“Morning Luka, all set to go?” said Neha stowing her gear and getting into the Taxi. She glanced at her watch. It read 10 am.
“Good Morning Madam. Yes, we are all set. It’s a 4 hour drive to Alor so just sit back and relax. The route is quite picturesque. You’ll enjoy the ride”, replied a smiling Luka. He was the taxi driver who had been requisitioned by her company for the duration of the trip.
“Oooh, I am so looking forward to this. I am so excited” answered Neha gleefully.
Neha was in Bali, Indonesia. She was headed to Alor, Bali to cover the Manta Ray migration. A trained Scuba Diver working as a correspondent for the “Earth & You” magazine, Neha’s job was to travel to off-beat places on the globe and capture nature in its essence. An avid traveller, she had turned her passion for travel and exploration into a very rewarding, award-winning career. This trip involved covering the gentle marine creatures in their natural habitat; in the deep blue. Neha had volunteered for this assignment, in fact, all but begged to be sent. She was excited beyond measure to be on this trip.
As Luka got in and drove them off, Neha found herself mesmerized by the island of Bali. It truly was a tropical paradise. Everywhere she looked she could spy the azure waters of the Indian Ocean, glinting cerulean in the sunlight. The lapping of the waves and the misty spray of the surf played wilfully and created a vista which was both beautiful and serene.
Neha’s flight the previous day from Mumbai had been tiresome on account of delays and layovers. She had landed late at night and had hardly slept. Now, as the taxi wove its way on the sinuous coastal road, the balmy breeze coming from the open window lulled Neha into a restful slumber.
“Madam, wake up” Luka’s voice intruded.
Awake & groggy, Neha looked about her. “What? Where are we Luka? Are we in Alor, already?” asked Neha.
“No Madam. Alor is still 2 hours away, just past this mountainous region. There has been a landslide up ahead on this road. It has blocked the path. We have to stay here till the road is cleared away & safe for traffic”, replied Luka.
“Oh no! This will delay my trip”, wailed Neha, frustrated. “Any idea when it will be cleared? What are they saying?” she queried irritated.
“Madam it should not take more than a few hours. Yesterday’s rain trigged this. Why don’t you step out and have a bite to eat? Its nearly lunchtime anyway”, reasoned Luka.
“Okay! What else can I do now” said Neha disembarking.
As she got off and looked about, her breath caught in her throat. She found herself standing at an embankment which overlooked a lush green valley. Everywhere that she could see, she saw a sea of green paddy fields. The jade green terraced farms glistened under the bright sun, the crop standing tall and proud like little bejewelled stalks. From where she stood atop the pathway that descended into the valley, Neha could see miles and miles of green fertility virtually fighting for space with the tall coconut palms that dotted the landscape. The farms cocooned by dense forests & coffee plantations resonated with the chirping of tropical birds and the hoots & howls of monkeys that abounded it. The air smelled pure & heavenly.
“Luka, where are we?” whispered an awestruck Neha.
“Madam, we are in Ubud, the uplands of Bali” said Luka, smiling.
“Why don’t you take a walk down into the paddy fields? They are quite beautiful” he suggested. “This is hill terrain so the water drains off fast here. The pathway will not be muddy even after the rains. You should be able to get down with ease” added Luka.
“Good advice Luka. I’ll be back soon. Just call me if you hear of the blockade getting cleared before I am back”, instructed Neha, grabbing her camera case.
The jagged pathways beckoned and she walked down. Her irritation at the delay ebbed away. She could feel a serenity permeate her very essence. She could feel a gentle balmy breeze caress her like a warm hug. The hues of olive, chartreuse, emerald, teal, sage and chrome green in the vegetation awakened her exploratory desire and rapturous she quickened her descent into the valley.
“Oh my God! This place is incredibly beautiful. It’s like a piece of forgotten paradise; a photographer’s dream” mused Neha to herself in wonder.
In all her travels she had never seen terraced farms & now their beauty enthralled her. She started clicking pictures and soon reached the bottom where a narrow brook tinkled. The cool water and the verdant landscape evoked an emotion that she had not felt for a long time – peace. Utter peace. She sat down on a rock beside the bubbling brook, closed her eyes & let it all seep in.
Slowly an idea evolved. Excitedly Neha took out her mobile and called her boss.
“Ma’am, this is Neha. I was on my way to Alor today but the route is blocked due to a freak landslide. I am currently stuck in a place called Ubud. It’s spectacularly beautiful. What do you say if I cover both Bali and Alor on this trip? We could give our readers both perspectives of the island; the flora and the fauna?” breathlessly said Neha, fingers crossed.
“Hmmm. Sounds like a good idea Neha. I quite like the basic concept you float. I think it will work. Our readers will love it. Go ahead, girl!” approved her boss, ending the call.
Elated, Neha called Luka.
“Luka. Change of plans. I am going to cover both Ubud and Alor on this trip so regardless of the landslide, we stay the night here. I have a lot of work to do. I need to get pictures capturing this place and all that it represents. I am going to need a good local person to show me around. Can you get us a place to stay in for the night?” queried Neha. “Ask around for a local guide and then come and join me in the valley, once you find him?” she further instructed.
“Madam I would be honoured to show you around personally. There is no need to hire a guide. Ubud is my hometown and my village is quite near. I grew up here. My father & grandfather are paddy farmers and they till the land still. I can show you the farms, the coffee plantations, the jungles and we can even visit the local artists. The handicraft of Ubud is quite famous worldwide” gushed a happy Luka.
“And Madam, I would be happy if you stay the night with us in our humble abode. It would be our pleasure to host you. Right now its tourist season so the few hotels in Ubud will be booked. It will be difficult to find a place to stay in” he added.
“Luka, that is so very generous. I don’t know what to say. I would be honoured to accept your hospitality & meet your family” said a grateful Neha. “I’ll see you soon then. Look for me near the brook”, she said and ended the call.
Neha waited for Luka to join her. After that they spent a few hours trekking up and down the terraced hills clicking pictures of the scenery, farmers and the local populace. She spoke to a few locals with Luka acting as an interpreter. She wanted their stories for the article and the people happily chatted with her. It was a delightful experience. They even managed a visit to a coffee plantation in the up lands. It was a beautiful place. The trees were flowering & Neha could spy many Civet cats (Luwak’s) darting in and out of sight on the branches, gorging on the coffee bean cherries. She had heard about the famous Indonesian Luwak Coffee and now she understood how it got its name. In-between they stopped at a farm for a lovely meal of local rice & fish stew, served in a tree house that overlooked the verdant green. It was a surreal experience; one that satiated the soul.
Mid afternoon, after they had been traipsing around for a few hours, Luka suggested that they visit the local craft market.
“Madam, the market is basically a lot of curio stalls & artists selling their pieces on the road. If we lose the sunlight then I fear we may not be able to click any usable pictures of the artefacts. Most of the stalls are not well lit and many artists will pack up and go as the sun sets” counselled Luka.
“Oh Okay! That’s great advice Luka. Lead the way, let’s quickly get topside” said Neha and began to ascend at a brisk pace with Luka in tow.
The market was a connoisseur’s delight. The main street was packed with small curio shops selling a multitude of artefacts. Enraptured Neha clicked pictures of wood & bone carvings which were displayed by the purveyors on bright crocheted blankets. There were stone sculptures & beautifully carved wooden masks; hand carved wooden wall paintings; crocheted apparel and much more.
“These people are so incredibly talented” she mused to herself as she happily went shop to shop.
Finally, satisfied with the body of work, Neha decided to call it a day. She packed up her gear, stowed it back in the Taxi and they commenced their short journey to Luka’s home. It was nearly 8 pm and the day had just flown past.
Luka’s home was a simple farmer’s home, made of wood and situated among green paddy fields. Neha was welcomed with love and warmth. The whole family gathered outside to welcome her and their generosity overwhelmed Neha.
The evening meal was a traditional & simple Balinese fare that filled both the belly and the heart. Post meal, Neha retired to the single room in the home which Luka’s parents had vacated in her honour. She was touched by their affection. The day had been tiring so sleep came easy.
The next morning brought the news that the road blockade had been cleared away and traffic had been restored. Neha bid a heartfelt farewell to her warm hosts and she and Luka commenced her journey to Alor.
“Madam, I hope you enjoyed Ubud” queried Luka once they were enroute. “Tourists travelling to Bali like the hubbub of South Bali. They like to stay on the coast where all the clubs and night life is. We rarely get anyone in the uplands who is so keen to explore It.” he added, clarifying his query.
“Luka, you cannot imagine how much I have enjoyed Ubud. My job is to capture places which speak not to the mind but the soul of the traveller. Had we not been restrained by a landslide, I would have totally missed out on this beautiful paradise. I owe you a debt of gratitude. You showed me a part of Bali which has a rustic charm. You opened up your home for me, a person you do not even know. That to me says a lot more about Ubud and its people than any tourist can ever learn” answered a grateful Neha.
“Thank you Madam. You are too kind” said Luka, grinning like a kid.
“So, what will you call your article on Ubud? It was not your intended destination after all?” queried Luka.
“Oh I don’t know” mused Neha. “How about calling it – ‘The un-destined destination’?” she asked.
“It’s perfect Madam. That really sums up your trip” replied Luka laughing. “I hope your visit to Alor is as adventurous as the one to Ubud has been” he wished further.
“I sure hope so Luka” replied Neha smiling, as they sped off towards Alor.
For more of such content follow us on Social Media: