Bali in the second decade of the 21st century is far removed from the Bali of a hundred years ago. The Dutch, colonial rulers of Bali in the early part of the 20th century, opened the island to tourism in 1914. It is claimed that the Dutch empowered students of the day to assist in the preservation of Balinese culture. But whatever history may have us believe, Bali has been a tourist destination for well over a hundred years. And this is because the island offers white and black sand beaches, great surfing spots, a plethora of wildlife, a fabulous array of culinary delights, colourful religious ceremonies accompanied by the haunting sounds of the gamelan, and more. Perhaps it is this devotion by the Balinese to their traditions, their respect and adherence to Adat, that has helped it (Bali) survive the continuing influx of visitors bringing their own cultural values. We can observe the fascinating merging of cultures particularly in the Arts and hospitality. The synergy of culture and commerce is unparalleled.
And this brings us to the present day.
Bali 2020 begins at the airport; the effortless walk through immigration (a visa free stamp on the passport for a 30 day period for visitors from 169 countries), to the boundless offers of transport, stay and entertainment for all budgets. Aside from the vibrating nightlife, the surfing, the manic shopping, bars and restaurants, the real Bali hides in plain sight for the culture aficionados – those who want to experience the Bali that has, in a manner of speaking, remained relatively unchanged. To find this Bali one needs to travel out of the urbanised tourist hotspots to the lush green countryside, where traditional Balinese homesteads thrive, where food is cooked using age-old techniques, where the Tamu (guest) is honoured in timeless tradition (even as uninvited guests to a wedding!), where farming is not a job but a mission to preserve the natural ethics of the land. And this can be seen in the manicured rice-fields, the preservation of wildlife (Bali Starling conservation), the colourful hand-made wooden fishing boats (Jukung) and the weaving of fabrics with dyes obtained from tree bark etc. It would appear to the first-time visitor that there are parallel worlds existing on the isle. Perhaps there is some truth in this but the link between the worlds is the Canang sari (floral offerings) that one can see at the entrance of temples and in temples, homes, commercials establishments, and even in vehicles. This is the spiritual connection between the old and new world unblemished by time and space, the ultimate adherence to Sekala Niskala (the seen and unseen), which is best reflected in the homage to the banyan/peepal tree. This tree is believed to house the gods and spirits of ancestors. This adoration is witnessed all over the isle where the tree grows at strategic nodal points.
Bali 2020 offers an unlimited buffet of choices for every visitor.