Beautiful islands, lovely people, gorgeous diving.
Our trip continued via...
It's a different world here to New Zealand, the architecture (dragons sculpted onto roofs), the climate (tropical, hot and sticky), the people with Asian features, slim and short, with dark hair and skin and big smiles, whole families riding around on scooters. They love ceremonies, and their religion seems to be very important to them. Depending on the island, they are either predominantly Hindu, in which case there are many statues and small offerings made of leaves, flowers and incense in front of every house and in public places, or else Muslim, in which case most of the women have their hair covered, long tops, and long skirts or trousers or dresses…
...is famous today for being a yoga hub and is also very popular among surfers. Some retreat centres even offer a combination of yoga classes and surfing lessons! And it became very famous and trendy after the film Eat, Pray, Love. It has centuries of cultural history that you can absorb, and rites and rituals for everything. We didn't do any yoga or surfing but driving around on a scooter, eating off banana leaves and meeting the locals was very fun!
Picture green, terraced, rice paddies, small towns with walls along the street enclosing houses with ornate carvings each one with their own mini-temple building inside the plot. Statues of Balinese-Hindu gods everywhere and offerings of flowers, incense and amazing geometrical origami constructions made of palm leaves newly placed everyday everywhere: at the entrance to houses, by a shrine, in a public temple, or even on a little table on a pole in the middle of the rice fields!
Apparently when someone builds their house in Bali, they follow ancient architectural principles aligning the buildings most auspiciously with the cosmos. And it's not just one building, they build a compound within some walls, starting with a small temple shrine in the auspicious North-East corner of the compound. This has to be the most beautiful part of the construction. Then they build a place for their dead and their ancestors, the living quarters are built in a different corner and the kitchen and toilet areas are traditionally built in the South-West corner, although nowadays with modern technology bathrooms some want to have the convenience of having the bathroom in the same building as the living and sleeping area. It is common for whole families (including grandparents, uncles, cousins) to live as neighbours in the same compound.
The Balinese people are extremely polite (to the point where they will say yes in answer to your question just because they don't want to say no!) and very devoted to their religion. It's common to see men dressed in white shirts and a white cap/cloth turban, and a colourful, double layer wrap-around skirt, getting on a motorbike to go to the temple, or immaculately groomed and beautifully dressed ladies with a tight lacy shirt, a sash around their waist and a brightly coloured sarong (long wrap-around skirt) with a beautiful batik print, walking along the road or sitting side-saddle on a scooter with some temple offerings in their hands or balanced on their heads.
Java is the large island next to Bali which makes up about a third of Indonesia and which has a predominantly muslim population, so everyone was dressed very differently compared to Bali. The muslim ladies of course had their hair and bodies covered with scarves and clothes, although the non-muslim population do not follow this dress code on the street.
In Indonesia they have entire traditional orchestras made up of just of percussion instruments including huge metal gongs and xylophones with hammers, drums, chimes etc.
This is called Gamelan.
They produce quite an amazing and mesmerising sound and they play in the temples and palaces during ceremonies and for theatrical and dance productions.
The highlight of the trip to Yogyakarta was a visit to Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple complex in the world, that lay for many years buried and forgotten under a thick layer of jungle. Can you imagine what it must have been like to re-discover it? That an overgrown mound in the jungle was actually a centuries-old Buddhist temple with thousands of beautiful carvings and sculptures?! It is not known why it was abandoned.
Apart from being a huge tourist attraction, Borobudur is once again a site of pilgrimage for practising buddhists who walk around the different levels of the construction in a special order to study the engravings of the life of Buddha as they approach the top and centre of the temple. There was also a large Hindu temple complex dedicated to Siva nearby, again showcasing very impressive stone carving and building skills, although since everything was built without any cement (dry stone) this one was quite badly damaged in a earthquake and there were many small temple buildings that are still heaps of stone lying around the main temples. A lot of devoted work has been put into these sacred places over the centuries and they have a special atmosphere that even crowds of tourists can't spoil!
We managed to go on a beautiful coastal drive one day.
Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia was more of a brief stop-over en route to India from Indonesia… but we got to see a few nice things. Everyone speaks English here, although it is a very fun and slightly distorted form of English!
This massive city must be very different to the rest of Malaysia, which we hope to visit again sometime.
Kuala Lumpur is a huge metropolis with skyscrapers, markets, hotels and the highest concentration of huge shopping malls with fashion brands that we have ever seen!
Oh… and everyone is crazy about mobile phones and selfies, there are "selfie photo spots" all over the place with strange objects on the street or in shops to pose next to!
These used to be the highest twin towers in the world (Petrona).
The botanical gardens were also amazing.
Ok, we're off to... India!