About Ubud: Bali’s Cultural Capital

by Uzra

All you Eat, Pray, Love fans can be jealous. Today the eight of us reporting in Bali spent all day with Mario. For those who haven’t read the book (I hadn’t until this trip), Mario used to work at the Ubud Inn, where author Elizabeth Gilbert stayed on her trip to Bali.

Ubud is the cultural center of Bali—a quaint little town simply oozing character about an hour’s drive away from Kuta, the coastal town where we are staying. My eyes were glued to the window as we drove past villages with gorgeous Hindu temples decorated with gold and orange and stone statues, little huts packed with everything from colorful butterfly kites to intricate woodcarvings of Rama and Sita (“Romeo and Juliet,” as the carvers called them) and silverware. Each house/hut/any sort of establishment had a pengor outside it: a long, curved bamboo stick adorned with palm fronds and lanterns to make it resemble a dragon. These pengors are built to shield the little stone containers that are used to make offerings to the gods. On one particular sacred day in Ubud, all the pengors are burned—only to be remade on another sacred day after six months. Mario talked to us about his life and Balinese culture in between our visits to ninth generation traditional medicine men and medicine women, as well as modern clinics in Ubud (watch out for an article in the Globalist soon!).

What immediately struck me about Ubud was its pulsating culture and distinct sense of identity. Jakarta was, to me, a city with a bit of an identity crisis. After having spent five days there, I still am not quite sure what Jakarta and its people are all about. The indescribable and unexpected extent of consumerism in the city (I saw more KFC’s and Dunkin’ Donuts in Jakarta than in the United States) was impenetrable. To me, the true personality of Jakarta was lost somewhere in translation. However, Ubud, even with its huge tourist population, has not lost its distinctiveness, and its simplicity was a breath of fresh air.

A typical pengor on a street in Bali