West Bali : The Road Less-Travelled
There’s more to west Bali than the protected areas of the national park. The region’s villages, both inland and on the coast, invite keen travellers to feast their eyes on breathtaking natural views and experience the ‘real Bali’.
Aone of a kind natural wonder in west Bali is Bunut Bolong. Found in Manggisari village, Bunut Bolong means “a tree with a hole”; an apt description as it is literally a sacred tree with a giant hole cut through its base – so big that even a truck can drive right through it! It is situated on the ridge of a hill flanked in the east by a clove plantation and on the west a gorge bordered by a tropical forest.
The road is constructed through Bunut Bolong as the tree was too big for the road to be built around it. Moreover, in Bali, cutting down a sacred tree is out of the question – especially since it is believed that there are two tiger spirits residing in every tree. Two shrines are built on the south side of the tree to honour the great sage Dang Hyang Sidhi Mantra who happened to pass this area hundreds of years ago.
Located on a hill, Manggisari village village can be accessed via Pupuan, an area known for its cool breeze that brings a refreshing change from the often muggy, tropical heat of coastal, southern Bali. Entering Pupuan, nestled some 600m above sea level, you’ll be greeted by a landscape that is spectacular and truly exotic. It’s the home to the grand sight of terraced rice fields that carpet the ground for as far as the eyes can see.
The agricultural community in Pupuan has more or less remained untouched by the impact of tourism. Instead, many villagers seem to maintain a simplistic lifestyle that concentrates on the continual cycle of harvesting their crops and their strong faith in the Hindu religion. There are frequent ceremonial rituals prepared by each family of farmers to express their gratitude to the gods for the provision of earth, water, and all of nature’s components that allow mankind to exist.
These enchanting rice fields of Pupuan, which are arranged in a series of terraces to follow the natural contours of the landscape, offer some of the most stunning views on the entire island. So picturesque, in fact, that once you’ve seen it, you might think they were created by an artist, generously painting over the land with his brush, dripping in emerald green paint.
Another interesting aspect is the organised irrigation system, known as the Subak, where farmers share water in a tradition that dates back centuries and has united generations of farmers in their common need for this highly valued resource. As for visitors, walk through the fields, watch as the birds swoop down and attempt to steal rice grains from the drooping stalks. Just one of nature’s little moments to appreciate.
Moving on, the town at Pupuan is bustling with life, different from the quiet surroundings of the rice fields. In addition to the convenience stores, here you’ll also find shops, banks, a hospital, schools, and public buses taking passengers traveling from the Buleleng regency to Denpasar. From here, if you take the scenic road through the hills that lead to Negara, the capital of the Jembrana regency in west Bali, you’ll drive past several villages interspersed between the vast sections of green views of the surroundings.
Out of the hills and on to the main road, make your way towards the capital of west Bali’s Jembrana regency, Negara. Here, there are parts where the road is parallel to the beach, where ceremonies often take place on the black sand. In case a ceremony is happening during your travel to the area be sure to find a spot to safely park your car if you wish to observe the ritual. But if not you should continue on your journey and head to Perancak, a coastal village hidden away from the main road.
Quiet and isolated, Perancak Village sits at the mouth of Perancak River, where its waters flow out into the Indian Ocean. The soft, salty sea breeze, and the peacefulness of the area make for a serene atmosphere. The beach is of black sand, and there are only two restaurants serving cold drinks and seafood barbecue here.
The main draw of Perancak is the village’s unique fishing boats that decorate the shorelines on the tip of this west Bali peninsula. Influenced by the Bugis tribe from Indonesia’s Sulawesi, the vessels blend Hindu and Islamic elements into their painted designs. And while there are many different types of traditional fishing boats found in Bali, the ones that harbour at Perancak are probably the most spectacular on the island. The boats operate in pairs, and so you will always see two boats – decorated almost exactly the same – moor and sail together.
These boats set out to the sea, leaving the coast of their village at around 2pm everyday and will return with the freshest of tunas among other catches of the day before dawn at around 4am the next day.
The remote fishing village was once classified by the government as a ‘desa tertinggal’ (socio-economically ‘left-behind village’). Perancak used to face a number of extremely serious and interacting conservation issues affecting its primary coastal resource base. Today, the village administration is actively involved in monitoring several programmes launched both by the government and non-governmental organisations such as sea turtle conservation as well as marine research and observation.
Anyway, leaving (and going to) Perancak you’ll pass a number of villages, inhabited by the Balinese Hindus and moslem communities that have settled in the area for decades now. Consequently you’ll encounter several temples and mosques along the way. And if you take Jalan Pulau Jawa (Java Island street) on your way back to the main road that leads to the national park, you’ll come across a bridge which the locals use as a hangout spot and fish from the Perancak River.
Back on the main road, head westward towards the national park direction, passing Negara, the capital of Jembrana regency, and you’ll find a road sign that reads Goa Maria (Maria Cave). Located in the Catholic village of Palasari, Goa Maria is a pilgrimage site overlooking the rich greenery of the surrounding hills. Also known as Pelinggih Ida Kaniaka Maria (shrine of St. Mary), the holy site provides quiet, serene grounds for Catholic devotees to pray and meditate.
Goa Maria – inaugurated in 2008 by the Vatican ambassador to Indonesia, Archbishop MGR. Leopoldo Girelli – was first established in Palasari in 1983 by Pastor Simon Buis SVD, the priest of the Palasari Catholic Church. Today, the site is frequented by pilgrims not only from the nearby village, but also across Bali and even outside Bali. Here you’ll also find the depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus, from the moment Jesus was arrested to when he ascended to heaven, carved on the wall that lead up to where the cave is located.
From the praying ground you can observe the beauty of the surrounding green hills, a cemetery of priests that had served in the village’s church, as well as the Palasari Catholic Church which is also known as the Catholic Church of Sacred Heart of Jesus. Set on the village’s town square, the architecture of the church is Gothic but showcases Balinese touches in the spires, which resembles the Meru (multi-roofed shrine) in a Hindu temple, and features a facade with the same shape as a temple gate. During certain occasions, visitors can find some locals selling figurines of Jesus outside the church.
To get to Goa Maria, you must park your car in the designated area in front of the church. From there you take a five-minute walk, passing several homes and villagers who’ll greet you. Respond with a smile.
Palasari village is surrounded by Hindu and muslim communities. Located some three kilometres from the main road, you’ll know when you’ve entered the Catholic village when the house temples found in the compounds of the Hindu residents are replaced by a cross hung on top of the door of the villagers’ homes. This region serves as a model for religious tolerance, given that the residents of differing belief systems share their jungle village homes with respect and sincere friendship.