A Ride through Balinese Rice Fields, Bangli and Gianyar Regencies, Bali

Heads of rice, ready for cultivation, Taro, Bali Indonesia

Balinese Rice
Rice and rice cultivation are at the very heart of Balinese culture.

In Bali, rice is synonymous with food. The word nasi (rice) also means “meal” in Bahasa Indonesia, the lingua franca of the region. 

But, rice is so much more than that: it is an integral part of the Balinese culture.

This little Indonesian island has been inhabited by Southeast Asian Austronesian people since at least 2000 BCE. From around the 1st century CE., the development of Balinese culture was strongly influenced by Indian, Chinese, and Hindu traditions. By 900 CE, Bali was an independent region with a distinct dialect, and Buddhism and Sivaism (Shaivism or Śaivism – a branch of Hinduism revering Shiva) were practiced side by side. 

It was also around this time that the people developed subak, a complex cooperative irrigation system which incorporates traditional ecologically-sustainable land management under the authority of the priests in the water temples. UNESCO-listed since 2012, subak “reflects the philosophical concept of Tri Hita Karana,which translates as “three causes to prosperity” or “three causes of well-being”. The three elements are: harmony among people with communal cooperation and compassion; harmony with God, expressed through rituals and offerings; and harmony with the environment, practiced by way of sustainability, conservation, and balance.

In practice, under subak, the forests which protect the water supply are themselves protected, and temples of varying importance and size mark the source or the passage of water as it flows through a managed system of canals, tunnels, and weirs, to water and irrigate the terraced subak lands. There are about 1,200 water collectives – each with between 50 and 400 farmers – managing the water supply that grows the rice – rice that is seen as the gift of God.

There is another remarkable facet to rice cultivation on Bali that struck me on our recent visit: on any given day, you can see rice at different stages of maturity. According to my 1999 edition of the Bali & Lombok Lonely Planet, there is a legend behind Bali’s continuous rice production:

A long time ago, a group of Balinese farmers promised the gods that they would sacrifice a pig if the harvest was good. The had a good season, and the rice was bountiful, but they could find no pigs. They thought they would have to sacrifice a child instead, until one resourceful farmer came up with a solution: they had promised the sacrifice after the harvest. If new rice was always growing, the harvest would never be finished, and the time for the sacrifice would never come.

To this day, Balinese farmers plant a new field before harvesting the ripening one.

Early into our January visit, we organised to go on a 25 kilometre bicycle ride through the rice fields and villages. Anyone who knows me knows that this is quiet adventurous: I have injured myself in bicycle accidents multiple times across three continents. But, the tour company promised that most of the ride would be downhill, and that the pace would be leisurely.

Our driver picked us up punctually at 7.30am and drove us the two winding hours up hill to the lookout – appropriately named Penelokan, “Place to Look” – where we stopped to admire the view over Gunung Batur before collecting our bicycle guide, and setting off through the rural villages and the many fields of rice. 

View over Mount Batur from Penelokan, Bali

Mount Batur from Penelokan
Penelokan literally means “Place to Look” or viewpoint, and it is a popular place to stop and admire Gunung Batur – the still-active volcano – and its surrounding countryside.

Village around Bayung Gede, Bangli Regency, Bali

“Follow the Brown Brick Road”
We started our downhill ride through a very tidy village near Bayung Gede in Bangli Regency. The equatorial January rains had washed everything – including the sky – clean.

Dwarapala at the entrance to a village near Bayung Gede, Bangli Regency, Bali

Like every temple and almost every home in Bali, the entrance to the village is guarded by a pair of Dvarapala or gate guardians.

Golden silk orb-weaver spider (Nephila) on a man

The Golden Silk Orb Weaver
Before long, we are in true rural countryside. Our guide Devi stopped at a barn to show us the golden silk orb-weaver spiders (Nephila).

Hindu Family Shrine, Bali

Hindu Family Shrine
Balinese Hindu family compounds include an area set aside for shrines devoted to their ancestors. I was allowed to take pictures from the gate, but not to enter.

Cyclist on a dirt track, Bangli Regency, Bali

The Path Ahead
Dirt tracks wind through the elephant grass and the jackfruit, banana, and papaya trees.

Black hen with baby chicks hiding in grass, Bali

Mother Hen
Our next stop was at a demonstration farm, where we admired the chickens, …

Gentle Balinese cows, Bali

Balinese Cows
… the gentle-faced Balinese cows, …

Looking up through the leaves of a pawpaw tree, Bali

… and the tall fruiting trees.

Offering House, Bali roadside, Gianyar

Offering House
We stopped at a typical family compound in Gianyar Regency …

A Balinese couple carving tourist trinkets,

Carving Tourist Trinkets
… where a Balinese couple was sitting carving trinkets for sale in Ubud.

A fluffy white dog stretching, Bali

Downward Dog
The family dog decides we are no threat and has a stretch as we enter the compound.

Portrait of a Balinese man in his family compound, Gianyar

Family Patriarch
The compound contains separate buildings for the family elders, each of the sons and their wives, and the older children/grandchildren.

Portrait of a Balinese man in his family compound, Gianyar

Family Patriarch

Portrait of a Balinese woman in her very dark kitchen, Gianyar

Matriarch in her Kitchen
The compound also contains separate kitchens for each of the families, as well as work areas, and of course, the family shrine.

Hindu Temple Pisang Kaja Desa Taru, Bali

Hindu Temple: Pisang Kaja Desa Taru
We made a brief stop outside a temple …

Palm trees reflecting in the Rice Paddies, Gianyar, Bali

Rice Paddies
… before riding off the village pavement and onto the rutted, muddy tracks between the rice paddies.

Balinese man in a flooded rice paddy, Gianyar, Bali

Man in the Rice Paddies
It was an opportunity to get up close …

Balinese man in a flooded paddy planting rice seedlings, Gianyar, Bali

Man in the Rice Paddies
… to watch the arduous job of transplanting …

Balinese man

Transplanting Rice
… rice seedlings into the larger rice field.

Group of Balinese people harvesting rice, Gianyar, Bali

Rice Harvest
Further down the mountainside, we came across fields of mature rice, and villagers in the process of harvesting it.

Old Women Sorting Rice, Gianyar, Bali

Sorting Rice
Older women were sorting the the rice from the chaff.

Old Woman Sorting RIce, Gianyar, Bali

Old Woman Sorting Rice

Balinese man Tilling the Rice Fields, Gianyar, Bali

Tilling the Rice Fields
We continued through craft villages, and ended up at an elephant sanctuary (more about those places some other time). While in the stands for the elephant performance, I looked behind us to see men tilling fields; the shrines between the paddies watched over their work.

We had a enjoyable morning: we got an appreciable insight into rural Balinese life; it was – as promised – a pleasant mostly downhill ride; and I didn’t fall off my bicycle!

As we ate our lunch, we had a much better understanding of the cycle of work that had gone into the rice in our nasi goreng

Text: Happy Rambles, Ursula :-)

We said our thanks to Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice.

Until next time –

Happy Rambles!

Pictures: 24January2017

  • Gabe Gajdatsy - February 9, 2017 - 1:09 pm

    It was a very lovely day of cyclingReplyCancel

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