Saturday, May 29
Blahbatuh, Bali, Indonesia
I hired a driver to take me out to the village of Blahbatuh, which is about 10 miles southeast of Ubud. The purpose of this visit was to tour the gamelan factory, a small, family-run outfit that is one of only a handful on Bali who build these awesome instruments. They do it all here: metal work, woodwork, pretty much the whole enchilada. It was so rad to see the gamelan in various stages of completion. Although many of the finished instruments end up in Bali, there is also a shop that ships orders to foreign buyers.
On the way back to Ubud, I had the driver drop me off right down the street from my room, where there is just, oh, a Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary! The Balinese call it Mandalla Wisata Wenara Wana, and it's basically a big nature preserve in which beautiful stone walkways wind through a lush jungle that is cut in two by a river-filled ravine. Smack dab in the middle is a temple for cremation and burial ceremonies and there are eye-popping statues everywhere. Tourists feed the monkeys bananas all day long, and it's not uncommon to see then climbing all over people.
Thereâ€™s nothing like a little Wayang Kulit shadow puppet play to wrap up the day. Much more than just a puppet show, itâ€™s a serious part of the Balinese Hindu religion that greatly influences their everyday lives. Each performanceâ€“all night for locals or one hour for touristsâ€“occurs in front of an oil lamp behind a screen, and is filled with deeply spiritual singing, humorous interludes and plenty of hyperactive drama that tells stories from the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. The troupe I saw was called Wayang Kulit Kertha.
The puppets are beautiful, intricately cut works of art made out of buffalo hide leather and manipulated by wooden sticks. The puppet master, or dalang, is a highly revered and talented figure who operates the puppets, sings and beats hyper, erratic time against a box with a small wooden block held in his toes! Two small gamelan metallophones supply the rest of the ringing, festive music. Wayang Kulit: another amazing and integral part of life on Bali.