UBUD - SAVIOUR OF BALINESE ART AND CULTURE
Hindu temples, rice paddies and monkey sanctuaries guide travellers through the tropical charm of Ubud where the combination of nature's rhythms and Indonesian culture is effortlessly stunning
Words: Aleksandra Georgieva
Photography: Victor Ene, Radoslav Bali, Tobias Reich
14 September 2020
If you’re looking for a diverse type of holiday that can easily make you fall in love with the place you're visiting, Ubud is just the temptation you need. The humbling Balinese towns and seductive nature have inspired more than a few film directors and novelists. Different from the stereotype of a 'hip' place, Ubud is a charming representation of all things Bali. This rare destination has become a favourite for so many travellers from all over the world and once you get there, it is easy to see why.
Walking into the streets that bathe into hypnotic mindfulness, you will find yourself surrounded by sustainable designs and a vivid culinary showcase that will make you want to see every part of the town. Traditional Balinese culture follows travellers every step of their way across Ubud where nature gathers a community of locals, who incorporate sustainable way of living in their everyday life. Visiting this part of Bali will turn into a humbling experience that will not only rejuvenate and relax you, but it will also change your perceptions of nature.
Ubud lays on the Indonesian island of Bali and has a great art and cultural significance for the country. The town gets its name from the Balinese word ubad ‘medicine’. Originally Ubud was an important source of medical plants and herbs. The town is located among steep ravines and rice paddies in the central foothills of the Gianyar regency, which gradually became into a significant tourist destination.
Ubud is home to around 112,490 people who make a living from agroforestry plantations, rice paddies and small farms. Yet, the biggest contributor to the local economy is the largely developed tourism industry. This Balinese town greets more than 3 million foreign tourists a year.
In the late nineteenth century, the king of Gianyar – once the most powerful of Bali's southern states – had the allegiance of feudal lords who cherished arts and culture. As members of the Balinese Kshatriya caste of Suk, the lords significantly supported and renowned the arts scene in the villages surrounding the Ubud area.
Foreign artists arrived in the area boosting the tourism on the island. Walter Spies, an ethnic German born in Russia, arrived in Ubud and taught music, dance and painting. Some of the greatest Balinese artists joined foreign painters such as Rudolf Bonnet and Willem Hofker, who entertained vacationing celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin and Vicki Baum.
The 1960s saw the development of the Young Artists Movement in the area. With that and the arrival of the Dutch painter Arie Smit, Ubud was overflowing with creative energy, artistic pursuit and cultural growth. Terrorist bombing from 2002 damaged Bali’s tourism – the main economic lifeline of the island. In response, Ubud Writers and Readers Festival was created, reviving some of the island’s tourism.
Today visitors can walk through the town’s centre along Jalan Raya (‘main road’) Ubud. At the intersection of Monkey Forest and Raya Ubud roads the large Puri Saren Agung palace stands tall and mesmerising. Owned by the royal family, this is the residence of the last ruling monarch of Ubud – Tjokorda Gede Agung Sukawati (1910–1978). Back in the 1930s the palace was Ubud’s first hotel and today its courtyard hosts dance performances and ceremonies.
The area of Ubud is famous for the Hindu Temples including Pura Taman Saraswati and Pura Dalem Agung Padangtegal, the temple of death. The site of the royal tombs is The Gunung Kawi temple. Travellers, interested in local culture, also visit The Moon of Pejeng – home to the largest single-cast bronze kettle drum in the world, dating from circa 300BC.
While Ubud’s economy is highly dependent on tourism, locals put a strong emphasis on sustainability. Bali-grown brands use environmentally friendly ingredients and materials. The unique array of tropical clothing and living amenities attracts tourists’ curiosity and avoids causing waste to the environment. Apart from shopping, Ubud visitors benefit from museums, resorts, zoos and yoga. For a week each April, the Ubud Food Festival attracts local and international restaurants, who come together to recreate exclusive menus.
The art scene in Ubud is represented by galleries promoting local and overseas crafts alongside varied cultural institutions including the Agung Rai Museum of Art the Blanco Renaissance Museum and the Puri Lukisan Museum. A traditional cultural aspect in the town are exhibitions that focus less on artwork sales and more on the dialogue between local and international artists.
Every year the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival welcomes literature lovers from all over the world. Balinese dances are another highly valued aspect of the local culture. A traditional Balinese dance, called Tek Tok tells the moral story of story Draupadi Parwa – a woman who embodies the values of compassion, sacrifice and patience to overrule disasters over the kingdom or state.
A pro tip for Ubud visitors is the Campuhan ridge walk at the top of the hill where at sunset, you can obcerve two rivers – Tukad Yeh Wos Kiwa and Tukad Yeh Wos Tengen – merge into one. Travellers also visit the Ubud Monkey Forest, known among locals as Mandala Suci Wenara Wana. The area is protected and the grounds are home to an active temple. The Pura Dalem Agung Padangtegal has turned into the home of approximately 750 crab-eating macaque (Macaca fascicularis) monkeys.
Do you know the eighth-century legend of the Javanese priest? Time tells the story of Rsi Markendya, who meditated at the confluence of two rivers of Ubud’s Campuhan. There, on the valley floor, he founded the Gunung Lebah Temple that remains a pilgrim destination to this day.