Travel & Life Digest

Beyond Ubud: Elephants, Holy Springs and Rice Fields

We used our stay at the Alila in Ubud as a base to explore the centre and north of  Bali's unspoiled, wilder side. What a contrast between the chic beachside restaurants in Seminyak and the tribal villages around lake Danau Batur.
We booked the hotel car, after a bit of consideration about the price.
Initially we thought that $120 was a bit much, but after a whole day on the road, we got to appreciate the cold water bottles and wet towels coming out of a portable fridge in the back of the car. Not exactly a proud Indiana Jones moment but, hey!

First stop was the Elephant Safari Park & Lodge
It was worth it, just to see my husband turning into a big kid,  before we even walked through the entrance.
Total photos taken: 526! 
Entrance costs around $60 each and although initially it seems rather expensive, once you are sitting on the elephant, lazily touring the adjacent forest, it starts making sense. 
It's so thrilling to get up close and personal with these massive and so gentle animals. 
The little bits of hair on their heads make them seem all the more pre-historic!
We were lucky to encounter two of them chilling out in the pool, with their trunks blocking our path; we got to pat them and chat to them... they are very responsive! 
Elephant rides feel a lot like horse trotting but at a much slower pace. It was so exciting witnessing these giant babies playing around the pool! A young one was dipping in the water, disappearing completely and then triumphantly resurfacing, splashing the whole place with water. Part of our ride was through the pool too and it took the drivers strict instructions to keep our elephants from completely sub-merging and having a good old dip. They love water!

Next stop were the rice fields in Tegalalang
I was under the impression that the whole area is covered in them, but this is not the case. 
Northern Bali is very hilly and a lot of the routes take you through deep gorges covered in all shades of green and past enormous Banyan trees that seem to be older than time. 
I was stuck to the window, pointing to all directions, such an amazing landscape!
This village is protected and to enter you have to pay a minimal fee of roughly £5 each.
The money goes towards helping local farmers to maintain their rice fields in pristine condition, for tourists. It pays off, because the view is spectacular.
Off course that is on one side of the hill, the other side is completely covered in small huts that sell all things touristy. A local lady was inviting people to pose with her for a small fee, ingenious if you count the amount of tourists that go through this place every day! We spent twenty minutes there, took some pictures and moved on.
Thankfully, our driver paid attention when we mentioned that we are not interested to buy-buy-buy and he didn't make the usual "random" stops to earn commission.  We did tip him handsomely at the end. To be honest, driving around the north outskirts of Ubud, you spot smaller rice fields home to whole duck clans; they are more natural and equally beautiful.

Ducklings around the rice fields

Then we deviated from our route a bit, to go to Tirta Empul

One of my favourite places in the whole trip!
A Holy Spring, where locals bathe in the spring waters for cleansing and blessings.
The whole place is alive with flowing water.
The original hot spring is a walled garden, with the water coloured in the most imaginative blues, yellows and greens, probably due to sulphur releases.
I couldn't pull myself away from this harmony of colours and sounds.
It was a Sunday and the shrine was very busy with devotees, if you want to experience even more peace and take your time, try visiting on another day. It's a wonderful place to spend your day at.

The temple behind it is accessible to Hindus only, in an attempt to maintain the site's calmness and spirituality. There is no one stopping you from going in, but try to be respectful, if you do. Behind the walls of the holy spring, clean fresh water runs vigorously into another pool where Balinese devotees wash away their worries. This pool is covered in fresh flower petals and Koi fish swim around, for good luck. We were allowed in because our driver supplied us with sarongs to tie around our waist and we managed to dip our feet in the crystal clear waters.

What a celebration of people coming together, children excited at the expectation of holy waters, flower petals creating an Impressionist painting and Koi fish providing shiny orange notes.    

Rose petals and coy fish in Tirta Empul

Glorious colours from the surrounding nature, reflecting in the holy waters of Tirta Empul

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