Bali is the tourism hotspot of Indonesia. With 80 per cent of international visitors never venturing beyond this idyllic island, many people do not realise that the Hindu religion prevalent in Bali is not representative of Indonesia as a whole – which is otherwise the world’s largest Islamic country.
Islam is a minority faith on Bali by contrast, as the island became a refuge for the Hindu Majapahit Empire when they were forced out of neighbouring Java around 800 years ago. Bali’s distinctive Hindu teachings have been passed down through generations ever since, making the beliefs and practices of Balinese Hinduism very different from those of other countries, such as India – not least the fact that beef is a favourite item in many local dishes here.
Visitors to Bali will doubtless find that spirituality plays a significant role in many peoples’ everyday lives. You may find that people are forced to cancel appointments due to ceremonies taking place, and you should expect most of the tourist sights and activities around the island to have religion at their core – the notable exception being the beaches of areas such as Kuta, where traditional culture is not so prominent.
If you are interested in seeing the ‘real’ Bali during your holiday though, many sights of interest can be reached by staying in the capital of Ubud, located roughly in the island’s centre. From here, it’s just a short walk or bus journey to many of the island’s key religious sights, such as Besakih Temple (also known as the mother temple) in East Bali and the island’s most famous sight, Tanah Lot.
You’ll also find plenty of opportunities to observe local customs during Bali holidays, whether it’s attending a performance of the epic Ramayana Ballet staged in outdoor amphitheatres or watching a shadow puppet show. If you stay for a longer time in densely populated areas, you’re also likely to see processions for everything from marriages to cremations taking place in the street, which foreigners are free to observe as long as proper respect is shown.
One important consideration to bear in mind when visiting religious sites or attending ceremonies is that proper dress should be worn, which for visitors usually means wearing a sarong – especially to cover bare legs. These are supplied at many tourist areas, but sometimes carry a charge, so it can be worthwhile buying your own sarong if you’re planning on exploring many facets of Bali’s spiritual side during your trip.