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General information on Bali - Indonesia
Get to know the smoking volcanoes, tropical vegetation and idyllic beaches; enjoy the bustle of Asian city life, impressive temples and palaces, dance and music, and above all the friendly, colourful population and delicious kitchen. You cannot afford to miss visiting this island of gods and demons, with its unique culture and beautiful landscape.
Bali is a sunblessed island in the Indonesian archipel between the islands of Java and Lombok with a very rich culture and geography, which are hard to compare to any place else in the world. The people are very friendly and helpful and live very relaxed. It is the most westerly of the small Sunda islands, has a surface of approximately 2,175 square miles and a little more than 3 million inhabitants. Almost 90% are autochthonal Balinese, who are mainly hindu and speak Balinese (Bahasa Bali) or Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia). Denpasar in the south has been the capital since 1958. Until then it was Singaraja in the north, where nowadays you can find Lovina Beach.
Bali is Indonesia top tourist attraction where nonetheless you can find a whole lot of room and tranquility and where lots of people take a comfortable break after seeing the rest of Indonesia. There is plenty of beach and nightlife but most of all you will find tranquility and numerous ways to relax. Bali has its own airport and can also be reached by boat from the surrounding islands.
History of Bali
In antiquity there existed on Bali many different principalities, or princedoms. The first Europeans to set foot on the island were the brothers Cornelis and Frederik de Houtman, who arrived in 1597, although the island did not come under Dutch control until its gradual colonisation in the middle of the 19th century.
In the time of the Dutch East India Company, Bali was an independent Hindu kingdom with a long, warlike history. All the principalities were united under one prince, the sushunan, who settled in Klung-Kung. Because the coastline of Bali is so varied, contact with the East India Company was rare, and even then contact was only because of the slave trade.
The final, bloody subjugation happened in 1906, after the Balinese royalty in Badung (men, women, and children), committed mass-Puputan (suicide) by charging into enemy fire armed with nothing more than kris and klewang. Of the nine royal houses, only three remained. The old Bali had conclusively been defeated. Bali is now a part of the Republic of Indonesia, since its conception in 1945. It is the 27th province (propinsi) and the largest tourist spot in the entire country.
Geography of Bali The island is dominated by volcanic mountains; some of the volcanoes are still active. The highest point is the Gunung Agung, with a peak of 3,142 metres above sea level. The Gunung Batur, close to the Danau Batur (lake of Batur), is 1,717 metres high and has a crater with a diameter of 6.8 miles and a depth of 180 metres. Bali is separated from Java by the shallow Bali Strait, which, at its narrowest point, is only 5 miles wide. The wider Lombok Strait separates Bali and Lombok. To the north lies the Balinese Sea, in the south the Indian Ocean.
Lenguages on Bali Bali has its own language: Balinese (Bahasa Bali). Balinese Malaysian, derived from a Malayo-Polinesian language, is also spoken by a large part of the population. There are rumours of the existence of Balinese Sign Language, although it is only used in one village.
Bali does not have the same diversity of languages as one would find in New Guinea. In addition to the three languages previously mentioned, only the important immigrant languages are spoken, such as Indonesian (the national language), and Mandarin Chinese. An interesting fact about Bahasa Bali is that it has 3 different “levels”. These levels are related to the Balinese caste-system. This caste-system is rather different from that of India.
Religions on Bali Although most Indonesians are Muslims, the majority of Balinese still observe a form of Hinduism. Balinese Hinduism (Hindu Dharma, Agama Hindu), consists of a combination of existing Balinese mythology and influence from the Hinduism found in South- and South-East Asia.
Distribution of religion in Bali:
- Hinduism - 93%
- Islam - 5.2%
- Christianity - 1.2%
- Protestantism - 0.7%
- Roman Catholicism - 0.5%
- Buddhism - 0.6%
Agama Hindu is an essential part of life for the average Balinese. This is evident in the daily offerings in the many (house) temples, on the sidewalk in front of stores, and so on. Everyday life for the average Balinese is related to a 210-day calendar. At the beginning of every Balinese year (Balinese moon calendar), Nyepi (Day of Silence) is observed.
Caste system on Bali The caste system is still an integral part of life on Bali. Unlike the caste system of India, the system in Bali consists of 4 castes, the so-called Varnas: Brahmana – the caste of priests (the person’s name is prefixed by Ida Bagus (men) or Ida Ayu (women) Ksatria – the caste of kings and royalty (the name of the person begins with Anak Agung or Cokorda/Tjokorde Gde (men), or Tjokorde Istri (women) Wesia – the caste of merchants (the person’s name begins with I Gusti) Sudra – the caste of the man in the street (90% of the population) Thus, someone’s name indicates the caste he belongs to.
Communication between these castes happens via use of different versions of the Balinese language (Bahasa Bali), namely “high” Balinese, “middle” Balinese, and “low” Balinese. Before one knows which caste he is dealing with, he uses a more neutral version of Balinese; when the caste of the other person has been established, he begins using the appropriate version of the language. This is observed even between friends. However, caste no longer determines one’s career, the exception being the Brahmana. The pendanda ((high) priest) must come from this caste.
Beaches and other places on Bali Denpasar is the capital of Bali. Some of the cultural cities are Batubulan, Celuk, Sukawati, Batuan Bali, Mas, Peliatan, Pengosekan and Ubud. Popular tourist cities include Sanur, Kuta, Legian, Jimbaran, Bukit Badung, Nusa Dua, Canggu, Kerobokan, Seminyak.
Things to do on Bali The island is popular with tourists, mostly for its beautiful beaches, the pristine nature with magnificent terraced rice paddies (sawas) and volcanoes, the many monuments (which include thousands of Balinese temples), Pura, and the specific Balinese culture, such as temple performances, gamelan music, and traditional dance forms of Barong and Kecak. Kuta is a hip little city with beautiful beaches, many shops and temples, and very friendly people, like the rest of Bali. From Padangbai on the coast, you can go to the mother temple of Besakih, considered to be the holiest temple for the Balinese people, or travel to the high (and still active) volcano Batur. A stroll or bike tour through the rice paddies with bustling towns full of children’s laughter, splashing of water, and quacking of ducks is very refreshing. Here you will also find countless, very stylish restaurants and bars, where you can enjoy the delicious food that the Balinese kitchen has to offer. Diving aficionados can make their hearts skip a beat in places such as Tulamben and Menjangan.
Sights of Bali
Things you should see on Bali:
- Pura Tanah Lot, a temple on a rock in the sea
- Gunung Kawi, complex, carved-into-rock candis
- Goa Lawah, bat cave
- Pura Besakih, mother temple on the slopes of Gunung Agung
- Klungkung, palace
- Ubud, artisan village in the middle of the island
- Danau Batur, lake,
- Lovina, dolphins
- Taman Nasional (National Park) Bali Barat
Culture on Bali
Dance and music are very important not only in daily life, but also in spiritual life. Balinese dances and all festivities in the temple are accompanied by gamelan music. There is also an abundance of art in the form painting, textiles, and woodcutting that underscores and exemplifies the craftsmanship of the Balinese people.
Before the Second World War a number of European painters established themselves on the island, including Walter Spies. They let themselves be inspired by Balinese art, but that art in time underwent changes as a result of Western influence, particularly in the areas of woodcutting and painting. The Belgian artist Le Mayeur is an example of this. Many of his works are on display at a museum in Sanur. In addition to the art previously mentioned, gold and silver smiting is very common on the island.
Cuisine of Bali
Bali has an extensive, unique kitchen. To give a rough idea of ingredients, one could reference, for example, Indian dishes; the Indian kitchen, however, is not at all indicative of what real Balinese food is like.
The best known Balinese dish is probably Babi Guling, suckling pig. Also very popular, but only eaten on feast days by the Balinese, is Bebek Petutu: duck, of which the skin is smeared with a mixture of herbs, spices, and peppers, then steamed between banana leaves. When the duck is done, it is briefly roasted above a wooden fire to give it a barbeque flavour.
Naming conventions on Bali In Bali it is customary to name children of the Sudra-caste according to a certain order. The first child receives the name of Wayan, Gede (for men), or Putu; the second child Made, Nengah, or Kadek; the third Nyoman or Komang, and the fourth Ketut. After that the order begins anew. The fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth children are thus named (respectively): Wayan, Made, Nyoman, Ketut, and (again) Wayan. To help distinguish these, children are also given another name in addition to the ones listed above. To differentiate the gender of the child, males receive an “I” before their name, whereas females receive a “Ni” before their name. Ni Nyoman Puspa Dewi is therefore a woman, and the third (or seventh, or...) child; I Ketut Yuliantara is a man and the fourth (or eighth, or...) child. In every day life, men receive, from a very young age, a second name that is used instead. Many people don’t even know each other by their official names.
Transport on Bali
The new Ngurah Rai Airport in Denpasar - Bali - Indonesia. Most people use public transportation via large and small buses. A true sight to see is the many scooters and mopeds riding around the city.