As we often find ourselves trapped in body and mind, it has become a breakfast staple for my core group to verbalize how this society drains our energies—more usual that having butter to our toasts. With the many roles that we need to magnificently play, some of us are honed to become master jugglers. There are those who, myself included, are reduced to mere cheer squads, and turn to the comforts of watching the koi in the garden grow, or find consolation in the therapeutic properties of house plants.
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The invitation for a Bali sojourn came in at an opportune time—I was examining my life choices through the lines on my face that range from almost invisible to California fault line. In between the carefully designed multiple skincare steps more intricate than ingesting my prescription Prozac, I received a text from my comrade Richard that we are booked. Looking back, there was no invitation; it was an imposition. Of which, I would forever be grateful.
A Bali virgin, my idea of the province is a blurry excerpt from the movie Eat, Pray, Love. The idea of finally meeting my soul mate did little to my mental health battles. Nevertheless, I was resolved to keep my eyes ever open for Javier Bardem, or a fitting close second. From Manila, the plane took off on time amidst a brewing tropical depression. Except from the unwelcome prevalence of turbulence in the first hour, the uneventful flight came to a halt at the sunny Denpasar Regency.
As a fan of architecture and the often complex process of rooting, the Denpasar International Airport became a positive distraction. It embodies everything that I would for my metropolis—a proud manifestation of heritage that seamlessly melds with the forward enveloped in a conscious regard for sustainability. Surprisingly, the Denpasar International Airport kicks off my sacred week.
Armed with a renewed interest and SPF 50 emollient, we drove from the airport to our accommodation in the city. According to Richard, it was better that we stay in the city and just arrange for tours to popular sites. The 10km-distance was covered by passing through small arteries lined with a combination of visuals that attest to Bali’s unwavering faith to Hinduism and its dedication to progress. I thought to myself, this is probably the key trait of the province why people come here to find and reinforce their centers—the presence of opposing energies seems to cleanse and stabilize the air.
The decision to take the Ubud Tour came on the second day when we ran out of things to do in the city. It wasn’t really difficult to deal with these tour providers—and the tours are really affordable. We got ours for IDR 800,000 (approximately PHP 3,000).
Gate to heaven
I was up at 3 AM on the day of the tour, two hours earlier than the pickup time from the hotel lobby. (Maybe it's from excitement or that my medications failed to work properly.) I still didn’t have any expectations, which proved to be advantageous. The long drive to the Eastern side of Bali is partly scenic, and partly a nightmare for those who easily gets dizzy with winding roads. I was feeling particularly calm that morning, and it was amazing to witness a Bali sunrise just when we were driving on the coastal side.
A few hours on the road and we reached our first destination—Pura Luhur Lempuyang. I initially thought that the presence of tourists diminishes the contemplative charm of the place, but there was more to this temple than meets the eye. At the entrance to the sacred grounds, people are asked to wear kamben. It was an act of surrender; that you submit yourself to the requirements of the greater beings that inhabit the holy place. However, there are technicalities that one must understand when wearing the sarong. Men wrap it around their waists from left to right; women are expected to counter this by doing it the opposite way to foster balance.
The sun was out but the intermittent mountain breezes provide a comforting chill. The first few feet going up was made accessible by stairs, and then a steep inclined pavement led to the temple. Guests are welcomed with a douse of holy water. The rich and ornate Lempuyang Temple is a Javanese vernacular that features a mesmerizing combination of various influences. It is quite majestic how it appears to pull in the vitality of the different elements.
While people lined up for a chance to have their photograph taken in the famous Gate of Heaven, I stopped and adored the breathtaking views of Mount Agung, Bali’s Mt. Everest. Sitting in one corner of the temple and trying to comprehend its profound effects on those who practice Hinduism opens up the senses to consider possibilities and other truths.
Almost ethereal, the Balinese culture is founded on the unseen. The strong reverence of Bali for the spiritual allows it to be in touch with the higher level of consciousness. Our guide, Gun, constantly reminded us to rid our minds of negative thoughts, as this will affect our overall temple experience. Marketing or not, I was willing to make most of the tour by invoking images of the unprofaned.
In the end, a visit to the sacred temple does not push you to reexamine your own beliefs or entertain the idea of changing your religion; and while I maintain that the architecture is nothing short of impressive, it never really allowed me to align my chakras.
But it is not to say that there is no valuable takeaway from the experience. The Pura Luhur Lempuyang allowed me to enrich my definition of what is beautiful, and reminded me that beauty should lie not just with what can be interpreted by the senses.
And that I think, could actually be a good breakfast staple to balance the rants.