LEGIAN, Indonesia — With its lush, tropical landscape, fragrant breezes and its abundance of religious shrines, it’s easy to see why Bali is known as “Island of the Gods.”
After getting over my initial shock of Bali’s touristy underbelly, I refocused on trying to find what keeps drawing visitors to this particular island, just one of more than 17,000 in the Indonesian archipelago.
Yes, the sidewalk paving stones that occasionally disappear to reveal the sewer drains underneath are ever-present. But getting used to watching your step makes appreciating the natural and cultural beauty that infuses this part of the world that much more special.
The scenery is overrun with foliage and dotted with fuschia blossoms almost everywhere you turn along the charming, curvy streets of Kuta, Legian and Seminyak, even if they’re occasionally comically narrow for all the motorists trying to get through.
The scents of incense, sandalwood and jasmine waft through the air much of the time.
Plus, I’m beginning to develop a taste for such local dishes as nasi goreng (fried rice), which can pack a lovely green chili spiciness when made correctly, nasi campur (fried rice noodles) and the variety of satay on many of the local menus.
(A goat satay I ate from a roadside warung while still in Jakarta remains among the most memorable, but proves more elusive here.)
But the single most notable way in which this island is different is the ever-present canang sari, devotional offerings to appease the gods. They appear most often as little trays made of palm leaves in which the Balinese place gifts such as rice, flowers, sweets, vegetables and even cigarettes, then sprinkled with holy water, at least three times a day and before each meal.
Really, though, they are everywhere. On sidewalks, on lunch counters, on motorbikes, on bike seats, on benches, on store steps. Although no one takes offense at having their canang sari stepped on or run over by a vehicle, they are so beautifully crafted that it’s a shame to watch them destroyed. Watching cats or dogs eat them is less troubling.
Canang sari also appear in or on the shrines and religious statues that abound here.
The most popular type of shrine appears as a small, empty altar, covered and atop a vertical structure. This is to represent the all-encompassing, unknowable and omnipresent nature of their Hindu deity, a version of Brahma.
I bet I’m going to enjoy Ubud.