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The Real Bali: A Nature Trek with a Balinese Priest

Those who follow this blog know that I'm not a fan of hugely touristy experiences and always look for something more authentic where I get a chance to spend time with locals who will share their lives and passions. This can be a bit of a challenge in Bali which has become an Instagram darling over the years. Many tours are available that are specifically marketed to snag Instagram photos and offer little narration on the history and significance of these stunning places. I was delighted to discover the real Bali with a nature trek with Bali Nature Treks which promised a day with a Balinese priest. It was truly one of the best days I spent while in Ubud and I recommend it with enthusiasm. (Be aware that the website price is out-of-date. The current rate is 550 000 IDR (about $55 CAD) but I think it was a heck of a deal)

Ida Bagus Ketut Dharma is the priest for human life passages for his village. This means that he conducts the ceremonies for births, tooth filing, weddings, deaths, and cremations for everyone in Keliki Village. Tooth filing is a cultural practice in Bali that is intended to reduce the "evil" human traits of greed, desire, and rage. As a member of the Brahma caste (healers and priests), he also has a vast knowledge of the medicinal plants and herbs as taught to him by his grandfather, a highly respected shaman ("A good shaman with good magic not a bad one of black magic", he explained). In addition to his calling as a priest, he is also a very talented artist and the last remaining painter using the Keliki traditional style. His works have been sold in galleries and he has several international art patrons who travel to the village specifically to purchase his works.

His passion for this art form led him to create art classes in this style of painting for the children of his village in hopes of inspiring some of them to take up the tradition. He earns no income from his teaching, he actually pays the children a small allowance!

Sebatu Village

My day started at 08:00 when Ida and his son picked me up from my Ubud digs. Our first stop was in Sebatu Village, where we stopped to visit the local temple to make offerings and undergo a cleansing and purification ceremony. Ida gathered a basket of offerings. We stopped for me to change into a sarong (provided by the temple guardians). From there we walked down a fairly steep set of stairs to the ritual area. Along the way, Ida explained the purpose of the various statuary along the pathways. Most were various mythical warriors whose purpose is to protect this holy and sacred place

Ida explained that long ago this village was stricken with great illness. A visiting priest visiting the river to pray for the village's health. The priest prayed for a full day and night and the sickness improved. He returned to thank the gods and to pray for an additional two full days. He blessed the waters and urged the villages to cleanse themselves and meditate in the now holy waters. As the villagers made their offerings, prayers, and continued to cleanse themselves in the waters, the sickness disappeared and it has been a healthy village ever since. Apparently, even Covid did not have much of an effect on these locals.

As we moved down the path, Ida began to place offerings at some statuary but also in seemingly random places. When I asked how he knew where these should be laid, I was told that it is up to the individual to decide but they can be placed anywhere that will get sunlight at some point in the day.

We stopped first to cleanse ourselves in water that was directed from pipes tapped into the natural springs. We scooped water onto our head, face, and heart to symbolize the purification of our thoughts and dreams.

We then moved to the river. Did another meditation at the shrine there before Ida gave me a small offering to lay at a shrine in the river before I immersed myself in the water flowing from the waterfall. It was beautiful and very touching to be led through this ceremony under the instruction of a true Balinese priest

The Rice Field Walk

Next we drove to Sakti Village where we would start our Rice Field trek. Before starting the trek our walk took us past the cemetery grounds that were beautified during the pandemic by locals who were out of work. The Hindu tradition is that people are buried until cremation day which happens approximately once every 3 years. At that point, the bodies are removed from their temporary resting place and cremated. The ashes are then taken to the sea. The Balinese Hindu belief is that humans have 7 reincarnations, with each life a chance to improve upon the previous. Those that are successful will become gods. Those who are not will then become animals. Ida explained that this is part of the reason his people are so kind to animals.

The rice field we trekked through is not a rice field that most tourists will visit. The only people we met along the way were the local farmers who all greeted Ida with great respect and conversation. They all welcomed me to Bali and were very interested to hear I had come from Canada, though few knew where Canada was and were quite amazed that I travelled for 30 hours to come to their beautiful island.

As we walked slowly through the fields, Ida explained the irrigation systems and how each farmer created his own that connected to the community system. He pointed out the plants used as traditional medicines to treat wounds, digestive problems, and dental & eye infections. Noticing a wound on my hand (I scratched a mosquito bite), he handed me a leaf to chew, instructed me to rub it on the spot and wrap it with another leaf. I was stunned to discover that it actually worked and was completely healed the following morning.

Ida also helped me learn about how the rice is grown, harvested, dried, and readied for use and sale. This particular field grew 5 types of rice which I learned to identify. Most of the rice grown in Bali today is Philippine rice which can be harvested 4 times a year. Bali rice, on the other hand can only be harvested once a year. Other rice grown in these field include sticky rice, red rice, and black rice. The black rice is a sweet rice that is usually cooked in coconut milk and used in desserts.

Keliki Village

The last part of the trek took us through the jungle and fern garden and into his home village of Keliki where I was welcomed into his home where the family, consisting of himself, his wife, his son and daughter-in-law and their son, plus his parents, all live together. His nephew's family live on the same property in a separate family compound. Ida's home is set up in the traditional compound arrangement that includes several structures, including a family temple, his teaching studio, and the main living area that includes the kitchen and sleeping areas.

He and his wife, Ibu Dayu, have an extensive garden where they grow many vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers. All around the home are many caged birds which are not only for providing songs and blessings to the family but are also used as models for his painting classes.

After showing me around, I was led to the back area near the painting studio and family temple where a HUGE lunch had been prepared for me. Ibu Dayu had harvested all the fresh ingredients that morning and had adapted several of her recipes to remove the egg and coconut to avoid my allergies. I recognized this had been a challenge as these are two ingredients used in almost every Indonesian dish and was very grateful and humbled. There was way too much food for me possibly consume and the left-overs were carefully packaged up so I could take them back to my inn and keep in my fridge which provided me with another meal and several snacks.

Following lunch, Ida showed me his paintings and explained the Keliki style of painting which originated in this village and is one of the five major styles of Balinese art. Traditionally the painting is black & white, with many small and very detailed scenes, usually depicting rural views or religious figures. In the last 50 years, watercolour is also used to appeal to modern tastes. This is a dying art these days as it is incredibly time-consuming and can take years to complete the larger pieces. I was absolutely blown away by the intricacy of the pieces and was delighted to purchase a couple of smaller pieces to take home as a keepsake of this amazing day.

As a special treat that was totally unexpected, two days later I got a message from Ida with a link. I had been aware of his son recording much of the day but had assumed it was for marketing purposes and hadn't really given it much thought beyond that. He promised he would send me some photos. What I got was so much better and I share that with you below. I will treasure this YouTube for the rest of my days. It is beautifully filmed and edited and really deserves viewing in its entirety... don't forget to hit the thumbs-up button on their Youtube page!

I feel incredibly honoured to have shared this experience and learned so much about the real Bali vs Instagram Bali. I urge you to seek out Ida and this experience when you visit. It is a unique and very soul-affirming day that you will likely never have a chance to replicate in other packaged tours... and you might even get your own special video, too!


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