of the future
From the moment I
found out that I would be travelling to Indonesia for a journalism
fellowship, I knew that work and pleasure had to be combined. Anticipation of
a visit to Bali Dwipa Jaya (‘Glorious Bali Island’ in Kawi language)
started to build up. I googled it. I asked friends who had been to Bali. I
saw images of spectacular beaches and intricate art — things that define
But nothing had prepared me
for the experience Bali was.
Pleasure is quite an
insipid word to describe Bali, really.
The flight from Jakarta to
Bali, close to two hours in duration, reminded me of the flight from
Islamabad to Skardu because of the breathtaking scenic views one could see
from the window. But here, it was not glaciers. It was volcanoes. Beautiful,
high, majestic. Gaping craters with very obvious molten matter inside. Mostly
quiet but not inactive. A silent, mysterious, potential danger, yet
At Denpasar International
Airport, the first whiff of Bali touches you as you see a sparkling ocean on
both sides of the runway as you touch down. You step out of the flight
without a fancy airconditioned jet bridge. This is not the Jakarta Airport
— big, high-tech, contemporary and modern. Bali’s airport is a bit
rustic. A bit run-down in a charming way. More character and less material
investment. It sets the pace for Bali.
Everyone you will bump into
has left behind a lot of baggage — the fast-pace of the city, some troubles
and woes, the pressures of society and peers, the stress of staying on top of
the game, some unfinished business, a rattled relationship. You and everyone
else has left behind all of that and is in Bali for some rejuvenation, some
detox, some refreshment, a little escape that gives you enough energy to go back
and say to life: “In your face, because I’ve just been to Bali”.
One of Indonesia’s 33
provinces, Bali is one of the country’s 6000 inhabited islands. Yet, none
of the archipelago’s 17500 (estimated) islands has gained the romantic
popularity Bali has. One of the world’s top-most tourist destinations, it
attracts not hundreds or thousands but millions of foreign tourists each
year. Many things make it worthy of this.
Scenic, green, full of
beaches and volcanoes and rice-terracing areas and temples. And people with
very distinct unique faces. A photography buff, Bali had me clicking
Amiable, friendly locals
are a huge reason, who are very used to tourists and therefore they are
social, not camera-shy and willing to become your guides. It is besides the
point that they have also learnt to charge for their friendliness. Caretakers
in a temple I visited next to Ubud charmed us without either party
understanding each other’s language. They garlanded us, smiled their ways
into our hearts, but also at the end made it clear that in life, everything
has a price! You will find a certain street-smart third-world sensibility in
Bali. But somehow, unless you get conned, it is not very offensive due to the
general feel-good nature of the island.
Perhaps the biggest magnet
Bali has is its heavenly beaches and wicked surf. You know that when you see
the conveyor belts where you claim your baggage full of surfboards avid
surfers have carried back from home. Seeing those waves in action is
believing! Reports of ten foot plus swells attract surfers. Combine that with
pristine beaches, coral reefs and every water sport in the world. Bali is
most wave hunters go to the Kuta beach area to witness the surfs and indulge
in water sports, Kuta’s crowded popularity may be a slight put off. Thus,
me and my daughter ended up in a pristine, quiet part of Bali called Serangan
to have some water fun. It was not just the parasailing, jet skiing and other
sports that we enjoyed in Serangan.
Also known as the Turtle
Area, Serangan has a pretty beach. But to me, the moments I sat there on the
beach staring quietly at Mount Agung in the distance was one of the most
powerful moments. Mount Agung, the stratovolcano, is the highest point on the
island. It last erupted in 1963 and is still active.
The Balinese market Bali
well, and so an unexplainable thrill accompanies the lunches or dinners you
can have close to volcanoes.
Talking of rush versus
serenity, crowd versus relative solitude and a slower pace versus a faster
one, I preferred the latter of all of the above three, and chose a quieter
area on the recommendation of some of my Indonesian friends. Sanur was my
pick, which I never regretted. A mature beach town, it is a slightly upscale
resort area, lined with darling little villas besides hotels and resorts.
Besides a great beach, spas, cycling and motor biking rentals, it was the
nightlife of Sanur that was a pleasant surprise. Not discotheques but in
European essence a lot of Continental eateries and cafes, with live music in
almost all of them. Shops line Sanur, full of local handicrafts like batik,
woodwork, sculptures, metalwork and souvenirs that are must-haves like my
daughter’s straw hat or my own “I Love Bali” tee and flip-flops.
But for me, the pièce de résistance
was Ubud. My friend from Cambodia had coaxed me into promising to myself that
I would travel to Ubud. “You will thank me, Farahnaz,” she had said. As
she reads this, I want her to know I cannot thank her enough. While it was
already on my list thanks to the book “Eat, Pray, Love” (don’t care
much for the movie) as the “Love” part of the book is based in Ubud, it
surpassed expectations. Situated at the north of Denpasar, this is the
island’s cultural centre where you can see the strongest artistic influence
of the 92.9 per cent Balinese Hindu population of Bali.
The drive to Ubud should be
relished bit by bit, because on way you will find real Bali!
Silver and gold jewellery
smiths and factories, small and big batik making concerns, art galleries by
the hundreds, all on way. But it is the handmade stone-carvings on houses and
temples that take your breath away. Labours of painstaking love, it seems
that for hours you walk or drive through an art museum, with every local
Balinese a curator who knows not just the art but the history behind each
Once you reach Ubud, the
abundance of European-style cafes remind you of those on the pebbled streets
of Paris, for rarely will you find so many of them in one place. Shops of the
most attractive rustic and indigenous pieces of art and craft lure you. It is
in Ubud that I understood why they call Bali the “Island of Love”. With
romance in the air, sit somewhere and sip the world’s most expensive
“Kopi Luwak” or Civet Coffee (the beans of which are processed, yes, in
the digestive tract of the civet!) and breathe in Bali.
Cities like Lahore
or London have history — hundreds of thousands of people have built and
shaped those cities over a period of centuries. The people add their lives,
bit-by-bit, to the mosaic of the city making it what it is today — good or
bad, spacious or cramped — but the city bears the mark of time.
Some cities do not grow
organically; they are painted on a canvas, with planning, precision and a
vision, with bold strokes. Hundreds
of thousands of people contribute to building and shaping those cities too
but they do it according to a map. Everything is shiny and new in these
cities and nothing is shinier or newer than Abu Dhabi — in fact, if looked
closely, half of its glory is still under construction.
I have visited UAE before
but it has always been a 24-hour stopover on my way out and a 38-hour
stopover on my way back to meet friends and family; this time around I went
on a planned trip to Abu Dhabi and developed an appreciation for things new
and glittery and it started even before I stepped foot on the land on their
national airline Etihad.
One of the shiniest
monuments of Abu Dhabi is the Sheikh Zayed mosque and represents the city to
a T. It is flamboyant and flaunts its grandiosity like a badge of honour,
complete with its gold-plated Swarovski crystal chandeliers, Christmas-like
coloured Murano glass baubles hanging from the same chandeliers and world’s
largest hand-knotted carpet, woven in Mashhad by 1200 women who worked for
months and made it into nine different pieces for easier transportation.
It was interesting to see
that our guide at the mosque was an Arab version of a character from a Dan
Brown novel, bringing in ancient symbolism into everything — be it the
design of the marble floor on the entrance foyer or the carvings on
the wall which he said was based on what supposedly is the Garden of Eden or
the old style Arabic calligraphy with letters without dots (Kufic script),
which is interesting because everything about the mosque screams modern,
sparkly and new. It is a must visit if you really want to get a feel of the
city that is Abu Dhabi.
It is also fun to watch
Korean men in Arabic dress and Ukrainian women in black Abaya taking pictures
of themselves and their surroundings and having fun.
Another example of Abu
Dhabi’s modern architecture and cosmopolitanism is Corniche, the stretch of
beach that is home to most of the 5-star hotels and eco-friendly beaches and
water sport facilities. The skyline is impressive and is lined with one
beautiful high-rise after another. The view of the road at night with the
lights from the road and the high-rise buildings glittering on the water is
beautiful and quite endearing to a city girl like me.
A leisurely dinner in one
of the open air restaurants is a must during a visit to the capital city.
One of the places that I
found most impressive is the under-construction city of Saadiyat. I went
there to catch the ‘Cultures of the World’ exhibition, currently on loan
from the British museum for the summer at Emirates Palace, a museum and a
gallery. The exhibit was impressive and a great way for people who cannot
travel to London to see the cultural marvels created throughout the history
across the continents. The palace also houses a gallery featuring the past of
the emirate and future of Saadiyat cultural city. It will have three museums,
Zayed National Museum, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and world’s second Louvre
museum, along with a performing arts centre and a maritime museum, part of
which will be submerged in water. The museums will be opening in 2015, 2016
and 2017 and once they are all operational, these will be the biggest
concentration of cultural institutions in such a small place. The model of
Guggenheim looked like an architectural wonder of conical and cylindrical
shapes — and I for one cannot wait to see it when built. I am definitely
coming back, if only to see Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.
If Saadiyat is being
developed into the culture capital of the country, Yas Island is designed as
the entertainment destination of the region. For a small island off the coast
of Abu Dhabi, It boasts activities as impressive Etihad Airways Formula 1
grand prix at Yas Marina circuit, Yas Links, which is one of the top ten new
golf courses in the world and regular performances and concerts by all the
major entertainers and artists of the world.
So many people I know
hopped over to Abu Dhabi last month for the Madonna concert.
Only a short while back,
Abu Dhabi was nothing more than a few villages around the random oasis
inhabited by the nomadic Arab tribes, it is now one of the fastest growing
cities in the world with a truly cosmopolitan mix of people living and
working there, calling it home. One must marvel and admire their government
and Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) for turning a desert with unfavourable
climate into a tourist destination for rich and privileged with a PGA golf
tournament in one of the plushest golf courses in the world, a desert rally,
a gourmet food festival and an annual Formula 1 grand prix.
Granted they have petro
dollars that they can spend, they also have a vision to make things happen.
I only wish that we can
emulate some of that spirit and make our cities beautiful and centres of
culture, art and music — after all we have history on our side.
Corniche, situated in the
heart of the city. — Photos by Ali Khurshid
Shiny monument of Abu
Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed mosque.