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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Beautiful, Bountiful Bali

Rita's House with the redundant swimming pool

Bali chapters:
Beautiful Bountiful Bali
Endlessly Festive Bali
Time Travel in Bali

We flew into Bali around midnight only to find that a whole string of flights had arrived at the same time and there were huge queues at all the immigration desks to slowly process visas on arrival which cost $25 US each, so it was around 1 am when we finally caught a taxi to Kuta without any hotel reservation. The driver promptly tried to find us one he might get a tout fare from to no avail below 500,000 rupiahs, because it is the high season here, so after some debate we got him to drop us off in Gang Surga a little connecting lane between Poppies lanes 1 and 2 right in the centre of the losmen district.

Poppies lane 1 - our immediate main street

Although the places were mostly full in the high season, within one minute and 20 metres, I was lucky enough to score the last free room in Rita's House, the first placed I came to, a reasonably priced (200,000 a night at 8,600 = $1 US) long-standing place, complete with air-con and an insane high-sided swimming pool that took out the entire ground floor foyer area, which no one seemed to be using. This was a great piece of good fortune, because otherwise we might have been wandering the lanes of Kuta all night, except that I did see one or tow other more remote places tucked away next day.

Three further views of Poppies Lane 1 heading towards Legian

A green spot near the Legian end - a very diverse little lane all in all

Kuta is still surprisingly unspoiled with a beach relatively clear of the maddening beach umbrellas that clutter beaches from Portugal to Phuket. Poppies lanes 1 and 2 are also still reasonably funky side lanes stocked with small restaurants, mini markets, internet cafes and travel shops with still some of the original third world charm of its first beginning.

The main street along Kuta Beach

Two panoramas of Kuta's still unspoiled appearance (compare with 1974)

Legian - the main street in Kuta

An urban temple with offerings in Kuta

From Kuta, we took a shuttle bus at 1.30 to Ubud after waiting 40 minutes for it to pick other people up from different parts of town. The ride was full of traffic, and fumes of two-strokes and diesels until the road began to enter the countryside north of Denpassar. Along the way was a profusion of roadside sculpture markets featuring the Hindu deities, Buddhas and other mythological and fantastic creatures. Eventually it wound upward and into the forests and rice paddies that are signature of the Ubud area.

Tangled traffic around Denpassar

One of hundreds of sculpture markets lining the road

Getting up towards Ubud

Monkey Forest Road

Almost immediately we arrived in Ubud a Balinese guy called Ari appeared to invite us into a traditional Balinese family compound only 20 metres away, Argosoka Bungalows, for 180,000 R a night, complete with family shrines and offerings at sunset, only half the price of the place the bus took us to, with the only distinction of having another of those dubious swimming pools.

Argosoka Bungaloes

Ari giving offerings and two views of the house shrines

In residence

This placed us down the lower end of Monkey Forest Road, just above the Monkey Forest itself, whose indomitable cheeky primates, forest shrines and Indiana-Jones-like temple of the dead we visited on the first evening. The restaurants, although looking pricey, offered mains for 20,000 upwards - about $2.50 US.

Two views of Monkey forest corner

Sights on the way to the Perama office

Ubud monkey and a monkey statue at the entrance

The forest

An animal shrine in the forest

Pura Dalem Agung - the temple of the dead

Next day we had to secure a bus back to Kuta for the departure two days later which proved a problem because buses to the airport left only at 10.30 - too late to be sure of our 12.55 departure on Air Asia for Singapore, so I stumped a mile or so to the Perama shuttle office and scored a pick up at 8 am for the 8.30 bus to Kuta.

This proved to be a godsend because we had left Rohan's very special international adapter plug - the best design we have ever seen - on the hotel bed in Kuta and after phoning them the next day to tell them to check if it was still there, I managed to stump across Kuta as well when we reached there on our departure day to retrieve it.

There is a thing here which is notable about cellphone global roaming. Many countries have multiple networks and your cell phone can easily latch on to a network that won't actually service your texts or calls. It was only after Christine's phone found a different network that I realized why I couldn't initially get through to the Kuta hotel and why many Latin American countries may have not worked.

Balinese kites in a shop

After that we wandered up Monkey Forest Road to the main intersection and looked at the market, the Ubud royal palace which houses a temple Puri Saren Agung and two Ubud temples Pura Desa Ubud the main temple for the Ubud community and Pura Taman Saraswati dedicated to Dewi Saraswati the goddess of wisdom and the arts clearly blessing Ubud as an artistic and cultural centre.

For Balinese religion see the next blog ...

We also got the notion to get a hire car next day, although all the places seemed booked up. I had been bitterly complaining that we should get a rental motor bike, as we did and traversed the island back in 1973, which Christine adamantly resisted saying I would fall off and where would we put the crutches but a car proved to get us much further afield than the two of us would have been able to this time on a small bike. Anyway first thing in the morning I asked Ari and he immediately arranged a rental jeep from the shop owner two doors along for 120,000 for the day - not bad compared with a 100 cc bike for 50,000!

Two views of the market

A statue in one of the official buildings

(Left) Gate of Puri Saren Agung in the Ubud Palace (Right) Pura Desa Ubud

Ubud Palace

Panorama of the courtyard of Pura Desa Ubud

A series of scenes from the nearby temple Pura Taman Saraswati

A mother father totem shrine in a tree with a dire warning in the PS!

Next morning we set off up to the top of the big volcano at Kintamani, on to the temple complex of Besakih on the slopes of Mt. Agung the current most active volcano in Bali and back to Ubud in a circle, which is the subject of the next blog.

The day after this trip we returned to Kuta and caught the plane back out to Singapore.

Left: A TV repairman scales an impossible aerial. Right: Geckos on the restaurant ceiling.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Mesmerizing Mumbai

We finally arrived in Mumbai, after a refueling delay in Amman at 2 am Jordanian time but 4.30 Mumbai time and had to wait about 40 mins and make two cell phone calls to fire up Arma Galaxy Hotel to come and pick us up as promised. So come 6 am Indian time, we finally hit the sack until about midday, after the proprietor tried to claim for two days lodging because we had arrived so early, until I pointed out we were leaving nearly as early next morning. But they did honour their free airport pickup and drop off and did have air-con and a partially viable internet, if you wanted to sit in the open air foyer facing the street.

Traffic jam in the tuk-tuk

We then set out to try to get from the airport area of the hotel to the waterfront of Colaba, which proved to be a gargantuan undertaking. Firstly we had to take a tuk-tuk west across Northern Bombay to the north-south rail line at Andheri Station, through thick traffic stranded by road construction with copious tuk-tuks squeezed between buses and heavy trucks. At one point there was a deserted tuk-tuk right in the middle of the congested road causing a traffic jam apparently left there because the driver had bashed his head through the windscreen and was injured somewhere.

A series of images of the Andheri area

When we arrived at the station the vicinity was crowded and we were immediately besieged by largely naked child-mothers with babies begging for small change which we gave a couple of rupees each to out of the change from the tuk-tuk fare. We then struggled through the crowds at the station and up the stairs to the crowded overpass with another string of child beggars, these ones displaying gestures of deformity. However India is ever compassionate and helpful - a man immediately showed us which platform to catch the train and walked all the way over to the other side with us to show us how to buy a little book of tickets worth anything from 1 rupee to 8 ( 45 rupees = $1 US) which you can punch in a machine to use to board a train (although no one ever checked on the two trains we boarded) to avoid standing in the queues to get rail tickets.

Intense crowds around the Andheri station

Bombay has no hint of an effective metropolitan transport system but just the original rail lines combined with hideous local busses and an oceanic cohort of dilapidated taxis and tuk-tuks. The trains are beat up overcrowded overflowing with people hanging out the doors. They are running every couple of minutes and had a section reserved for disabled which did give us a bit of room and a seat on the way in to Churchgate the most southerly terminus, although still a kilometre or two from Colaba and the Gateway of India through which the Pakistani terrorists came in boats to create mayhem in the city.

This is definitely not what we expected from Bombay the economic hub of the new Indian economy, currently growing at 8.8% per annum.

The trains are beat up and often bulging with people hanging out the doors

and forever crowded inside

The beach at Churchgate

A panorama of the coastal scene

So after a min-meal - a small sized vegetarian plate, we walked down to the coastal promenade and then caught a taxi to Colaba and the India Gate passing a number of the colonial architectural wonders along the way.

A mini-meal for 80 rupees. The vegetarian plate is always a good bet for avoiding Delhi belly.

A series of images of some of the architectural wonders of Colaba

The Eros cinema

A panorama of the infamous Gateway of India famed for the terrorist attack.

The return journey was a case of canny experience. The un-metered taxi there cost 50 R, the metered one on the way back to Churchgate 20. The train back we knew the stations and counted down to Andheri. The metered tuk-tuk back to the hotel cost 34 R while the one on the way out tried for 60 and bargained to 50. Of course 50 R is little more than $1 US so the rides were all literally 'dirt cheap' and one wonders how the drivers can break even, let alone pay the fuel and rental charges on the machines, which they generally don't own.

Just as we returned, the rain came down in buckets brooding doom but light relief from the scorching deserts of Jordan and the burning European wastes from Andalucia to Crete.

A Jesus image in the rain

A building by the hotel. Many of the buildings become covered in mould.

Next morning at 7 we were up to get our flight to Singapore. When we arrived at the Quantas counter, we we're persuaded to use a wheelchair - I have only done this once in Crete because they claimed the plane was away down the runway - this time to avoid the queues in immigration.

A slum settlement intruding on the airport which is subject to imminent demolition.

Aerial view of Mumbai with slum dwellings in mid-city spaces

This proved a nightmare as we lost autonomy, because we had a minder to push the chair, who nearly took us through security before we had drunk up the remaining breakfast, and then it proved completely bizarre, trying to deal with x-ray machines with a lot of electronic equipment when they were going nearly berserk with multiple checks and searches, picking up Christine's nail files in the x-ray and then trying to not let her on the plane because her day pack, which had been thoroughly searched had its security stamp on the wrong side of her luggage tag.

However it did work like a charm in Singapore, to whisk us in through immigration and quickly to baggage claim and on to the Air Asia check-in for our ongoing flight to Bali which we we're anxious we might miss because of the narrow time window between the two flights.

Resplendent comfort - an entire row of four seats each on the flight to Singapore