Bali and a moment of enlightenment

The Balinese are Hindu, and take their religion very seriously. It is a huge part of their everyday life

The last time we were in a country where religion was as important as this was in India. They too are Hindu.

But there the similarities end. Each country seems to have a different version of Hinduism, and worship different deities. There is little sign of Ganesha and Visnu in Bali and no sign at all of  Shiva,  and Devi. Instead they practice animism and ancestor worship with the belief that there is one God at the top of the totem pole

How can the two religions be so different and yet still be Hindu?

God only knows!

Or maybe (s)he doesn’t.

Ancestor worship is very evident here.  Almost  every house has a tiny temple or shrine in front where the owners worship their ancestors. This clearly rules out Hinduism for me, and if you had known my mother you would understand why.

Then there is the cow. (This is a separate topic from my mother.) In India the cow is sacred. It is free to wander the fields and streets unhindered by humans. At the end of the day cows return to their home where they wait patiently on the doorstep to be fed. Then they choose a nice place for the night and fall asleep. They cannot be killed

The cow in Bali has a very different life. As a calf it is kept tied up with a very short rope which barely allows it to stand, let alone move


If the owner dreams of veal it is not just the rope that is very short.

If the owner prefers a large steak, then the calf becomes a cow and is then tethered in a field until the owner can wait no longer. The cow is killed, butchered cooked and eaten.

But not all cows meet this unfortunate fate. One or two are deemed “special” and kept for special ceremonies, which sounds good unless you are the cow. These special cows are taken to the temples and offered up as sacrifices to the gods. Some are even thrown down a volcano to persuade the volcano gods not to erupt. Hopefully those gods are not vegetarian.

All of which makes me very confused about Hinduism.

But it does make one thing very clear. If I ever come back to this earth as a cow (Ed, no comments please) I will make damn sure it is in India,

One good thing about Hinduism (I am sure there are others) is that the twin concepts of reincarnation and karma are central to the philosophy. The people of Bali are all trying to evolve into a higher being, through their every day behavior. This basically means that the tourist in Bali is perfectly safe. The locals will not steal, pick pocket, purse snatch or resort to violence

But what they will do is fleece you at every opportunity, which appears to be perfectly acceptable to the Hindu gods, if not to the tourists. They stand on every corner selling small packages of pills, which they claim to be viagra or valium depending on the colour (but not the ingredients).

But this is petty stuff compared to what they do to you at the major temples. It seems such a contradiction, but at these temples the local Hindus attempt every trick in the book, and some that are not written down yet, to part you from your money.

Besakih Temple is known as the “Mother Temple of Bali” and is over 1000 years old. It is perched on the slopes of a volcano, and surrounded by the verdant green countryside of Bali.

Getting there requires patience and time. It is a slow and beautiful drive on a narrow road climbing through small villages and agricultural land,


We continue up into the rain clouds hanging over the mountain.

The temple is a magnificent sight


with its spires of black palm roofs, impossibly tall and elegant, marching down the side of the volcano


But the beauty of the place is tarnished by the ugly behaviour of the employees. They claim to love and honour the place while prostituting it to the almighty dollar.

The scams start well over half a mile from the temple where we are directed to a car park and charged a large fee to leave our car there. As soon as we open the car door we are surrounded by hawkers. Avoiding their tacky over priced souvenirs is easy compared to avoiding the so called guides. They flock round us like angry mosquitoes buzzing in our ears telling us that we can’t enter the temples without a guide. Even the ticket seller tells us the same thing, while selling us tickets at an exorbitant price. We have been warned that the guides charge huge amounts of money and that it is perfectly OK to tour the temple without one. It takes some very forceful comments on our part to continue without them.

Next we are told that we must wear a sarong to enter the temples. This is the first truth of the day and might be the last one. It comes as no surprise that we can actually rent a sarong for our visit. What does come as a surprise is the cost of renting one is considerably more than we could have bought one for back in town.

The next onslaught comes from a throng of motorcycles all offering us a ride up the hill. We will need three motorcycles we are told. One for each of us and one for our guide. The fact that we see bikes everywhere with up to 5 people on them seems to have no sway. They are shocked to hear we don’t have a guide, and even more shocked when we tell them we intend to walk.

As we set off up the hill to the temple we are approached by a very handsome young man dressed from head to toe in white, his sarong and shirt smartly pressed. His manner is deferential and polite. He introduces himself as a “guardian of the temple” and says he will show us round without any of the hassles of the guides and for no charge. He points out that, unaccompanied, we will not be allowed into the inner temples. You would think that after all our travel experiences we would know better. But we don’t. A handsome young man gets us every time, and he does indeed get us.

As we tour the temple, the Guardian shows us various restoration projects that are going on. He then takes us into a small side temple where we are greeted by an inscrutable old woman in a sarong with pieces of rice stuck to her forehead. There is clearly an understanding between them, that at first seems natural but soon makes us uncomfortable


She hands us a small offering and invites us to lay them in front of one of the statues.


The guardian then shows us how to pray for enlightenment.

He then sets about enlightening us some more.

He asks us to make a donation to the restoration works, and shows us a large wooden donation box with a padlock on it. We are happy to give some money to the restoration, but when he assures us that every penny we give will go directly to the restoration, we begin to smell a rat. Then he tells us that the padlock on the donation box ensures that no one else can get at the money. Too much information, we think. We are convinced that he and the old woman share the daily takings between them. However we deposit $10 in the box hoping that some of it will reach the intended destination

But the guide looks horrified.

$10 is not enough” he says.

How much would you recommend” I ask in a moment of blind stupidity.

Europeans usually give 50 euros” he replies rather quickly. And then pauses, and adds “each”

No fxxxxxx way” is the reply I want to give. But we are in a temple .

In another moment of blind stupidity I push another $10 into the box and get a long hard look from Gordon that clearly imparts his feelings on the matter.

That is all I have “ I tell the guardian

He clearly doesn’t believe me, but he is saving his best efforts for later

At the end of the tour he demands a tip. We are a little taken aback. Bearing in mind that he said there was no charge for his services, this seems a more blatant form of extortion than asking for a donation for the restoration.

But I am feeling charitable, and he was informative, and he is still dashingly handsome. I happily offer him ten dollars, and ignore the look Gordon is giving me.

But I can’t ignore the look of the guardian. His smile has been replaced with a scowl, his charming manner with a slightly menacing look. He looks disdainfully at the $10 and tells us that is not enough.

I don’t have to say a thing. I know what will come next

Europeans regularly tip me $50 euros” he says, and pausing for a moment, he then adds “each”.

You would think he could be a bit more creative second time around.

But this time I am ready for him. No moments of blind stupidity impinge on my usual clear thinking. Instead I come up with what I consider to be the retort which should put an end to any negotiations

We are not Europeans” I say “We are Canadians”

That should do the trick. A $10 tip from a Canadian deserves a mention in the Guinness Book of Records.

But he obviously hasn’t dealt with Canadians

He continues to demand more money until Gordon finally loses it. For those of you who don’t know Gordon, he doesn’t lose it very often, but when he does, a mere “Guardian of the Temple”, however unpleasant is no match for him. The guardian snatches the $10 from Gordon’s hand and backs rapidly into his temple, with Gordon following him, angrily jabbing a finger in his chest and lecturing him all the way.

The guardian is having HIS moment of enlightenment.

On the long drive home, the heavens open, which we take as a sign of the God’s displeasure at how we were treated at his temple:


We also pass a sign for a clothing store which only goes to show that there is a long way to go before we understand each other’s culture






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8 Responses to Bali and a moment of enlightenment

  1. Foster Meagher says:

    Thanks for the info, I’m on my way to Bali in April, I’ll be sure to avoid the good looking guide, not something I usually do. Great posts, thnx Foster

  2. Graham and Suzie says:

    What no pics of you two in sarongs?! So lovely to be travelling with you again and so informative I almost feel l could become a guide! Continue to enjoy and you certainly brighten yet another wet gloomy windy day in the UK Suziexxxx

  3. Dale McGhee says:

    Enlightened men don’t come cheap. You should have learned that at the Blue Chairs years ago.

  4. awc49 says:

    I must say I was hoping for sarong photos as well….. but I was feeling the way Gordon ended up, halfway through your narrative… If we ever make it to Bali, the temple shall remain unvisited!

  5. andrew says:

    Tony, you must make it to Bali – wait for the next blog ………………

  6. Colette says:

    ach, another place in the world you’ve saved me from going

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