How does CYNTHIA ROSENFELD love Bali’s artistic oasis Ubud? Let’s start counting, shall we?
|The central highland village of Ubud, Bali’s most famous destination, is also its cultural heartland. Ancient emerald rice terraces surround this thriving community of Balinese painters, mask makers, sculptors, stone and wood carvers, dancers, and musicians. The most dramatic introduction to this artful community takes place at Wayang Kulit Shadow Puppet Theater. Acting out the great Hindu epics like the Ramayana from behind an elevated scrim, as many as 100 flat, filigreed creatures sashay across a fire-lit stage in the masterful hands of a dalang, or puppeteer, who is considered a holy priest.|
Next door at Studio 22K (+6236 197 5624), high wood walls are lined with vintage batiks from around the Indonesian archipelago. Ask about a young contemporary artist, Made Subrata, who while challenged by polio since early childhood, nevertheless possesses exceptional talent. He paints Bali’s most charming souvenir—the classic Balinese Kocokan. Suitable for framing, this hand-painted canvas mat covered in fantastical turtles, fish, and snakes is actually a traditional game played around Bali since the ancient times. More contemporary art that directly supports the livelihoods of Indonesians can be found at Threads of Life, a nonprofit enterprise that promotes women’s empowerment and sustainable development through the sale of traditional weaving known as ikat and intricate basket weaving.
Someone who knows quite a bit about Ubud’s artistic traditions is John Hardy. The Canadian expatriate no longer owns John Hardy Jewelry, but credits locals and their ancient traditions for his success. Hardy explains that he was drawn here in 1975 “by a thriving Hindu goldsmith tradition that came down through history.” These days a visit to John Hardy Jewelry in the rice fields, about 20 minutes from Ubud, reveals around 600 Balinese artisans crafting modern interpretations of traditional Balinese design, like the dot motif that Hardy insists is “a spiritual experience that gives each piece a vibration.” Wind up the tour inside Kapal Bambu, the stunning cathedral-like showroom designed by Malaysian architect Yew Kwan Cheong and constructed entirely of bamboo. Wearable anywhere are pieces from collections named Padi and Kali, meaning smooth stones like those found nearby in Bali’s holy Ayung River.
After selling his eponymous business a few years ago, Hardy and his American wife Cynthia built Green School almost entirely of bamboo and mud outside of Ubud. They chose bamboo, a highly regenerative resource beloved by environmentalists, to create a sustainable legacy for the children of Ubud. Guided walks around the awesome tropical property that include a visit to the world’s largest freestanding bamboo structure known as Heart of School take place every Monday and Wednesday at 3 p.m. and are so popular with environmentally minded students that they require advance booking. Visitors are led along ecofriendly gravel paths and across the all-bamboo Sibang Bridge suspended across the Ayung River, linking the two sides of this eight-hectare spread set among the rice terraces. Don’t leave without buying a handful of bamboo seedlings (US$10) for distribution to local farmers who will nurture the world’s fastest-growing natural building material before selling it back to the school.
Green School tours held during the first night of the full moon culminate in a performance of Mepantigan meaning “throw down to the ground.” Ubud’s latest cultural attraction, Mepantigan, integrates judo, taekwondo, capoeira, Korean self-defense, Balinese folklore, and shadow puppetry with mud wrestling, and is fun for the whole family to watch or even participate in. There is Balinese spiritual meaning behind the wet spectacle sometimes performed in a mud pit or on the sand: to teach the audience about harmony between man, god, and nature. For the adrenaline junkie, get wet in the white-water Class Two rapids of Ayung River with Bali Adventure Tours.
Even after the sun sets on Ubud’s iconic rice terraces, the area teems with inspired options. Expats, locals, and visitors alike congregate at Ary’s Warung, an open-air, rustic chic eatery helmed by European chefs with an unexpectedly impressive wine and cigar selection. Or head into the tropical jungle where the health-minded chefs at Glow turn nuts, seeds, fruits, and leafy greens into raw cuisine.
Try the Balinese raw honey that sweetens pad thai salad made with sliced coconut “noodles” and the luscious strawberry agar-agar with cashew nut ice cream. Worth every bite, Mozaic is Bali’s most famous gourmet eatery and a regular on world’s best restaurant listings. The ever-changing seasonal menu is a nightly surprise at this modern French restaurant, but nobody walks away disappointed.
The same sense of delightful discovery can be said of a visit to Ubud itself.