The day I planned that Indonesia was my holiday destination for this year, I told my friends and acquaintances about it. All of them asked me a one-word question, Bali? I was puzzled but realized soon enough that, for most Indians, Bali comprised Indonesia. Nothing could be further from the truth because it is a country with countless islands tapped and untapped by tourists. My partner and I decided to take the middle path and backpack our way through well-known and rarely visited places. The only certainties were our flights to and from Jakarta. While we did have a fair idea of what we wanted to see, our trip was mostly undecided and open to change.
Owing to its popularity amongst the tourists, we had originally and firmly decided to ditch Bali from our open plans, although a tiny voice inside my head was pulling me in that direction. I decided to let fate decide and decide it did, and that is how a wild monkey sat on my head, grabbed a banana from a lady standing a few feet away from me, ate it in peace, surveyed his familiar surroundings and left.
The place was called the Monkey Forest and we stayed on Monkey Forest road in Ubud, central Bali. Abundant rice fields, handmade crafts, traditional Balinese dances, modern bars, reggae, jazz, rock music and tourists — all these comprise the dichotomous and predominantly Hindu culture that is Ubud. Kuta in South Bali is where the Mc Donalds is.
Our trip began in Java. We arrived in Jakarta through Singapore. Since a big city didn’t appeal to us, we decided to take a train to Central Java and stay a few days in Yogyakarta. We saw the Sultan’s palace (Kraton), handmade leather puppets or Wayang, the Ramayana Ballet, Hindu and Buddhist temples (Prambanan and Borobudur), in a Muslim city.
While sipping some glorious Javanese coffee, at café ViaVia and making plans to fill our two-week holiday, we saw that the cafe organized a five-day tour, guide and all. We stayed at a charming guest house owned and run by an elderly Dutchman, drove through rubber and Cacao plantations, ate lunch at a fishing village, with the locals, stayed in a very basic guest house in the national park, where there is electricity only between 6 and 11 pm every day. We climbed a hill to see a volcanic crater in Bromo. A 71-year-old turtle came to the beach to lay her eggs at night and we released baby turtles into the sea the next day on a beach that said ‘Don’t Swimming’ and had no one else except us on it. We met local villagers who worked at the rubber factory. They had never seen Indians before but knew Shahrukh Khan.
The tour ended at a ferry. To Bali. That was how fate played its part and that was how the monkey sat on my head.