Scratching the Surface

We sauntered along our main road heading north towards the center of town. The shrines grew bigger and more frequent, and more awesome. They look out of place amid all the traffic. We try to imagine what this looked like before Henry Ford came along -or even 25 years ago. It takes us a week to start to separate the shrines from the temples from the private compounds. Most if not all properties have a shrine somewhere, some are visible in front, others are hidden in back. They are grey, square, stone structures, with an open entry, sort of Mayan in appearance. The 4 corner posts are higher than the connecting walls, but not as high as the centerpiece. Lots of detailed cornices and flat surfaces, on which lots of offerings are placed.

Temples have many of the same characteristics, but often have orange touches too. And they’re bigger, sometimes much more so, but this is not always obvious at first glance. Many of the larger temples are built several feet higher than the sidewalk, with long steps in front that taper towards a small wrought iron gate, or an open entry space. Some are like covered courtyards, with high, pitched, bamboo ceilings and white marble floors -and perhaps a group of boys playing soccer, barefoot.

Private compounds are walled properties of varied sizes, on which 4 generations of family live together. This is still the central way of life for most Balinese. Often, the facade that towers over the entryway is an ornate stone structure. On either side in front of the double wooden gate, stand 2 grotesque stone monsters, standing guard to scare away the evil spirits. Upon entry, smack in front of you, is a beautiful, human-sized stone carving of a deity, Shiva, Brahma, or Vishnu, along with frogs, lizards, flowers, or other beautiful things. A courtyard follows. Many are exquisitely beautiful and harmonious gardens, often with caged birds singing, water trickling, and elderly women sweeping up leaves, while children play. Some of the compounds go back very far, and have many shrines scattered between cottages.

Narrow paved paths that are easy to miss wind along the sidewalls of the compounds, to then connect with cross paths that run behind them and help create a matrix of compounds -and more children, and roosters, and sweet people, and more elderly women, still sweeping the leaves.

You begin to learn to look for the small trails that lead away from the noise. They multiple back there, and other worlds open up. Large expanses of beautiful rice fields appear out of nowhere, with 30 ducks marching about, or a dozen workers knee deep in the mud. Thatched huts dot the horizon. The clouds are dramatic. Tributaries can lead to a little river, or a lily pond, or a jungle. You’re just 1 or 2 minutes removed from where you just were, but you are now somewhere else. This was good to learn.



1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Dad
    May 11, 2013 @ 04:44:46

    Great travelogue, and I think I have now read them all. I now know to look and not await an e-mail to say you have posted a new one. What an incredibly interesting journey you have had, and it’s in its infancy.


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