Bali’s Beauties Don’t Include Beastly Besakih!

It’s always nice to learn that other people share your perceptions, and I’m not talking politics for once.

No, rather are my thoughts drawn back to one of my many short breaks in Bali, which is still curiously sometimes referred to by travel agents as ‘The Island of the Gods.’

Don’t get me wrong. it’s a fun place to go, and mostly the prices are not extortionate. As mentioned but recently, it’s not hard to get a double-room in a good clean hotel in Kuta or Legian, with tv, a/c and a pleasant pool for Rp.300,000 (USD 30.00) per night breakfast included. The Taman Sari was the one we used, but there are hundreds like it.

And cheap eats are available too at the Warung Indonesia, barely a hundred yards away from the Taman Sari. Beer is often less costly than Jakarta, even cheaper than Jalan Jaksa, where we modestly-paid teachers hang out.

The beaches, Kuta Beach, at least, is crowded but still okay for a splash about, and although the traditional custom of young Balinese women to go topless has all but died out, their former habit is alive and well among the foreign tourists, especially Australian, who lose no opportunity to display their busty charm.

At this juncture, I must point out to disappointed male readers that while the ancient black and white pic of a Balinese cutie is acceptable as an anthropological illustration, any topless Tasmanian tarts of current vintage frolicking, naked from the waist up, on a Bali beach would place me in the potential firing-line under Indonesia’s porn law.
The Minister responsible for this legislation is none other than Titaful, famed for that Obama non-handshake, so one must beware of irrationality.

No, it’s just one place in particular that I remember with loathing, and that’s Besakih Temple, a splendid Hindu monument way far inland from Kuta, which disgusted me, so avaricious were all and sundry connected to it.

The badgering to hire a ‘guide,’ who knew little enough, and to hire a sarong, were just about tolerable, but the ridiculous price asked for simple admission, with ‘suggested’ charges listed in dollars and yen, made me wonder if this was truly a place of worship of gods or of Mammon.

(When we looked askance at the importunate buffoon, he promptly showed us a ‘guest-list’ – it appeared to be signed by various overseas visitors, proudly acknowledging contributions of immense generosity. A work of fiction, or a testimony to the gullibilty of foreigners? I haven’t yet figured that out)

Mammon, we decided, so made to walk away, but then suddenly Rp.50,000 was enough for the two of us to gain entry.(as a sometime amateur archaeologist, I really like climbing about old temples and would have been irked had I not called their bluff successfully)

But what finlly hacked me off was after the climb, when we emerged onto the road lined with tatty souvenir shops and warungs.

A cold drink was in order, so down we sat and ordered two cans of Pepsi. You can buy them in mini-markets in Jakarta today for under Rp.5000, so back then the purchase priice was maybe Rp.3000. Given that it was a tourist trap, I expected a bill for maybe Rp.10 or 15 thousand. No -THIRTY THOUSAND Rupiah, or more, I think, was the sum demanded by the unsmiling crone who served us.

Never again to Besakih, I swore, and hoped that if enough tourists boycotted it, the local authorities might step in.

But apparently not, for in the local Bali website, this week, there is an item expressing concern about price-hikes in Tanah Lot, another place of cultural interest on the island, and its headline is

Tanah Lot and Danu Bratan: The Next Besakih?

Reading on….(here’s the link –  )

I discovered that ‘five tourist objectives found in the Tabanan regency of Bali are set to increase admission prices. I Ketut Ardana, a vice-chairman from the Bali branch of the Indonesian Association of Travel Agents (ASITA) told NusaBali, “we hope that any increase is fair because if the increase is too high there is the risk that the number of visitors could decline… Any sudden increase will compel agents to increase package prices already agreed far in advance with foreign travel partners.” …  Ardana expressed the fear that an imprudent increase in admission prices for Tanah Lot and Ulun Danu could cause these two tourist objects to go the way of Bali’s Mother Temple of Besakih. He said that over the past several years many tour companies have removed Besakih form their tour packages, because of the many problems experienced by tourists visiting Bali’s most famous temple.

He’s a bit of a diplomat, our Mr. Ardana. But he clearly recognises the ultimately self-destructive nature of avarice when dealing with visitors who only want to have a look at something of Bali’s history, religion and culture.

Do got to Bali, please – just AVOID BESAKIH!