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Buleleng is both physically and culturally the "other side of Bali". Long isolated from the south by the central volcanic ridge and vast expanse of primary forest, it has developed unique social and cultural features. The Buleleng regency stretches across almost the whole of the northern part of Bali. The area generally consists of steep mountain slopes plunging down into a narrow coastal plain.
Ancient beads dating back 2000 years were recently discovered in Pacung, 40km east of Singaraja-the first sign of Indian trade with the Indonesian archipelago. And small stupa effigies showing signs of a Buddhist presence have been unearthed in Lovina, where 6th century Buddhist monks landed and settled, eventually traveling south to where their culture blossomed, 200 years later. These discoveries bear witness to the role of early sea routes in the history of Buleleng, the first region to be colonized by the Dutch.
The City of Singaraja (100,000 inhabitants) was the capital of Bali during Dutch times. Today it is a mix of Muslim kampung, Chinese shops, tree-lined avenues of colonial houses and neo-Balinese government offices. There is a Chinese temple (klenteng) near the harbour, not far from Kajanan mosque, whose mirhab pulpit has an interesting combination of Moslem and Balinese decorative motifs. The Balinese elements of the city appear pushed to the periphery of the city while traditional traders-the Bugis and the Chinese-occupy its centre.
Visit the Gedung Kirtya library, where there are thousands of lontar manuscripts in the Javanese and Balinese scripts. You can also buy prasi paintings, done in the ancient fashion on lontar palm leaves. To the south of Singaraja, you'll find Gitgit Waterfall, Bali's highest.
Tourists looking for a quiet beach resort can head for Lovina, a long stretch of beach is safe and a perfect place for swimming and snorkeling. Lovina also offers dolphin viewing. It is the perfect base from which to explore northern Bali.
West from Lovina, the coastal road passes through the small towns of Banjar and Seririt. Banjar is home to the only Buddhist monastery on Bali. The monastery, a blend of Balinese and mainland Southeast Asian architecture, offers a stunning panorama down to the sea. Banjar also offers hot springs popular with both locals and tourists. Up the road, driving from the dry coastal area to increasingly lush landscape, you will arrive at the small village of Pedawa, with unique shrines made from bamboo.
From Seririt, a highway branches inland and southwards across the most beautiful rice terraces in the island, at Busung Biu and Pupuan. At Mayong a mountain road will take you back to the Bedugul Hill area via Munduk and the Tamblingan and Buyan lakes located in the midst of rainforest. Munduk is an ecotourism hill resort with no less than six waterfalls as well as treks to the pristine Tamblingan lake and nearby mountain, rainforest and plantation areas.
The coastal strip past Seririt narrows westwards, the main road winding past Celukan Bawang harbour and Gondol beach (a good place for swimming and snorkeling) before eventually arriving at Bali's western tip. After passing a huge rock-face almost to the sea and the nearby Pulaki temple, you will reach the newly-developed Pemuteran beach resort, with fair accommodation and white sand, though it is little far from Bali's cultural centres.
Pemuteran with their volcanic sand is an ideal place to plan excursions to West Bali National Park (Taman Nasional Bali Barat), comprising the nature reserve of Menjangan Island and the uplands in the west. For those of you who wish to dive or look for a hide away without living the luxury, Matahari Beach Resort with all their facilities and delicious food cater for all your needs. They also have direct access to Menjangan Island. Menjangan has the most beautiful coral reefs in Bali. Along with the nearby Labuan Lalang, this is a wonderful place for diving and snorkeling. Basic accommodation is available at Labuan Lalang, but you are forbidden to spend the night on this unique island. To organize treks to the inland section of the park, you need to go southeast to Cekik, near Gilimanuk, where the West Bali National park office is to be found.
In eastern Buleleng you will find something completely different. East of Singaraja is the scenic Sawan rice plain, producing Bali's best rice. The area around here has a unique baroque temple architecture best known for relief's dating from colonial times. In Sangsit, where boats still shuttle to the Kangean islands to the north, don't miss the Beji temple, its gates and shrines are finely carved with serpents, Garudas, demon heads and floral decorations.
The inland town of Sawan is a traditional centre for dance and music. It has simple accommodation and river views rivaling those is southern Bali. One of the few remaining gamelan makers on Bali has its workshop there. From Sawan, a narrow road heads south towards Bedugul through coffee and clove plantations and mountain landscapes.
Returning to the coastal road, stop at the Pura Meduwe Karang temple in Kubutambahan on the northern coast. The carvers here, besides making sculptures of classical heroes, have also integrated the Dutch presence in their relief. The most famous shows a Dutchman riding a bicycle with wheels made of flower. This is said to represent Nieuwenkampf, a Dutch artist who first explored Bali at the beginning of the century. He travelled around the island by bike, stopping to make sketches of the temples and religious events he witnessed.
Further east, the coastal villages of Julah and Pujung, and the nearby mountain village of Sembiran, are three Bali Aga villages with their own versions of the Balinese language. The road which climbs to Sembiran offers a fantastic view over the palm trees of the coastal plain.
At the eastern end of Buleleng regency is the village of Tejakula, which has preserved an original dance tradition, with baris gede (warrior dances) and the famous wayang wong, which is performed during the Galungan festival. The road then heads eastwards into Karangasem across a landscape savaged by the 1963 eruption of Mount Agung.
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