I barrelled down the inner roads of central Bali as if my bicycle had been retrofitted with an aircraft propeller. Gusts of wind smacked my face. Stretches of mint green fields garlanding the route sweetened my sight. At some point, I surrendered to the quiet and closed my eyes for a fleeting second or two; the wheels carrying my body, my mind shedding all fear. Perhaps, I could have lived that moment anywhere. But it happened to me in Bali.
An hour-long drive east of Ubud had brought me to Bangli district in central Bali, a region lush with rice terraces and palm fronds. It is a far cry from touristy Ubud, where I was vacationing. Earlier that morning, Wayan Suardiana, the guide from Bali Eco Tours, picked me up from my hotel for the cycling tour I had signed up for. The 21-kilometre bike ride takes visitors through the heart of the region. Accompanied by two more riders—American travellers Kari Johnson and Priscilla Mok—we drove out of Ubud towards our bikes.
Barely 15 minutes into the trip, we halted at the Instagram favourite, Tegallalang Rice Terrace. Pointing to the swirl of green peppered with palm trees, Wayan told us how the terraces are still irrigated by traditional Balinese techniques. Another 15-minute drive ahead lay the village of Penelokan, in the highland of Kintamani. We stopped at a breeze-swept restaurant for some Balinese coffee and light breakfast, but also to marvel at the views of 5,633-foot-high Mount Batur. The active volcano last erupted in 2000, and is surrounded by a pitch-black field of dried lava—a vestige of the 1968 eruption—and a cresent-shaped volcanic lake.
We drove on to Seribatu village, and reached a dusty, medium-sized football field. Wayan handed us bright red helmets and pointed to the bicycles we’d be ridinG—21-speed, blue-white Wimcycle mountain bikes. We began gliding along the countryside’s long, buttery roads, waiting for the ‘real Bali’ (as Wayan claimed) to reveal itself. A Bali removed from the party pockets of Kuta and Seminyak, largely unexplored and gloriously steeped in green. He first led us to a traditional house in Penglumbaran village. A family of six live in a spacious mud-and-brick home; there’s a courtyard, several rooms, common areas and a family temple beside the backyard which houses cattle. Cycling further through back roads, we stopped at Selat Nyuhan village, where women sporting a variety of sun-shielding headgear laboured in paddy fields. We rode on, along more rice field strips and inner roads, past giggling children, farmers returning home for lunch, and craftsmen still at work. I began to see how the ride was about appreciating the smaller details—something I mulled over at our next stop: an ancient banyan tree at Selat Pekan village.
The last leg of the ride was also the most rewarding: we cruised through the most eye-popping green expanses, and finished at Petemon village. A car was waiting to pick us up; it was time for lunch at the neighbouring Mancawarna village. But then, like a devious gambler raising the bet, Wayan asked if any of us was adventurous enough to cycle another eight kilometres and meet him for the meal. The uphill adventure, Wayan joked, helped one get rid of the ‘Bintang Belly’. It would have been funny had it not been so embarrassingly true—the number of chilled Bintang beers I had chugged in a week in Bali was baffling. I gallantly agreed, and so did Priscilla, a trained cyclist. Kari, the wiser one, headed straight to the car.
For the next half hour, I struggled phenomenally under the tropical sun. The hitherto joyous road suddenly shape-shifted into a maze of punishingly steep slopes. My core rebelled every minute. After covering barely half the distance, I threw myself and the bike onto the Bali Eco Tours’ truck that had caught up with me. Enough cycling for the day!
After that ride, my lunch tasted divine. My view was all forest as I gorged on miegoreng (fried noodles), sweet soyabean cake, tofu with peanut sauce, while the meat eaters feasted on chicken curry and smoked duck. On our drive back, my mind relived the jaunts through neighbourhoods, the hellos and cheers from strangers, the kids riding alongside our bikes, laughing. It was a joyride in the truest sense.
Bali Eco Tours’ Eco Educational Cycling Tour is a day-long tour and includes pick-up and drop to the visitor’s hotel by car. It takes visitors through the terraces and villages of East Bali (www.baliecocycling.com; $55/Rs3,860).
Anand Holla is a writer, journalist, vegan, traveller, filmmaker, photographer, musician, take-it-easy-er. He loves travelling to faraway lands in search of nature’s neglected wonders, shake hands with or bite into new cultures, and experience lucid moments of serenity that only an unfamiliar patch of earth, water, or sky, can summon.