Backstreet Secrets of Kuta & Sanur

Explore Bali | Written By, Namhar Hernanto |

For this month’s edition of NOW! Bali, we took the roads less travelled in Kuta and Sanur, learning that there’s more than the beaches and usual cliché hotspots in two of the island’s popular tourists hubs. 

Currently two of the most developed areas in Bali, Kuta and Sanur are bursting with life, entertaining visitors to the areas with their row upon row of restaurants, funky cafes, night clubs, and posh resorts. The beaches of the two areas, too, are some of the most celebrated on the island, attracting the sun worshippers to just put their feet up and enjoy the tropical weather. 

Some see that the rush of unfettered development in Kuta and Sanur has left little room for history to thrive, with very few landmarks that provide a window into the island’s past. And it’s for this reason that we took the road road less traveled in the two areas, the backstreets of Kuta and Sanur that provide a preserved glimpse into the Bali of yesterday, before its tourism boom!

Denmark is about as far from Bali as pickled herring is from nasi campur, but there was a period of 18 years when these two very disparate cultures intertwined in a strange vortex of events here in Bali. It was a man named Mads Johansen Lange that allowed this to happen, a proud Danish who, like his Viking ancestors, was a sailor and had the salt of the sea in his veins. A memorial nestled on Jalan Tuan Lange, or Mr. Lange Street, in a quiet area of Kuta cemented the history of the Danish sailor’s ‘venture’ on the Island of the Gods.

Lange’s first foray into the Indonesian archipelago was in the early 19th century when he worked as a member of the crew aboard a Danish commercial vessel which made its local home-port in the neighbouring Lombok. The business of this commercial ship was transporting goods from Denmark and trading them in Lombok. But Lange was not satisfied merely conducting business of the ship’s captain. He considered himself a good sailor, he knew and understood how to trade, and he had clandestinely taken sufficient time to personally cultivate some strategically vital contacts among the locals in Bali, where his ship also laid anchor. All he needed was a propitious moment – the right event occurring at just the right time that would pave the way for his move upwards to huge success. 

The outbreak of war provided the right moment for his star to finally ascend. The history of Bali is fraught with small-scale wars – one of the island’s countless kings attacking another. It was one of these wars that gave Lange his big break. This time it was a war between one of Lombok’s kings and one of Bali’s kings. But Lange was nobody’s fool; he sized up the situation, took the measure of both kings and their respective strengths and weaknesses, decided which king was strong enough to win, and bet all his chips on the outcome. Fortunately for him, he was right, because he had already begun lending both moral and material support to the Balinese king. 

When the dust settled, Lange was firmly ensconced in Kuta and, with the support of his new best friend the king, had cornered the market on just about all the trade to and from Bali. He traded almost everything and anything he could get his hands on – spices, livestock, fabric, precious stones, gold and more. He even did his former captain one better by making certain that his trade was two-ways; his vessels delivered a shipment of goods then loaded up on local valuables and sailed away selling them door-to-door to nations as far away as China and island-nations as near as Singapore. His approach, revolutionary in its day, earned Lange immediate fame and fortune. And, it apparently also earned him an unhappy enemy. 

Lange built an enclave in Kuta. It was a self-contained community, housing all that he needed and all that he possessed, and all those at his command. It had residences, meeting halls, administration buildings, mess halls, kitchens, barracks for his workers and his warriors, repair facilities, and storehouses for the array of armament and ordnance he now needed to guard this compound and its warehouses which grew bigger daily with his vast incoming wealth. This compound was under his personal command, and it was where he held court when one of Bali’s kings would come to call. This elaborate compound was the personal kingdom of this Danish sailor, who, in many ways, had become much richer and much more powerful than any of the kings he allegedly served.  

His success led to his instalment as a part-time minor government official for the Dutch. He held the post of Harbour Master in Bali and, probably because of his royal business connections with several of Bali’s kings, he even negotiated minor treaties and contracts between them. And, never one to shy away from a profit, he even indiscriminately sold guns to the kings so they could wage war against each other more effectively. Perhaps thereby sowing the ultimate seed of his own untimely death. 

In 1856, as the Dutch began to take firmer and firmer control of Bali, Lange decided that he had had enough – he had seen the handwriting on the wall and knew that the end of his rich little kingdom was near. He decided to retire and return to Denmark. He took great care to pack enough of his wealth aboard his personal vessel so that he could live the rest of his life in comfort. But his past, or some enemy from it, may have caught up with him. As he prepared to depart Bali he died suddenly, some say of poisoning.  

Lange lived in Kuta from 1839 until 1856 and was buried near the original site of his royal complex there. His gravesite is still preserved and still proudly stands in Kuta as a stone footnote to this highly peculiar episode in Bali’s colourful history. His grave, a large carved memorial monument, can be easily accessed by either car, motorcycle or on foot as it is quite near the the bypass road from the airport roundabout towards the Simpang Siur underpass direction; or you can just simply search for the Jalan Tuan Lange, which is five-minute drive from the Kuta Night Market.

Moving on to Sanur, a small monument commemorates the victory of King Kesariwarmedewa of Bali’s ancient Singadawala kingdom over his nearby rival kingdom headquartered on the neighbouring island of Nusa Penida. During the military battle that this stone memorialises, Nusa Penida was conquered and absorbed into the victor’s kingdom. The monument, known as Prasasti Blanjong, was carved from a single solid stone pillar that measures around 70 inches and 32 inches in diameter.

Its top is completely encircled by a rim ornately carved in two languages – Sanskrit, and Bali Kuna (ancient Balinese script) – and tells about the government of King Kesariwarmedewa and of his military’s victory over Nusa Penida island. The carved rim, studied by an archaeological team, revealed three separate numbers: 6, 3, and 8. It was deduced that these numbers represented a date. 

Known both as Prasasti Blanjong (prasasti means ‘carved in stone’ and it’s located in Blanjong ) and as Jaya Stamba, meaning stone of victory, this archeological relic dated 914 A.D. sits in a tiny glass booth next to a very small temple on an out-of-the-way street in the Blanjong area of Sanur. The glass booth that was built to contain this ancient stone allows for good 360 degree viewing and photography of the main pillar and the smaller relics reverently arranged on top of it. On special Hindu days of celebration the stone pillar is dressed in the traditional Balinese Hindu black and white checked cloth then draped with a religiously symbolic yellow cloth.

Anyway, driving north from the main hub of Sanur to the quiet Padang Galak area, a memorial monument of a fatal Pan American flight accident nestled in quite a hidden spot behind abandoned buildings.

In 1974, a Pan American flight flying from from Hong Kong to Sydney with a scheduled transit in Bali, crashed in the bushes of Tiga Mountains near Singaraja, claiming the lives of all 107 passengers aboard. The crash site was so remote and difficult to penetrate, that the army had to fly in by helicopter. Once their choppers found a flat place to land in the Tiga Mountains, the rescuers had to walk through jungle for two hours then endure a four hour descent by rope down the side of the steep incline until the burning wreckage was reached. The deadly force of the accident was immediately apparent; body and plane parts were hanging from trees for many meters in all directions, far from the impact sight. What really happened may never be known because the black box – the flight data recorder that could solve the mystery and definitively establish responsibility once and for all – was never found. 

The monument can be found by using the narrow dirt road from the main road to the beach. If you have difficulty finding the narrow road, ask any local to direct you to the monument and tell them it’s on Padang Galak Beach in the village of Perbekelan Desa Kesiman. It is still frequently visited by family members of the victims.

About Author :

Namhar Hernanto

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