and my catechism children chime in along with me.

And yes.  The best gifts are what money cannot buy.

Postscript:
You can listen to the song that played in the choir,  here

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Pura Goa Gaja

The first famous temple of Bali that we girls set our foot on, was the Balinese Ganesha temple, also known as Pura Goa Gaja or the Elephant Cave temple.

This temple is an ancient structure built in the 11th century as a spiritual place for meditation, when Bali was ruled by King Udayana and it was at rural Ubud,  the part of Bali which is still unspoilt by urbanization.  Most of the temples we visited, had magic woven into the stones and it was amazing to see the stone artwork.

When I heard the name Elephant cave temple, I was waiting for a gigantic dwelling of the God, full of pachyderms, but that was not to be. This is an archaeological site of significant historical value and is one among the top visit sites in the Island of Bali. Though we kept pronouncing Goa like our Indian state Goa, it actually has to be pronounced as Guha which means cave and Gajah  means Elephant.  Pura means Temple.
colourful Souvenir Shops on the way 
Some more interesting Souvenirs
We walked on a concrete footpath constantly reminded by Kevin, to watch our step, crossed a concrete pathway lined with brightly adorned souvenir shops and refreshment kiosks.  We were all dressed appropriately for a temple visit as we had read that our clothes need to be below our knees. We still had to tie a bright yellow Sarong, which looked like a Sash around our waists.  The temples would offer these Sarongs for the tourists at the entrance.  But they are particular about wearing them when inside the temple.

The central meditational cave entrance was a carved out stone structure that depicted a massive goblin like creature that looked straight into our eyes and we had to get inside its mouth.  The cave was itself small and shallow but anyone can feel its history rich in tradition along with a kind of mysticism.  
The Cave Entrance - look at the amazing stone work.



The main Deity - Balinese Ganesha
The main deity was Balinese Ganesha with a black and white checked Sarong and there were also other shrines, one which housed three Linga's representing the Hindu trinity, each wrapped in red, yellow and black clothes, within the cave. Black soot lines the cave walls and there are several empty indentations, which probably is the place where the meditating saints sat.  Probably.  Kevin also told us this is a shivaite temple, but i did notice some elements of Buddhism all over the temple. 

The Hndu Trinity

Inside the cave, All four of us fell silent, which is rare, Sudha meditated a while and we let the serenity fill us. And that's something I find quite enchanting with the four of us.  We are all chirpy, talking, laughing and making fun one moment, but when one of us needs the space, we all are willing to give it to each other and step back. 
The huge tree :to show the scale
From the cave we moved to a courtyard that has a century old ( or more than that) large tree.  The tree had a large black and white checked Sarong just like the deities.  We then descended to another courtyard and Wantilan, that is filled with relics that was excavated from the site, as late as the 1950's.

Relic Courtyard
We also saw a huge Buddha's head broken into two, and the sculpture had fallen into a river.  Somehow missed to click a picture of it.


The pool which is opposite to the site where the relics are kept, features five out of supposedly seven statues depicting Hindu angels holding vases that act as water spouts and we actually went down there but found the rocks a bit slippery so didn't really touch the water.  Kevin did tell us the names of these statues were Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswathy etc., its a pity, I do not remember them now. (whacking myself for noting it down and for not writing a blog immediately after our trip).
Water spouts
A sense of calm engulfed the four of us, as we took in all that ancient  history. In my head, i was relating how India and Bali were connected by Hinduism as well as Buddhism and how the religions are differently depicted and practiced in Bali.

Kevin must have had some relief from our chatter for a few minutes, then.

P.S:
This post is inspired by Ramesh, one of the expert bloggers, I admire.  His travelogues are the best I have read.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Nyepi

This is a guest post from one of the girls babes who was part of the effervescent gang that is determined to enjoy life to its fullest.  

When I suggested if the girls babes can come up with a guest post, lively as she is, Sudha jumped at it and even before I batted my eyelid, was done with a beautiful post. 

Here we go with the first guest post, ever, on my blog (yaaaayyyy).
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While researching about what we will do in Bali, I got to know that one of the days of the trip is going to be a ‘silent-day’. Silence is such an oxymoron when 4 of us are together, we never had a dull moment :-). Then I read further and found out that there are no activities on that day. People fast and are confined to their homes, even the airport is closed!!  That did not deter our spirits. Also, found out many people plan to go to Bali to immerse themselves in this cultural and religious festival. 

Some of the high end resorts also have Nyepi day activities like Spa, special breakfast, access to pool etc. So that brought me back to one of the agendas of the trip – self pampering :-) it would be a welcome chance to disconnect and witness a centuries-old tradition on an island where religion and ceremony play a pivotal role in daily life. Though Indonesia is predominately a Muslim country, Balinese people follow Hinduism.  Already day dreaming about the temples, architecture, beaches, Nyepi added a new pleasantly surprised dimension to the trip.

The Balinese new year, Nyepi,  otherwise known as silent day, coincides with Ugadi and few other Indian regional New Year dates. The day is dedicated to worship and there are large Ogoh-Ogoh, demon like statues built and paraded throughout Bali. The Ogoh-Ogoh are believed to scare away the evil spirits that visit Bali during this time. Also on Nyepi day due to the practice of no lights, no fire (no cooking), no travel, no noise the  evil spirit thinks that no life form is existing in Bali and they go back. Also its noteworthy that even the airports remain closed on this day.
First sight of much awaited Ogoh-Ogoh.  He looks scary doesnt he?
Good reason for Bali being called ‘the island of the Gods’. There are offerings to God kept at each shop, house entrances, street intersections and even inside the cars, boogies etc.  The offerings consists of flowers, rice, leaves on a handmade coconut palm leaf plate or bowl. Coconut palm leaves are used in decoration in the temples and to hold other forms of offering too.
offering on a road side in a coconut palm container
Decoration made of coconut palm leaves


Coconut palm decoration in front of a temple
Ubud is the cultural centre of Bali and we got to stay there at Santi Mandela. Vincy had dedicated a whole blog about this place, you can read ithere, in the earlier post.

The day before Nyepi :

From Ubud, we left to Nusa Dua the beach haven. On the way we witnessed many processions. We found that the days preceding Nyepi, there are huge processions that take the Ogoh-Ogoh along the road to the family temples. Each clan, if I can say have their own temples and each of them compete on whose procession and Ogoh-Ogoh is better.  Most men wear customized t-shirts, most women wear their traditional costume for the parade. They walk with offerings perched on their head. Again bamboo vase like baskets carry fruits, flowers etc.

The decorated Guardian statues in front of a temple, also called as Dwarapalas, on the eve of Nyepi
We also saw school going children in their uniform having a parade of their own. The Ogoh-Ogoh looked less scary. The whole island comes together to celebrate this.

We reached Hilton en-route to Tanah Lot - what a picturesque temple, there should be a blog on that as well.  Nusa Dua Hilton is a luxurious beach resort. We stepped out for lunch and found an Indian restaurant. We were secretly craving for Indian food :-) I would admit. 

The Evening is the day for the grand Nusa Dua parade. We found the temple venue and took a cab to witness the celebration. There were  Huge Ogoh-Ogoh, accompanied by people carrying fire torches.  The people were dressed thematically. We found people playing different kinds of percussion and wind instruments.   There were dance and music performances from each clan. Its equivalent to our Kovil Thiruvizha (temple festival), complete with chariots, band, music et all.  But not the commotion and noise. It was surreal.  We noticed that the people were with devotion, committed to the success of the parade.  The events were synchronized, and onlookers were also well behaved. Was a night to remember.

We had a quiet night by the beach. Stars looked bigger and brighter, and we all felt we might not have seen so many stars in the regular sky (pollution).

Here comes the Nyepi day : We had a grand buffet breakfast, and spent the day resort bound.

I could sum it up as : Lots of chirp, chatter and cheer. Eat, sleep and repeat. Photos, photos and more photos. Sun, sand, and pool.. Rest, relax and rejuvenate.. Wonderful vacation with a day for ourselves. No regrets whatsoever. We learned that, there is no other day like this ! Anywhere else in the World – Nyepi – Balinese New Year.



A week after the trip during my conversation with Rosy, she said – When will we ever get another chance to gaze at the stars, lying down at the beach?

A wonderful experience, for the eyes and the soul.