This popular tour is one that you should not miss on your Bali holiday, especially if you are looking for a way to experience the main cultural and natural attractions this rich island has to offer. ‘Highlights of Bali’ takes you on a journey traversing the island’s central highlands, to discover the most majestic temple complexes and breathtaking panoramas that you won’t find elsewhere: silhouettes of towering tiers standing against the blue and hazy outline of Mount Agung in the background, verdant rice terraces cut into mountains, and many more picture-postcard experiences.
Right after our 09:00 pickup at our hotel in Bali’s southern region, we set off in our air-conditioned coach on our morning travel eastward through the Gianyar Regency. Our guide emphasized that while trying best to stick to the planned itinerary, it is very flexible as we will never know what we’ll encounter along the way. And so, driving through Celuk, the village region known for its silver and gold handicrafts, after being asked by the driver, we found it hard to resist stopping by at one of the best silver workshops there.
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The house of Prapen Jewellery is a major design house and manufacturer of contemporary gold and silver jewellery. An attendant shows us through the workshop where a group of craftsmen and women are busy at granulation, ‘soldering’ and polishing intricate silver pieces, each gradually taking form as an exquisite piece of jewellery. It is a very insightful stopover if you love jewellery but curious on the designing and creation process.
Heading north, we reach the handicraft producing village of Tegallalang and make an impromptu stop to enjoy the breathtaking morning panoramas of the Tegallalang rice terraces. Up from these hills is the village of Sebatu, home to the Gunung Kawi Sebatu temple, one of the most serene water temples on the island. The beautiful and tranquil settings of Gunung Kawi comprise verdant gardens around ponds filled with carp and blooming lotuses, and ancient shrines surrounded by crystal clear pools fed by natural springs. We go back in time with the moss-covered ancient shrines and the towering ‘candi bentar’ temple gates, our main attention drawn to its peculiar temple set in the middle of a golden carp-filled pool.
Our journey continues to Kintamani, the scenic highlands of central Bali. We approach the rim of the Batur crater-lake – the main reason to come here, with its vast, breathtaking scenery over the volcanic landscape. Reaching here coincides with lunch time, and the main road is lined with great restaurants serving local and western buffets. One of them is Madu Sari that has a raised dining hall offering the best scenic viewpoint around.
We enjoy three different stopovers that provide different views over the crater, all several kilometres apart. Our third stop featured a row of stalls selling locally harvested fruits, all ripe, colourful, bright and sweet – and a third of the supermarket price! Along the way are various tangerine plantations, with farmers gathering huge loads of their bright orange harvests.
After a half-hour’s drive through winding roads, we reach Besakih Temple, the ‘Mother Temple’ of Bali, on the south-western slope of Mount Agung, the island’s tallest peak. The main complex of Besakih is within a 10-minute walk from the art shop-lined parking area, where you can also rent or buy a cloth and sash (compulsory attire for temple visits), from IDR 10,000. Conveniently, our guide brought some along the trip for us to wear.
Pura Penataran Agung, the largest temple in the complex, offers different levels for exploration. Four temples in the complex reflect four forms of God at the cardinal points. Pura Gelap in the east is at a higher level, providing a bird’s eye-view southwards over the whole complex and distant horizon.
In the afternoon we head to the region of Klungkung, home to the ancient Kertagosa ‘hall of justice’. This historical landmark is named after the namesake royal palace of Klungkung, and features a grand hall with ceilings filled with Kamasan or wayang-style paintings, and an adjacent Bale Kambang ‘floating hall’. A hundred meters from this main site is a museum that houses the local arts, crafts and history of Klungkung, as well as a gallery featuring historical works of notable Western artists who fell in love with Bali and moved to the island. After a full day out, we head back to our hotel at 17:00 culturally enriched, and with a full collection of memorable photos.