Some people know about it. Others wonder if it is real. Some might confuse it with the fabulous Bali Hai from the musical South Pacific. But there is a real Bali, a real island and real people more beautiful than anything Hollywood could ever dream up.
It has been called "The Morning of the World". The Balinese themselves call their home "The Island of the Gods". But no name can capture the true overwhelming beauty of Bali - a beauty so intense that visitors can go away with vivid memories and photographs and later still wonder "Is it real?"
Just east of Java, Bali is a small tropical island in the chain of thousands of volcanic islands that make up the nation of Indonesia and divide the South Pacific from the Indian Ocean. Bali is only a few degrees south of the equator and the weather is hot and humid year round.
Down the slopes of the volcanoes the Balinese have built terraced rice fields and intricate irrigation systems to bring the waters from the mountains through the rice fields and finally to the sea. The water blesses their island, keeps their island lush and green and their rice fields bountiful. Balinese are Hindu, but they often call their religion agama tirta, or "The religion of sacred water".
Their island is blessed by the rain; every waterfall and mountain spring has its own temple to thank the water, and the holy water from these temples and the myriad tropical flowers nourished by the rains make up the offerings that are presented to the Gods daily in every home and temple in Bali.
These temples inspire another name for Bali, the "Island of Temples". There are over 10,000 public temples. The family temples, found in every Balinese home, are countless. Village and family life revolve around the frequent temple ceremonies. And although the temple exteriors are lavished with exuberant and fantastic ornaments, at the centers are the quiet places, the empty spaces, where the offerings are placed and prayers are offered to the single ultimate spirit that unites all the many aspects of Shang Hyang Widhi Wasa, The One True God.
The carefully terraced rice fields, the endless multitude of highly decorated temples, the lovingly crafted offerings which are created and discarded daily - all speak to a characteristic of the Balinese people which strikes every visitor to Bali - their skill and love for the arts.
In Bali it seems there is nothing that cannot become a canvas for an artist's imagination. Every temple is exuberantly decorated with statues and reliefs carved of the soft volcanic stone that underlies the island. Every bridge and intersection is watched over by guardian statues. Wooden rafters and columns, furniture and doors are all carved in intricate patterns, and often brightly painted and gilded in gold.