As a travel photographer I am often asked what is my favourite destination. Usually, my immediate answer is that it is the next place I am traveling to. But I do have favourites that come to mind. For remote rugged beauty - Bhutan. For food, scenery and art - Italy. But perhaps my all time favourite is Bali. I’ve been going there for almost 40 years now and yet this small Indonesian island continues to fascinate. Yes, it has changed a lot. Australians in droves and European party goers have invaded the south coast beaches of Sanur, Kuta and Legian. The road system is clogged. Mass tourism is straining resources. And yet…the Balinese are still among the friendliest people on the planet. They have a strong family based Hindu culture that binds communities together celebrating life’s rituals. Foreigners are welcome. Smartphones are common. But for a temple festival, wedding, cremation or one of the many other cultural events, every Balinese in the area will attend and will dress respectfully in a sarong. A Balinese waitress, driver or accountant will always take time to participate in these local rituals to appease the gods. To not show up would be rude and looked down upon by all the other villagers.
Over the years I’ve been to Bali countless times on assignment, enjoyed many vacations there with my family and have photographed five books on the island. On a recent trip with my wife, I rented a villa among the rice terraces north of Ubud and planned to spend a month relaxing with friends and leisurely enjoying the local culture. I had no assignments to do, no books to produce or deadlines to meet. But I had forgotten how hard it is to ignore the visual spectacle of Bali.
On our second day there a friend advised we attend a cremation ceremony. A high priest had died and to send him off thousands of Balinese paraded a huge bull and funeral pyre through the streets to the accompaniment of thousands of musicians, dancers and long lines of women with offerings on their heads. That was just the start. The next day was a three hour temple festival, followed a few days later by a wedding and then a baby celebration. I wasn’t looking for photo opportunities, they just happened to be all around and irresistible not to photograph. On another day I visited a spectacular world heritage site of rice terraces, and an amazing traditional village - both of which I had missed on my many previous trips. On top of that there were three huge public art galleries with traditional and modern Balinese art to explore. I’m not going to even mention the world class restaurants, all day spa treatments and Balinese entertainment in the evenings. I think you get the picture.
From my ‘restful’ vacation I came back home with hundreds of new images of Bali and a renewed sense that the island was indeed one of my favourite destinations.