07 August 2010

A Gorgeous Sunset (and a Trance Dance) at Uluwatu

where earth meets sea and sea meets sky...
After a late lunch & a dip in the pool at Puri Damai, we set off on an hour-long drive to one of the most photographed, most popular sights in Bali, the cliffside temple of Pura Luhur Uluwatu.

Famous for its stunning sunsets & notorious monkeys and being one of the places you can catch the popular Kecak & Fire Dance, this place was a must-visit for us!

The thing was, since we had a bit of a hard time getting the little boy out of the pool and since our food took so long, we left thirty minutes later than planned so we were running late. You see, the plan was to leave Puri Damai at around 430pm at the very latest, make a quick stop at Kuta Beach to check out the surf scene, get to Uluwatu at 530pm to be able to explore a bit and watch the sunset before catching the Kecak Show that was supposed to begin at 6. Well, we ended up leaving Puri Damai at 5pm so we didn't even get to see Kuta Beach anymore and headed straight to Uluwatu. Luck wasn't on our side either since we ran into a bit of traffic since it was rush hour in the Kuta area. :s So as we were driving to the clifftop where the temple was, we were panicking as we watched the sun start to descend. We were literally chasing after the sunset!

So as soon as we got inside the temple compound, we jumped off the car, paid for our entrance fee (Rp3,000/person) and for our Kecak show tickets (Rp73,000/person), rushed into the sarongs you could borrow (for free!) by the entrace (your legs must be covered when entering the temple) and ran to the cliffside to catch at least a few shots of the gorgeous sunset.

On the way in, we ran into one monkey! Just one monkey! Having read so many horror stories of mean monkeys stealing eyeglasses, ponytails, cameras, water bottles from innocent tourists, I must admit that I was a bit nervous about the whole temple-overrun-by-monkeys story. On the other hand, the Mister and I thought that the little boy might actually find it fun to bump into some monkeys. I mean, it's not like we get to see monkeys on a regular basis back in the Philippines, right? So we psyched ourselves pretty well for the monkey onslaught & we even made sure we didn't bring & took off anything the monkeys could snag from us (including earrings that I heard they can actually take off from your ears without you noticing! Such skills!). So we were a tad dissapointed to find that all the monkeys have gone back to the forest by the time we got there! We had to settle for a photo with just the last monkey to leave Uluwatu! Boo!

the lone monkey of Uluwatu

After snapping a shot of the lone monkey, we started to run straight to the cliffside again to join the hundreds of people already posing for sunset shots by the temple. And what a sight it was! The unique shape of the temple's tiered meru against the pink, blue, orange & purple hues of the sky really was a breathtaking sight.

beautiful Pura Luhur Uluwatu at sunset
For a second, I just stood there in awe, staring first at the beauty of the waves crashing into the cliffside and then at this beatiful old temple perched so precariously at the very edge where land meets sea. It is said that Pura Luhur Uluwatu is dedicated to the spirits of the sea. It is also said that being one of Bali's directional temples (Pura Luhur Uluwatu is located on the Southern tip of Bali), this temple guards Bali from evil spirits from the Southwest. Amazing.

the cliffside at Uluwatu
After a bit of repositioning and maneuvering around the hundreds of other tourists there, we were finally able to take a few shots of the temple from afar and we were even lucky enough to catch a couple of family shots with this awesome sight in the background. :)

the hundreds of tourists looking for their perfect sunset shot
trying to get our own sunset shot...

the perfect pink & purple sunset at Uluwatu
We were then immediately ushered by our driver into the area where the Kecak & Fire Dance was already starting. He said that we needed to take our seats before the open air ampitheatre of sorts filled up completely. True enough, just a few seconds after being seated, the place was filled to capacity and the tourists behind us ran out of seats and had to sit on the floor for the hour-long show. So if you do plan to see the show, make sure you get there early!

the hundreds of other tourists there to watch the show
The Kecak Dance begins as the sun sets so you can just imagine how awesome it was to just be able to sit there in this cliffside ampitheatre watching a traditional Balinese trance dance with the Uluwatu Temple & the amazing sunset in the background. Just another one of those experiences I will never forget in this lifetime.

the chorus of chanting shirtless men
One of the most interesting things about this particular Balinese dance is that there's no accompaniment of a gamelan or any kind of instrument throughout the entire show. It's definitely not a silent show either as throughout the entire hour-long performance, the music comes from the chanting of a male chorus of about 50-100 barechested men with nothing but checkered cloths wrapped around their waists. 'cha-ka-cha-ka-cha-ka-cha-ka-cha-ka'... endlessly, tirelessly. As if in a trance. This, they say, is why it's called a kecak dance. Because of the endless chanting sound they make. (We found  our little boy chanting this for hours after the show ended!)
Another thing about the Kecak is that it's what the Balinese call a sanghyang or a trance dance wherein the medium, in this case the dancers, communicate with their gods or their ancestors and are used by their ancestors to convey a message or a story.

in a trance
Another reason why I loved the show so much was because the Kecak basically tells the story of the ancient Sanskrit epic Rama and Sita, one of my favorite stories ever. In a nutshell, the evil demon king Ravana kidnaps Sita, the wife of Rama. Hanoman, the Monkey King, helps Rama defeat the demon king to help rescue Sita, ending in a battle where Hanoman gets trapped in a ring of fire but escapes by trampling on the flames -- thus the fire dance.

the Monkey King Hanoman
another shot of Hanoman
ending the show by dancing with fire
It was a fascinating show! Even our little boy was glued to it for the entire hour and has been telling us up to now how the Kecak Dance was one of his favorite Bali experiences and how the great big white monkey would always be one of his favorite story characters.
And this is why we will continue to bring him around the world as much as we can trying to teach him & show him more of the world & its people. Because he too finds it fascinating.

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