Being an explorer or an adventurer in today’s world is not like it used to be. Almost everything has already been ‘discovered’, yet we still yearn to find somewhere we can call our own. Ah, to feel just a fraction of the thrill great explorers felt when they found new lands. Are there still ‘secret places’ to discover? Perhaps not, but here in Bali within the depths of the Bedugul jungles you will find places to get lost between the trees, to feel – at least for a while – that the land is yours and yours alone.
A 2-hour drive takes you to Bedugul, the highlands of Bali, which has long remained a haven for nature-lovers or those wishing to get away from it all. Alpine hills dominate the dramatic landscape, found 1200m above sea-level, shrouded in low clouds and mountain fog.
Bedugul itself is no secret of course, being home to the tourist-popular Botanical Gardens and three serene lakes, Tamblingan, Buyan and Bratan. However, at the right place and at the right time this rural refuge lies silent and awaits new explorers, as we experienced for ourselves.
At 5am when the last of the night still blanketed the sky, we waited on the edge of Lake Bratan as our guides prepared our little rowboat. Dark, unable to see the mist of our own breath in the cool air, we stumbled in one by one and pushed off the banks into a black abyss. The air was thick with silence, only the soft swish of water passing the boats hull was audible. We paddled for 15 minutes, daylight finally climbing over the tops of the surrounding hills in a dramatic hue of purple and pink. It was only then could we see our first destination, the water temple Pura Ulun Danau Bratan,
Here we moored our little vessel. Feet on land we gazed outwards to watch the sun rising slowly, the sky reflecting off of the glass-like surface of the lake, finally exhibiting its impressive size. Those who worship at this temple pay homage to the lake goddess Dewi Danu; the lake itself is the source of much of the area’s irrigation waters, and is hence worshipped for providing fertility.
After several minutes taking in the scene we piled back into the boat and paddled across to the north side of the lake, a thin mist remained floating above the water. We arrived at an abandoned dock overgrown with reeds and clambered out. Here, around the lake, farmers and rural communities had roused and had already begun working their land.
We continued past the farms and headed for the hills when we were met by a wall of trees abruptly signalling the start of highland woods. A local village path was there, only used by the farmers. No tourists were around, only mother nature, who towered above us and hugged us from all sides.
Our guide, a pure lover of nature, honed in on birds and bird calls, or pointed at interesting plants, trees and hidden caves. We pushed through the thick foliage, still damp from the morning dew, enthralled by his local knowledge and by the wonders of nature.
Finally we reached our destination, a local prayer compound set by a trickling waterfall. Whilst the prayer area was still used by local Balinese for worship, it seemed the place had been forgotten by time, left behind for the plants to consume; the surrounding walls were thick with moss and even the stairs the locals had made were overgrown with weeds. Only a shrine stood out in colour. A thrill grew inside us, spurred by a sense of discovery; no, of course we weren’t the first to discover this place, but what mattered was that if felt like we had. It really was a secret little spot and it radiated a wonderfully mystic atmosphere. There was no ‘tourist site’ to behold, but it was as if the ambience was the experience itself; pure and empty, with a lifelessness that quiets the mind and calms the soul. No wander the Balinese came here to pray.
Having rested, we continued on a different track back to Bratan where our boatman waited on a lonely, ragged pier. Again we set off into the lake’s waters, Bedugul life yet to fully fill the banks with existence, and we headed home feeling like explorers who had just struck gold.
This experience was booked through Strawberry Hill Hotel and Restaurant, Bedugul. Guests here can request a tour with their local guide, who will take you on your very own adventure through the highlands. As the experience starts in the morning, it is best to stay the night.