The Other Side of Bali

Lovina is a perfect vantage point for exploring Bali’s northern coast.  
The Other Side of Bali
The Ulun Danu Bratan Temple is by the Lake Bratan, and is often called the floating temple, especially when seen during monsoon. Photo by: Copyright. Sasipa Muennuch./Moment

From the airport, the road to Lovina, in northern Bali, is a throwback to how most of Bali was before the tourism industry exploded across its southern and western regions in the last few decades. The car my partner and I are in passes by small villages and roadside warungs, Indonesia’s version of the dhaba, a far cry from the resort towns that dot the other side. To our right are the misty peaks of Mount Batur and Mount Agung, Bali’s seething active volcanoes, while to our left are the island’s famed rice terraces, cultivated using a shared water irrigation system called subak, which has been recognized as representative of Bali’s cultural landscape by UNESCO.

We make a short stop at the Ulun Danu Bratan temple, on the banks of Lake Bratan. The temple, built in the 17th century, has the tiered shrines that are characteristic of Bali temple architecture. It houses shrines to Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, along with the lake goddess, Dewi Danu. It is often known as the floating temple, because its proximity to the lake gives it a floating effect, especially when the lake waters rise.

Lovinaconsists of a string of six fishing villages—Temukus, Kaliasem, Kalibukbuk, Anturan, Tukad Mungga and Pemaron—located near Singaraja, the Dutch colonial capital of Bali and administrative centre during the Japanese occupation. An enterprising local businessman named Anak Agung Panji Tisna developed the area in the late 1950s, beginning with our hotel, the Lovina Beach Hotel, inspired by a resort he visited in Bombay. He is said to have given the place its name, which means “Love your mother” in Balinese.

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It’s a treat to watch schools of dolphins breach the waters at Lovina beach in perfect synchronisation. Photo by: Andrew TB Tan/Moment/Getty Images

We stroll Lovina Beach at sunset. The sand is black, due to the basalt fragments deposited by ancient volcanic activity. We encounter a few persistent hawkers, trying to sell us cowrie shell necklaces and other souvenirs, but otherwise, the beach is uncrowded. Before us, fishing boats make their way back with their daily catch. Behind us are the mountains and rice fields. We savour this experience of idyllic rural Bali, far from the bustle of a Kuta or an Ubud.

The next morning, we are up at the crack of dawn to watch dolphins in their natural habitat. We travel in a jukung, an Indonesian canoe with double outriggers on either side like a crab’s claws, which provide stability to the narrow boat. The sun steals up behind the mountains, and its golden colours spread over the sky as we head out to a spot of ocean about half an hour from the coast.

Initially, there is complete chaos. A school of dolphins surfaces in a particular area, and nearly fifty boats rush in that direction for photos. The dolphins do a couple of jumps, and then disappear under water, often before most of the boats have reached. After a few rounds of this, we realise that the dolphins are following a wide circular path, so we let our boat float instead. Sure enough, in some time, a handful of dolphins surface near our boat. They leap clean out of water, a move known as breaching, and swim for a while beside our boat.

A quick Google search the previous night told me that dolphins breach probably to gain more oxygen to maintain metabolism to travel faster, or to shake parasites off their body. Each school of four to five dolphins follows an alpha and leaps in graceful synchrony, like a champion Olympic synchronised swimming team. I wonder, though, what the dolphins make of all the boats swarming around them—they seem to enjoy the attention and the occasional claps from tourists, but I don’t imagine they are thrilled with the effort needed to avoid crashing into the boats.

The boats thin as tourists finish their photo-ops, and we have the sea and the dolphins mostly to ourselves. The tropical and temperate waters around Indonesia are home to the common and bottle-nosed dolphin species, and we witness multiple shows of their acrobatics: breaches and twists that would put any gymnast to shame. I have seen a number of dolphin shows in zoos and sanctuaries, but watching them swim carefree in their natural habitat is magical.

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At the Banjar hot springs, visitors can unwind in the therapeutic waters, indulge in a massage at the spa, and savour Indonesian cuisine at the restaurant. Photo by: Bicho_raro/istock/Getty Images

After breakfast, we head to the Brahma Vihara Arama, the largest Buddhist monastery on the primarily Hindu island. We drive on an uphill road from our hotel, past vineyards which utilise the island’s tropical climate to cultivate evergreen vines. The monastery incorporates elements of classical Balinese Hindu architecture such as the split gateway or candibentar, flanked with yaksha-like guardians, and a tiered bell tower. The monastery complex is terraced with lotus ponds, pine trees and manicured gardens, interspersed with statues of the Buddha. There is also a replica of Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world, on a stupa on the highest terrace. The monastery radiates serenity, and I immerse myself in the feeling.

We later drop by the Banjar hot springs, located near the monastery. Set amidst a jungle, the springs recall Greek bath houses, with dragon-faced spouts pouring water into three large pools. The water is a murky green and slightly sulphuric, though rich in minerals, and while there are a few people taking a dip, I stay dry.

Sometimes, vacations can seem like a chore—jostling with crowds at hotspots and queuing up to see popular monuments. Lovina is a hidden jewel in Bali’s crown, and I hope it doesn’t lose its charm anytime soon.

Essentials

Getting there

Lovina is approximately 90 km/3 hr from Bali. Cab rentals to Lovina are available from the airport: a one way trip costs between IDR 5,00,000-6,00,000/Rs 2,500-3,000. Grab, a ride-hailing app, operates in Bali, and Bluebird taxi services can also be availed at the airport.

Stay

The author stayed at Lovina Beach Hotel (doubles from IDR 5,00,000/Rs 2,500), however there are plenty of options in the region including  Lilin Lovina Beach Hotel (doubles from IDR 28,10,000/Rs 13,500; lilinlovinabeachhotel.com).

Dolphins

There are many tour operators offering dolphin watching tours; they typically start at sunrise (IDR 3,00,000/Rs 1,500 for a boat for four people for one hour).

 

  • Arundhati Hazra works a 9-to-9 job so that she can indulge in her three key vices - traveling, eating and buying lots of books. She'd like to go from aspiring writer to aspirational writer sometime soon.

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