Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Puri Saren Ubud - The Ubud Royal Palace

19 November 2013

Today we visited the Ubud Royal Palace - in Balinese, it is the Puri Saren Ubud.  (I'm not exactly sure how to pronounce that, since most people here call it the Ubud Palace when speaking English.)

The Ubud Palace was built during the reign of Ida Tjokorda Putu Kandel, 1800-1823.  It was used as a hotel for a while, and areas are still used as a residence and guest accommodations today.  But much of the Palace is open to the public, and it makes for a wonderful hour or two of walking through the gardens, courtyards, and the amazing architecture.

Ubud, like much of Bali and the rest of Indonesia, was governed by varying feudal lords who were in the favour of regional kings - and of course, the kings changed with various wars and conquests as well as inheritance.  So of course the feudal lords fell in and out of allegiance to the ruling powers, and things were a bit chaotic.  Eventually, Bali requested that the Dutch (who held much of Indonesia as part of the East Indies) take over as the colonial power and make Bali a Dutch protectorate.  Really!  The Dutch, however, allowed Bali to govern itself for most of the period until Indonesia became independent in 1945.

So Ubud Palace is from the time of the various feudal lords - and Ida Tjokorda Putu Kandel was the ruler who built this particular palace.

My favourite parts were the gongs and bells stored in some of the pavilions - there are cultural performances with music and dancing periodically; but I also liked all the statues of gods, dragons, and various creatures who seemed to be guarding the royal residence.  They were all dressed in brocades and silks.  This is a common sight here in Bali, where statues are wrapped in rich fabrics.  It's a way to show respect and reverence to the gods, along with the various offerings made.

But the gongs - some were the normal giant gong.  Others were more like a bench filled in with little bells across the middle.  Others were like bench-sized xylophones.  And of course, because this is Bali, the whole thing was decorated in gold and red, and each end looked like a dragon or gargoyle or something grinning at the viewer while another face peered out at the musician.  When an entire orchestra of bell and gong players would play, I imagine the stage looking like a herd of red and gold dragons!  

Of course, there were also rows of giant flat gongs, in stands, for gong music.  Or emphasis.  Or something like that.


There were various tourists, some with tour guides - but we just explored on our own, and gathered information by listening and reading online explanations.   It's kind of odd that there aren't any small information signs or brochures or anything - but the palace is free of charge, so it makes sense that there aren't brochures.  And Bali has so many visitors every year, they'd have to have brochures or signs in umpteen languages.

One of the things we like about Bali is the mix of modern along with all the traditional and antiquities.  Like the roof of this building, in the traditional Balinese curved style, with a fixture almost like a chimney or lantern on top - crowned with a wifi receiver.  Of course!

Off to one side of the palace is a big temple, and there was some kind of celebration going on.  We didn't see the celebration, but we did see people all dressed up for the event.  We also asked a man about it, and he explained that it was a celebration.  He gave us the name of it, but, well, the names of holidays or celebrations in foreign languages are never easy to understand.

But what I found really interesting was that outside the temple wall was a whole long description, in English, of how to show respect in the temple.  If a foreigner comes to visit (because we aren't brought up in this religion), there are certain ways to conduct oneself and show proper respect.  Both men and women should wear a sarong.  And have a shirt with sleeves (no tank tops, no tee shirts).  Men must have their head covered.  Women must wear a sash around their waist.


So if there's a celebration or festival at the temple, Richard and I probably would need to go shopping - I don't have a sash, he doesn't have a sarong.
On the other hand, we haven't been invited to anything yet.

I just found the dress code to be very interesting.  And there were suggestions like don't walk in front of the people celebrating, no flash photography - things that seem perfectly reasonable and you'd expect people to behave that way, but of course, we've all seen some tourists in action that make you question the individual's judgement.  Or lack thereof.

And then, down the road from the Hindu temple, there's a little open-air building with a Buddha.  Or maybe it isn't Buddha.  As I said, no signs.  I can only go by what things appear to be.  And to me, this looks like a young Buddha.  All by himself, no temple nearby.  Just a few scared kittens.

Down the side street, in a valley by the river, I found a birdbath full of the most gorgeous flowers - just a pop of vibrant colour in the midst of all the stone and greenery.

Anyway, after an hour or two at the palace, and some time exploring a different neighbourhood, we headed back to our place.  (Ubud is both a town and area - what we think of as Ubud town is actually a collection of small villages.  They've merged and a non-resident can't really tell where one town ends and the other begins, but I've been told that they really are separate villages.)

I stopped in a store or two to look at the lovely batiks, one of the best known arts of Indonesia.  In one store, two men came in and said something to the saleslady; she showed them some papers, then gave them some money.  They wrote things down and gave her back a paper.  Hmmm, interesting - and the two men both wore the same outfit of polo shirt, sarong, and little tied head covering.  I thought maybe they were some kind of tax collector.  

So I did a little more window shopping, and went into another store down the road.  The same two men came in, and went through the same routine.  When they left, I asked the saleslady what was going on.  She said they are security.  I had more questions (like, what about the police we've seen?  And are they forced to pay?  Like protectsia?  To a Mafia or something?).  She and the other clerk didn't speak much English, so we ended up having a long conversation via google.translate, of all things!  They'd type in Indonesian, I'd read the approximate translation, then I'd type a question or two in English and they'd read the Indonesian translation, and type their answer.  Long, slow, but it works.  Anyway, the two men represent the village who does provide some security but also levies a tax (they don't call it a tax, though) based on how many employees are at a business.  So that's what the whole thing was with these two men.  (I later asked one of the staff at our accommodations, and he explained the whole thing in more detail.  It's sort of like a donation to the village, but it's mandatory, and paid monthly based on the number of employees.)

It makes me wonder how prices can be so inexpensive when a business is paying money to the village, plus tax to the government (10%), plus cost of goods, plus rent and utilities, plus salaries to employees.  No wonder the Indonesian economy isn't exactly booming!  (The exchange rate is crazy - US $1 = 11,500 Indonesian rupiahs.  Really!  A price for an ice cream bar might be 11,000 IDR, Indonesian rupiahs.  Which means the ice cream bar might be just under $1.  We're having trouble adjusting to all those zeroes at the end of a bill!)

But we found our bed all dressed up to make us feel even more like Balinese royalty - mosquito netting in lovely drapes, making our bed look almost like a chuppah!

And yes, we still love Bali!!!

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