Bali, the legendary ‘Island of the Gods,’ is the westernmost of the Lesser Sunda Islands, lying between Java to the west and Lombok to the east. East to west, the island is approximately 153 km (95 miles) wide and it spans about 112 km (69 miles) north to south; its land area is 5,632 km². The island currently has 4 million inhabitants of whom the vast majority is Hindu. Balinese Hinduism has roots in Indian Hinduism and in Buddhism, and also adopted animistic traditions of the aboriginal population.
The first tribes from continental Asia reached Bali around 2000 BC as evidenced by stone tools dated to that time that were found in the island's west. The first Hindus arrived in Bali as early as 100 BC, but the unique culture which until today permeates every aspect of life, originated in neighboring Java. In the 14th century Bali had become an official outpost of the Majapahit Empire. With the rise of Islam the Majapahit Empire started to decline in the 15th century and this triggered an exodus of Hindu intellectuals, artists, priests, and musicians from Java to Bali. When by the turn of the 16th century the Javanese aristocracy retreated to Bali, the island became independent and once again started to live its own life. In splendid isolation the Balinese have successfully preserved their ancient customs and ceremonies ever since and until today the island offers an unparalleled view into the rich past of Asia.
Physically Bali is dominated by a volcanic mountain range that runs the entire length of the island from west to east. The highest peak is Mount Agung (3,031 m). South of the mountains is a broad, steadily descending area where most of Bali's rice crop is grown. Over hundreds of years the combination of fertile volcanic soils and abundant water led to methods of wet rice cultivation with extremely high and stable yields. Agriculture became a much more efficient activity than it was elsewhere on the planet because farmers found that it was to their advantage to cooperate closely with their neighbors and the Balinese are deservedly well-known for their efficient collective use of irrigation water. The highly sophisticated system of irrigation management as it developed over the centuries revolves around local organizations called ‘subak’. As a system of governance the subak is soundly based on democratic principles, but it is also a vital component of Balinese Hinduism. The universal Balinese philosophy of “Tri Hita Karana” guides farmers to keep the harmony between God, the people and nature.
That the island is blessed with exuberant flora and fauna, exceptional beauty, and that this is underpinned by a culture that venerates nature was first extensively documented in the 1930s by anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, artists Miguel Covarrubias and Walter Spies, and musicologist Colin McPhee. They were the ones who planted the first seeds from which eventually western tourism would sprout. Until today these early publications retain their relevance. The current chapter in Bali's history began in the seventies when intrepid hippies and surfers discovered Bali's beaches and waves. Tourism is now the largest single industry in terms of income and Bali's economy has grown much faster than the rest of the country but the culture of Bali has proved to be remarkably resilient and elastic and remains as spectacular as ever.
The island still has something for everyone and nowadays Bali has in fact become ‘Several-Different-Destinations-In-One’.
Kuta and Seminyak - just to the North of the airport. The beach, surf and stunning sunsets of this coastal strip made Bali famous and over the past thirty years this area has become the center of gravity. The neighborhoods of Tuban, Kuta, Legian and Seminyak have turned into an urban agglomeration with hundreds of hotels, clubs and restaurants plus several thousand shops. Kuta is where you go for the nightlife. It is the ‘lifestyle’ city that never sleeps and traditionally a favorite haunt for the young crowd from Australia.
The Bukit Peninsula - If you come for a leisurely beach holiday and wish to indulge in the superb elegance of tropical resorts, you are much better off staying somewhere on the southern “Bukit peninsula.” There is a great choice of five star beach hotels in Jimbaran, Nusa Dua and Tanjung Benoa, plus a range of boutique properties on the southern and western cliffs that are spectacularly romantic. Bali’s best beaches are on the Bukit and the peninsula has so much more to offer that it is an all-round destination by itself.
The Bali of Legend - Should your interest be to experience Bali ‘how it used to be’, it is probably best to opt for the sleepy beach village of Sanur. If you prefer the foothills over the beach, a splendid alternative is the traditional village of Ubud in the Gianyar Regency, since long the artistic and cultural centre of Bali. In a way Ubud and its surroundings may also be considered as a destination all by itself.
In case you have the luxury of being able to stay a longer time and prefer perfect peace and quiet over hustle and bustle you may even wish to go to Candi Dasa on the east coast or to Lovina or Pemuteran in the north.
Traditional Bali has a remarkably resilient culture that is still fully alive and as soon as you go inland you immediately find incredible magic and beauty everywhere. The Balinese are master sculptors and painters; Balinese dance and music are equally famous and the Hindu ceremonies are major attraction. The island remains a perfect choice for people who want their holiday to be an experience.
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