Elephant Riding in Bali

The Elephant Safari Park, nestled in the rain forest of Taro village (about 20 minutes north of Ubud), is home to 17 magnificent and seemingly happy elephants ranging in age (3.5 to 31 years old) and size. Since taking over the park about a year ago, Bali Adventure Tours’ owner Nigel Mason has transformed what was once a muddy rice field into a manicured and accessible park. Visitors are greeted in a tasteful reception area with an informative display about the animals and can browse through an elephant-packed gift shop.

The elephants are immediately on view from the reception area, across a small hedge that camouflages protective concrete barriers. A flat grassy area is covered in concrete circles that look like UFO landing pads, but are actually each elep
hant’s private abode. Some elephants are quietly ‘parked’ while others are driven about by dedicated mahouts, mostly from Sumatra as well, who lead the tourist-carrying elephants through the jungle and park or into a man-made lake for a refreshing splash. Visitors are welcome to sidle up to the water to touch and hand-feed the animals a generous helping of chopped coconut leaves, which seem to be a well-received and favored dish.

Visitors to the park can opt for a quiet view and pet of the elephants or climb atop, settle into the teak-wood, park-bench saddle and go for a jungle tour. I was introduced to Olin, a 22-year-old stately and solid female, as I stepped on to her thick-skinned, sparsely bristled back from a fenced platform designed for easy mounting of the elephants. Mujik, the Sumatran mahout, spoke freely of his long relationship with Olin and how he accompanied her from Sumatra, while gently tapping the sides of her head with the wooden handle end of a small pick to steer her along.

The perspective from atop certainly lends a better indication to an elephant’s size than viewing from ground level where, at first glance, they don’t seem quite so big. I found that viewing the world from Olin’s back was a bit of a surreal, but thoroughly pleasant, experience. As we strolled and swayed through the jungle area, branches and leaves, quite out of reach if standing on the ground, gently breezed past our heads. As did the alang-alang roof of the reception area, which I reached out and touched as we gently thumped past. Looking down on her giant tree-trunk sized legs inspired a deep sense of awe for Olin as she picked her way along the jungle path, negotiated the muddy terrain and quickly put the park area behind us despite her seemingly slow and thoughtful gait. The ride through the jungle area, with its distant views of rice paddies and short road-side amble, past a series of bright yellow elephant crossing warning signs, took about 30 minutes before we re-entered the park compound and Mujik steered Olin to the pond for a drink.

Once dismounted, guests can continue to stroll around the pond to admire a baby elephant enjoying a playful splash and feel as excited as the toddlers and children running about shrieking with delight at the sight of these peaceful and majestic animals. The Elephant Safari Park is a must for families and animal lovers of all ages. Bali Adventure Tours offers a Park Visit Tour with lunch and hotel transfers, a Safari Tour which includes the ride and hotel transfers, or you can make your way to the park by your own means and choose one of their long (approx. 40 minutes), short (approx. 20 minutes) or children (10 minutes) tour options. There are snack bar facilities and plans to open a full restaurant withinin the next year.


Nusa Dua Sanur Diving

The dives just beyond the reef line east of the northern part of Tanjung Benoa peninsula, or in front of Sanur, are are not the best in Bali. But the sites are easy to get to, and there is quite a good variety of reef fish to see. These dives serve perfectly as a quick refresher if you haven't dived in a while, or as your first dive if you just completed a dive course. (See map page 98.) An outboard-powered outrigger canoe takes you the few hundred meters from the beach to the dive location, just beyond where the waves break. The only way out is over very shallow reef flat, so the tide must be in to make the trip. Be prepared for a bit of spray during the ride out or back and when crossing the (usually low) breaking waves. On the reef face off Tanjung Benoa, we dropped down to 8-9 meters on a slightly sloping bottom with scattered coral formations. Visibility (late september) was just 6-8 meters, but we were told that it is usually twice this.The majority of the fish were at 8-10 meters. We made a couple of quick dips to 14 meters, and saw nothing.

Good Variety of Fish

The coral cover here is not fantastic, but the few mini-pinnacles drew plentiful fish life with a good variety of species. We saw several 50-75 centimeter fish glide by, but visibility was too restricted to make an identification. Our guide found a giant moray and pointed him out to us.This big fellow lives in a coral cave with several openings, and for a while he played hide and seek, popping his head out of three different holes.We saw a fairly large group of yellowtail fusiliers, a nicely compacted hovering mass of blue lined snappers, a few red bigeyes and several small aggregations of bigeye soldierfish.
Fairy basslets hovered over almost every coral outcrop Damsels were present in a variety of species. The butterfly fish were well-represented, but the only schooling species we saw was a small group of masked bannerfish (Heniochus monoceros). Groupers were common especially the white-lined grouper (Anyperodon leucogrammicus) which we saw in both color morphs: white, and brown-green.
Parrotfish were present in good variety, but the only species we noticed more than once was the blue-barred parrot (Scarus ghobban). The only angelfish we saw were the dwarf bicolor angel (Centropyge bicolor) and several big emperor angels. Surgeonfish were common, particularly the spotted unicorn fish (Naso brevirostris). We saw pairs of rabbitfish of at least three species, and a single pair of Titan triggerfish.

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A Feeding Frenzy

The highlight of the dive came when we saw a furious cloud of several dozen fish of various species whirling around what looked like a bare patch of dark reddish coral. Caught up in a feeding frenzy, the small fist, allowed us to approach as close as we wished. We could even touch them, they were so intent on their meal. We never did identify what it was they were eating although it is likely it was a fresh spawn of some kind. Dives off Nusa Dua will probably not offer such a show very often, but are still worth making for the variety of fish here. The reef to the north, off the Sanur coast, is similar-wide tidal flats behind the reef front, and access is also impossible at the lowest tide. The variety of fishes is quite good in Sanur, but there is even less coral cover than at Nusa Dua. If you are a serious diver, either of these dives will just whet your appetite for more challenging locations.


Death and the Afterlife in Bali

Death in Bali is considered to be both ritually polluting and contaminating. These perceptions are reflected in the location of the pura dalem -the community temple where funerary rites are held-at the inauspicious, seaward end (kelod) of the village and also a little to the west, the setting sun in Bali being identified with the passing of life. The community graveyard and cremation site are located nearby-the cremation ground is usually simply a clearing in the cemetery at most kelod end.

Pura dalem can often be spotted from some distance away by the presence of kapok trees (Ceiba pentandra), with their distinctive horizontal branches and cotton bearing pods, which are frequently planted in the vicinity.

Siwa, Durga and Rangda

Hindi deities are typically perceived as having a number of different attributes or guises and pura dalem are usually dedicated to Siwa in his destructive aspect, though Siwa is of course also conceived as a god of creative energies. This apparent conflict of interests between these dual natures is not so much a case of contradiction as one of complementarity, for death, in the Hindu scheme of things, is merely one stage in an endless cycle of reincarnation and in this last respect, it is a necessary prelude to rebirth.

The creative aspect of Siwa is often personified in his wife, Durga, but she too, like her husband, has a dark, destructive side to her, metamorphosing into the demoic with-like Rangda, whom the anthropologist Clifford Geertz describes as a “monstrous queen of the witches, ancient widow, used-up prostitute, child-murdering incarnation of the goddess of death”.

Death and the Fate of the Soul

There are a number of perspectives on the post-mortem fate of the soul in Bali. Some are mutually exclusive and would logically deny all other possibilities; others are more tolerant of rival interpretations. Two explanations, however, would seem to prevail in Balinese accounts of what happens to the soul after death.

The first of these supposes that the correct performance of mortuary rituals, including cremation, ensures that the soul, which at the moment of death is impure, will subsequently be purified, thus enabling it to merge with a collective ancestral deity. The Balinese are rather vague about the precise nature of this aggregate ancestral spirit, but it is sometimes said to be responsible for the spiritual welfare and general health and well-being of living descendants.

The second point of view assumes that the soul of the deceased is subject to divine judgment based on the relative merit, or moral discredit, of deeds carried out during the dead person1s life time. Depending on the final `score`, which is reckoned according to the laws of karma-pala (literally, `actions` and their `fruit`), the soul is then sentenced to a period in the afterworld-either Heaven of Hell as the case may be –before being reborn into the world of the living again.

Burial and Cremation

The pollution of death is reflected not only in the kelod location of the graveyard, but also in the degradation of being interred underground.
Should there be sufficient funds, an immediate cremation is preferred since this skips the burial stage. In the case of members of a royal family, it is considered unseemly that such an illustrious corpse should be placed in the ground, so the body is preserved, lying in state, in a special pavilion in the palace compound, until suitable preparations for a lavish cremation ceremony have been completed and there is an auspicious day in the Balinese calendar for the ceremony to take place. This lying in state period may be last for months, even years. Priests are not buried either, there being a ritual prohibition on their interment.

Creamation (ngaben) releases the soul from its ties to earth, returning the five elemental constituents of the body-earth, fire, water, air and space-to the cosmos. The ashes are thrown in a river or cast upon the sea, with the final mortuary sites being held some 12 days later (longer in the case of the triwangsa castes). These complete the Balinese cycle of death rituals, at which point the newly-purified soul becomes incorporated with those of the ancestors.



One of the most spectacular ceremonies in Bali is probably the cremation ceremony. In Balinese this ceremony is called Ngaben. Ofcourse, like any ceremony in Bali, the cremation ceremony's size and spectacle depends on the importance of the deceased, and the money spend. While the poorest of the Balinese are buried, and finally cremated in group cremations, the people with some more money to spend are cremated right away. One thing is for sure, the body needs to be burned to set the soul free from worldly ties, and to start a new life in a world that is supposed to be as beautiful as Bali itself.

When the body of the deceased is carried to the place where the cremation is to take place, the often very beautiful and colorful temple-like structure called Wadah with the body is shaken and turned by the people carrying it, to make sure the soul doesn't find its way back home.

I panographed this, relative simple, cremation on Sanur Beach. During the cremation I heard people say, that the deceased was 61 years old, and died because of stress.

Turut Berduka Cita untuk yang punya stress.

Arrival at Cremation

Arrival at Cremation

Rites before Cremation

Rites before Cremation

Carrying the Casket

Carrying the Casket

The Bali Cremation

The Bali Cremation

Watching the Bali Cremation

Watching the Bali Cremation


Topeng Dance

Inside the curtain booth, the topeng actor places his masks, all neatly covered with white cloth, in their proper order of appearance. After dedicating an offering, he unwraps the first mask, eyeing it for some time as if he were taking into his personality all that is individual about the character reflected in the immobile face. He quickly puts it on and turns. Already his movements are rendered as dance and a transformation is apparent.

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The curtain trembles, the gamelan buds to a fervent pace of expectation, and dancing feet visible behind the curtain slowly lift and settle to the ground. A stoic-looking man with wide eyes and a questionable smile draws apart the curtain. In swift motions of defiance, he hovers inside the booth, uncertain whether to come out or not. He then begins to march forward, gazing inquisitively, putting a finger to his forehead, taking a bit of his clothing, and, in one delicate gesture, letting it drop from his hand. He resolves to dance, radiating the sound of' the gamelan in the vibration of his fingertips and pattering feet. After a few moments, he retreats to the curtain and vanishes.

The curtain shakes again. Suddenly, it is pushed aside in the grand gesture of a buxom movie star stepping into the limelight. There before you stands an extremely shy, effeminate young man who draws a limp hand to his mouth and

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blushes at his abrupt exposure. Languidly he clings to the curtain. Terribly sweet at heart, he cannot bear everyone laughing at him, which of course everyone is. Feeling he should come out for a moment, he coyly moves on stage, swinging to and fro with his hands dangling in the posture of loose noodles. Helplessly, he just stands there looking ridiculous, unable to move except to flutter his eye lashes, while the audience rocks in laughter. Such abusiveness is too much for him. He quickly seeks sanctuary behind the curtain. Thus was the introductory display of masks for one performance of Topeng. Both the stoic and the clown were enacted by one man-the principal Topeng actor, who by changing his mask impersonates a series of different characters.

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Topeng means something pressed against the face-a mask. Topeng masks survive from the 1 6th century. Today's mask play, commemorating historical exploits of local kings and heroes, was influenced by the traditional Gambuh dance. Often called the "chronicle play", Topeng stories are drawn from the babad literature, genealogical histories of important noble families, set in the villages, kingdoms and temples of Bali.

The medium of a mask play necessarily alters the telling of history. The borderline between fact, legend, and the miraculous has little importance in Topeng, in which many episodes include divine intervention or acts of magic.

The intent is not to reconstruct exact personalities of the past, but to portray their types: sweet or manly, heroic or simple-minded. The noble characters, usually a king and his family, dance in the refined style. Their stature is so lofty, they do not design to speak and express themselves only in pantomime. They are accompanied by two clumsy clowns, who wear half-masks which leave their mouths free to talk as interpreters for their dignified masters. Along with the nobility and clowns is always a marvelous display of crude caricatures, whose sole function is decorative and entertaining.

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There are many forms of Topeng, depending upon the set of masks used and the style of the performers. A popular solo performance is the classical Topeng Tua, representing the movements of an old man. In a normal Topeng play, three or four actors, usually all men, impersonate the characters. A full set of Topeng masks, numbering from thirty to forty, belongs to the principal Topeng actor who is responsible for the series of eccentric personalities that produce the comedy of the play. To watch a good Topeng actor is truly inspirational. Through an endless resource of bizarre mannerisms and tones of speech, he manages to concentrate the whole of human folly into one serial panorama of grotesquely masked comics.

Bali's Arts Scene

Explore Bali's Museums, Galleries & Art Exhibitions

Bali Arts - this Barong image
Dance of the Witches, 1989 (acrylic on canvas, 56 x 84 cm )
by I Ketut Budiana, born Padangtegal, Ubud 1950
Bali is home to such a beautiful landscape and vivid culture, it is not surprising the island is filled with inspired artists and performers.
Bali's galleries offer a collection of incredible Balinese paintings in both traditional and contemporary styles as well as artworks created by island's most outstanding international artists.

Bali's art and culture museums house the finest examples of its renowned history, painters and carvers.