Original Balinese life in Tenganan village

Tenganan village in Karangasem is one of only a few remaining communities in Bali that offers an authentic experience of what life was like on the island decades ago before all our modern-day developments.

Although the village is now rapidly catching up with modernization, you can still see glimpses of the traditional way of living that the villagers enjoyed in days of old; and by old, we mean for centuries, as the current villagers in Tenganan are descended from those who lived on the island well before the time when the Javanese arrived in Bali in the 15th century.

Their presence, dating back to before the exodus of Javanese from the Majapahit Kingdom, earned them the name "Bali Aga" or "Original Balinese". Besides Tenganan, several other Bali Aga villages can be found across the island. The exodus is a significant chapter in Bali's history as it marked the starting point of Balinese Hinduism.

Tenganan village is not the most secluded place and neither is it filled with technophobes. You will - unfortunately - see people riding their motorbikes around the relatively small village.

Despite the relentless invasion by the modern world, Tenganan boasts a close-knit community that manages to stay true to its roots. What has emerged is a community of villagers who welcome advances in the world around them but are aware of how important it is to maintain their traditions.

As you enter Tenganan, you will notice the ancient houses preserved by the villagers that offer a view of the past in the village.

You will also see lines of tables set up by the villagers to sell their homemade artwork paintings on palm leafs - known as "prasi".

The day I visited, I also had the chance to listen to a choir, singing songs in Indonesian, which was practicing at the town hall.

"The choir has been assembled to perform at the Parisada Hindu High Council women's gathering. Members from all over the Nyuh Tebel sub-regency will be attending," said Ni Latri, the choir's conductor.

Visitors can enter the village from its southernmost point and from there, you walk your way up to the north along a rocky road about 500 meters long.

The main area of Tenganan has a rectangle-like layout, where houses are found on the east and west sides of the area. As you walk up, the land gradually elevates - like giant stairs - until you reach the highest point of Tenganan at the north end of the village.

In the middle of the area, between the houses on each side, there are a number of pavilions - large and small. The villagers sit in these pavilions to chat or to take their midday naps.

The "prasi" paintings, products made from reeds and the double-ikat, woven cloths (also known as "geringsing") are the signature handicrafts associated to the village.

"Prasi" paintings usually portray images from Hindu mythology, as well as the traditional Balinese calendar and maps of Bali. Tenganan villagers also make baskets, purses and other goods out of grass reeds.

These souvenirs are available in most places in the village. The houses in Tenganan's main square often display large signs to indicate that "geringsing" are available inside. Visitors can also watch the process of how the fabric is made.

Last but not least, Tenganan also holds an annual festival called the Usaba Sambah, which normally takes place in May. By the way, Tenganan people use the lunar calendar.

During the festival, you can watch the village's menfolk battling each other with pandan leaves in a match-making ritual, while the girls watch from a traditional Ferris wheel.

How to get there

Getting to Tenganan is fairly easy. If you're driving, either from Denpasar or Ubud, you just have to head east until you reach Padang Bai Harbor. From there, you continue down the east coast to Candidasa. Just before you enter the Candidasa beach area, take a left turn and follow the road all the way north until you arrive at Tenganan village, which is located at the end of the road.

Tips

- It is best to visit the place with a guide - or ask for one once you've arrived. There are plenty of interesting stories regarding Tenganan that you won't get to hear if you only wander around the area on your own.

- There is a good variety of accommodation choices at Candidasa; Tenganan is only five minutes from the coast. Spending the night here is a good move if you plan on exploring other areas in east Bali.

- If you are interested in seeing the Usaba Sambah festival, it is better to contact the hotels in Candidasa, as they often offer festival packages.