S. VIJAY KUMAR
Travel, shopping, dining, water sports, entertainment and some of the world's finest hotels Bali has something for everyone.
PICTURE-PERFECT BEACHES: One of the many attractions in Bali. PHOTO: AP
PRISTINE beaches, volcanic mountain ranges, streams running down rice terraces and thousands of architecturally rich temples. This is the first impression a visitor gets of Bali as the flight touches down at the Ngurah Rai international airport in Denpasar.
One of the 17,508 islands in the Indonesian archipelago, Bali is perhaps the most stunning tourist destination in South-East Asia. Some of the features that make the island unique include beautiful resorts nestled between verdant landscape and sea, fabulous spas, colourful culture and all these amid unique ceremonies performed by hospitable people.
Yet, all is not well with the tourism sector. Tourism contributes to at least 50 per cent of the island's economy and half of its four million population is directly involved in the industry. The drastic fall in inflow of foreign visitors is a cause for serious concern.
While Bali was crawling back to normality after the October 12, 2002 bombings that killed over 200 tourists, another round of explosions was triggered in a crowded cafe on October 1, 2005, claiming 23 lives.
Poorly patronised hotels, empty restaurants and deserted shopping arcades are now a common sight in Bali. Even the commercial streets of Kuta in Denpasar have few shoppers. The sandy shorelines look almost isolated with not much of sports or boating activities. An uneasy calm prevails in many parts of the island where the dreadful memories of the bombings still haunt locals and tourists.
However, not bogged down by these factors, the Indonesian Government, Bali Tourism Board and other organisations have vowed to revive the splendour of Bali.
PHOTO: S. VIJAY KUMAR
THE CONTOURS OF TRADITION: Artisans carving wood.
In the last few months, the focus has been on evolving a foolproof security system intended to curb fears of terrorist attacks. The police, military and the local community worked together to put in place a mechanism that provides for round-the-clock surveillance along the shores, constant vigil on suspects and anti-sabotage checks at vulnerable points. A new law to facilitate pre-emptive arrest of suspicious persons is also in the pipeline.
With huge money invested in developing tourism infrastructure, the people of Bali are determined not to let go what they have created over decades to showcase their island as a world-class tourist destination. Besides keeping alive traditional entertainment events like the Barong Dance and Ramayana Ballet, the locals celebrate festivals of the Balinese lunar calendar (210 days) with pomp and religious fervour since these customs have always impressed visitors.
The terrorist attack on this Hindu-dominated island has also had an impact on Bali's world famous wood and stone carving industry. Though the marvel of stone-carving can be seen all over the island, the stonework in temples along the northern coastline appears more creative. The village of Batubulan, between the capital Denpasar and Ubud, is the centre of modern-day stone-carving. The Mengwi Royal Temple and Singaraja Pura Beji are excellent examples that display the brilliance of the art.
Similarly, wood-carving has also been traditionally featured largely in temple and palace architecture. Immaculately carved gods and demons decorate pillars, door panels and window shutters in buildings with an intention to keep away evil forces.
Though there are not many shoppers these days and huge stocks of unsold handicrafts are visibly piled up in shops, artisans are busy as usual chiselling the best they can.
From the airport to the farthest island, the increased security mechanism is obvious. Apart from relying on the usual tourist inflow from Japan, Australia and New Zealand, tourism managers also want to attract visitors from India, China and the Gulf countries.
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Getting there Singapore Airlines operates regular flights to eight destinations in India, including New Delhi, Chennai and Bangalore, and has convenient connecting flights to Denpasar (Bali) from Singapore.
Indians can get visa on arrival at the Ngurah Rai international airport.
April to October is a dry season with relatively low humidity. The average temperature is 27 degree Celsius. November to March is warmer, wetter and more humid. Rain is interspersed with hot, bright sunshine. The average temperature during this season is 32 degree Celisus.
Bali can accommodate visitors of all classes. There are at least 15 five star hotels in the Nusa Dua locality alone. However, the best way is to arrange stay through your travel agent.
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