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Bali’s Cultural, Spiritual and Creative Centre: Ubud

in Culture/Destinations/Dining/Recreation by

Ubud is in many ways Bali’s cultural, spiritual and creative centre. Just an hour’s drive north of the airport, it is home to one of Bali’s royal families who actively support the arts, leading to a thriving art scene. Along Ubud’s main street are galleries and stores selling antiques, woodcarvings, bright textiles and beautiful paintings.

An Expertly-Curated Tour of Ubud

As a special gesture to our guests staying in select villas in the region, Elite Havens is offering a luxurious signature cultural immersion tour, carefully curated by our Elite Concierge team. Embark on a journey into the heart of Ubud and get an insight into what makes it so delightfully unique. “We’ve chosen what we feel are the highlights of each location, so our guests can get a glimpse of the province over the course of a day, and it’s all wrapped it up in true Elite Havens style,” assures Andy Grant, Head of Concierge for Elite Havens.

Discover Batuan Village

Batuan, a village in Ubud noted for its artwork, is our first stop in the signature Elite Havens Ubud tour. It contains many cooperative art societies and galleries, which have all played a key role in promoting the local art of Batuan. Batuan is also a style of painting that originated in the village in the 1930s, and your Elite Havens guide will reveal further insights during the exclusive tour. “Expect to see true tropical jungles with vast ravines, and an abundance of local artisans working at their crafts, which have been passed down through generations,” Andy shares.

See Batuan Temple

You will be warmly welcomed into the home of a Balinese family, an unmissable opportunity where you can get a glimpse into the daily life of locals. Proceed from here to the stunning Batuan Temple, which is characterised by towering dark stones. Adorned with Balinese ornaments and elegant black roofs, the temple is known for housing ancient relics from prehistoric times. You will learn from your guide about the influence of Hindu culture in the region, and the origin of the statues on display.

Marvel at Art

We then take you to one of Ubud’s most prominent art galleries. Pause a while and take a look,

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The Magic of Nyepi: Bali’s Unique Day of Silence

in Culture by
Villa Zelie - Staff praying

While most cultures celebrate the new year with rowdy celebrations, revelry and fireworks, in Bali the dawning of a new year is ushered in with a unique day of silence, known as Nyepi.

This year Nyepi falls on 7 March and for 24 hours shops and restaurants will stay closed, the streets and markets will remain empty, the beaches will be deserted and the waves un-surfed. Even the airport is shut down as Bali falls under a magnificent cloak of silence.

Ocean Temple - Tanah Lot

In order to understand Nyepi, is it necessary to briefly dip into the dualistic world of Balinese Hinduism which is woven into the very fabric of life on the island. Imagine a cosmic dance in which the forces of good and evil are in constant play. Order is represented by the gods, known as dewa and dewi, while disorder is represented by the earth demons known as bhutas and kalas.

Balance must be maintained so that evil doesn’t get the upper hand. Through a myriad of religious offerings and rituals, the gods are thanked and asked for blessings, while the forces of darkness who seek to upset the equilibrium are appeased. Of all the ceremonial days on the island, Nyepi is one of the most important.

Des Indes I

Why the silence?

Theological explanations vary. Some say that by staying hidden the evil spirits will think the island has been abandoned and will pass by, thus bringing an auspicious start to the new year. But Hindu scholars say that the noise and revelry of the preceding evening, Nyepi Eve, wakes up the demons so that they will see the offerings, including blood sacrifice that have been laid out for them. In this view, the silence is a symbol of contentment and gratitude that the demons have been appeased for another year. Regardless of theological explanations, Nyepi is a day reserved for quiet contemplation and self-reflection and Balinese Hindus are prohibited from work, entertainment, travel and lighting fires. Priests and those with a higher spiritual calling will also fast, observe total silence and pass the day in prayer.

nyepi ogoh ogoh bali art

How does Nyepi effect visitors to the island?

Even tourists must respect Nyepi and stay within the grounds of their accommodation and keep noise and lights to a minimum.

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Bali Souvenirs Worth Buying

in Destinations/Shops by
Textiles outside a Bali souvenir shop

Bali holiday agendas can quickly fill up trying to satisfy everyone’s expectations – I want relaxation, you want adventure and our kids need to upload impressive new images on Instagram. Let’s do this!  In-villa spa therapist: check, romantic dinner: check, snorkelling trip: check, WIFI: check – and at the end of a satisfying stay, everyone wants the same thing: Souvenirs. 

Picking up gifts and treating yourself to something exotic is part of a good tourist experience. This is especially true in Bali, where there is a great selection of things to buy – genuine leather bags, wallets and sun hats are priced at a good value, but are not only found in this locale. Souvenirs which scream “I <3 Bali” are indeed popular buys, like key chains, pens, T-shirts and even tattoos of Mt. Agung. Although they’re all Island of the Gods exclusives, those aren’t the quality goods I recommend to my guests. 

My idea of the best Bali souvenirs are goods made from local materials that represent Balinese culture and traditions of artistic expression. The ornately carved statues, exotic Batik patterns, beautifully adorned temples and carefully handcrafted everyday items are what make Bali so special and memorable. Well, not all of these fit nicely into a suitcase.

So which asli (real) products from Bali are beautiful, useful items you can easily carry with you to be reminded of Bali for years to come? 

With a bit of effort, you can take home keepsakes that are true to their origins. This list of souvenirs worth buying has pictures to inspire your shopping wish list and tips about where to go to find Bali’s treasure without a time-consuming hunt. 

Patung Kayu  (Wood Carvings)

Wood Barong mask Bali souvenir

Barong masks are a prevailing Bali souvenir. Barong is Bali’s guardian spirit, and masks worn to play Barong and Rangda in the traditional dance about good and evil are sacred. Nothing is more representative of Balinese art and culture than a hand-carved Barong mask made from local wood.

Painted wood figures from Bali

Matching wood figures seated together to bring good luck and fertility to couples. Balinese pairs sit with their hands together in a welcoming gesture, making them easy to tell apart from similar Javanese dolls.

Wood bowls from Bali

Wooden bowls, serving trays and other dishes are great for serving food or as décor.

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Bento, Yakitori and Sushi in Bali

in Destinations/Dining by

You have to love a cuisine that managed to invent another flavor. Umami refers to that extra layer of deliciousness that defies description.

Japanese food has infiltrated the far corners of the world, satiating our interest as well as our appetites. Read on to discover Japanese restaurants and places to order sushi in Bali, Indonesia.

Sake no Hana

Sake no Hana may be new in Bali but they come with a serious reputation in other parts of the world, most notably in London’s fashionable Mayfair. Described as contemporary Japanese, Sake no Hana’s Executive Chef travelled from London to create this menu and it is filled with temptation and flavor. From their signature menus, which offer exotic imports like Kobe beef, Hamachi sashimi and Alaskan king crab, to bento boxes to a scale of signature menus, this is worth the splurge.

Overlooking the sparkling new daytime destination, Omnia, on the Uluwatu coast, Sake no Hana is filled with light by day. At night, as the club closes, it becomes a sophisticated destination restaurant. With a refreshingly different menu of bespoke cocktails alongside some wonderful wine and sake selections, Sake no Hana adds sophisticated new flavours to Uluwatu. 

Top tip: leave room for desserts, which are beautiful, creative and delicious.

Ryoshi

Ryoshi’s owner, Sagon Togasa, opened his first Ryoshi in Seminyak to house his two great loves; sushi and jazz. It still does that and more. With Ryoshi now in Sanur, Ubud and offering welcome respite to shoppers in Galleria, the menu has expanded alongside the empire.

At heart is the sushi window, with chefs slicing sushi and sashimi to order, fresh seafood is also part of the philosophy. There are grills, braises and rice bowls. A range of delicious kushiyaki, grilled food on sticks, and some delicious vegetarian options.

Agadashi tofu is a hit here as is the Japanese steak, the traditional fried chicken and steaming bowls of udon with your choice of toppings. Best of all it’s ultimately affordable.

Top tip: Monday night is the most popular night as the jazz is always world class, head upstairs and take a seat in the restaurant or hang out at the bar.

Sushimi

When Tokyo meets Bondi, you have Sushimi.

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Ubud Royal Cremation attracts thousands

in News by
Royal Cremation Ubud Bali photo by Sonny Tumbelaka AFP

Attending a cremation is unlikely to be top of the ‘must do’ list for the average vacationer. But then Bali is far from an average holiday destination.  As anyone who venture a few kilometres from the main tourist beaches will discover, this really is the ‘Island of 1,000 temples’ – an understatement if ever there was one. The fabled sea temples of Uluwatu and Tanah Lot, the mother temple of Besakih on the slopes of the sacred Gunung Agung, and the oft-photographed Ulun Danu Bratan temple feature on many a day-trip itinerary. And driving through traditional villages and across swathes of rice terraces can bring many unexpected sights as you come across small temple festival and colourful processions. 

Visitors to Bali’s cultural heart in early March found themselves in the right place at the right time to witness something spectacular: the cremation of Anak Agung Niang Agung, the wife of Tjokorda Gde Agung Sukawati (1910-1978), widely known as ‘the King of Ubud.’

ANAK AGUNG NIANG AGUNG

 “Strange as it seems, it is in their cremation ceremonies that the Balinese have their greatest fun. A cremation is an occasion for gaiety and not for mourning, since it represents the accomplishment of their most sacred duty: the ceremonial burning of the corpses of the dead to liberate their souls so that they may thus attain the higher worlds and be free for reincarnation into better beings”. The words of Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias ring as true today as when he wrote his Island of Bali book in the 1930s.

A ngaben – literally translated as ‘turn to ash’ – is perhaps the most unique ritual in the unique form of animism-influenced Hinduism followed by the deeply spiritual Balinese, who believe that life, and death, are transitions. Even more elaborate is the pelebon –  the cremation ceremony reserved for members of the royal family.

For the preceding three weeks, visitors would have seen intense activity outside Ubud Palace as the community gathered to construct the two enormous structures that are the core of the ceremony: the Bade, an intricately decorated, gravity-defying multi-level tower in which the body is placed and carried from the Palace to the Pura Dalem Puri, and the Lembu, a magnificent black velvet bull sarcophagus, to which the body will be placed for cremation.

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