North Bali Round Trip – The North Coast

Bali’s criss crossing network of paved roadways was constructed by the Dutch only the 1920s.

 Before that time the people of Buleleng regency on the island’s north shore were relatively isolated from their southern cousins. North Bali, always a centre for foreign trade, was annexed by the Dutch in 1848, some60 years before they subdued the rest of Bali, and Buleleng’s rules converted to Christianity at this time.

The culture of the north is thus different in several ways: the language is faster and less refined, the music more allegro and the temple ornamentation more fanciful. The port city of Singaraja, the capital of Bali under the Dutch, has sizeable comunities of Chinese and Muslims.

From Penulisan, the winding roads seems to drop straight out of the sky, flattening out several miles before the village of Kubutambahan, on the coast. This village’s main temple, Pura Maduwe Karang, is dedicated to the animistic ground spirits that ensure good harvests. Partly because the local raja converted to Christianity early this century, leaving temple affairs in the hands of villagers, the carvings at Pura Maduwe Karang are “popular” in the way they depict startling ghouls, domestic scene, lovers and even an official riding a bicycle.

Other temples in the region have equally unusual carvings. A temple at Jagaraga, a short distance inland from the coast, has relief depicting Europeans riding in a Model-T Ford, a single propeller plane diving into the sea, and a steamship attacked by sea monsters. And the Pura Beji temple at Sangsit just to the west of Kubutambahan by the sea, is known for its Rabelaisian scenes – complete with flames, arabesques and spirals all executed in pink sandstone.

From Kubutambahan you may want to make a detour east to Air Saneh, a holy spring and bathing place situated on the sea’s edge. It is said that the spring is for lover’s – here you can sharpen the libido and do laps at the same time! There are also small quest houses and restaurants.

The best facilities, however, are to be found at Lovina Beach, 11 kms (7 miles) west of Singaraja on the scenic coast road. Here a calm sea laps the sandy shore and tidy bungalows rent for only a few dollars a night. This is the ideal hideaway for tired travellers.

The town of Singaraja, once a bustling centre of commerce and government, is now rather sleepy (pop. 25,000). Its tree lined boulevards and colonial residences tell something of its former glory, but ther is relatively little to see or do. The Gedung Kertya, on Jl. Veteran near the colonial Hotel Singaraja (once the Dutch governor’s mansion), houses a valuablecollection of palm – leaf lontar (manuscripts). And at the port, you can see sailing vessels unloading wood and loading coffee, corn or rice.

Heading due south from Singaraja, the road climbs up and up into the lush Bratan plateau, an area fed by numerous mountain lakes and streams where the earth is covered with thick moss and creepers. At Pancosar, you pass the anomalous Bali Handara Country Club, built by the state oil monopoly, Pertamina, during the halycon days of Ibnu Sutowo’s administration in the early 1970s. Its 18 hole golf course is on the list of the world’s top 50!

The road continues through dense jungle terrain, skirting serene Lake Bratan, veiled in mists and filling the ancient crater of Mt. Bratan. People in the surrounding villages honour Dewi Danu, the goddess of the lake, in the temple of Ulu Danu on a small promontory by the western shore. Around on the southern shore there is a small, government – run guest house and restaurant, where recently they have begun renting motorboats and waterskis. This is a cool, peaceful place. Children fish for minnows and canoes cross the still waters, carrying firewood to villages on the far bank.

Just below the lake is the village of Bedugul, where wild orchids, tree ferns and fresh vegetables are sold at the Bukit Mungsu market. 3 kms (1,9 miles) to the west along a marked sideroad, there is a botanical garden, Lila Graha, where mountain orchids are raised. From Bedugul the road drops down again to the cultivated plains, emerging at Mengwi.

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