From Sumatra, home to Southeast Asia’s largest lake, dense jungles and the orang-utan, Indonesia stretches 5000km to Papua; the largely unexplored eastern province home to the once ‘headhunting’ Asmats, peaceful Dani and breathtaking mountain ranges. Indonesia is as varied as it is unique, from the Hindu-Buddhist monuments of Borobudur to the famous Komodo Dragons, countless deserted beaches and natural wonders grace an archipelago filled with mystique and beauty.
Bali is the jewel in the crown of Indonesia’s 17,000 islands. It is an island where the mystical and magic define everyday life in a paradise framed by sweeping beaches and natural wonders. The rich and intriguing culture is at once enthralling and hypnotic, with the island’s beauty exceeded only by the friendliness of its charming people. Sun drenched beaches and exotic temples, thrilling adventures and world class spas are all within proximity to boutique hotels, resorts and private villas, made famous by their Balinese designs.
Why Indonesia? From the primal jungles of Sumatra to the lavish luxury of Nusa Dua, Indonesia is unique in its diversity. For those of us who are searching for the true exotic, who challenge themselves with experiences that are rare and magical yet appreciate service, quality and an unique insight into a destination, Indonesia presents an opportunity to fulfil the ultimate travel experience.
Travelling in Indonesia
Transport in Indonesia is an adventure in any sense of the word! With traffic moving at often breakneck speed, it is amazing how the country managed to shift 200 million people around every single day, but it somehow works!
Java, and in particular, Jakarta, has by far the most advanced and varied forms of transport in the country. With trains, Ojek (motorcycle taxi), Ojek Sepeda (bicycle taxi), Becak (rickshaw type of thing), Bajaj (known as a ‘tuk tuk’ in Thailand), Bis (bus), Dokar (horse and cart), Mikrolet (small van for up to 9 people, but often fitting 20) and finally Taxi. With all of those to choose from, you can have a different experience every day of the week and still have change!
Traveling in Bali can get frustrating at times, but the best thing to do is to hire a private driver, or take a taxi. With reasonable rates and friendly service, both of these modes of transport are the most recommended way to get around. Public transport in Bali is scarce, and does not use regular routes, so taking private transport is much easier and less stressful.
Sumatra, Java, Bali, Nusa Tenggara and Sulawesi are all connected by a regular ferry service, and these ferries are able to be used to island hop all the way from the far east of the country to Sumatra. Other sea routes are covered by Pelni, a passenger line run by the government. It can be difficult to find reliable information about traveling with Pelni, and the routes are often only run every two weeks, so forward planning is required.
In Kalimantan, the Longbot (longboat) is a long and narrow boat which is powered by outboard motors. These boats are not particularly comfortable, but they are a regular form of transport on this large island.
Prahu, an outrigger type of canoe with an outboard motor and sail. Are commonly seen in Bali and on Lombok, where they are used to ferry guests from the ‘mainland’ of Lombok, to the smaller islands.
Motorcycles are another form of transport, but you should be aware that some travel insurance companies will not cover you if you do not have a full motorcycle license in your home country. The risk of accidents is quite high, and being a non-Indonesian, you will be seen as at fault almost immediately.
Taking the more luxurious route
Luxury Yachts sail regularly from island to island, stopping off in some amazing bays and beaches. Tall sailing ships often sail from Bali to the eastern island of Komodo, on surfing safaris and diving adventures.
There are now many flights connecting what were once far removed places, to the rest of the country. If the flight schedule is not to your liking, why not charter a light aircraft or helicopter to take you? The days of ‘roughing it, or roughing it’ are well and truly over now, and even the most discerning traveler has many options for their travel in Indonesia these days.
Destinations in Indonesia
The first place that most people think of when they think of Indonesia is Bali. A small island which is rimmed by coral reef and filled with lush green rice fields, Bali is well set up for tourism and has something for everybody. Whether you prefer the luxurious spa holiday, or an action filled adventure, Bali is the perfect choice.
Further afield, there are so many options to choose from.
Lombok is commonly called ‘Bali 20 years ago’, but we like to think that it has its own identity. A noticeably drier island than Bali, the lifestyle here is considerably more laid back, and the island is a huge melting pot of religion and culture. With stunning beaches, tiny islands, and of course the often grumbling Mt Rinjani, a very active volcano, Lombok is great for those looking for something a little different.
Java is home to Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, but this huge bustling city is not the reason most people choose to go to Java. Mt Bromo, in the far east of the island, is a rumbling active volcano that is best climbed before sunrise. The views from atop this cranky beast are stunning and the short climb is well worth the early wake up call!
In the centre of Java is the ninth century Buddhist monument of Borobudur. The monument was abandoned in the 14th century, and was rediscovered by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1814. Borobudur is decorated with 2672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues, some of them sitting inside bell shaped domes. To visit Borobudur is an awe inspiring spectacle, and this is the reason that the monument is the most visited attraction in Indonesia.
There be Dragons
The fearsome Komodo Dragon was only discovered by western scientists in 1910, but their existence dates back to pre-historic times. Growing in lengths of up to 3m and weighing up to 300kg, these cannibalistic reptiles live for up to 50 years and survive on carrion and have been known to kill human beings. There are only a couple of islands that Komodo Dragons call home, these being Rinca Island and Komodo Island, in the far east of Indonesia. Easily reached by a stunning 1.5hr plane ride followed by a 4 hr boat trip which passes by many small islands. Komodo is one of our favourite places to visit because of the journey, and because these creatures are so fearsome, yet look so docile!
Kalimantan is a land of unexplored natural beauty and rich cultural heritage. Known for its tropical forests, rich natural resources and exotic flora and faunt, Kalimantan is a unique, unexplored world of its own. Home to over 10million people, it is the Dayaks who are the indigenous people of the area. The Dayaks, who were once headhunters, live in traditional ‘long houses’ which can be home to as many as 50 people. Whether it is hard core adventure trekking, rafting, or observing the lovely orangutan, Kalimantan is a wilderness that is just begging to be discovered.
Corporate Travel in Indonesia
When it comes to incentives, Bali is the natural choice in Indonesia. This remarkable little island has it all, and never fails to deliver the ‘wow factor’. With world class hotels, international size and standard convention facilities and the very best in activities, dining and teambuilding, Bali is the complete package.
Destination Asia has hosted dinner everywhere from Balinese palaces and temple forecourts, to private beaches or exclusive villas. Our expert team is able to identify your specific requirements and put them together to create the ideal incentive, where meetings with a difference can be held in secluded jungles or deserted beaches.
Destination Asia are able to offer competitive hotel rates and will share our wealth of local knowledge and experience, in order to provide you with the best possible event for your group.
Of course, all work and no play makes life very bland! Destination Asia has day tours that will blow your mind. Whether it’s cruising up to see a volcano on the back of a thumping Harley Davidson, or snorkeling over a coral reef in crystal clear waters, you can be sure that your day will flow perfectly.
Of course, Bali is not the only island worth visiting! With over 17,000 islands to choose from, the country is teeming with possibilities. We just love to show people the places they consider ‘out of reach’ or ‘out of the way’. Komodo Dragons are situated in the far eastern islands, most commonly Rinca Island and Komodo Island, and can be reached in just 2.5 hours by private aircraft and boat.
Lombok is located just over the Wallace Line, and is an enchanting island which has managed to combine Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism together where mutual and equal respect is held for all religions. With beautiful old palaces, stunning beaches and ancient villages, Lombok is surely a unique island and one that is completely different to Bali.
No matter what destination you choose for your event in Indonesia, you are guaranteed of professional service, and personal attention. We are proud to have hosted the below groups recently, and are happy to report that each event was a great success:
Denpasar City Tour
Denpasar, the capital of Bali since 1945, is a mini metropolis, and home to some 200,000 people. This tour takes us to Museum Negeri Propinsi Bali, which gives you a great insight to the history of Bali. With houses a unique collection of bronze and stone implements, as well as beautiful costumes from days gone by, this museum allows you to delve into the history and culture of this unique island. The Pasar Burung, or ‘bird market’ is home to the sweetest sounds on the island and is a wonderful stop on this short tour. The Government Art Centre at Abian Kapas is home to some of the islands most treasured works, and we also stop in here as part of our journey.
Besakih is also known as the mother temple of Bali. Sitting over a thousand feet up the volcanic slopes of Gunung Agung, the island’s largest mountain, Besakih is also home to Bali’s largest temple complex, comprising of 23 separate, but related, temples. Pura Penataran Agung, a six tiered temple terraced up the mountain, is the most important of these temples. The backdrop is impressive and if the mist rolls in you feel as if you’re in heaven.
Tanah Lot Sunset And Monkey Forest Tour
Alas Kedaton is home to one of Bali’s famed monkey forests. Featuring towering nutmeg trees unique to this area and sacred to the Balinese people, this is home to Bali’s cheekiest inhabitants, the macaque monkeys, and no trip to Bali is complete without seeing them. Continue to Mengwi, where we visit the former Royal Temple, Pura Taman Ayung, built in 1634 and arguably one of the most beautiful on the island. This tour also features a sunset visit to Tanah Lot, probably the most photographed place in Bali. Perched precariously on a rock just off shore, this temple is a must, particularly at the end of the day, when the area takes on a surreal feeling.
Ubud – Tampak Siring
Ubud is a must see destination for visitors to Bali as the town is a haven for artists and craftsmen and boasts superb art galleries, craft shops, museums, a traditional market selling high quality, but low cost goods and fantastic restaurants to enjoy after browsing and bartering. Besides these cultural attractions, Ubud is also home to a spectacular hillside range which overlooks lush green rice paddies. This comprehensive excursion takes us to see surrounding traditional villages and the most authentic crafts shops where we will see skilful artisans creating stone and wood carvings and gold and silver pieces, with the opportunity to purchase at source. Other highlights include a visit to the scenic Monkey Forest; a nature reserve and temple complex, which is home to hundreds of monkeys, followed by a trip to the bustling market. After lunch at one of our favourite restaurants, we continue onto the temple and holy springs of Tampak Siring. This holy site and the bathing springs have been used by the Balinese for over a thousand years for good health and prosperity and the local people claim the spring water really does have healing qualities. Last stop on this full-day tour is the Elephant Cave, a former sanctuary for local Buddhist monks that houses a four-armed statue of Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity, and a 1,000-year-old statue of Hariti, a legendary Buddhist goddess. This tour will leave you feeling culturally and physically enriched!
Rural Bali & Mount Batur
A warm welcome awaits us at a Balinese home, where a traditional breakfast is served with refreshing Balinese coffee or tea. We then walk to some local farms to experience the real life of Balinese farmers who work in the lush green rice paddies. Here we will learn about the simple and traditional irrigation system called Subak and the process of rice production; from planting the seedlings, to harvesting and even cooking the rice. You will be served with fresh young coconut water, one of nature’s most revitalizing natural drinks. Next stop is Pura Kehen, one of the oldest temples in Bali which was constructed in the 11th century and has been ingeniously built on a sloping hillside over eight terraces. The temple complex is amid a palm tree plantation which adds to the mystical atmosphere. After stepping through the Kori Agung (stone capped gateway), there is a small compound which is guarded by a mythical Naga (dragon) .This has a magic stone within it that is said to have glowed red when the site of the temple’s location was decided. We then proceed onto Penglipuran village, an enchanting traditional community which gives an insight into life in an ancient Bali village which has changed little over the years. We then move onto Kintamani, where we enjoy lunch with a view of Mount Batur, an active volcano, framed by picturesque Lake Batur. En route back to the hotel, we visit a local family of artisans to get a private demonstration of traditional wood carving and art. This trip takes us back in time to an enchanting and mystical land.
Bali and Indonesia Popular Tours
Yogyakarta To Bali Overland
Starting in Yogyakarta, visit the ancient monument of Borodur, surrounded by live volcanoes, before heading eastward to actually climb one in time to see the sunrise. Make your way down through Bali visiting hot springs, rustic temples, serene lakes and tropical forests. See farmers working their fields, villagers living in the same way as they did 500 years ago, and finish up by visiting some of the best restaurants in Bali.
Orangutan Wildlife And River Safari
Cruise atop a local ‘Klotok’ up river and try to spot the gentle ‘Man of the Forest’, the Orangutan, making their nests in the high treetops. See proboscis monkeys frolicking beside the river, and watch the world go by as you make your way deeper and deeper into the jungle. Visit the Orangutan rehabilitation centres and sanctuaries and have a close up experience with these fascinating and humanlike creatures. Spend the night on top of the boat surrounded only by the night sky and the jungle creatures in this once in a lifetime adventure.
Enchanted Culture Of Bali
Visit woodcarvers, silver smiths and other artisans en route to Gianyar, where you will stop in at Kerta Gosa, the famous Court of Justice. Passing through stunning rice fields, and finding some spirituality at Goa Lawah, commonly known at the Bat Cave, the days touring ends at Candi Dasa, a delightful seaside fishing village. Stopping to take in the scenery along the way, visit ancient temples and belching volcanoes while you cruise through the mountains to Lovina, on the north coast of the island, where you will spend the second night of your adventure. The last day sees you visiting some healing hot springs, coffee and vanilla plantations, and sacred temples. No trip to Bali is complete without a visit to the islands cheekiest inhabitants, the macaque monkeys, and Alas Kedaton is the perfect place to observe them in their own environment. The final stop on this tour is Tanah Lot, a 16th century temple built on a small rocky outcrop which becomes surrounded by the sea on high tide. This is a wonderful place to see the sunset, enjoy a refreshing cocktail and reminisce about the sights you have just seen over the past 3 days.
History of Indonesia
Under the influence of Hinduism and Buddhism, several kingdoms were formed on the islands of Sumatra and Java from the 7th to 14th century. The arrival of the Arab traders from India later introduced Islam to the archipelago, which went on to become the dominant religion in many parts of the country after the collapse of Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms.
When the Europeans came in the early 16th century, they arrived to a multitude of small states. These were very vulnerable to the Europeans, who were looking at dominating the spice trade. In the 17th century, the Dutch emerged as the most powerful of the Europeans, ousting the Spanish and Portuguese (except for a small colony of Portuguese on the island of Timor).
The Dutch influence started with trading by the Dutch East India Company, a private enterprise, which gradually expanded its region of influence and increased its grip on political matters. Following the dissolution of the Dutch East India Company in 1799, and coupled with political instability from the Napoleonic Wars, the East Indies were awarded to the Netherlands in 1815. From this time onward, the East Indies were officially ruled as colonies of the Dutch crown.
World War II
During World War II, with the Netherlands under German occupation, Japan began a five pronged campaign towards Java and the vital fuel supplies of the Dutch East Indies. Though Japan had captured Java by March 1942, it was unable to find any national leader willing to cooperate with the Japanese government in its plans against the Dutch. General Sukarno, along with his colleagues, cooperated with the Japanese occupiers. In 1945, with the war drawing to a close, Sukarno seized the opportunity to declare independence. Upon lobbying, Japan agreed that Sukarno establish a committee to plan for independence. Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta declared independence on 17 August.
Indonesia’s war for independence
In an effort to regain control of their previously occupied colonies, the Allies sent in their armies, including the Netherlands’ Army. Indonesia’s war for independence lasted from 1945 until 27 December 1949, when, under heavy international pressure, the Netherlands acknowledged Indonesia’s independence. Sukarno became the country’s first president, with Mohammad Hatta as the first vice-president. It was not until 16 August 2005 that the Dutch government finally recognized 1945 as the country’s year of independence and expressed its regrets over the Indonesian deaths caused by the Netherlands’ Army.
The 1950s and 1960s saw Sukarno’s government aligning itself first with the emerging non-aligned movement and later with the socialist bloc. The 1960s saw Indonesia in a military confrontation against neighboring Malaysia, and increasing frustration over domestic economic difficulties.
In the aftermath of Suharto’s rise, hundreds of thousands of people were killed or imprisoned in a backlash against alleged Communist supporters. Suharto’s administration is commonly called the New Order era. Suharto invited major foreign investment into the country, which produced substantial, if uneven, economic growth. However, Suharto enriched himself and his family through widespread corruption and he was forced to step down amid massive popular demonstrations and a faltering economy by the Indonesian Revolution of 1998.
Post-Suharto: 1998 and beyond
In the period of 1998 to 2001, the country had three presidents: Bacharuddin Jusuf (BJ) Habibie, Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati Sukarnoputri.
In 2004 the largest one-day election in the world and Indonesia’s first direct Presidential election was held, and was won by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Parts of northern Sumatra, particularly Aceh, were devastated by a massive earthquake and tsunami on 26 December 2004.
Art and Culture from Indonesia
Families are so close in Bali that many family members, be it brother/brother-in-law , sister/sister-in-law, mother & fathe or uncle & aunt, all reside in the same complex. The family dwellings are surrounded by a boundary wall, which contains the family temple, communal area, sleeping quarters, vegetable gardens and livestock. Most housing compounds have several coconut trees and at least one coffee tree (Ever heard of Java coffee?).
Bali’s culture is based on a form of Hinduism called “Hindu Dharma” which is said to have arrived onto the island during the 11th century. This religion plays a heavy part in the family customs and community lifestyle but, combined with the Balinese traditional ways, is a world away from the Hindu practiced in India. The influence of Hindu Dharma expands extensively into the arts, giving Bali its individuality from the rest of Indonesia. The Balinese have managed to preserve their culture despite the ever increasing number of tourists to the island.
Life & Death
Each stage of Balinese life is marked by a series of ceremonies and rituals known as Manusa Yadnya. The first ceremony of Balinese life takes place even before birth. Another ceremony takes place soon after the birth, during which the afterbirth is buried with appropriate offerings. The first major ceremony takes place halfway through the baby’s first Balinese year of 210 days.
A Balinese cremation can be an amazing, spectacular, colorful, noisy and exciting event. In fact it often takes so long to organise a cremation that years have passed since the death. During that time the body is temporarily buried while an auspicious day is chosen for the cremation. Since a big cremation is often very expensive, less wealthy people may take the opportunity of joining in at a larger cremation, sending their own dead on their way at the same time.
Balinese Art & Architecture
Nearly every native of Bali, is an artist in some form or another. These skills are taught to them at an early age by their parents and villagers, who spend their free time making religiously oriented decorations which are placed at many shrines in public areas, paddy fields or in the their homes and place of work. Even in the streets, you will come across these offerings to the gods, so please be respectful and watch where you walk.
Balinese Architecture is said to have two roots. One is from the Hindu religion brought to the area from India via Java. The other is said to be indigenous to the island, pre-dating the sweep of Hinduism and said to resemble Polynesian style. This may be seen in Bali’s temples and places of worship.
For those truly interested in Balinese architecture, a visit to the Bali Museum in Denpasar is a must.
Religion and Beliefs in Indonesia
Early on, Indonesians were Animists, who believed that non-human entities, such as animals and plants, as well as inanimate objects such as rocks, can have souls. Animists believe that these entities must be placated by offerings in order to gain favours, or even worshipped.
When Hinduism and Buddhism started to spread throughout the area, Animism tended to become less popular, but there are still areas in which it survives, including some parts of Papua and West Sumba.
Islam is the predominant religion in Indonesia, and 88% of the country’s population are followers. In the eastern regions, Christianity is the major religion, and 8% of the population are followers. Bali’s Hindus make up around 2% of the population, and Buddhists and Animists make up 1% each.
Like Islam and Buddhism, Hinduism was greatly modified when adapted to Indonesian society. The caste system, although present in form, was never rigidly applied. The Hindu religious epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana became enduring traditions among Indonesian believers, and this is expressed in shadow puppet (wayang) and dance performances.
Hinduism in Indonesia is primarily associated with Bali. Hindu believers in the early 1990s were relatively few outside of Bali, where they made up more than 93 percent of the population. Others were scattered throughout the archipelago. Nationally, Hindus represented only around 2 percent of the population in the early 1990s.
It is difficult to describe the Balinese version of Hinduism in the same terms as Islam and Christianity, since this unique form of religious expression is deeply interwoven with art and ritual, and is less closely preoccupied with scripture, law, and belief. Balinese Hinduism lacks the traditional Hindu emphasis on cycles of rebirth and reincarnation, but instead is concerned with a myriad of local and ancestral spirits.
Balinese people place great emphasis on dramatic and aesthetically satisfying rituals of these spirits at the many temples which are scattered throughout villages and throughout the countryside. Each of these temples pretty much has a fixed membership; every Balinese person belongs to a temple by virtue of descent, residence, or some mystical revelation of affiliation. Some temples are associated with the family house compound; others are associated with rice fields and others with key geographic sites.
Rituals featuring states of self-control (or lack of) are a feature of religious expression among Balinese people, who are famous for their graceful and decorous behaviour. One particular ceremony at a village temple, for instance, features a special performance of a dance-drama (a battle between the mythical characters Rangda the witch and Barong the dragon), in which performers fall into a trance and attempt to stab themselves with sharp knives.
Life Cycle Rituals are important occasions for religious expression and artistic display. Ceremonies at puberty, marriage, and, most notably, cremation at death provide opportunities for Balinese to communicate their ideas about community, status, and the afterlife.
Balinese religion is hierarchically organized, with one small segment, the Brahman class, being the most prestigious. A Brahman priest is not affiliated with any individual temple, but acts as a spiritual leader and adviser to families in various villages scattered over the island. These priests are consulted when ceremonies requiring holy water are conducted. On other occasions, traditional healers may be called in.
Although Christianity, taking in Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, was the most rapidly growing religion in Indonesia in the 1980s, its numbers are still small compared to Islam (9 percent of the population compared to 86.9 percent Muslim in 1985). Christianity had a long history in the smaller islands, with Portuguese Jesuits and Dominicans operating in the Maluku’s, southern Sulawesi, and Timor in the sixteenth century. When the Dutch defeated Portugal in 1605, however, Catholic missionaries were expelled and the Calvinist Dutch Reformed Church was virtually the only Christian influence in the region for some 300 years. Christianity advanced just a little in Indonesia until the nineteenth century. Only a few small communities endured in Java, Maluku, northern Sulawesi, and Nusa Tenggara (primarily Roti and Timor).
In around 1800, the Dutch permitted ‘converting’ in the territory. This evangelical freedom was put to use by the more tolerant German Lutherans, who began work among the Batak of Sumatra in 1861, and by the Dutch Rhenish Mission in central Kalimantan and central Sulawesi. In addition, Jesuits established successful missions, schools, and hospitals throughout the islands of Flores, Timor, and Alor.
The twentieth century witnessed the influx of many new Protestant missionary groups, as well as the continued growth of Catholicism and of large regional and reformed Lutheran churches. Following the 1965 coup attempt, all nonreligious persons were labelled atheists and hence were vulnerable to accusations of harboring communist sympathies. At that time, Christian churches of all varieties experienced explosive growth in membership, particularly among those people who felt uncomfortable with the political aspirations of Islamic parties.
In the 1990s, the majority of Christians in Indonesia were Protestants of one affiliation or another, with particularly large concentrations found in Sumatra Utara, Irian Jaya, Maluku, Kalimantan Tengah, Sulawesi Tengah, and Sulawesi Utara. Catholic congregations grew less rapidly in the 1980s, in part because of the church’s heavy reliance on European personnel. These Europeans experienced increasing restrictions on their missionary activities imposed by the Muslim-dominated Department of Religious Affairs. Large concentrations of Roman Catholics were located in Kalimantan Barat, Irian Jaya, Nusa Tenggara Timur, and Timor Timur provinces.
Islam remains the dominant religion by far in Indonesia, with around 170 million devotees. This high percentage of Muslims makes Indonesia the largest Islamic country in the world. Within the nation, most provinces and islands have majority populations of Islamic adherents (ranging from just above 50 percent in Kalimantan Barat and Maluku provinces to as much as 97.8 percent in the Special Region of Aceh).
According to orthodox practice, Muslims believe that there is only one God (Allah or Tuhan) and that he is a pervasive, if somewhat distant, figure. The Prophet Muhammad is not deified, but is regarded as a human who was selected by God to spread the word to others through the Quran, Islam’s holiest book. Islam is a religion based on high moral principles, and an important part of being a Muslim is commitment to these principles. Islam is universalist, and, in theory, there are no national, racial, or ethnic criteria for conversion. The major branches of Islam are those adhered to by the Sunni and Shia Muslims.
To a significant degree, the striking variations in the practice and interpretation of Islam, in a much less strict form than that practiced in the Middle East, in various parts of Indonesia reflect its complex history. Introduced by various traders and wandering mystics from India, Islam first gained a foothold between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries in coastal regions of Sumatra, northern Java, and Kalimantan. Islam probably came to these regions in the form of mystical Sufi tradition. Sufism easily gained local acceptance and became synthesized with local customs.
The introduction of Islam to the islands was not always peaceful, however. As Islamized port towns undermined the waning power of the East Javanese kingdom in the sixteenth century, Javanese elites fled to Bali, where over 2.5 million people kept their own version of Hinduism alive. Unlike coastal Sumatra, where Islam was adopted by elites and masses alike, partly as a way to counter the economic and political power of the Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms, in the interior of Java the elites only gradually accepted Islam, and then only as a formal legal and religious context for Javanese spiritual culture.
Another important tension dividing Indonesian Muslims was the conflict between traditionalism and modernism. The nature of these differences was complex, confusing, and a matter of considerable debate in the early 1990s, but traditionalists generally rejected the modernists’ interest in absorbing educational and organizational principles from the West. Specifically, traditionalists were suspicious of modernists’ support of the urban madrasa, a reformist school that included the teaching of secular topics. The modernists’ goal of taking Islam out of the pesantren and carrying it to the people was opposed by the traditionalists because it threatened to undermine the authority of the religious leaders.
Traditionalists also sought, unsuccessfully, to add a clause to the first tenet of the Pancasila state ideology requiring that, in effect, all Muslims adhere to the sharia. On the other hand, modernists accused traditionalists of escapist unrealism in the face of change; some even hinted that santri harboured greater loyalty towards the ummah (congregation of believers) of Islam than to the secular Indonesian state.
Despite these differences, the traditionalist Nahdlatul Ulama (literally, Revival of the Religious Scholars, also known as the Muslim Scholars&8217; League), the progressive Consultative Council of Indonesian Muslims (Masyumi), and two other parties were forcibly streamlined into a single Islamic political party in 1973–the Unity Development Party (PPP). Such cleavages may have weakened Islam as an organized political entity, as demonstrated by the withdrawal of the Nahdlatul Ulama from active political competition, but as a popular religious force Islam showed signs of good health and a capacity to frame national debates in the 1990s.
Indonesian Buddhism is the unstable product of complex accommodations among religious ideology, Chinese ethnic identification, and political policy. Traditionally, Chinese Daoism (or Taoism), Confucianism, and Buddhism, as well as Buddhist Perbuddhi, all had adherents in the ethnic Chinese community.
Following the attempted coup of 1965, any hint of deviation from the monotheistic tenets of the Pancasila was regarded as treason, and the founder of Perbuddhi, Bhikku Ashin Jinarakkhita, proposed that there was a single supreme deity, Sang Hyang Adi Buddha. He sought confirmation for this uniquely Indonesian version of Buddhism in ancient Javanese texts, and even the shape of the Buddhist temple complex at Borobudur in Jawa Tengah Province.
In the years following the 1965 abortive coup, when all citizens were required to register with a specific religious denomination or be suspected of communist sympathies, the number of Buddhists swelled; some ninety new monasteries were built. In 1987 there were seven schools of Buddhism affiliated with the Perwalian Umat Buddha Indonesia (Walubi): Theravada, Buddhayana, Mahayana, Tridharma, Kasogatan, Maitreya, and Nichiren. According to a 1987 estimate, there were roughly 2.5 million followers of Buddhism, with 1 million of these affiliated with Theravada Buddhism and roughly 0.5 million belonging to the Buddhayana sect founded by Jinarakkhita. Other estimates placed Buddhists at around only 1 percent of the population, or less than 2 million. Buddhism was gaining in numbers because of the uncertain status of Confucianism. Confucianism was officially tolerated by the government, but since it was regarded as a system of ethical relations rather than a religion per se, it was not represented in the Department of Religious Affairs.
Although various sects approach Buddhist doctrine in different ways, a central feature of the religion is acknowledgment of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths involve the recognition that all existence is full of suffering; the origin of suffering is the craving for worldly objects; suffering ceases when craving ceases; and the Eightfold Path leads to enlightenment. The Eightfold Path invokes perfect views, resolve, speech, conduct, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration.
Buddhism originally was an intellectual creed, and only marginally concerned with the supernatural. However, political necessity, and the personal emotional desire to be shielded from the terrors of the world by a powerful deity have led to modifications. In many ways, Buddhism is highly individualistic, with each man and woman held responsible for his or her own self. Anyone can meditate alone; no temple is required, and no clergy is needed to act as intermediary. The community provides pagodas and temples to inspire the proper frame of mind to assist the worshippers in their devotion and self-awareness.
Flavours of Indonesia
Balinese Cuisine is one of the most complex cuisines in the world. Using an incredible variety of spices, blended with the freshest vegetables, meat and fish, eating REAL Balinese food is an unforgettable cultural experience.
The staple food on Bali is rice, and it would be difficult to imaging that a Balinese person could go a day without these pearly white grains. Balinese have been cultivating rice for thousands of years, and although many farmers now grow a new high yield rice, most Balinese people still prefer the taste of good natural rice.
Red rice, sticky rice and black rice is also cultivated, the later for a delicious and sweet black rice pudding! Rice is usually served with a variety of side dishes, including vegetables, fish or meat and the legendary Sambal, a potently spicy chili paste!
Freshness is very important to Balinese culture and cuisine, and most cooks buy their ingredients each morning at any of the local marketplaces. Vegetarians will have no problem in Bali, as the people use a wide variety of vegetables, tofu and soybean in their daily cuisine.
In addition to traditional Balinese food, guests can now enjoy foods from all across the globe. International and fusion cuisine is at a height in Bali, with Italian, French, Mediterranean and Asian chefs, often combining their knowledge and tastes with that of Bali. World class cuisine is well and truly present on the island – a fact that millions of taste buds will attest to!
From beaches where you can feast on freshly cooked seafood with your toes in the sand, to romantic dinners overlooking serene rivers and valleys, Bali has something for everyone. Bakeries, delicatessens, and winemakers are all present on Bali, ensuring that you are always able to find just what you are looking for.
Indonesian food in general
With an archipelago consisting of over 6000 islands, the cuisine of Indonesia has taken on influences from many culinary sources. Due to its location and natural resources, the country has been involved in trade for centuries and because of this, the food and the techniques for making it, has taken on influences from India, the Middle East, China and Europe.
Right across Asia, you will find many dishes that originated in Indonesia. In Malaysia and Singapore, you will find Satay, Nasi Goreng and Rendang on many street stalls and menus.
Vegetarians are well looked after in Indonesia with a variety of soy bean products available. Many types of tofu (tahu) are available, as well as tempeh, an adaption of tofu.
Eating in Indonesia is done with a spoon and fork. The spoon goes in the right hand and the fork in the left hand. Food is pushed on to the spoon with the fork, and eaten directly off of the spoon. In many parts of the country, locals eat with their right hand only, as they believe that food eaten from utensils takes on the taste of the utensil.
Traditional farmers still use water buffalo to plough the rice fields, and rice cultivation has transformed a lot of the country’s landscape into stunning terraces that are the subject of many a postcard. Amazingly enough, some of these rice terraces have been in existence for 1500 years! In fact, Indonesia is the worlds third largest rice producer.
Rice is the staple food for all classes of people in Indonesia and holds a central part of the complex Indonesian culture. There are many ways that rice can be eaten, which include Plain rice (nasi putih), usually eaten with a few vegetable and/or meat dishes as accompaniments, Ketupat (steamed rice in woven coconut fronds), Lontong (steamed rice in banana leaves), Intip (rice crackers) or Nasi Goreng (fried rice).
Far from being limited to savoury food, rice is also used for desserts, cakes and rice wine.
The production of rice requires plenty of sun exposure, and as a result, many parts of the country are lucky enough to have three rice crops per year. From planting to harvesting, one cycle takes 3–4 months.
Main meals are usually cooked around late morning, for consumption around midday. It is not important for Indonesians to eat piping hot food, as a high temperature coupled with chilli makes for a not so pleasant taste and sensation. Food is more often eaten at room temperature, apart from rice, which is served hot, but usually not steaming.
Whatever food Indonesians eat, it is usually accompanied by one or more side ‘relishes’ that are called ‘sambal’. Usually very hot, these are to be added at ones own risk, and to be used sparingly.
Street food and snacks
You will no doubt encounter many street vendors selling buns, noodles, soups and sates from small wooden carts on wheels. These carts are commonly known as ‘pedagang kaki lima’, which is after the five foot wide footpaths in the country. Many of these carts have their own distinctive sound – the ‘bakso’ (noodle soup) seller will hit the side of a bowl with a spoon, and a mie ayam (chicken noodle) seller will hit a wooden block to give off a totally different sound.
Fruits in Indonesia
Indonesia is a fruit lovers dream, and markets everywhere are brimming over with all kinds of exotic fruits which can be either eaten on their own, or made into savoury dishes.
From the sensuous mangosteen and mango to the unusual rambutan (literally meaning ‘hairy’) and salak (commonly known as ‘snake fruit’) the markets are the perfect place to try some of these fruits that are unavailable in most western countries.
On greeting someone it is customary for both men and women to shake hands with the right hand. To shake hands, give or receive, or eat with the left hand is considered impolite.
Sometimes you will be greeted with two hands pressed together in a ‘praying’ like motion. This is a traditional greeting and can be returned to the person greeting you.
Pointing or summoning someone with your index finger is considered impolite and care should be taken not to climb over places of worship or local monuments.
Dress appropriately. Light, casual cotton clothes are the most practical in Indonesia’s humid conditions. Indonesians are very clothes conscious and it is particularly important to be properly dressed when visiting government offices.
In deference to local customs, scanty clothing is not advisable in public places. Shorts are not permitted in mosques and women should have their head and arms covered.
In Bali, waist sashes should be worn when visiting temples.
Women should not visit temples whilst menstruating.
Holidays and Festivals
This subject is made all the more interesting because the Balinese use two other calendars in addition to the universal western calendar. These two other calendars are called the Wuku Calendar and the Saka Calendar.
The Wuku Calendar is used to determine festive dates and uses ten different types of weeks between one and ten days long. When the various weeks intersect, auspicious days are discovered, with seven and five days weeks of particular importance. A full year is made up of thirty individually named weeks.
Galungan is one of the island’s most important festivals, and commemorates the death of the evil tyrant Mayadenawa. It is during this period lasting for ten days that all the Gods descend to earth, and the mythical Barong prance from temple to temple across Bali. The celebration culminates in Kuningan, where thanks are given and the people bid farewell to the Gods. Everywhere on the island these celebrations will be celebrated in style, with many colourful and exciting events and festivals open to guests of Destination Asia Bali.
The Saka Calendar more resembles the western one, as it is based on a lunar cycle. Nyepi, the last day of the year, is the major festival of the calendar. It is the day after the new moon on the ninth month. 2003 incidentally, saw the arrival of the year 1926 on the Saka Calendar. Many temples hold festivals using this calendar also, so it is often hard to place certain celebrations as they are not always on the same day.
Speaking of temple festivals, when it Bali ask you Destination Asia Guide about an Odalan, or ‘temple birthdays’ taking place during your stay. These are celebrated once every 210 days (one Balinese year), and seeing as each village will have more than one temple, this means that Odalan are held regularly around the island. You see, not only does Bali have the most temples per capita in the world, but we also have arguably the most frequent temple celebrations! So why not take up our invitation to join us?
Indonesian Public Holidays
- Tahun Baru Masehi (New Year’s Day) – January 1st
- Nyepi (Balinese Hindu New Year) – March/April
- Hari Paskah (Muslim Festival of Sacrifice) – March/April
- Idul Adha (Muslim New Year) – February/March
- Maulud Nabi Mohammed (Birthday of the Prophet Mohammed) – March/April
- Hari Waisak (Buddha’s Birth, Enlightenment & Death) – April/May
- Ascension of Christ – April/May
- Hari Proklamasi Kemerdekaan (Indonesian Independence Day) – August 17th
- Isra Miraj Nabi Mohammed (Ascension of the Prophet Mohammed) – September/November
- Idul Fitri (End of Ramadan) – November/December
- Hari Natal (Christmas Day) – December 25th